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Opinion

Green shoots of recovery can help break the cycle of poverty

Inflation is biting hard, says John Bird – but as well as financial support, there are other forward-thinking ways we can help the less fortunate.

An embattled government trying to get over its bad behaviour in the gardens of power – and
having not quite got the economy back to where it was going – is struggling over what can be done about inflation. Add to this the threat of European war, and it seems that many things have coalesced to bring grief to the forefront. The strongest call seems to come from those who have said the government should bring relief to people in need by increasing social security.

Government should absorb some of the costs that are crippling poorer people’s ability to feed and heat themselves. 

What is extraordinary is the lack of thinking that went into what you might call the ‘post-Covid’ period. Covid threw up levels of support that were unheard of in peacetime. Yet the soft landing hoped for post-Covid did not happen. And at the same time, there seems to have been little thoughtfulness around the idea that Covid changed many things and made the world economy weaker.

It certainly galvanised the many critics of government action, saying that it was not doing enough. The world is awash with people demanding the government picks up the tab. And it seems we may have to accept greater government intervention into the lives of people who are in need and unable to weather the storms thrown up by Covid – added to by the Ukraine war and, of course, Brexit.

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Yes, the biggest crisis is inflation and its effects on the poorest. We have to bring help by increasing financial support. We have to borrow the future again, as we did during the Covid-19 pandemic, to ensure the continuity of the fabric of society.

There is no way we can face away from this crisis. Borrowing the future has become a pattern when crisis hits. It is inevitable. We have never in history been able to finance crisis without borrowing the future; passing on to later times the repaying of the debts thrown up by crisis. And that is where we are now: stuck in the middle of a debt-building crisis that is the extension of the financial crisis thrown up by Covid.

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But the borrowing cannot just be about paying for increased costs thrown up by inflation and the Covid dislocation that still echoes through the economy. We have to move our borrowing on to something more useful. That is, borrow to reverse the low-wage, low-investment economy that the UK runs. Borrow to improve the chances for today’s young of getting better jobs, not just the jobs that their parents had or have. The poor jobs of today have meant that people are unable to absorb inflationary increases. And having so many people on social security that does not make them secure is another reason why inflation hurts so quickly and so deeply those caught in poverty.

We have wasted an enormous amount of time and money since the Second World War simply topping up the earnings of people in need, and rarely supporting their ability to get out of poverty. Poverty maintenance has been the issue that government and its opposition seem to agree on: the government giving out grudgingly small amounts of money while the opposition has concentrated on demanding less grudging amounts. That is why we have spent such wasted years and decades just keeping people in poverty, and never borrowing the reconstruction money necessary to break people through education and training out of the low-paid trap of poverty jobs.

We have yet to address the simple problem that we have so many businesses in the UK that invest to make money out of low-paid and low-skilled jobs. If you look at the digital economy, in many cases it is low-paid jobs such as delivering food or consumables. Where is the bold government strategy to build a 10-year plan, for instance, to skill the poorest away from the shite jobs that keep them hovering near disaster and vulnerability?

Possibly the greatest chance we have of greening our world is to grasp the potential of giving poorer people better skills for higher-paid green jobs. We really are missing a chance to help our neediest to get out of their vulnerable situation. By investing in greening the world and using social justice as the prism through which all these jobs pass, we hit two birds with one stone.

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I remember listening with excitement to David Cameron as he told us we were going to have a green job revolution. Alas, he got caught up in the disastrous austerity response to the bank failures of 2008, creating another generation of people in need.

You see, we have to become critical when people only campaign for more relief for people in poverty. Making them slightly more comfortable. We need to become critical because we have to create chances to steer people away from poverty. And that can only be done by investing in education and training. And supporting investors to invest in green, skilled work.

And getting our hands on turning the vast cost of poverty into money to be spent on ending poverty. 

John Bird is the founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue. Read more of his words here.

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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