Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Caroline Mortimer

GET UPDATES FROM Caroline Mortimer
 

Do They Know It's Christmas?

Posted: 21/12/11 22:32

Way back in the dark days of the Thatcherite eighties, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure got together with a group of friends to speculate about whether the famine stricken populations of Africa knew it was Christmas. However they never thought to ask the hungry residents of the UK.

A report by the University of Sheffield for the homeless charity Crisis, released just in time for Christmas, concluded that a homeless person was likely to die 30 years earlier than the average UK citizen.

The survey found that whilst the national average is 77 for homeowners and residents, for homeless men its is 47 and for women this falls even lower to 43. It comes on the back of a proposed £20m government scheme to get people back off the streets.

However, what were the most widely reported news stories the day the news broke; breast implants and Luis Suarez getting banned for eight matches over a race row.

The report covered people living in temporary accommodation and night shelters as well as out on the streets. It found that although a 1/3 of all deaths can be attributed to alcohol and drug abuse; homeless people were nine times more likely to commit suicide and three times as likely to be killed in a road accident.

Crisis' chief executive, Leslie Morphy said "It is shocking, but not surprising, that homeless people are dying much younger than the general population. Life on the streets is harsh and the stress of being homeless is clearly taking its toll."

Commenting on the report, another homeless charity Shelter also pointed to the 70,000 children spending Christmas in temporary accommodation such as hostels and bed and breakfasts. Although this is down from 112,000 in 2007 the reality is too many children are still left with a disrupted education, home life and sometimes poor health due to the conditions they are living in.

However, do people even really care that much? Sure it'll get a mention but if overpaid, oversexed and unimportant footballers and the botched boob jobs of their wives make the news ahead of them how can people really pretend to be interested?

Every year excitement about the prospect of a 'White Christmas' flares up as romantics get lost in the Christmas Cardness of it all and the cynics moan about trying to get back to work on 27th. Yet no-one ever spares a thought for the poor soul huddled under the railway bridge trying to keep out of the cold.

Austerity spending cuts are putting regular families to the brink this Christmas but in the valiant fight for their livelihoods people have seemed to bypass any compassion for the people who were already at the bottom of the pile.

We care more about cosmetic surgery and overpaid footballers than we do about our fellow men on the street. Yes, it may be escapism to laugh at the extravagances of life we'll never lead but is our fixation with the haves a way to avoid the guilt associated with the have nots? Is worrying about the plight of orphans in Africa more palatable than the kids next door?

Too many people dismiss all homeless people as drug addicts or runaways. As mentioned above, only a third dies of drug related illnesses and how many turned to drugs whilst living on the streets?

People dismiss 'begging' as immoral but who would sit on the freezing pavement to be ignored all day if they did not have too? Who would live in the cold or in a hostel if they could have a home instead?

There is no such thing as the 'undeserving poor' even though certain tabloids are trying to resuscitate that Victorian myth. Nearly every Christmas special you will watch this Christmas will bang on about the 'true meaning' of Christmas.

Showing some compassion to our fellow humans, the ones on our doorstep, rather than our TV screens may be a good place to start.

 

Follow Caroline Mortimer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CJMortimer