I was talking to a friend of mine last week who had been investigating the £50 mend-your-bike scheme that the Government has offered in order to get us healthy through cycling more. She said it was an extremely helpful website, giving her access to all kinds of cycling stores and resources locally that she had not realized were there. At the same time, as she came close to submitting her request for the £50, there was a paragraph suggesting that the person completing the form should stop and think whether they really needed this £50 to fix their bike, or could actually afford it themselves. She decided she could not justify the status of really ‘needing’ it, so cancelled her request. She will, nonetheless, fix the bike herself.
Good for her, I say. And it brought to mind my mother, who died in 2001, saying to me for many years that she felt bad about free prescription charges but that there was no way of paying the money back into the NHS. I know many of us are uncomfortable with receiving the heating allowance that comes in every year whether you need it or not. Again, it would be good to donate that money specifically to those who do need it, particularly those in one’s local area, but instead one has to pass it on to charity where it goes into a larger pot and one can’t be sure what happens to it.
Now, in August, people are being offered the £10 Eat Out to Help Out scheme to help boost restaurants. And yes, it is great to get our hospitality sector back in action. They need us. But do I really need the £10 of taxpayers’ (many of whom may be worse off than I am) money to pay for this? No, I don’t. It doesn’t feel right. Will I eat out, yes, absolutely as I am thoroughly keen to get our economy going again. And I enjoy a good meal out. But I am uncomfortable about others paying for my delight in visiting a restaurant.
The conversation with my friend brought to mind how this key question “do you really need this?” needs to be placed more firmly in people’s minds. We are so lucky to receive so many benefits in this country and as older people we receive many advantages on transport, in galleries and museums and many other opportunities to save cash. Of course, it is true that we are generally living on fixed incomes – a pension, or income from savings, and are not in the position to generate more money through enterprise or hard work. However, I do think it would be good to consider more often how we could pay back the advantages we receive, and not just when we are old.
TFL is haemoraging money at the moment, as are the bus and train companies yet we still get free travel. No doubt the services will decline as a result as you can’t run a business without customers. We oldies shall no longer enjoy the privilege of a free television licence after the age of 75 unless we receive pension benefit. It is quite a sizeable sum of money so it will make me ever more critical of the gains I might (or might not) receive from this licence – especially as we find ourselves more and more often watching Netflix or Prime as the terrestrial stations seem to offer such dross, other than the occasional period drama … or Line of Duty. (I would probably pay for the licence simply to watch the latter if I had to!)
So, what I am suggesting is that we think more carefully about the various government schemes on offer and appreciate them. There has already been criticism of certain celebrities and companies who have taken advantage of the furlough scheme despite having pots in the bank. I know it can be horrendously difficult to run a business, and especially a small business. When I ran Positiveworks, I soon learnt the need to put money aside for the time when a client merged or got taken over and a new CEO would ditch all the old contracts, or my contact left, or there were budget cuts. Unlike those who become used to a regular salary and the perks of holiday, sick pay and pensions, in a small business you literally count every penny and know that what you earned one month you may not earn the next. Covid must present a nightmare.
Certainly this pandemic is harsher and more challenging than anything I ever faced before and my heart goes out to those who have slaved hard to build businesses only now to watch them collapse. I am fortunate to have retired, to have (at the moment anyway) some money coming in to pay the bills, though the interest from savings is near the negative. I would rather that any £10 or £50 offer, or any government scheme, go to those who are struggling.
This translates, in my mind, to anyone of any age who is the recipient of benefits, so that they consider whether they might give something back in some way, perhaps through voluntary or community work. It is an expectation that has been missing and I think it would do our society good to be reminded of our individual responsibilities to the wellbeing of the whole, as we have been reminded during this pandemic.
I don’t mean to sound like a goodie-goodie. Anyone who knows me knows that I certainly don’t fit that bill. But I have thought for a long time that we need to make more emphasis on what individuals can do for their country and their communities rather than always looking to seek what the government can do for us. I wonder if any of you agree? I suspect you will have some creative suggestions as to how people might do this, in one way or another.
I think these government schemes for bikes and meals are innovative offerings and a much needed shot in the arm for health and the economy. I certainly don’t want to discourage people from getting out there and enjoying eating out again. Then cycling afterwards! I’d just like people to stop and reflect on it all a little in the process and appreciate how lucky we are, despite the virus, to be the recipients of these initiatives.