David Lammy: I have been the member of Parliament for Tottenham for 20 years. Sadly, in Tottenham and in Haringey we have among the highest homelessness levels in London and it is a growing problem. Also, on a personal level, my father struggled with alcoholism and was homeless for periods of his life. So for all those reasons, I’m very pleased to attach my name to The Big Issue, which is a publication I’ve written in and bought over many years.
Could homelessness be the next potential crisis?
I think there’s an inevitability to that. As things get desperate in families’ lives, the pressures of being locked down, the stresses that places on relationships, the rhetoric we’re seeing around difference, and inequality – all of this stuff drives people out of their homes and on to the streets. If you haven’t got the welfare state working in a way that supports people, it exacerbates that problem. So I’m afraid this could be the next big crisis as we come out of this Covid-19 nightmare.
Are there other issues around homelessness you want to raise as a Big Issue Ambassador?
Sometimes we don’t recognise that the face of homelessness in our major cities can be a minority face. It is important that there are figures like myself who come from a minority background highlighting that element of the crisis.
What else are you planning as a Big Issue Ambassador?
I’ve been asked to guest edit an edition of The Big Issue for Black History Month [in October], which will be very exciting. To curate some of the issues arising out of the Black Lives Matter campaign. It will be interesting, more than a year on from the killing of George Floyd, to see whether those issues have improved. So I look forward to that issue particularly.
Do you support The Big Issue in campaigning to prevent evictions as a result of the Covid crisis?
Definitely. In my role as Shadow Justice Secretary, I’ve campaigned against evictions. I’m glad the government made a U-turn but it doesn’t go far enough. Unless the government is there with sustained support, not just in the heat of the coronavirus crisis but beyond it, we will see evictions playing out in our courts. It is something I will be pressing the government on.
And what about the Ride Out Recession Alliance’s campaign to reskill people?
A pandemic comes along once every 100 years and throws the world into a degree of chaos. But we know economies bounce back. As the IMF has said, the important thing is to use the power of the state to throw a net around people so they don’t sink. You have to lean into the assets that our country has to make sure people can keep their jobs and stay in a home – and where jobs are lost, to make sure we have a reskilling programme as ambitious as the New Deal.
What do you think about the recent pictures of food parcels for children on free school meals?
It’s totally unacceptable that children in the sixth richest economy in the [world] should be handed such a paltry sum of food that’s meant to be to the value of £30. Look at what’s happening in other countries like Finland or just next door in Wales and you can see the commitment to make sure children aren’t going hungry is sincere. The dignity of a voucher that allows people to purchase what they need is the best way forward.
Any final words on The Big Issue?
In good times, our high streets are busy. We see vendors and we buy a magazine committed to ensuring people who are less well off have that lifeline. We’ve got to be there in tougher times as well. Our high streets aren’t busy but The Big Issue is still there. And you can make a huge difference at this time of recession to so many people who need a home and who need that lifeline.