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Opinion

We need to address the ingredients that make-up homelessness

Many people being evicted now only need a home in order to keep their lives on track. We need to tackle this threat before they slip into the social treacle of homelessness, writes Big Issue founder John Bird.

I have always been an Ingredientist. As far as I know this intellectual concept has not been formally named yet, but it does not stop me from sitting and thinking about the ingredients that make up a thing – the “thing” being a loaf of bread, for instance, or a social collapse.

In 1893, at the Chicago World Fair, a radical German baker, according to Simeon Giedion in his book Space, Time and Architecture, introduced a new kind of bread.

The traditional loaf took about 40 minutes to bake. The radical baker could turn out bread in four minutes. His method was aeration. You pump hot air into dough and inflate it. You end up with the modern loaf of white bread that hundreds of millions of us in the US and the UK lived on each day.

Bread was cheap but lacked ingredients that were nutritious. Full of sugar and salt, I believe, and the cornerstone of a poor, working-class diet. A diet that laid down what later became the nutritional nightmare that many poor people now live with.

This was followed by the poly-wrapped pizza that may be all you could afford, and its only saving grace was that it cost so little. An inflatable loaf of bread and a cardboard-like pizza may be the only things that stop you starving.

So, saving time and making money from mass bakery made fortunes for some, but had dire consequences for generations of stomachs – consequences which underlie many of our current nutritional problems (half the inhabitants of my local hospital, I was told by a doctor, pre-Covid, were there because of nutritional deficits).

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A desire to rationalise production and cut costs has had a marked effect on our poorest and has made up one of the ingredients that have been the driving forces of contemporary poverty. Pot Noodles, I think, can be added to this pantheon of ugly food that drains the body of health if it becomes part of a regular diet.

A quick look at the ingredients that made up the First World War illustrates my belief that we need to understand things by their ingredients. Only by breaking things down to their constituent parts do you get to know the cause, and therefore its effects.

The thing about Ingredientism is that it goes beyond simply the big and obvious bits that are called history. For instance, after dividing up the world – largely Africa – the nations of Europe then fell upon each other to protect what they had won imperially; or wished to have more of. Big stuff there.

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But there were tangential, apparently random and often decisive ingredients that made up the outcome – savage and murderous death.

Queen Victoria’s desire to yoke all the big countries of Europe to her royal network added to the chemistry of the war that came later. Sowing her royal oats, she had her daughters marry into Europe’s royal houses.

Later, it was the heads of state – some of them her grandchildren – who squared off against each other. Because rivalry had been created much more than the solidarity that had been Victoria’s intention.

Competitiveness began to distort Europe as Germany tried to catch up and outstrip its “cousin” regime – the UK. Add also the fact that the Kaiser, who took Germany to war, had a deep sense of shame and inadequacy, having been born with a withered arm.

Injured at birth by a bad delivery by an English doctor, the paranoia compounded itself. Among other things, this caused the Kaiser always to dress and act tough; sometimes changing from one military uniform to another 25 times in a day. An ingredient, not necessarily the deciding one, but an ingredient of significance when the leader of the nation is spoiling to prove himself. By rubbing his cousins up the wrong way.

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I was reminded of ingredients again recently when I was talking to a government minister to try to get him to buy into the idea of avoiding mass homelessness by supporting people to stay in their homes.

To say no to mass evictions that look increasingly likely (it is reported circa 1,000 people have already been evicted due to Covid-created job loss and poverty).

I pointed out to him the difference between people made homeless by Covid and those who have been in homelessness for a length of time.

I was saying that most of the homeless I have met had numerous ingredients that made up their homelessness: coming from poverty, not doing well at school, family breakdown. Illiteracy. Mental health issues flowing from poverty, etc.

The Big Issue is working to prevent thousands of people hit by the pandemic from falling into homelessness in the months ahead through the Stop Mass Homelessness campaign. Sign our petition and find out how you can take action now here.

I said I had rarely met a homeless person whose only problem was that they didn’t have a home. It was the ingredients that compounded in their lives to cause the distress that expresses itself as homelessness.

That’s why “you can take people out of the street but you can’t take the street out of people” – unless you challenge the ingredients that make up the collapse into homelessness.

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But then I added that we are now seeing a new threat of homelessness where, in fact, people falling into homelessness through being evicted only need a home in order to keep their lives on track.

They don’t have all of the ingredients that have led many others into the tragedy of being homeless that The Big Issue has been dealing with for the past three decades.

It’s this new homelessness – a new and massive threat – that could, and must, be countered by keeping people in their homes. And vigorously helping them to get a job, before they slip into the social treacle of homelessness and start taking in the ingredients that will keep them homeless for too long.

I’m leading a debate in the Lords next week. It’s about the combined impact the end of the Job Retention Scheme, the reduction in Universal Credit and the rise in fuel prices will have on people’s ability to afford to stay in their homes. This issue needs oxygenating.

Being an Ingredientist makes me want to prevent the new homeless from having to stomach all the ingredients of homelessness and pass them on to their children. If you see what I mean.

John Bird is the founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue.
@johnbirdswords
linkedin.com/in/johnbirdswords
john.bird@bigissue.com

This article is taken from the latest edition of The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach local your vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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