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John Bird: It’ll take a Rolls-Royce service to write off poverty

"You have to have the whole works, not some bit of relief here and a shoulder to cry on there. We have to create a science of ‘poverty killing’"

There is a conspiracy in the world against trying to think differently. I realised this again as I stood on the packed train back to Cambridge. Peering over the shoulders of fellow passengers seated I could see, aside from the odd person doing  overtime on their accounts and invoices, a large proportion playing games. Or watching films. Filling time from A to B. Taking time out from life. Perhaps making life bearable.

I was not inconvenienced, standing in my new bright blue trainers that I have bought to support my feet better so I can walk for miles and miles. I hate trainers and hate bright colours but the florid sports shops, which declare your health just by your purchase of some garish item, will not let you have the un-glowing. Or not for the high-arched shoes I needed.

Feet and thinking are very important to me; and very related. If ever I got myself into a tizz or a flap I would set off for mile after mile of walking. Once, aged 18, when I found out I had been betrayed in love I went for a marathon walk from Battersea to Gants Hill, a large chunk of London there, to ease my feeling of ‘dumpedness’. And it worked, arriving at the home of a girl who earlier when I was 14 and she was 14 had also dumped me. But that was because I tried to beat up her teacher, who unfortunately was also the PE teacher, so the ‘beating up’ went the wrong way for me. He had spoken cruelly to her the day before and I and her brother decided to ‘sort the bugger out’, but he ‘sorted’ us out.

After the Battersea-Gants Hill trek I realised I didn’t really love her, and there were plenty more fish in the sea. I exorcised my love and moved on to the next obsession.

There is a conspiracy against thinking differently in the world because the world is obsessed with doing things in the time-honoured way. But nature and science and life teach us all the time that you can’t just keep doing the same.

OK, I’m not being logical or clear here. I had been at a meeting where they did not say what I wanted them to say. And I found myself turning into the ranting little nutter who hides inside of me. And who has been a part of me for as long as I have known me.


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To me the really big thing in the world today that needs to be done is that we have to stop seeing things as ‘things in themselves’. We have to stop being separators of life into categories. That if you want to solve poverty, which I am rantingly struggling to do, you can’t separate poverty out into separate things. You have to hit poverty square in the eye. You have to give a cocktail of solutions to it, like you might zap a cancer. Yet the world is always dividing poverty up into different parts: literacy, housing, work, wellbeing, health.

You have to have the whole works, the Rolls-Royce service, not some piss-poor bit of relief here and a shoulder to cry on there.

We have to create a science of ‘poverty killing’.

It cannot be done as a bit here and a bit there. We have to bring a complete and utterly useful set of tools to converge the energy of dismantling poverty and not leave it flaring up again; because we forgot a bit of it.

Yet the world of thinking, of society, of government, always breaks things up into things. Like as if we enter the marketplace of goodness and say, “Yes, we’ll have a go at human rights in Africa”, picking our particular bit of poverty prevention. Or whatever else you are inclined to choose from the panoply of wrongs that you choose to right.

Someone, somewhere though has to bring it all together. There has to be a convergent force, otherwise it’s all disparate and uneven, and likely to continue in some new form.

We cannot simply carry on in this brainless, unconverging bit here and bit there.

At the meeting I realised I might still be that little nutter and that really I ought to just go for a long walk and cool my head. But the next morning, and through the night, I could not leave alone the idea that unless you have a coalescence, creating an ecosystem for the dismantlement of poverty you are reproducing our current lumpy, uneven social life.

With 70 per cent, circa, of government time given to poverty and its alleviation, when Brexit is poverty by another name, or the cause of it, when Grenfell shows what happens in poverty’s shadow, then you have to big up and say ‘let’s get the dirty beast out of our lives’.

Only by converging the fight against poverty, bringing it all home, will we start kicking 10 colours of crap out of it.

Let those who have their ‘single issue’ issue continue on their trajectory, while more of us ask, “What can we do to converge the fight against poverty?”

Image: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo