DEMAND AN END TO POVERTY THIS GENERAL ELECTION
TAKE ACTION
Opinion

The government's short-term thinking around poverty is a costly mistake

Whatever it is the government is doing, it is not bringing us nearer to making poverty a thing of the past 

Homeless tent

Image: Gerard ferry / Alamy Stock Photo

I witnessed a debate in the House of Lords in which experts – doctors and surgeons – underlined again that poverty undermines health. I did not get the chance to say my stock comment, as others had in other ways already said it, that 50% of people suffering from cardiovascular illnesses suffer from food poverty, according to the British Medical Association. 

But the minister answering the questions responded that the government was doing exactly what was needed. The problem is, poverty and health was – and remains – the big issue and whatever it is the government is doing, it is not resolving or bringing us nearer to challenging the paucity of delivery in making poverty a thing of the past. 

I did get the chance to comment on local authority finances, which are in dire need. I pointed out that local authorities having to provide an increasing amount of temporary accommodation to families and individuals thrown into homelessness is the reason that other parts of the local authority’s responsibilities are often left unprovided for. And that increasingly, because of other anomalies and the fact that the coalition government of 2010 brought in austerity, the finances of authorities had been stripped bare.

And we are still catching up, because when Gordon Brown nationalised the banks in order to save them from collapse, and nationalised the debts they owed, all the big government money drained into that particular swamp. And then we un-nationalised the banks, allowing them to leave the arbours of socialism and return to blood-red capitalism, all to the cost of the taxpayer, and the shrivelling up of local authorities’ ability to function financially. 

I made the point to the minister that with Section 21 “no-fault evictions” still law (in spite of the government saying in their 2019 manifesto they were going to get rid of them) more people were falling into homelessness. And more people were seeking local authority support and temporary accommodation. 

It’s a crying shame to see such questions as poverty and health, and poverty and homelessness, being treated in such a stop-gap and ad-hoc fashion. No sense of connected thinking, no sense of trying to find a way of ending the emergency of poverty and its distortion of all government finances and political life. Whatever is being done now is not working in this piecemeal fashion. How unhappy is the sight of grown politicians and government ministers struggling with explanations that seem unbelievably glib and lacking in analysis. 

Why not admit that things around poverty – 40% of government expenditure – are not being resolved. And that simply admitting that the policies are not working would be a great step forward. Being able to address the rot of society is put on the back burner. 

Poverty, poverty, poverty. A roundabout, a carousel of continuing and ever-returning problems, taking more people into poverty and not preventing it or curing it but marinating people in it; allowing people in need the blandishments of social security that is far from secure, or able to get people moving away from poverty.  

In the evening, we had the last All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting on ‘business responses to social problems’. The last, because the rules have changed and now it is almost impossible for us to run an APPG under the new rules. 

But that’s not the end of it. We have decided to reformulate ourselves, and with it hopefully be more dynamic and useful in the fight against poverty. Our aim to get government to create a Ministry of Poverty Prevention is still one of our big preoccupations. That will bring together all poverty-busting efforts into one ministry.

Building a vast collection of poverty projects and thinking that gets rid of poverty. With the government’s biggest expense being poverty – yes that 40% figure – you’d have thought the silly geezers would have got around to centralising and intensifying the fight to end poverty. 

By chance I met a doctor, a GP, in parliament who has a group of GPs who are desperate to change the existing system where they administer to the sick, but don’t get involved in preventing illness. What a turn up for the books. A GP who wants to join our new coalition, which we may call our Poverty-Busting-Posse. Or something like that. 

So out of our former APPG will come our poverty posse to try and drive forward the creation of a Ministry
of Poverty Prevention. And to begin the reconstruction of parts of our stricken society that sees more and more people suffering housing shortages and increasing costs of feeding and living. 

Let’s hope that the election will throw up the chance to debate why we keep people stewing in poverty with all the big money going on keeping people poor. And that the way governments are formulated nothing will change. 

The big issue is that poverty corrodes and destroys society and belittles our best efforts. Getting a government to admit its inability to deliver on ending poverty is going to be hard. But to drive home the failure must be done. 

John Bird is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Big Issue. Read more of his words here.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue or give a gift subscription. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play

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.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
UK's state pension is one of the lowest in Europe. It's the main reason for misery among retirees
state pension/ retirees
Lord Prem Sikka

UK's state pension is one of the lowest in Europe. It's the main reason for misery among retirees

There's no debate – the fate of the UK will not be decided by big mouth over small mouth
John Bird

There's no debate – the fate of the UK will not be decided by big mouth over small mouth

Dear Sunak and Starmer: Workplace mental health is too serious to be used as a political football
Poppy Jaman

Dear Sunak and Starmer: Workplace mental health is too serious to be used as a political football

Number of pensioners in poverty will double by 2040 unless next government acts
pensioner poverty
Joanna Elson

Number of pensioners in poverty will double by 2040 unless next government acts

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know