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Lord Bates: John Bird - the anti-poverty worker who sees through anti-poverty campaigners. He's needed in Downing Street.

BATES MICHAELLord Bates of Langbaurgh was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Langbaurgh 1992-7, and Paymaster General 1996-7.

Writing in The Times (£) recently, John Bird, founder and editor in chief of The Big Issue, expressed frustration that the current welfare debate had been reduced to whether Iain Duncan Smith could live on £53 per week, he wrote:

“For more than two decades—ever since I set up The Big Issue so that the homeless could through their own efforts earn a legal income—I have been arguing that spending more on benefits makes neither social or financial sense. Yet as society grew wealthier and healthier, the number of people we parked on benefits grew too, men and women who have never gone out to work in their lives.

What the poverty industry has done is corral them into a class outside of mainstream society. Struggling by on benefits, their children are marginalised at school, creating the next generation of poor dependents. These children are as bright as the offspring of the middle-class defenders of the poor, but few make it into university, whether ancient, red-brick or white tiled."

What marks out these words is the credibility of the author. John Bird has probably done more practically to alleviate poverty in the UK than any other individual since General William Booth founded the Salvation Army. No-one could question John Bird’s compassion for, and commitment to the poorest in society. Yet his critique of the current state of welfare and of the ‘poverty industry’ is one which needs to receive the widest possible attention.

If someone smart in Downing Street is looking for an authentic, compassionate advocate for the case for reform then they should give Mr Bird a call immediately, even better create a new ‘Lord Bird’ to engage in shaping a welfare system which serves the interests of the poor rather than hand-wringing liberal elites which have ‘corralled the poor into a class outside the mainstream of the society’.

I have no idea if Mr Bird would be willing to take on such a role but in 2010 he did confess to The Sunday Express (25 October, 2010):

My guilty secret is that I’m really a working class Tory. There, I’ve said it.” And went on “I’d love to be a liberal because they’re the nice people but it’s really hard work – I can’t swallow their gullibility and I think their ideas are stupid.”

I find John Bird someone of sound judgement on a whole range of issues and look forward to hearing more.....


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