Opinion

Paul McNamee: Tomorrow's world starts here, today

This is our boldest bid yet to dismantle poverty – and I'm proud to be part of it

House of Lords

Does God have a boss?

That was the toughest question. How do you answer that, if a nine-year-old is asking with an absolute honest desire to know?

I was in a school last week in West Dunbartonshire to speak to the pupils about The Big Issue and homelessness and journalism.

These talks are always uplifting to do, but challenging. If a room full of nine-year-olds decide you’re boring them, there is no pretence. They’ll be out of there. Toilet breaks increase as boredom thresholds break down.

That area in Scotland frequently scores highly amongst the most disadvantaged communities facing multiple types of deprivation. It’s easy to get enraged at the injustice of it. In that school I found teachers doing everything they could to make the education the best they can. I found kids with a thirst to learn and progress. But I got the sense things were running on fumes.

And you leave a place like that thinking, can I do something for them, can I do more? We sent some books to help them get their library going. But that’s not enough, is it? And we can’t do that for every school. Unless of course we can.

This week Parliament finally delivers the Queen’s Speech. The government claims it’s to make clear their plans for running Britain. Opposition parties claim it’s nothing more than an early election manifesto launch. Big Issue founder John Bird realised it was the perfect time, coming as it does around The Big Issue’s birthday, to reveal a legislative plan he has been developing for some time, an approach that will become part of The Big Issue DNA.

One of the little boys looked at me and very determinedly said: ‘I want to be a journalist now!’

Over the next pages he details the Future Generations Bill. In essence, it’s a way of making sure that public bodies, including the UK Government and its departments and agencies, cut out short-termism. It’s to make it binding that they think of policies and plans that are not at the whim of changing ministers and department heads, but to build in future-proofing measures, to prevent poverty taking hold.

The Future Generations Bill is based on a Welsh Assembly model, and will complement the work of Sophie Howe, Wales’ first Future Generations Commissioner. There’s some distance to go yet, but imagine how simple and beneficial that could be. So that schools like those in West Dunbartonshire know there is funding and thinking in place to help properly build futures for all those kids, in an area frequently left behind. It is righteous and I’m proud to be part of it.

Later last week I was part of a panel giving a talk at a very different place. It was at the Festival of Marketing in London.

It was a big affair. At the end of the talk, about positivity in magazines, I was asked about the most positive thing that had happened within publishing for me that week. And I told them all about the school in West Dunbartonshire. Because at the end of the school talk, two of the pupils walked me out. As we got to the front door, one of the little boys looked at me and very determinedly said: ‘I want to be a journalist now!’

That was a moment!

Incidentally, as for the God question, I said simply: I think God is the boss.

But what do I know – I’m not the Pope.

The Future Generations Bill is a move towards giving young people, and those who will come after them, that power. As the bill begins its journey through Parliament this week, you can add your support by using the hashtag #TodayForTomorrow and heading to TodayForTomorrow.org.uk where you can email your MP to let them know you want them to back the bill.

Support the Big Issue

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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