Opinion

Dreaming of a future when our leaders make plans for the long term

What if, after a very reflective Christmas and new year, the prime minister decided that he would turn over a new leaf, asks Big Issue founder John Bird.

Boris Johnson needs to get behind the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill Photo: Adrian Dennis-WPA Pool/Getty Images

After a very reflective Christmas and new year, the prime minister decided that he would turn over a new leaf.

Realising that all manner of things that occupied his time, aside from Covid and who paid for his flat and illicit Christmas parties at Number 10, were really the result of bad policy from former times, he decided that he would support my Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill currently going through the Lords, and will hopefully soon be going through the Commons.

What a turn up for the books! New thinking around government and its legislation. New thinking about how the government of today seems always to be getting over problems caused by past governments.

A feeling that the PM must have felt at times that he was knee-deep in old problems that had not been addressed, the north-south divide being probably one of the biggest. Also, how we fail 35 per cent of our children at school, and our prisons are full of wrongdoers banged up for drug-related crimes. 

That governments seem always to be thinking short term and not long term, and now we are in the middle of health and social crises thrown up by Covid because we have inherited bad policy from way back.

Preventative spending and transparency around long-term intentions are vital to a healthy government’s legacy. Governments often think of their legacy as little more than how they appeared and not what they had achieved. How did they look – not did they reduce poverty or increase prosperity, which is the basis of social justice. Did they tackle the big issues around housing? Or did they pass big housing and social problems on to another generation and government to sort out?

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Imagine what the world would have been like if we started the Covid crisis without having circa 85 per cent of bed occupancy and had more space for pandemic patients. What would it have looked like if over the years the NHS hadn’t had to mop up many of the problems thrown up by the issues of poverty and nutrition which led to the filling of too many of those beds.

Poverty makes you unhealthy. Over Christmas the PM reflected on why it was that these issues had not been made mainstream concerns back in the day. Looking at my Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill, he could grasp that this was the beginning of a new way of doing government that tackles the problems we are leaving for our children and the yet to be born. That we must try and solve them now, but not in a piecemeal way.

Muddling-through government, a new initiative here and there, a new report, a new policy with a new name; the renaming of government departments. All this, the PM realised over Christmas, was like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. Only root and branch change would lead to a government that stopped failing to invest in prevention.

The prime minister realised that the muddling through had to stop. That now is the time to invent a better future. Learning to do such wonderful things like realising that health, education and social life had to come together to make the world a better place. That you couldn’t just abstract one part of the human puzzle to concentrate on. There has to be triangulation in government thinking. The problem of depression isn’t just a health issue, it involves the quality of the community and of society itself. 

That rampant consumerism, defining yourself by what you buy, was wrecking lives and wreaking havoc on schooling and social health.

Of course, the big problem of the Covid crisis was not helped by the lame duck thinking that led to parliament’s National Risk Register closing down the cabinet’s pandemic committee six months before Covid hit. The PM in his break had to recognise that there were experts around whose heads were in a dark space. How we need to develop more scientific thinking that prevents a war between opposing forces over what to do next.

I was very pleased that the PM had decided to take our Bill and make it his own. That meant I could concentrate on preventing the half a million people, who – for Covid-related reasons – are not in work now, from slipping into homelessness.

Ensuring they are kept in their homes, supported to pay off their arrears, and given every opportunity to get themselves another job. Yes, that means we could really put some of our eggs in the homelessness prevention basket, as well as helping those already homeless. Perhaps also get more involved in getting rid of Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. And many other issues around the paucity of protection that tenants have when they live in the private rented sector. Perhaps we could also turn more of our efforts towards ending the tyranny of street homelessness, rough sleeping and the human rights abuses that they have become.

So much to do. But at least the government was now going to make sure that we are not always going to suffer from the poor policies of today creating  big problems for future generations. 

Alas it was about then that I woke up and realised that this was a mere New Year’s dream, loaded with wishful thinking. But we can wish. Happy New Year! 

John Bird is the founder and editor in chief of The Big Issue.

@johnbirdswords

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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