Waitrose, Sunday. I’m standing in a numbered aisle trying to decide whether to buy the ginger and fig soap, the transparent glycerine bar in its clingy see-through wrapper or a shapely little thing containing pure extracts of acacia honey. Suddenly, I feel ridiculous. Not ridiculous enough to do anything radical (I bought two of the above) but ridiculous nonetheless.
Every now and then I walk into a supermarket and feel as if I’ve walked into another world. It hits me that this is a country so rich that its shops are full to bursting with imported and home-made produce, beautifully packaged and presented. Lots of people can afford to buy lots of things they don’t need and probably don’t even really want. People like me.
Sheffield, Monday. I’m sitting at my desk sifting through recent news stories when I come across figures from the Office of National Statistics which appear to show that living in Glasgow can knock years off your life.
In fact, a Glaswegian man dies an average 11.5 years earlier than a man in London’s plush suburb of Kensington & Chelsea. For women the age differential is 9.5 years.
The south west, south east and east of England continue to have the highest life expectancy. Scotland, north east England and north west England have the lowest. Of the ten local authorities with the lowest life expectancy at birth in 2002-4, seven were in Scotland. Sadly, I’ve heard it all before.
Sheffield, Tuesday. Church Action on Poverty has sent me a pack for its living ghosts campaign. In the words of the campaign: ‘A living ghost is neither asylum seeker nor refugee; they exist without recognition or basic living needs.’
The campaign includes a menu of individual action - living on £5 and a food parcel for the first week of advent, prayer and reflection or real political action.
Britain is full of living ghosts. Human beings who live on the very edges of our society. Ignored, reviled or pitied. People who live poor and die young. Embracing those people, socially and economically, is what regeneration is all about. But we also need to embrace them as human beings, as people who have value whether or not they are working; whether or not they look like us or speak the same language.
As individuals we can all work in regeneration. You don’t have to be religious, you don’t have to wear a label that says ‘wet, woolly and well-meaning’. You just have to believe we can make a difference.
Susan Downer, assistant editor
- New Start Online Online magazine