I am delighted to be asked to write a regular column for the Times. The Times is a longstanding, valued part of our civic and political life. The fact that we increasingly live in a digital world doesn’t diminish the importance of a local newspaper: on the contrary.
As Christmas approaches and winter sets in, it is important that we recognise those who will find it difficult to celebrate. I meet at my weekly advice surgeries local residents who are struggling to keep their heads above water. They are on low incomes; their pay, event with housing benefit, is insufficient to pay the rent; the Council is demanding a minimum of 15% of council tax, even if there is no money to pay it; and so, arrears and debts are piling up. The food bank offers some relief but, beyond that, a New Year of mounting worry beckons.
Some have already fallen through the cracks: the mentally ill; ex-servicemen who cannot cope with civilian life; ex-prisoners; those who haven’t been able to adjust to a breakdown in a family relationship. Some are sofa hopping. Some are sleeping rough. I am a Patron of the charity SPEAR, and my wife Rachel volunteers – counting the rough sleepers in local parks. I am shocked by the growing numbers in central London and provincial cities like Sheffield which I visited last week.
It isn’t all a tale of woe. Most people cope. Families are often able to help. And one of the strengths of our society is that there are many goo-hearted people – in the churches and charities – who will rally round to help.
But, unless the Government shows more sensitivity to the plight of those at the bottom, things could get seriously nasty.
Sir Vince Cable MP