Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Poverty Debate

Sunday's Radio 5 Live poverty debate with Stephen Nolan was an interesting way of spending late Sunday evening and early Monday morning. It all started when Edwina Currie, who has never been afraid to speak whatever enters her mind, said on an earlier Stephen Nolan show that she didn't believe that we have people in this country who can't find money for food. Unsurprisingly, this led to an outcry and this debate was the outcome and I managed to secure a ticket. For three hours, the evidence was piled up in front of Edwina - Patricia, who runs one of the expanding number of Trussell Trust food banks; Nigel, who is opening a food bank in Sparkbrook; a CAB volunteer who knows that there will be a queue outside the office first thing on Monday and that it will include people who have to try to cope on just £5 a week for food; the eloquent community worker from Coventry who works with people who are on the very margin of society; Louise, who has to rely on family members to help buy food for her baby; or the elderly lady who is facing up to a £100 cut in her winter fuel allowance to pay for the electric heating in her poorly-insulated flat. For three hours, people bore witness to the troubles afflicting people who are clinging on to what passes for an existence in this country and for three hours, Edwina denied it all with a disregard for basic humanity not granted to many.
She has form, of course. Many years ago, as a government minister, she attended a meeting at my old university, when she was asked from the floor what she felt about the old people who would surely die during the difficult winter ahead. Her response was brutally simple 'We've all got to go sometime, dear.' Unsurprising for someone who felt that the best advice for the elderly at risk of hypothermia was to "wear woolly hats and long johns."
Her expertise doesn't just cover poverty, of course. She is an expert on HIV transmission "Good Christian people who wouldn't dream of misbehaving will not catch AIDS"  and on cervical cancer "Nuns don't get it, virgins don't get it" - a comment that was actually cited as a reason why some women did not attend for a potentially life-saving smear test, for fear of being marked as promiscuous and, of course, she was the woman who nearly closed down the British egg industry and saw 2 million hens slaughtered as a result.
As I said, form as long as your arm.

No comments: