The sun is out and Spring is slowly beginning to cast its rays over the shadows of Winter. And what a gloomy few months it has been. I am probably not alone in feeling as though we have reached this point with a little more effort than usual.
But it is good to see the sun and think about new beginnings.
And yet, something is bugging me.
I was sitting in the newsroom after my programme on Saturday, and there underneath a little walkway to an underpass was a young man, sitting with his rucksack against the wall. He was sheltering from the wind and rain and from his appearance he was homeless. I watched him for some time and sensed his desolation and tried to imagine myself in his shoes. A Saturday morning with quite literally nowhere to go. After a while he laid down under a blanket and went to sleep.
If I was a Good Samaritan I would have gone over and spoken to him and offered him something to eat, but I didn’t and that has made me question a lot about myself.
It was ironic that I had just been talking about the scandal of child poverty and the fact that four million young people, many in working families, are living in poverty in this country. In Newquay Central for example as in other places in Cornwall, almost half the children are in poverty.
These are facts and yet for some reason, many people choose not to believe them. This isn’t real poverty is the argument and when you look at the devastating images of starving children in east Africa, I accept that they do have a point.
But, our children are not living in Africa, our children are living in the fifth richest country in the world and they deserve better.
I’m not going to talk about responsibility for the growth in child poverty levels, although obviously some legislation has had an effect. I genuinely believe that politicians of all parties have a desire to make life better for everyone.
But our society is clearly not working and with the uncertainty of Brexit and the lack of a strong opposition, more and more young people are falling into poverty and the despair that goes with it. Their struggles are becoming even more hidden and their voices ever more quiet as our news bulletins and newspapers are full of the machinations and minutiae of dates and squabbles in Westminster.
It is not good enough anymore to turn a blind eye to a society which is becoming even more unequal. It is not good enough to say that poverty in this country is not real poverty……. poverty is about more than a lack of money. It is about living without aspiration because you don’t have the life chances of others, it is about a lack of self-worth because you aren’t able to compete at any level with others, it is about being judged by others and it is ultimately about a sense of hopelessness.
I live in a community where many people are on zero-hours contracts, many have more than one job, in order to try to pay the bills. They are not able to have holidays or be ill because if they don’t work, they don’t get paid. They don’t have pension plans or any hope of a comfortable retirement. They don’t have holidays to look forward to and they can’t take part in birthday celebrations or other occasions because they don’t have the money. They live under constant stress that if they have to take time off, their job will be given to somebody who is paid even less.
And so it goes on. Constant pressure, constant stress, until inevitably something has to give and unfortunately that is usually health.
(There is currently a review into companies which abuse the law by exploiting the self-employed, so that is some good news…. but it is long overdue.)
But back to the young homeless man… he looked as though he was late teens. I have asked myself why I didn’t go over and it is because I was scared.
Sadly, the underpass is a place where groups of homeless people meet regularly. In fact, only the day before, there had been a violent fight which resulted in the police and ambulance being called. I think alcohol was clearly a factor as it is with many homeless people. And I think if we’re all honest with ourselves, this is a factor in our perception of street sleepers.
I am not sure, but I would hazard a guess that the majority of rough sleepers don’t come from affluent homes and supportive families to begin with?? Their formative years probably don’t feature horse-riding or extra French lessons for example.
That’s not to decry such things, but I do believe that unless we now take a look at the way our society is structured, with more investment, support and acknowledgment for the most vulnerable, more people will end up in desperation on the streets, with no hope. It is not all about money, it is about understanding and compassion.
I’m reading a book at the moment, called ” Utopia for Realists and How We Can Get There”. It’s by Rutger Bregman and it has some very interesting ideas about how to end poverty… not least by introducing a Universal Basic Income, a 15 hour working week and open borders. He says eliminating poverty reduces healthcare costs and crime. His ideas are radical and I’m not sure any of us would have the energy to consider that amount of a cultural shift right now, but he has a point.
In the meantime, I think it is up to all of us to look up from the view of our newspapers, media and politicians and open our eyes to the world outside our windows.
Thank you for reading this……sorry it’s a bit bleak. Here’s a photo I took when peering through the window of the vicarage in Devoran a few days ago (as you do) 😊