John Bird: “Why do we have a ‘National let us get back to Health Service’?”

Big Issue founder Lord John Bird says prevention should be at the heart of the NHS – and that a change of approach is required for social housing

Big Issue founder John Bird called for fundamental change to social housing and the NHS during a debate on intergenerational fairness in the House of Lords yesterday.

The crossbench peer pointed out how flawed decisions made by past governments had led to current day problems.

He said: “When I decided to apply to become a crossbencher it was because I realised all the work that I was trying to do around social intervention was always passing through the prism of government.

We were trying to turn the homeless into workers, but the government turned them into beneficiaries

“For instance in the 1990s, I [gave] homeless people the opportunity to stand on their own two feet, earn their own money and morph their way out of poverty. At that very moment, Mr Blair started to put a shedload of money into giving people social security who were on the streets.

“We were trying to turn [them] into workers, while they were turned into beneficiaries. That is one of the reasons why there is such a clogging up in the social housing system even today.”

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The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.

Lord Bird went on to emphasise how prevention should be at the heart of policy, especially when it comes to health care.

“When are we going to fulfil what Nye Bevan said in 1948 when he said in the next 50 years the people of Britain will be much healthier and in control of their own health?

“We destroyed all social medicine and we’re in a situation where we have to spend more and more and more on people who are not unwell at birth or the early stages of life, but become unwell because they are eating and drinking the wrong stuff and not getting the right exercise.

“When are we going to have a ‘National Health Service’ rather than a ‘National let us get back to Health Service’?

Lord Bird also spoke about how the Creditworthiness Assessment Bill he is championing could improve the credit rating of millions of renters trapped as members of ‘Generation Rent’.