Opinion

John Bird: Trade, not aid, is the answer for those parked in poverty

The poorest in society are picking up the bill of the richest. And no one's helping them improve their chances.

Big Issue founder John Bird

I have never believed that you should give people something for nothing. That would seem to make me a Tory. I also believe that society is run by a bunch of self appointed, rich, big-housed, self-interested, tax-dodging, self-pitying creeps. So that probably makes me a socialist.

I am also a person who hates bullies and vested interests so that probably makes me a liberal. I also believe that capital punishment was never stopped. It was just privatised, and now young kids can get gunned down by ‘private killers’, who can walk away, glibly knowing that a slap on the wrist is all they are going to get.

I want to make murderers suffer, really suffer. So that probably makes me a fascist.

Back to my first proposition: “I have never believed that you should give anything for nothing.” This is a strong statement, presumably unworthy of a social activist like me, who presumably has given lots of people things for nothing.

But not true. When we started The Big Issue we were quite careful to state that we were not a “something for nothing brigade”. We were not an extension of the handout culture. We were “a hand up not a handout”.

Therefore we did not give The Big Issue away to people for free, as was advised by most advocates. We said that they would get the chance to “earn their own money”. Nothing for nothing so to speak.

Over the decades of The Big Issue we have seen an increasing use or misuse of the welfare state to increase the amount of people who have been warehoused on benefit. All governments since Mister Major’s have underinvested in poor people by parking them up, willingly, no questions asked on most occasions, on benefit.

We have this terrible situation where the first government to run out of money turns on the poor to do the rescue job!

So they have not used social security as it was intended. Not as a hand up through hard times; not as a spring board but as a concrete safety net that once you hit you stay down.

Hence we have this terrible situation where the first government to run out of money because of a smaller economy, and the vast leakage of tax by the rich, turns on the very poor themselves to do the rescue job! That is, the poor – out of their poor lives, poor income, poor life expectation and their general poverty – must come up with the savings.

We know that if we had a more watertight tax system there might be more money around for the likes of benefit recipients. But that’s a long time coming, and many tax escapes are not likely to be blocked by any government, irrespective of their political complexion.

I wonder if that is to do with the fact that many of them are well-coined? Sorry, that was the socialist in me bursting out. As well as being a Tory socialist (Marxist?) with liberal and fascist leanings, I am very repetitious.

I don’t say a lot but what I do say I keep saying. So here goes again: “You have to fare well on welfare to say farewell to welfare.”

By this I mean that the current crisis where the poorest are picking up the bill created by the richest is made even harder. Why? Because while we invested our hard-earned tax pounds (sounding a bit Toryish there!) in social security, we did not improve people and their chances. We parked them up in poverty. We gave them a handout. But we did not give them a hand up.

And most of the advocates, protectors of people on benefit, only went on about giving them more money. Never seeing this as a cheapskate investment that would never allow the poor to get out of poverty. But just keep them on a drip feed, never any more.

The world is run by capitalists who care nothing about the poor, and bleeding-heart liberals who patronise the poor and look upon them as another species.

And now the poor, through a combination of capitalist bottoms and weepy sentimental defenders of the poor, are bearing the brunt of the trap they have been led into. That’s why this left-wing right-winger with other tendencies is pissed off. The poor once again get to pay the bill.

John Bird is the Founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue. Email him: john.bird@bigissue.com or tweet: @johnbirdswords

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