Opinion

John Bird: We need to cut the cost of being poor

Money is not always the root of all evil. Money is also the root of all opportunity

Last week I stood with some Big Issue vendors outside what must the smallest of Big Issue offices. It was not warm and yet there was sun this Thursday morning in Plymouth. The night before I had spoken at a social enterprise festival in Devonport in a large classically shaped building. The lights were dim outside making me think I might have slipped back into my dark childhood.

But no, it was common sense. The subject of my talk was energy justice: with the audience the local enterprise that fights for justice around poverty in terms of getting a better deal for the poorest among us.

Yes it’s the same old story that the poorer you are the more you will be paying for your basic rudimentary costs, with energy a big one.

Power to Change is working away at helping people in the crisis of fuel poverty and I was privileged to relate their work to the work I am doing around how the poorest pay for everything through the nose.

I was inspired by the broad range of work that Power to Change does in the Plymouth area. Educating people in fuel use and helping to lag pipes and put in insulation seems the wisest of things. Yet this method of preventing people falling into fuel poverty is not encouraged by central government. In fact the good old glory days when green was top of the political list have long since disappeared.

Why not make the UK the brightest of places because we take the work of people like Power to Change seriously. Alas we operate such political and financial short-termism that we ride roughshod over the future. Leave the muck until tomorrow to pick up.

The recently discovered rotting body of a sperm whale with a belly full of plastic cups does show we need a seismic change living life. Power to Change should be warmly congratulated for combining social justice issues with global warming and despoliation of our shared habitat. But the thought of over 100 plastic mugs in a whale’s belly is frightening reality that we need to get a hold on.

I stayed in a family-run hotel in Plymouth and ate in a beautiful Indian restaurant and was treated a bit too much like the late Queen Mother. But that is because people want to be respectful to our work. I wish people could understand how large is the support of many people who keep our work going and growing.

The vendors, Tom, Bernie, Mark and Clive, with a dog called Geezer, really lightened up my day and hopefully I did theirs. I do wish there was more chance of visits and I always offer the vendors the chance of taking tea with me in the House of Lords.

Why not make the UK the brightest of places because we take the work of people like Power to Change seriously

Bear in mind it’s a combination of all of our works that got me in the Lords.

A bit like the record buyers made legends of The Beatles, I was raised as much by The Big Issue as many who sold it and sell it.

Back on the train I fell into a deep ‘Great Western’ sleep and woke in Paddington and there had a meeting with Dr Frank. He is a spinal surgeon in California and notes that after operations people often are still in pain. And the medication is bad for the body.

So 10 years ago he started to use medically created cannabis. His story was riveting. It made sense. The opiate-based painkillers could in the end kill. Now he has become a major voice in the struggle to make the controlled use of cannabis for health reasons.

I have asked him to write an article for us and he is going to write it in the new year.

The debate needs to be enlarged. If Dr Frank is anything to go by then it’s only the next logical step.

But often it’s about money. It’s about research. It’s also about pharmaceutical companies who have invested in keeping things as they are. They want their painkillers prescribed and don’t necessarily want something crazy happening on the edge of things.

It’s all money. But perhaps we should instead be saying money is the root of all evil. We might say that money is the root of all things. Certainly as I took the last train home I thought again about the premium and all the things that hold us all backwards.

Money is not always the root of all evil. Money is also the root of all opportunity. Give it to those in need and we will have a great chance to get more people winning control of their lives.

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For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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