Please Give to Charity but What We Really Need is a Different Economic Approach

December 26, 2021

This Christmas I’m enjoying a break from Zoom-world, and spending time with my family. We watched Love Actually the other day.

It traces ten separate stories of love. Romantic, platonic, family. Unrequited love, and betrayal. Bill Nighy puts in a great comedy performance as ageing rock star Billy Mack desperate for a comeback, and Emma Thompson’s emotional range is impressive. It’s unashamedly sentimental, but sometimes a bit of escapism is what we need. After all, Hugh Grant’s version of the Prime Minister is eloquent and caring. Contrast that with real life. If Boris Johnson was in a Christmas film, it would be Lie Hard.

Every family has their own Christmas traditions. Ever since my eldest son was a toddler, I’ve lifted him up to put the star on top of the tree, while my wife takes a photo. We still do it, even though he’s now fifteen years old and 6’3”. We have presents on Xmas day, and a big dinner. But that’s not everyone’s Christmas experience.

Love Actually shows different kinds of family, and the impact of mental ill health on family relationships. But what’s noticeably missing is poverty. When Colin Firth’s character is heartbroken, his response is to hire a villa in France. The poorest character in the film is a catering manager who works in 10 Downing Street.

For millions, the reality is different. Successive Prime Ministers have rigged the game so the rich get richer while the rest of us pay more and get less. After inflation, nurses get £2,715 a year less than in 2010. Police constables £5,595 less. Care workers – who’ve always been under paid – £1,661 a year less than 2010. All the technological gains have gone into the pockets of the already rich. That’s the thanks the keyworkers we clapped in lockdown will get for keeping our country running this Christmas.

Inflation is 5.1%. In 2011, the Cameron government changed the way inflation is calculated from the Retail Price Index (RPI) to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The old method – RPI – is currently 7.1%. Old age and public sector pensions increase according to CPI. But costs such as rail fares and student loans increase with the RPI. Families are under huge pressure to spend, for parents to buy the latest toy. Fuel prices are through the roof – and the poorer you are, the bigger proportion of your income is eats.

Shelter report that 104,000 families in privately rented homes received eviction notices in the last month. In the past three months, 55,000 children have been evicted, along with their families. What long term damage is being done by making children homeless?  What costs are we storing up for the future?

Food is iconic to many Christmas traditions, from mince pies to pigs in blankets. Right outside my office at Newcastle Helix is the People’s Kitchen. A charity providing a warm meal, clothing and support for homeless and vulnerable people, it’s open every day of the year. Christmas Day is no exception. Over 200 meals were served, and a safe haven provided.

Hunger in Britain is rampant. It’s worse than when Dickens was writing. In 1846, there were 1.3 million paupers from a population of 26 million. In 2021, 5.9 million adults experienced food insecurity in the six months from February and August!  That’s a 50% increase on 1846, even allowing for population size.

Boris Johnson will be ditched before the next election. But whoever is the next Conservative leader will have voted for austerity. Voted against giving kids free school meals in the holidays. Voted against paying key workers properly. Voted against private rented homes being fit for human habitation.

Please, do give to charity if you can.  It makes a difference right now. But it’s a sticking plaster. As Clement Attlee said, “Charity is a cold, grey, loveless thing. If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim.”

UK citizens give £10.1 billion a year in charity. UK tax havens cost £120 billion. What we really need is a different economic approach. We need socialism, actually.