Last week I was invited to the launch of the Parliamentary Friends of The Big Issue. The Big Issue was started by John Bird as a way of getting homeless people back into work and into society. The event itself was low key however John made one of his inspiring speeches in which he spoke of the poverty trap, made worse by our current benefit system. It was this handout culture that prompted him, with the help of Gordon Roddick, to set up the Big Issue whereby the poor and homeless would work for their money, gaining self-esteem and a ‘hand-up’ in the process. His statistic on the 501 homeless charities that exist was disturbing: you really have to wonder what would happen if that effort was directed to ‘hand-ups’ rather than handouts as most of it currently is.
John himself was a neglected child who, as he wryly puts it, was brought up by “Her Majesty’s prison system.” In an amusing aside he pointed out how his time in prison cost more than it did to educate David Cameron at Eton!
The need for John’s work is inextricably linked to the way in which children begin their lives. Lack of a loving stable home will almost,always result in a problem be it large or small. Every year around 4000 children are removed from their birth families where they have been subject to neglect or abuse, either intentionally or not. On average they will have probably spent a year ‘waiting’ while the social care system tries to sort out foster parenting. Of these about 1000 never find a home and are shunted around the care system. Needless to say, their futures are not hopeful. Around one-third will not take GCSEs. Children in the care system are three times more likely to be unemployed and twice as likely to have a criminal record.
I’m not saying this means they’ll end up homeless but whether they end up with a home for life is another story. The way in which children are shunted around the system slowly means that with each birthday they become less likely to get adopted. And that’s why the issue has to be tackled holistically, something John instinctively understands.