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Opinion

John Bird: Let’s bake the right ingredients for social justice

Let’s address the problem at the point of entry: babyhood and childhood. Let us put our emphasis on EDUCATION! 

Low-paid workers get paid less. Getting paid less leads to more vulnerability to health issues. Low-paid work is often not good for your health. It is not good for your wellbeing. It is often monotonous and soul-destroying. You live in poorer housing. You eat poorer food. You tend to be exhausted due to the hours that you have to put in to make up for the shortfall found in an ‘unsparkling’ wage packet.

Hence it should come as no surprise that if you are low paid you have more chance of dying from coronavirus than if you are well paid and comfortably provided for through your labours.

You are also likely to be drawn to find what they call ‘coping mechanisms’ to survive the onslaught of the regime; cigarettes and drink top that list.

Is there anything we can do with this revelation, published on the front page of The Guardian one day last week? Would it not mean that we should immediately furlough, or throw protective bubble wrap around this large group of people?

The only problem then is that the hospitals aren’t cleaned, the rubbish is not removed, the goods are not brought to our doors, et cetera. The essentiality we have discovered, through Covid-19, of people we overlooked previously, the mass-deliverers of everyday services, does not mean they get protective wrapping and isolation.

It is a great tragedy that it has taken us entering a locked-down world of curfew to see the links we have with each other. That unbreakable link that unites our life with thousands of others.

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But this is not the time to get ‘narked’ at past crimes. Rather, what can we do to address this big issue?

As a former binman, road sweeper, meat and veg deliverer, washer-up and cleaner, I can tell you it’s the first time that such trades and labours have gone noticed in my lifetime.

But this is not the time to get ‘narked’ at past crimes. Rather, what can we do to address this big issue? Is there anything other than clapping for the overlooked people now that they are seen as so essential?

As a one-time Marxist and Catholic I have a tendency to want to create big systems that explain everything. Often out of my own insights. So here goes: I believe that what we need to do is see things as made up of ingredients. Life in some ways is one big ‘bake off’. ‘Ingredients’ meaning that if you don’t have the right ingredients, at the right time and in the right proportion, then you don’t get the desired outcome.

Too much salt will kill the meal. A badly cleaned bathroom in a hotel will rob it of clients. A dirty toilet in a restaurant may lead you to tell all to avoid the place.

When I worked in a sandwich bar the removing of dirty plates and clean floors was as important as the speed and efficacy of the sandwich-making.

Starting from the realisation – encouraged by the curfew – that we all need each other, we could push on to an educational system that explains how our systems – of life, body, weather, society, money, poverty – work

This awareness of the ingredients of what makes up a ‘whole’ might, in my opinion, wake us up to how we are all in fact one big family of ingredients operating globally. Obviously there have been many stabs at this concept in earlier times, whether that’s fair trade, the living wage or the fight for human rights. But it will take more than addressing any one part. You have to address the ‘whole’.

How can we do that? How do we get around that one?

Of course, the answer’s simple! Let’s address the problem at the point of entry: babyhood and childhood. Let us put our emphasis on EDUCATION! 

Let’s put the big bucks into making sure that we are all aware of how we are all part of this giant whole that is made up of very diverse ingredients.

Interestingly the Chancellor has put a sum of £300bn as the bill for coronavirus this year. Which is exactly the money I thought we needed to allocate to change our educational system so that we did not keep producing an underclass of people who never do well at school.

Of course, much of the money would be spent before you entered the school gates. There would be a power of work to be done around prevention of families falling to pieces and repeating the limitations of previous generations.

Starting from the realisation – encouraged by the curfew – that we all need each other, we could push on to an educational system that explains how our systems – of life, body, weather, society, money, poverty – work. We would explain the ingredients of what makes up oppression and what makes up useful social innovations.

I remember reading one of the big Silicon Valley chiefs complaining at the US government for not doing enough for them. And one little professor jumping up and saying that if the government had not invested in chips and computers back in the Sixties there would not be a Silicon Valley.

‘Ingredients’: no more, no less. Perhaps there’s a word for bringing this all together that should enter common parlance – ingredientism. 

But then, an argument for another time: if we got the education right and the social justice and support right, who the frig is going to deliver and clean and administer to our every need? They’d all be joining the high earners, the healthy and the well paid. 

John Bird is the founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue

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