“I have to declare an interest. I am a product of the generosity of the taxpayer, who put a shedload of money into me. They had to do that because in the first instance, they didn’t spend a whole lot on me.”
The Big Issue founder Lord John Bird has told the House of Lords that local authorities are “finding themselves increasingly called upon by the community”, and that smart investment will deliver benefits further down the line.
He emphasised the importance of local services – including libraries, having led The Big Issue’s campaign #WhyBooksMatter – in providing for vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the wake of austerity.
“Whenever we talk about local authority, we are talking about how we deal with the people who have failed in life. The people who end up homeless, the people who have gone through domestic violence.
“These kinds of people who were caught out end up at the doorstep of local authority.”
Lord Bird pointed out that the House of Lords spends 2.4 per cent of its budget on libraries, while local authorities spend less than one per cent of their budgets on the same.
“Why is it that it’s so important for this house? Why is it that the government doesn’t say you’re spending too much on your libraries? Because they know that it’s essential to the running of things.
“What libraries do is create what I would like to call mental wealth. Which means wellbeing, opportunity, and all the other things that bring people out of the mire and into opportunity.”
Speaking as a crossbencher, Lord Bird expressed concern that local authorities are under huge pressure as a result of austerity measures. “We know well that in the days of the 2010 coalition there was an attempt to use ‘big society’ as a way of lifting, as a cover for local cuts.
The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.
“But we have to admit, with figures of 49 per cent, that austerity has hit local authorities and stopped them from being able to provide for the libraries or those people who were caught out in an emergency.”
He added that delaying investment is to the detriment of communities and often results in local government having to spend more at a later date. “You need a shedload of money for austerity, and most of us cannot afford austerity. It is too expensive.”
Referring to the Big Issue-held social trading conference ‘How to Create a Social Echo’ held in Northampton last year, the first of its kind, he reiterated his mission to “stitch communities together while taking the weight off local authorities” and to fight poverty.