In the midst of another Covid battle it's time to focus on those in need
We are once more heading into a difficult battle with coronavirus. Our focus should not be on the political games of the current government but on the ways we are able to support struggling members of the community, writes Big Issue founder John Bird.
A big issue seller in the usually busy shopping arcades in the centre of Bath, Somerset.
Last Friday I went to the funeral of my first cousin. We met for the first time last August. She had traced me through my DNA – we had both at some time done the test to find our parentage. We met in a Wetherspoon’s pub in Hounslow in West London, under the flight path to nearby Heathrow Airport. The meeting was electric. Here before me was my only link to my real father – who, I’d found out six years before, the man who brought me up was not.
We spent three hours together. I did not know she was in remission from cancer and she was joyful, confident, fun driven. To lose her so soon after meeting her has been a sad affair.
Margaret was, like me, from Ireland, though born over here. Like me she was loud and garrulous. The vicar in the church service – she was a committed member of her church – said she often commented aloud mid-sermon. And the general feeling in the church on Friday was that Margaret was at times an unstoppable talker. She raised £1,000 for the church speaker system by agreeing not to talk for a number of hours.
So it was her mother’s brother, or her father’s brother, who was my father. It was from him I got my over-talking, loud voice, and his niece, my cousin Margaret Maria – to give her her full names – was likewise a bit of a mouth.
It was also the day that the government, under Boris Johnson’s lead, had to admit that the Omicron variant was galloping relentlessly through the land. That Christmas might be muted. That schools may be put back on hold. And that we should all be working from home.
That, of course, once again raises a big issue for our Big Issue vendors.
How do you go about your business of selling your product on the streets if the streets are emptied? How can a Big Issue vendor work from home?
These are troubled times, and a sense that there is muddle and there are conflicting instructions or beliefs being paraded about does not help. I passed through a demonstration of anti-vaxxers in Parliament Square last Monday, with people wearing stickers with phrases like “Real men don’t wear masks”. So we have a definite divide between those that advocate almost complete control, and those who don’t believe a word said.
But the fact that we thought we had seen something put behind us, only to have to encounter it again a year later, is worrying. And I can understand the stress in the community. But is there a way we can keep people in work, earning and supporting themselves, or do we have to go into the economy-harming stuff of the last big pandemic hit?
We must have learned something from the last round. One thing we have learned is that we have to find ways of supporting our vendors and the best, very best way is to get people to support our work by taking out a subscription for three months so that we can still carry on.
That is what we can do and that’s why our vision at Christmas is, once again, the survival of, and support for, those that need our help the most. We have survived the last (almost) two years and we are determined to continue that in the coming period, with the help of those that support the Big Issue’s endeavours and our vendors.
We have to continue with our Stop Mass Homelessness campaign to get the government to accept that it makes economic and moral sense to keep in their homes those people threatened with eviction because of Covid-related job losses. That has taken up a big part of our last year and it will continue until we have finished the job; and until fear is removed from the minds of the children and their parents who are caught up in the life-changing pandemic that we are passing through.
I do not have a crystal ball but I am sure we will learn to cope with the stuff that has come our way. I suppose that feeling might come from all of the reversals I have been through; and my having lived a gigantic three-quarters of a century, and seen enormous change and prosperity come into people’s lives. And at times seen it snatched away.
I do believe that much of what is happening in the world is a kind of ill-informed muddle. And a kind of dumbness. Why are we having media interest about hidden Christmas parties when we should be girding our loins for whatever struggles are coming? Preparing our thinking, not turning ourselves all into quarrelsome point scorers?
But that’s been my opinion throughout the whole pandemic period. I am astonished at how we seem to lose sight of the importance of coming together and saving our communities. We shouldn’t have to expect that the leadership will on many occasions have its head up its arse; or be doing things that are far from constructive.
Now is not the time to be morally outraged at what is largely an unfair system run by Old Etonians and their cohorts. Yes, at some stage we will need to address that – but when the coast is clearer, not in the eye of the storm.
I wish you the very best for Christmas and the New Year. And I am convinced we have a fight on our hands that we can win.
John Bird is the founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue.