The West End of London is grimly returning to what it looked like when we started The Big Issue, back in 1991. Much of the motivational force that caused the streets to fill up with thousands of rough sleepers and beggars was the alarming emptying of British industry into the historical dustbin of the 1980s that Margaret Thatcher had orchestrated. Preparing the way for globalisation on a vast scale, with the UK losing basic industries that meant we had to buy overseas. Jobs were exported, both here and in an America that quickly adopted our slashing and burning of big industries that had not innovated sufficiently.
The Thatcher era that saw a breaking of the postwar compromise over such things as secondary education, long-term employment, trade union membership, and council housing; culminating in the poll tax riots and the vast increase in street homelessness.
Now we have community-destroying austerity as the main driver to filling the West End of London with people in desperation. Cameron oversaw and orchestrated austerity with his sidekick, the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.
We launched The Big Issue in the crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields in September 1991, at the epicentre of the West End. St Martin’s has been a beacon of support for the stranded urbanite for over a hundred years. Doing its bit for those who need help as the crowds swirl by in their impatience to shop, eat or take in a show.
So St Martin’s is a place of sanity in a mass of need. And we should remember and support their efforts.
On December 4 at 7pm there will be a fundraising carol concert which you are invited to, to raise money for the work St Martin’s do bringing help to the homeless. I unfortunately cannot be there. I remember when sleeping rough over half a century ago tiptoeing diffidently into the church at St Martin’s and feeling that for all of the inhumanity of a city rushing, it was an Eden of caring love.