Are the ghosts of Scrooge relevant today? Is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come more frightening today than the one that visited Scrooge? The ghosts all represent choices, but what choices can be made today? Could we become a more compassionate society? Must the gap between the rich and poor in the UK continue to widen? What would the ghosts of the past, present and yet to come reveal today?
A Christmas Carol
‘A Christmas Carol’ is a novella by Charles Dickens and centres around Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly old man, who is visited by a series of ghosts. First of all he is visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, who then introduces him to three other ghosts. These ghosts – the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come – show Scrooge how his greed, selfishness and indifference affect those around him. At the end Scrooge realises that he can amend his ways and he is transformed into a generous and kind-hearted individual.
The story was first published in 1843, yet 176 years later it is still going strong. Most of us not only know the story, we can remember the names of many of the characters. There’s Scrooge, the main character, and Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim. And who has not heard of the expression ‘Bah Humbug’! Every year ‘A Christmas Carol’ is shown on television and there have been many theatre, radio and film adaptations. More importantly, the messages that Dickens wanted to impart have been passed on to many generations. Of most importance is the idea of learning to be compassionate and kind.
Ghost of Christmas Past
The Ghost of Christmas Past explains why Scrooge acts as he does but it does not excuse his behaviour. Is this ghost relevant today? Dickens sought to call attention to the plight of poverty that was prevalent in Victorian times. He certainly did this in ‘A Christmas Carol’ . He also showed the injustice in society.
What would the Ghost of Christmas Past show us today?
It’s difficult to know how far back the ghost would go. It is perhaps worth starting with the government’s austerity programme. The UK case study by Oxfam into ‘The True Cost of Austerity and Inequality’ is worth reading. It points out that the emphasis on cutting public spending as opposed to increasing taxes has increased the hardship faced by people on low incomes. In contrast, the richest get richer.
More recently, in November 2018, the UN envoy produced a damning report on poverty in the UK. Amongst its findings were the following:
- 14 million people living in poverty
- Record levels of hunger and homelessness
- Falling life expectancy for some groups
- Fewer community services
- Access to the courts for lower-income groups has been dramatically rolled back by cuts to legal aid.
A previous blog entitled ‘Hunger in the UK – 15 Ways Caterers and Food Bloggers Can Help’ gave frightening facts on hunger and poverty in the UK.
It is the job of the Ghost of Christmas Past to remind us of happier times. In October 2019 ‘The Times’ proclaimed that we were happier when Queen Victoria was on the throne! Frankly I don’t believe this – I think it is just misplaced nostalgia. The introduction of austerity measures in 2010 by politicians would not, in my opinion, be viewed favourably by the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Ghost of Christmas Present
The Ghost of Christmas Present does not need to say much. Most of us are only too aware of the widening chasm between the rich and the poor. We know the effects of the austerity measures that were introduced. Here are some of the issues that the Ghost of Christmas Present would, I believe, remind us of:
It is worth pointing out that Scrooge was a wealthy capitalist and probably shared many of the values of his contemporary society e.g. workhouses, jails, and ‘surplus population’.
I watched ‘Dispatches – Growing Up Poor: Britain’s Breadline Kids’ and it really upset me. A child said “we are always hungry”. Another said “We try not to eat a lot in one day, even though most of us are really hungry, we have to be careful with our food”. How can this be happening today? There are 4.1 million children living in poverty in the UK and yet we are the 6th largest economy in the world!
A desperate seven year old child in the UK wrote a heartbreaking letter to Father Christmas asking for a home and food for Christmas. She said –
“Dear Father Christmas – can you help? Can we have a home for Christmas? Mam wants us all to be together. Can you give us some food and can I have just a nice doll for Christmas. Thank you”.
An analysis by the TUC has revealed that the number of children growing up in poverty in working households has increased by 800,000 since 2010. This amounts to one in four children in working households growing up in poverty.
Similarities with ‘A Christmas Carol’:
You may recall that two ragged children tumble out from the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present. These children are names Ignorance and Want. The message here is that these wretched children are doomed as adults because they were born into poverty.
Bob Cratchit works for Scrooge, so his family is a working household in poverty!
Homelessness & Rough Sleeping
At least 320,000 people are homeless (Shelter); almost 5,000 are rough sleeping (likely to be a huge underestimate); and 726 people died homeless in England and Wales in 2018.
A child becomes homeless in Britain every eight minutes (Shelter).
There are 170,000 homeless in London and more than 1,200 sleeping rough.
A recent report has shown that someone becomes homeless every two hours (The Homeless Fund).
Last year there was an outcry when Gyulai Rimes died on the streets outside the Houses of Parliament. What has been done this year to prevent another homeless person dying in the same place? The tunnel in Westminster leading to the Houses of Parliament has been shut off to rough sleepers!!!
The Archbishop of Canterbury has said “Homelessness is a tragedy that ought to belong to the past”.
Similarities with ‘A Christmas Carol’:
Most towns and cities today have areas that remind you of Dickensian times. Vacant shops, derelict buildings, dark alleyways and neglected streets which are the home to our rough sleepers. People, like Scrooge, rush past these people on their daily commute to work. Today you are unlikely to visit a town or city and not see rough sleepers.
The UN poverty inspector stated “British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach”. There is no longer the safety net for people falling upon hard times.
The Trussell Trust has reported that the minimum 35 day wait for payment endured by claimants meant many are unable to afford food, frequently went without meals, failed to pay utility bills, ran up rent arrears and faced eviction.
More people than ever are being forced to turn to food banks. Welfare problems over the last six months have led to the steepest increase in emergency food parcel handouts in five years, according to the anti-poverty campaign the Trussell Trust.
The author, Kate Milner, has written a children’s book entitled ‘It’s a No Money Day’. It is believed to be the UK’s first picture book about food banks. So now food bank usage is no longer headline news – it’s accepted as part of UK life!
Similarities with ‘A Christmas Carol’:
Food banks are charitable organisations. In ‘A Christmas Carol’ two gentlemen call on Scrooge to make a charitable donation for the ‘poor and destitute’.
We are forever reading headlines where people declared fit for work by the DWP have died. The number of families who have lost loved ones due to DWP benefit cuts is growing by the day. The government is deeming people ‘fit to work’ despite them dying from cancer, unable to leave their beds, and having heart attacks during assessments.
Tiny Tim was disabled. Like his contemporaries in the nineteenth century (notably Malthus), Scrooge believed that war, famine and pestilence were necessary to keep the population down, especially the poor. Scrooge even said that they should ‘decrease the surplus’. However, when Scrooge learnt that Tim died he was distraught. I’m not suggesting that people hold the same views as Malthus today, but the way many disabled people have been treated is disgraceful.
Since 2010 the number of people requesting council help has increased, but fewer now qualify for support in their own home or in care homes. Age UK estimates that there are 1.5 million people in England who need social care but do not receive it.
Social care is not only needed by the elderly. Recently I saw a 46 year old lady with MS interviewed on television because she had been placed into a care home for the elderly. Sadly she is not alone. The charity Sue Ryder has reported that there are 15,000 people with brain injuries or conditions such as MS and Parkinson’s, who have been put into old people’s nursing homes. Some are aged in their 30s.
The charity Independent Age has reported that more than 400 pensioners have to sell their homes each week to cover the cost of being looked after.
The NHS has been one of the key issues (if not the main issue) of the forthcoming general election. Essential parts of the NHS in England are experiencing the worst performance against waiting times targets since the targets were set.
We have the highest proportion of people waiting more than four hours in A&E since 2004.
People waiting over eighteen weeks for non-urgent (but essential) hospital treatment has reached the highest proportion since 2008.
The target for treating cancer patients within 62 days of urgent GP referral has not been met for over 5 years.
More and more people are experiencing longer delays in getting GP appointments.
The above are just statistics, but they mean that patients are left for hours in A&E or are on trolleys in corridors waiting to be seen. Others are forced to sit on floors because of a lack of chairs. Some are left waiting in ambulances. The human suffering is immeasurable.
Education is another key battleground in the general election campaign. The campaign group Save Our Schools is fighting for money to help with the school funding crisis. They argue that cuts in funding have resulted in a declining education system for our children and this has resulted in –
Parents being asked to make up shortfalls.
Up to 8,587 children with SEND (Special Educational Needs & Disability) have no access to any type of educational provision.
Some schools are closing early on Fridays because they cannot afford to open
School buildings are falling into disrepair.
Classes are getting larger.
There is a lack of equipment.
The campaign group claim that 83% of schools will lose out next year because of government cuts.
University students are being pushed into debt as they now have to pay tuition fees (plus interest)
The abolition of maintenance grants pushes students further into debt.
What would the Ghost of Christmas Present say to our politicians today?
Let me just say, that I would not like to be a politician responsible for the austerity cuts, on Christmas Eve!!!
Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
This ghost gives you choices. Scrooge was able to turn his life (and the lives of others) around. The decision to introduce austerity cuts was a choice and I believe most politicians are promising to end these. However, Crisis and Shelter fear that under the Conservative manifesto, the plan to give landlords stronger powers to evict their tenants, will result in an increase in homelessness.
Who knows what the ghost would show with regards to Brexit! If it goes ahead, with or without a deal, then I’m sure that the revelations shown by the ghost would be terrifying. I might be wrong. In any case, the decision to leave Europe is a choice that can be made by us at the ballot box.
Will the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come tell us things will get a lot worse if we (or politicians) don’t mend our ways?
I think it will – unfortunately!
The main message in ‘A Christmas Carol’ is the idea of learning to be compassionate, kind and to look after the poor. It makes everyone happy. Hopefully the deep divide in our country can be healed and the unpleasantness come to an end. And in the words of Scrooge ‘God bless us everyone’.
I would urge everyone to use their vote wisely in the General Election. Please use it to vote for a candidate you believe would improve the lives of those suffering.
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