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.
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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.
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