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Opinion

In these constant waves of crisis, Big Issue is needed more than ever

Christmas is coming and The Big Issue will be even more present for those in crisis

Storm clouds over the sea

What else can we do but continue to weather the storm? Image: Shutterstock

There is a generalised feeling of being stuck. It is all around us, almost tangible, like we’re fixed in amber, waiting to be removed and reanimated. We’re on pause until we discover if the current moment will decide whether what comes next is good or bad. 

The sense of being stuck in crisis comes from waves of onrushing headlines. We are in a period of extreme poverty. Last week it was revealed that during the previous 12 months more than one million children experienced destitution

That means their families couldn’t afford to feed, clothe, clean or keep them warm. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, who conducted the research, calculated that these children were in 1.8 million households.  

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Food banks are struggling, pinched at both sides. More people are in need of more help, yet donations can’t keep pace as the cost of living impacts the available income that good people have to give to others in more need. That we have normalised the idea of food banks is incredible.

The Trussell Trust, the organisation most associated with food bank networks, ran around 35 centres in 2010. They had 1,646 last year, serving nearly three million emergency food parcels. That doesn’t include the hundreds of independent food banks. 

The sense of being stuck also comes because the problems fan out, not just with the growing volume of those in poverty, but to every level of society. Access to medical care, whether a GP or dentist, is a cross your fingers and hope for the best exercise for many. The issues with crumbling concrete RAAC in public buildings and schools remains, even though it has passed from daily news.

Transport networks are stalling. There are a growing number of warm banks and baby banks, providing essential food for babies, an increasing number of communities living under fear of weather-related catastrophes. They will not have felt much succour from environment secretary Thérèse Coffey blaming the wrong direction of rain. No matter what she does next, that remark, in all its wrongheadedness, will dog her. 

Though the crises mount, there have been moments of potential positive change. The government, as we cover in this edition, could have walked the Renters Reform Bill through, helping prevent no-fault evictions and therefore removing stress from tens of thousands of renters, already paying eye-watering monthly rents, from falling foul of landlords who decide they want them out, in some cases simply to put the rents up and get new people in.  

Big Issue had called for this bill, we ran a campaign asking the government to bring it through and thousands of you signed a petition backing the call. For a moment it looked like we had all scored a success. But the government pulled the rug, shamefully. Yet again, those with least will pay the heaviest cost. 

We have run a housing minister merry-go-round in the magazine for the last decade, illustrating the ever-changing names in this most vital of roles. The page was barely wide enough most recently as the number grew to 15 – in just over 13 years. Combined with the casual disregard for the Renters Reform Bill it’s hard to believe this government takes housing seriously, no matter how they insist they do. 

Big Issue has long been a bulwark against the worst of poverty in Britain. Both by offering a hand up rather than a handout, as our legion of vendors trade the magazine to make a living, and more recently our work in Big Issue Recruit has helped others who had faced a raft of difficulties finding a job to get back into the labour market. It feels in this moment that we’re more needed than ever. Christmas is coming and we will be even more present for those who need us. 

Last week a poll said three in four people want a general election and a chance of change by next May. 

The thing about feeling engulfed by an oncoming tide is that the tide always turns, eventually. 

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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