Social Justice

Government must change approach to poverty, Lord John Bird warns

“We’re spending millions every year but it doesn’t get people out of poverty"

The government must change its approach to combating the root cause of poverty in Britain, Big Issue founder John Bird told the London Business School (LBS) last week.

In a speech for LBS Sloan fellows, Lord Bird spoke of his own experiences of poverty in a young life littered with crime and homelessness. “I learnt to read in a boys’ prison when I was 16,” he said. “Up until then I’d cost the state an enormous amount of money.”

“It’s expensive to keep people poor,” Lord Bird continued. “It costs the UK £1 million on average to produce one Big Issue vendor. 80 per cent of our vendors grew up in local authority care, which costs £15,000 a month, up to £250,000 a year.

Lord Bird also criticised underinvestment in schools and education, highlighting that around 30 per cent of the children who fail at school go on to comprise a large percentage of the prison population and long-term unemployed.

It’s expensive to keep people poor

He also referred to the PECC framework – Prevention, Emergency Coping, Cure – which he created to examine how organisations working to combat poverty operate.

“We’re spending millions every year but it doesn’t get people out of poverty. Why? Because nobody is asking the question, Is this prevention, emergency, coping or cure? Is this getting people out of poverty or is it simply holding their hands when they have a hard day?”

Lord Bird was speaking at an event organised by Sloan fellow John Gilligan, who is a non-executive director of Big Issue Invest. Former LBS student Gilligan also presented a case study on The Big Issue, praising how the magazine has flourished into one of the UK’s leading social enterprises since its founding in 1991.

Words: Lucas Cumiskey | @lucas_cumiskey

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