When I was in full time 9-5 work in politics I thought I understood Britain, how it functioned and what it meant to be British. I also was pretty sure I understood the people of the country – that is why I thought I was good at the jobs I did.
Yet, having spent a while doing atypical hours and visiting various parts of the UK I am now of a different tilt. I only understood half of the country. What I had failed to understand, and what politicians, the media at large, full-time workers and probably you, dear reader, have missed is that the country is divided. Not into your haves and have nots but more the Visibles and Invisibles.
Stay with me here. Let me explain. There are 65,000,000 people in the country. If we discount the 14 million or so under 18 year olds then that leaves around 51,000,000 adults of whom – 28 million are employed. These are the Visibles – the people that see and are seen each day and appear on TV, heard on radio, whose views and opinions are listened to and swirl around the airwaves and the screens, reinforcing their beliefs in each other and the society they have created for themselves. They are, to use the awful phrase dreamt up by lacklustre politicians ‘ordinary, hard working families.’ Everything is geared to this group and, in turn, this group helps control the way in which it is geared.
Yet there is another 23,000,000 who aren’t part of this group. Sure there are the healthy and vocal baby boomers grabbing every freebie and milking society for everything they can get. But there are millions across Britain whose views are ignored and whose plight is skated over time and again.
These are the Invisibles of Britain, a hidden yet significant proportion of the country that are swept under the carpet and are seen as either a joke to be screened in some awful Channel 5 fly-on-the-wall ‘documentary’ or an embarrassment that, if not ignored, then vilified and pitied in equal measure.
Who is this group I am describing as Invisibles? The numbers are staggering and while some people will cross over into different numbers, it is still a testament to the politicians, mainstream media, social media and indeed ourselves that we can block out such a large swathe of living, breathing British residents so that we don’t have to see, hear or speak to them. Allow me to give just a few examples in no particular order:
- 2,800,000 need home care and are confined to living at home and getting out rarely, if at all.
- 436,000 people live in care homes where they are unable to leave.
- 6,900,000 disabled people of working age.
- 8,000,000 are functionally illiterate.
- 1,600,000 are unemployed or unemployable and claiming the dole.
- 297,000 are addicted to crack cocaine.
- 593,000 are problem gamblers.
- 197,000 undergo drug rehabilitation programmes each year.
- 81,000 people start treatment for alcoholism every year.
- 41,500 people are admitted to hospital every single day.
- 81,000 people are held in prisons at any one time.
- 53,000 people are sectioned under the Mental Health Act each year.
- 32,000 people each year apply for asylum.
- 6,000 homeless rough sleepers.
- 60,000 who register with councils as being statutorily homeless.
When the politicians, your neighbours or the media you feed on speak they will not tell you about these people who sit under your very nose. For you are a visible – you are reading this. You can read, you can afford a machine to read this and understand the world wide web and how to find this page.
These groups cannot campaign or shout from the rafters – they have so much more important stuff to attend to – like surviving another day. As a society we, as the Visibles, should be the ones shouting for them. But, if you are like me, you never really realised they existed as they are so hidden from us.
But I can’t help but feel, even when the Visibles start to see the Invisibles there will be no sympathy. It is not in the interests of the visible haves to start to reorder society against the world they have created for the invisible have nots. And this is so sad. Today, now, in one of the richest countries in the world we pretend that we are fair and we are just and we are caring. Yet, once the surface is scratched we see time and again that the very opposite is true.