Have a Safe and Peaceful Christmas

2020 has definitely been a challenge and made us all see life in a new way. There’s nothing like a global pandemic to make us realise that simply spending time with our family is the most important thing.

I know many people will find it tough not seeing their families this Christmas. Like many, my family decided not to spend Christmas together this year, even before the latest announcement. It’s a hard decision but the right one for us. Everyone’s situation is different and you have to do what is right for you. There aren’t many bonuses but one has got to be not being able to fall out over Trivial Pursuit.

The fantastic thing about family Christmas traditions is that they develop over time. They morph as families change and new people are added. As kids grow from toddlers to teenagers. They can seem so normal to people brought up with it and only exposed when a new partner or friend observes it for the first time. And then you are outed as the crazy people who open their presents AFTER Christmas lunch!

As the social side of Christmas is somewhat limited this year, I’m sure food will be centre stage for many. It definitely will be for me and my family. However, some people do not have that option. There are some unbelievable facts about the prevalence of low wages. Low wages make families have to choose between heating and eating. The New Economics Foundation found that by next April a third of the UK population will be living on an income with which they can’t afford the basics for a decent standard of living. This inequality is causing food poverty. The richest 10% of households in Great Britain hold 44% of wealth. The poorest 50%, by contrast, own just 9%. In the sixth richest national it is just not acceptable.

I’ll be watching the programme tonight following Marcus Rashford’s food poverty campaign. He’s doing a cracking job but it’s a sad indictment on this country that it’s taken a footballer to step in to help address this problem. It’s shameful that 320 Conservative MPs voted to against feeding kids over school holidays. That Jacob Rees Mogg complained about UNICEF feeding hungry British children.

Imagine if the spacemen who came travelling in Chris de Burgh’s song saw the queuing at food banks. I bet he would be baffled at how a prosperous country could let it happen.

This year the North of Tyne Combined Authority chose the West End Food Bank as its charity. The staff have raised an impressive amount of money to donate. They do such a fantastic job of catching and supporting people when they are most in need. A fantastic project that makes me proud to come from the North East.

We’re doing what we can through the North of Tyne Combined Authority by creating good jobs on decent wages. We are supporting people into employment through training and looking at innovative ways to address the underlying causes. I’m not going to stop pushing on this issue until there is zero poverty.

This experience will not leave us and in time may even be a source of pride that we were there and we got through it together.

My youngest son is an aspiring Thespian. His favourite speech is the St Crispin’s day speech from Henry V. That’s the one where Henry V inspires his troops before battle and reminds them how they will feel in the pub afterwards. “Then will he strip his sleeves and show his scars, and say ‘these wounds I had on Crispin’s day’”.

This year was not easy, and next year will be challenging too. The North East has stuck together and that feels right. That’s the kind of North East people want to live in. I’ll keep on fighting for the recovery. We can get through this if we stick together.

Let’s embrace differences, even if it means enduring sprouts for Christmas dinner.

Published originally in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 21.12.20