Three news items this week sent me in the same (leftward) direction. One item was the news that Radio 1 is fifty. It is well known that the first record on Radio 1 was Flowers in the Rain by The Move written by a then 18 year old Roy Wood. Did you also know that in a promotional stunt, for the record - typical of the band's manager Tony Secunda, apparently - postcard was released with a cartoon of a naked Harold Wilson, linking him to his secretary Marcia Williams. Wilson sued, and the High Court ordered that all royalties from the song were donated to a charity of Wilson's choice. This legal arrangement remains in force to this day and is thought to have cost the group millions of pounds in royalties over the years. During the single's chart success, most of the money went to the Spastics Society and Stoke Mandeville Hospital. In the 1990s, The Observer newspaper reported the royalties had exceeded £200,000 and found that The Harold Wilson Charitable Trust had extended the range of beneficiaries to include, among others, the Oxford Operatic Society, Bolton Lads Club and the Jewish National Fund for Israel. Wood has tried to get them to give the money to the Birmingham Children's Hospital but without success,
Then there was the death of Tony Booth, father-in-law to Tony Blair. Booth's father was, like Booth himself for a while, a merchant seaman and one day while working in the hold of a ship, a derrick swung and smashed his pelvis and back, along with a leg and an arm. For three weeks everyone assumed that he would die. During this period the shipping company stopped his wages. The only source of income that the family had was from the young Tony’s paper round and what his mother earned as a charwoman. It was apparently a defining moment for Booth. He became a believer in the trade union movement and joined the Labour Party at the age of 15.
The more obvious third one is the story of "Alexa Clarke" who when her daughter turned five in November, couldn’t afford to celebrate. Nor could she afford to heat her house, put healthy food on the table or buy her daughter new shoes for school. Why? Because her benefits had been halted and she was being transitioned to universal credit (UC), the government’s flagship welfare reform that rolls six benefit payments, currently paid weekly or fortnightly, into one monthly lump sum. It took seven weeks (!!!) for Clarke’s first UC to arrive, and she had only an advance of £447, which she had requested as an emergency interest-free loan to live on, as the bills piled up.
“I was scared to even pick my daughter up from school sometimes because I felt like I was failing her,” says Clarke (not her real name).. “Everyone else was carrying Christmas shopping and I couldn’t even keep my house warm.” Tameside, in Greater Manchester, was the first local authority to initiate the welfare reform programme in 2013. Clarke, 24, had been living on weekly and fortnightly benefit payments since her daughter was born before being moved on to UC last year. She had never missed a rent payment, and had mastered the art of budgeting her benefits. But just as her daughter started school and she began applying for restaurant jobs, everything fell apart. In the wait for initial payment, the heating shut off, then the electricity failed, Clarke’s phone credit ran out, and she had no choice but to approach a nearby foodbank.
At the same time, an adviser at Tameside’s Jobcentre Plus insisted she spend 25 hours each week looking for work, or risk sanctions, a condition of the new UC. Clarke couldn’t even afford the bus fare she needed to hand out her CV to local restaurants.