On The Eye our Editor Phil Parry has described how he was helped to break into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and making clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.
He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Wales TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off.
Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.
After disclosing why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different views, as well as exploring how all the ‘rough’ places where he has conducted interviews actually expose the truth about poverty, here he analyses the complex problems of inequality and homelessness as those affected by them are more vulnerable to coronavirus, and talks too about the questioning he has done of many people who are living on the streets.
Homelessness and inequality are in the news as never before, and with the lockdown over coronavirus (Covid-19) they have been thrown into stark relief.
But after years of interviewing people on the bottom rung of the ladder of life I know these problems are enormously complicated, and will be very difficult to counter.
Homelessness for example, is not governed by a single issue, but usually by many of them, which can often include the person losing his or her job, marital breakdown, as well as the use of drink or drugs, and it has been exacerbated by the present lockdown.
But let’s start with inequality.
It is usually measured by something called the ‘Gini coeffecient’, and it has increased globally in recent years, but not by much.
In the late 20th century, considering the effect of taxes and transfer payments, the income Gini coefficient ranged between 0.24 and 0.49, with Slovenia being the lowest and Mexico the highest.
African countries had the highest pre-tax Gini coefficients in 2008–2009, with South Africa the world’s highest, variously estimated to be between 0.63 and 0.7, although this figure drops to 0.52 after social assistance is taken into account, and drops again to 0.47 following taxation.
In 2010, while the top 10 per cent received 31 per cent of all income, the bottom 10 per cent received just 1 per cent.
The United States of America (the richest country in the world) has a Gini coefficient of 0.485, the highest it has been in 50 years.
Inequality in the UK has actually FALLEN slightly this decade, although it is still higher than it was in the 1960s and 70s.
But there are many different ways to examine inequality figures.
It is certainly true that the tiny number of very rich people has increased, and they are vastly wealthier then the small number of very poor, but if you look at it across the world – millions have been lifted out of extreme poverty and now have jobs, health care, televisions and fridges; especially in China and South East Asia because the countries there have industrialised at an unprecedented rate.
So it is absolutely accurate to say that the richest person is enormously wealthier than the poorest, and the gap has grown wider, but if you look at the NUMBERS who are now not poor yet much better off, it tells a very different story.
Homelessness is another issue which has been highlighted by the present lockdown to prevent the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19).
The homeless are especially vulnerable to contracting the virus and hence to transmitting it, because they are more likely to suffer from underlying health conditions.
In England, where a survey one night last autumn found 4,300 people sleeping rough, Pathway, a health-care charity for the homeless, estimated they are 2.5 times as likely to have asthma as the general population, and 34 times likelier to have tuberculosis, conditions that often make Covid-19 fatal. Homeless men in England have a life expectancy of 44, half the UK average.
Homeless people also face huge problems in practising social-distancing.
In the tent encampments and shelters where they congregate, it can be simply impossible. So efforts to move people indoors might even be counterproductive.
Conditions for those sleeping rough are becoming harder too, as shelters close for lack of staff. Soup kitchens and other facilities cannot operate under social-distancing rules, and, for those begging, sources of income dry up.
More people are joining the ranks of the homeless every day – for economic reasons but also because women are escaping the increase in domestic violence that the lockdown has caused.
As forecasts of the looming global recession seem to grow gloomier by the day, the numbers of the unsheltered may rise, even as the pandemic wanes
But I know from long experience that the issues connected with homelessness generally are extremely complex.
Pictures of tents on the streets of Wales’ capital Cardiff show, apparently, how bad the problem has become, and more than 4,000 people asked Cardiff Council for help with homelessness in the last year.
Among those 4,000 who have registered, were 465 children, including 50 aged under 12 months old, found to be unintentionally homeless.
In July, 344 of the households which applied for help were still homeless two months later, while 481 were still threatened with homelessness, and every month 400 new households are added to the housing waiting list.
A spokeswoman for the homeless charity Shelter Cymru said: “Shelter Cymru is aware that Cardiff has a serious problem with homelessness and the fact that 400 new households a month are added to the social housing list is a shocking statistic.
“The number of adults and children living in poor-quality housing or housing that they can’t afford is appalling and this leads to people facing potential homelessness.”
Cardiff Council removed 34 tents across the city centre between February and June (last year), saying it wanted to encourage more rough sleepers to access its accommodation and services.
But in that time the number of rough sleepers on Cardiff’s streets has risen from 73 to 84.
The number of rough sleepers on Cardiff’s streets fluctuated between 72 and 87 from November to June (2018 – 2019).
Yet it is not as simple as just giving these people homes.
Many homeless people have told me they actually PREFER living on the streets because they are free from the stress of paying mortgages and bills, and they are resentful of people who want to give them a roof over their heads.
Clearly this doesn’t apply to all of them on the streets – it is an incredibly violent place where fights break out regularly, and people die young – yet I would be failing in my duty as a journalist of many years standing if I didn’t report this.
So the next time a homeless person in the street is featured in the media, and you are tempted to give money during the lockdown, or bemoan inequality around the world in these strange times, think about how complicated the issues are before you hand over your cash.
It may affect your decision…
Phil’s memories of his extraordinary 36-year award-winning career in journalism as he was gripped by the incurable disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major new book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!
If you need something to keep the kids entertained during these uncertain times (in Welsh) try Ffwlbart Ffred about the amusing stories of Ffred and his pet.
Tomorrow – more alarming revelations about the career of a South Wales conman who had his legs broken when a drug deal went wrong and The Eye have been alone in exposing.