Back in the day, I remember queueing up to go through the Boys’ Gate to stand on the Leazes End in the 1970’s. I vividly remember it being 25p, whilst the cost for adults was an astronomical 50p. Tickets for adults for the upcoming Chelsea game at home are presently on sale for £44. Now of course there has been considerable inflation over the years since it was ten bob in old money to watch the Mags standing on the Leazes End, but at the time that was only about the price of two pints of beer. Where does anybody go to buy beer at £22 per pint?
Obviously there is a difference between sitting today and standing on what was sometimes crumbling terracing, being jostled and pushed around and often worse, if it was a big crowd and the bloke behind you had a bladder full of beer….
But…evidence does suggest that matchday tickets are now about 6 or 7 times more expensive than they were in the 1970’s. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this, one thing is certain: many people are effectively priced out of going to a football match these days, especially if they are going to take their kids along as well.
But then there are millions of families across Britain today, who are more concerned about whether they can eat properly or heat their homes as winter approaches, never mind going to a football match. According to Oxfam GB, “the UK is the world’s six largest economy, yet 1 in 5 of the UK population live below our official poverty line, meaning that they experience life as a daily struggle.”
For many families the daily struggle to get by has resulted in them having to go to local food banks. Across Britain there are currently over 240 foodbanks. In Newcastle there is a food bank in the East End which, “provides a minimum of 3 days emergency food and support to local people in crisis”, whilst a similar food bank in the West End, “opened on the 14th of March 2013, at the Church of the Venerable Bede, West Road, Newcastle”. That one of the richest nations in the world has so many food banks is a shocking indictment of the coalition government’s policies. It is also an indication of the depth of poverty in Britain today.
Many of the poor in Britain today are misrepresented by the wealthy and powerful. The coalition government have consistently tried to put across the stereotype of the poor person being somebody on benefits, living the Life of Riley. Indeed it is often overlooked that the amount of money lost to the economy in tax revenue avoided by the very wealthy is fully seventy times more than the amount lost through benefit fraud. The nonsensical stereotype of the poor has been recently exposed as such by none other than that high priest of New Labour, Alan Milburn, whose recent report on behalf of the government stated that most of the poverty in Britain today involves families where adults are in work, but earning low wages. In the meantime the cost of living continues to rise inexorably. There is a need for all of us to take responsibilty, but especially those in positions of power. The problem is that as long as they feel that the poor are so marginalised that they aren’t going to bother voting, then politicians aren’t concerned about them too much.
Ed Miliband promised at the Labour Conference that energy prices would be frozen under an incoming Labour government. It is noteworthy that far from being a disaster for Miliband, it has actually put the Tories on the back foot, just when they were wanting to trumpet the fact that they have got the growth rate back to about 75% of what it was when the Coalition came to power in May 2010. Miliband should be much bolder again in defence of the poor and marginalised.
As a society we need to open our hearts to the needy whoever they are. In the past there were prophets on the side of the poor, such as Martin Luther King, who was of course inspired by earlier prophets such as Isaiah, Amos and Jesus, whilst left-wing political leaders also took up the baton. But where are the prophets now, who speak out for the poor and the marginalised? Speakers at People’s Assembly events are certainly voicing their concerns about the gap between rich and poor and are speaking up for the need to protect the most vulnerable in society. But, more pointedly, where are the politicians in the major parties who speak for the poor? Where are the people in power who have a real intuition for those left on the margins, by the wayside of life? Those on the edges, ignored like wingers not having the ball passed to them on a cold, grey, rainy afternoon.
Sometimes it seems like British politics has just become a cosy club for middle and upper class people, who have a degree in Politics or Modern History and have gone straight from university to become researchers with one of the main poltical parties and then onto a safe seat in parliament. There seem to be so few politicians today who have actually experienced real poverty. Perhaps that’s why they find it so easy to cut benefits, to force councils to cut their budgets, or to speak so glibly about what it is to be poor.
A society’s integrity is judged not by its wealth and power, but by how it treats its most vulnerable and marginalised members. Poverty causes deep wounds and damaging scars in our society, scars that in some cases never heal. We need those wounds and scars to be healed for the sake of all of us. A good society is one where we look after each other. We need to refocus on that vision after the years of austerity policies, which have seen the wealthy get richer, whilst the poor get continually poorer – and more numerous.
It has been said that government budgets are moral documents and I agree. How governments acquire and spend their money are not just political decisions; they are moral decisions. The decisions should be informed by a concern for all members of our country, not just political expediency. It is time that we made real the vision of a truly inclusive society where the poor are cared about and helped out of their predicament; not driven into ever deeper despair.
© Peter Sagar October 2013
1. Only ONE week left to book your tickets for Mark Steel 31st Oct
The People’s Assembly Against Austerity presents:
MARK STEEL + Guests
Thursday 31ST OCTOBER • 8pm • Northern Stage • Newcastle
Tickets £10 / £5 Concessions
Mark Steel is a well-known comedian, satirist and columnist for the Independent newspaper as well as a co-founder of The People’s Assembly.
Mark appears regularly on British television and radio and his best known work includes The Mark Steel Lectures along with frequent appearances on Have I Got News for You (eight times), Question Time and BBC Radio 4’s The News Quiz.
Mark performs at Northern Stage as a guest of The People’s Assembly North East for one night only, with support from stand-up poet Kate Fox and The Dead Peasants, a mix of blues, punk and Dylan.
Tickets are a very-inclusive £10 / £5 concessions and can be purchased via the Northern Stage website or at the Northern Stage box-office – block bookings are available. All proceeds go to help fund the anti-austerity activities of the People’s Assembly. Northern Stage is a fully accessible venue.