Here are John Bird’s top takes from last night’s Question Time

The Big Issue founder clashed with Business Secretary Nadhim Zahawi over austerity and slammed the “human rights abuse” of rough sleeping

Big Issue founder John Bird put on a powerhouse display on BBC’s Question Time last night.

The crossbench peer appeared on the panel in Middlesbrough along with the Conservatives’ business secretary Nadhim Zahawi, Labour’s shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth, Daily Mirror editor Alison Phillips and divorce lawyer Ayesha Vardag.

If you missed the panel show, you can watch it now on BBC iPlayer here – but if you’re short of time here are Lord Bird’s best bits.

  1. “Rough sleeping is a human rights abuse”

The latest official snapshot statistics on rough sleeping in England released yesterday ahead of Question Time filming showing a second-straight year of declining numbers.

Host Fiona Bruce asked for Lord Bird’s take on the situation. He spoke passionately on the subject, bringing his own experience of living on the streets as a youngster to the debate.

Lord Bird told the Middlesbrough audience: “If you are a rough sleeper for a couple of months, it takes years to get it out of you. Even a couple of weeks (on the streets) will disenfranchise you in many ways and confuse you… The ridiculous situation we have now we have an overspill of the A&E department, an overspill of the social security office, we have an overspill of all the help charities can give. What you’ve got is this compound which is absolutely terrible. It is a human rights abuse. In my opinion, I would not let one person sleep on the streets… This is about social health and social wellbeing.”

  1. “Austerity cost too much”

Cabinet member Zahawi was representing the government on the show and he clashed with Lord Bird over the Conservatives’ policy on austerity. The trigger point came when Zahawi compared the UK to Venezuela, something which The Big Issue founder took exception to and pointed the finger at the coalition government that came into power in 2010 for bringing in austerity measures.

“They didn’t realise that the cost of austerity is too much,” he said. “Austerity is so expensive because not only does it destroy the lives of people in a community, it affects their minds, their wellbeing, the lack of libraries, schooling, the closing down of our high streets, all of these things happened and I can tell you as a person who has worked in this area over the last 20, 30 years that the cost of austerity has destroyed the community and made people think that they have no future. If you can’t feel that you have a future then it doesn’t matter what a Conservative minister says.”

  1. “We need to stop this generation destroying the next generation”

Plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport were dealt a blow following a court ruling yesterday. But they sparked considerable debate on the panel with Zahawi outlining the economic benefits while others pointed to the environmental impact and how the idea seemed incompatible with the UK’s efforts to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Lord Bird pointed to his Future Generations Bill, currently on its way through the House of Lords, which is designed to ensure that future generations that follow will have a voice in decisions like this one.

“This is trying to get the government to grow up about not doing short-term things,” he said. “It’s a really interesting and exciting idea to have runway three, because it is a real boost to the economy very, very quickly but the long-term effects are just devastating… If we want to do something sensible, we need to stop this generation destroying the next generation.”

The Future Generations Bill will be next in the House of Lords on March 13 for its second reading.

  1. “Coronavirus is not just a health crisis, it is a social crisis”

Zahawi spoke about how the government has been holding COBRA meetings every week to limit the outbreak of CO-VID19 and even opposition member Ashworth conceded that the government response so far has been effective.

Lord Bird called for the “dragooning” of private facilities to boost capacity for treatment as the outbreak grows. “This is not just a health crisis, it is a social crisis” was the crossbench peer’s summation of the global issue.

Image: BBC