Sport Relief: Luther Special & a Quick Text Won’t Do it!

We’re watching Sport Relief, an unrelenting mash up of fun, sporting heroics, comedy and conviction. The banter, unlikely competitions, silly stunts, heroic feats (Eddie Izzard) and comedy sketches are fun and at times it’s all very inspiring. The short, beautifully crafted films capture eye-watering poverty with grim commentary that pulls no punches. The whole venture feels like a great endeavour.

On the night, if the extreme silliness and comedy jars with the hard-hitting stories, then on the whole Sport Relief seem to pull it off.

For me it’s the big sponsors that are the problem. The absence of any comment on corporate and government policy, affecting the lives of those featured.

Alongside all the hard work, team building and back patting about sponsorship we don’t get to hear corporates siting changes in their investment policies. Or the impact of mainstreaming their Fairtrade range. Or paying workers a living Wage.

So the Premier League raise over a £1 million. When Deloitte reports that in 2013-14 the combined revenues of Premier League clubs soared by 29% to £3.26bn – and pre-tax profits of £187m. A million seems a bit piffling.

I’d like to hear Sport Relief highlight this absurd inequality. I’d love to hear the Premier League report all its clubs are paying a Living Wage.

John Bishop recalls a rubbish dump in Kenya – and returning we cheer Margaret who is away from the tip and going to school. And her Grandma has started a business. We don’t hear that the rubbish dump is still there, and remains a magnet to the poorest and most vulnerable. The system remains.

It’s ironic to hear pronouncements about UK government matching donations to Sport Relief via Gift Aid, when so many of the projects that will benefit are facing crippling cuts or closure because of government policies introduced targeting cuts to small voluntary organisations. Or that users of the services are victims to cuts targeting the most vulnerable. Or victims of welfare reform. We don’t hear about this. It’s a huge absence.

“We need to show you what you, what we, need to change” says Danny Dyer. The problem is no amount of donations will bring the change he’s calling for. We need system change – and that comes through progressive policies, the ballot box and an ethical, regulated market. It won’t happen after a mini-Luther, and a quick text on a Friday night.

I’m up for Sport Relief, Comic Relief. Here’s to more comedy and creativity and acts of individual generosity – and extraordinary projects that inspire!

And alongside this real stories about unregulated markets – about landlords raising rents and making life intolerable for the poorest. Or the impact of a social ‘safety net’ quietly dismantled and a spike in the numbers of homeless. The human cost of closures, cuts, of policies pursuing profits and privatisation.

And alongside stories of individuals who have had their lives transformed, lets include a Danny Boyle style celebration of systems we need – decent public health, public housing and public education – systems that benefit the poorest and most vulnerable, that we need to keep and preserve.

Running Away With It

London Marathon today on the day the Sunday Times published its annual ‘Rich List’.

Crowds of runners pelted past Canada Water (renamed for the day following a sponsorship deal with a bottled water company)  as we learn the collective wealth of Britain’s richest 1,000 people now stands at a staggering £547.126 billion. Astonishingly, despite the world economy suffering a decade-long recession this figure has more than doubled since a total of just under £250bn was recorded in 2005.

Alongside this we’ve had a decade that has seen food banks become an essential component in a new, skinnier, meaner welfare state, a hike in fees for further education and an explosion in house prices and rent costs. Zero hour contracts proliferate; we’ve seen a mushrooming of part time jobs and a spike in the numbers of people calling themselves ‘self-employed’ – earning on average around £10k annually.

It’s 2015. By any standards we are becoming a more unequal society. It beggars belief.

Watching the pack of runners go past, the cheering crowds are awash with banners (‘Keep Going Jayne!’), inflatable sticks, oversized spongy hands and and all manner of things to wave. It’s a fantastic atmosphere. People are shouting out all manner of encouragement. Then Simon – in our gang – bellows out through his loud haler “Don’t forget – it’s not a race, it’s a marathon!”

I like that advice. ‘Marathon’ seems to be more about bettering yourself, beating your own time, self-improvement and somehow completing in one piece. Rather than simply competing and racing against others.

A good society sees life is more ‘marathon’ than ‘race’ – about improving myself and finding solidarity and camaraderie with other runners and the crowd. It’s less about a race that involves stepping over others.

More inequality means the richest disappearing off into the distant, racing off and loosing touch with those they started out with – not good for the rest of us. They forget about those left behind.

Libraries of research tell us inequality is bad – an unequal society breeds division, extremist reactions, higher crime and poor health – not good for civilisation. So, if we need better, sharper regulation to ensure more equality, it’s disappointing with an election around the corner, all political parties avoid this stuff.

In the race for No 10, we need to be speaking up, using a loud haler and calling for small incremental changes that create more economic and financial equality. That’s the prize! After all – life is not a race, it’s longer and tougher, like a marathon!