With Christmas behind us, there is always the risk that our festive bout of compassion for others also becomes a thing of the past.
Sadly, just as a pet is not only for Christmas, neither is the need for charity. The more so as regards the homeless on our streets, as the weather worsens, and those who cannot afford to feed their families.
Yet it is rather easy to forget that this need remains, especially at a time of year when we may have undertaken a little festive overspending and need to rein in a little. But the simple fact is that people are suffering – some visibly on our streets, and some behind the doors of their homes.
And while it is tempting to make a political point from this, since the causes seem fairly evident to most of us – although not, unfortunately, to the minister for housing – right now it is more urgent to work to alleviate the risks and pressures on those having to cope.
The chance to put things right for the longer term will come round in due course.
Of course, you may have seen the news, reported in November, that the number of homeless living on the streets of the Canterbury district has halved in the past year, to 33.
However, it only takes a short walk down the High Street and St Peter’s to get a rather different impression of the position: there are clearly more people sleeping in vacant shop doorways than a year ago.
If we add in the fairly obviously inhabited corners of parks, industrial estates and around the river it’s not difficult to believe that the encouraging count which has been reported might be mistaken – it was, after all, just a snapshot of four hours one night, and of those who could be found.
As we know, the causes of homelessness are not only still with us but becoming more pressing.
The persistence of the government in rolling out the failed Universal Credit system, rising private sector rents, the failure to adequately fund council house building, the wholly avoidable problem of people in (nominal) full-time employment being unable to make ends meet because of low wages, job insecurity and unreliable hours of work: all these add up to creating the conditions in which one problem, like a bout of illness, can throw someone out of a home despite their best efforts.
And once homeless, even if able to “sofa-surf” with friends, access to financial support and the jobs market become even harder to sustain.
Many of the same issues lie beneath the rise in food bank usage. To state the obvious, this is not only something I never expected to see in my lifetime, but something that we, inhabitants of one of the richest countries on the planet, ought to be thoroughly ashamed about.
What, after all, is the purpose of the state and government, if it is not to protect its citizens from penury? It is little or no use spending billions of pounds protecting us from the unlikely event of invasion by foreign armies if we can’t keep our people fed.
So, just because we’re in the New Year and things are a little tight, don’t forget about those less well off than we are.
The generosity shown by the Canterbury Residents’ Facebook group, which raised £5,000 for Catching Lives just before Christmas, is something we can each maintain, and whether you want to donate to that charity, or to Porchlight, or to the district food banks, it’s not difficult to do.
Regular gifts of small amounts of food or cash, from enough of us, can make a significant difference. Let’s make sure we do that for so long as it is needed.
To donate, follow these links:
Dave Wilson is a Labour Party member and community activist who has worked in and around local authorities for 35 years. He is a trustee of Kent Savers Credit Union.