Fri, 19 July 2024

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Lords Diary: Lord Bird


4 min read

That day before last Christmas was important. I spent the morning at the National Gallery looking at Nicolas Poussin’s The Adoration of the Golden Calf.

I’ve been looking at this painting for years, since the days I tried painting it in the 1960s, fresh out of a young offenders institute. I was resolved to be Britain’s greatest painter.

Apart from being a wonderful work of art, why this particular painting? Simply because it shows that humanity is often capable of taking its eye off the rabbit and get caught up in distractions. Moses is up the mountain getting the 10 commandments and people below are worshipping a golden idol.

My fear is an exit of landlords from providing rented accommodation

Lessons there for the future of humanity. When will we see clearly enough to dump our excessive consumerism and repair the damaging planet?

The bigness of the day was because of the launch of a new All-Party Parliamentary Group called Business Responses to Social Crises. When I launched The Big Issue with Gordon Roddick of The Body Shop, I declared we were “a business response to a social crisis”.

It was important to me to separate ourselves from the idea of a charity. A charity could give homeless people almost everything from a place to sleep, wash, eat, a shoulder to cry on and even condoms. There were 501 charities for homeless people in London alone. But none of them gave people in need a way of making their own money.

Homeless people were always getting in trouble with the police and I wanted to give them the chance of making their own money and not keep getting nicked.

So we were a social business, an enterprise that was business-like.

Thirty-one years later creating our new APPG is marshalling businesses that want to help bring about social change; those that want to work with government and charities to aid business-like solutions to fight poverty.

MPs Bambos Charalambous and Peter Aldous and non-affiliated Baroness Uddin were elected officers, along with myself. It was a simple chat of a launch, with the real celebrations when we are up and running in February. Numerous other MPs and peers have been in touch wanting to get involved.

A sandwich in the Pugin room and a cup of tea followed with The Big Issue staff joining me. We talked about our New Year Campaign; a campaign to protect the safety nets that people need to survive the cost of living crisis.

The fear is for those who are likely to be evicted because landlords are looking to pass the costs of inflation on to tenants; and many renters are unable to pay increased costs. Landlords, many of them single property owners, are likewise being squeezed. How can we get the government to help reconcile these two needs?

My fear is an exit of landlords from providing rented accommodation like after the 1965 Rent Act, which put enormous pressure on social housing, causing councils to raise the bar and taking only the most neediest, and by that creating ghettos of need and social separation.

With a fifth of all housing provided by the private rental sector we mustn’t see a sizable section shifting out of providing. A rent freeze as some have advocated might push landlords into selling, or going towards Airbnb.

We need more social housing for sure. But we also need more sociable housing – socially mixed housing that doesn’t produce ghettos of need.

After work is over I do my usual, which is to walk from Parliament to King’s Cross. I know central London from walking it, sleeping in it and working in it. It is a questionable joy to pass through now.
I never fail to remember what plans some developers had for Covent Garden, imagining a Canary Wharf for Central London. Unfortunately London is having the stuffing knocked out of it by more devious developments.

The unliveable, unfriendly, unaffordable city! Government, wake up!


Lord Bird is a crossbench peer.

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Read the most recent article written by Lord Bird - Thatcher’s right-to-buy scheme has inflicted untold harm to renters today