The invitation to go to an evening of bingo at a local independent living accommodation was irresistible. So off I went. It was a great evening of banter and chat.
My fellow players were all ‘of a certain age’. In their 60s, 70s and some older, they looked forward to meeting, chatting and saying what they thought. I was in for an interesting evening!
Five of us sat around the table with drinks and snacks. The first four ‘houses’ went along with little comment except some grumbles when no one on our table won! But the break for tea and biscuits brought conversation too.
Heating, cost of food and transport, food banks and the mess the country is in began then and carried on after the session finished. We sat and talked. I listened and learned.
The conversation was depressing: nothing is working: not the police, NHS, or schools. Never mind heating costs, being in debt for the first time and the fear of what winter might bring. All of our table friends, including some who are Conservative voters, were depressed at the state of our country.
Then, one mentioned the ‘B’ word! She had a relative in Norfolk. Their farm hasn’t got workers to pick fruit. ‘They used to come from Romania, but now no one does’ Mary said. ‘The fruit’ll be lost. It’ll rot’.
‘Food is so expensive too’ she continued. I’d go to the food bank but getting there is hard at my age.’ Mary’s in her early 80s and a former Health Worker.
George looked on. He was worried about the police and what was happening. ‘When we were kids,’ he said, ‘The police were on the streets, now they’re in cars and don’t meet anyone, especially not our grandchildren’. Nods around the table.
‘What’ll happen to our pension?’ Mary asked. Frank nodded. ‘I’m in a one bed flat and electricity is £97 a month. I’m in arrears for the first time. We get a rise next April, but I need to be able to pay my bills now.’
‘Same for me’ Frank said. He used to be a London black cab driver.
Cost of Living
‘The shops are in a bad way too. The cost of food is has really gone up. I used to pay £1.10 for a wholemeal loaf. Now it’s £1.70. How can we cope? What’s caused it all?’
The faces looked at me. I’d stayed silent as I listened.
‘What do you think?’
´You really want to know what I think?’ Heads nodded.
‘Two things spring to mind. Brexit is the big one. It took away workers from health and social care, delivery drivers, builders, farm workers, and lots of other areas. People didn’t feel welcome any more. It made our shopping more expensive and made it harder to sell our goods to our biggest market and harder to bring stuff into our country too. So prices increased here.’
´And the second?’ George stared hard.
‘Money is driving people into poverty and crime and those with real cash not paying enough in taxes to cover what is needed. People here help others through charity. In Germany they pay a fair tax and the government helps everyone. Charity isn’t needed there in same way.’
´I didn’t know that’ Mary said and the others nodded.
‘So what do we do?’ Frank asked.
‘Play the next four houses! No, seriously, we have to ask the right questions and look at how we get our governments, the press we get, how politicians and businesses use the system and social media to gather information about you and me, and then use it.’
‘What do you mean? I don’t tell them anything!’
‘You do. We all do. I have a Sainsbury’s card. They know where I shop, when I shop what I buy, the quantities I buy. From that, they can make offers to me. They call it data. If I pay with my bank card, then there is data on that too. Data is valuable. It can be bought and sold.
‘They know so much and information is passed to organisations that can sell it – or give it – to politicians.
‘They know so much about all of us and use can it to get elected.
‘To make real change, we have to change our voting system so we never get in this mess again. Our votes should mean something wherever we live.’
‘What do you mean? We all get a vote´
´Yes, we do, but look at what happens. We should move to a system where every vote counts. Ditch the one we’ve got where most people can vote against a party, but that Party can still end up with a huge majority’. ´
‘What?’ said Frank. ‘How?’
I explained how our system works and how a few voters in the right places created a winner. ‘The majority of voters can vote for the opposition parties and yet, the minority get power. That’s how it works.’ Their faces were a picture.
It taught me a lesson. We have to get the message across. That’s our job. Inflation, Brexit, Cost of Living, Electing Governments and more, all of these need clarity; clear explanations that encourage real debate, real questions and real answers. .
Then we heard ‘Eyes down for your next number’. The conversation ended, silence reigned and Bingo began!
Ed: The names have been changed to protect identities.
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