I think the image that will stick with me longest following my morning in Bexley
Magistrates Court last week wasn’t Olly in the glass cage or the District Judge
criticising the prosecution for having no “particulars” of the charge ready,
what I found most moving was the young woman, 22 I think she said she was, in
the dock pleading guilty to prostitution. Not a hardened criminal, not a drug
addict, no drink problems. The prosecution confirmed all that. She was there
because she was at her wits end about how to pay the rent and stood on a street
corner not far from where I live at 2 a.m. Being an amateur and first timer the
police spotted her straight away. £50 fine and a £15
surcharge (stealth tax). I felt like fishing a few banknotes out of my pocket
and going a little way to negate some of the damage inflicted by a legal system
which is so much more effective than the welfare services.
Maybe I am turning into a closet socialist in my old age.
Today we have the News Shopper giving its front page to the revelations that Bexley is among the very worst places in London for poverty and highlights Teresa Pearce MP’s campaign to have something done about it. Meanwhile mayor Ray Sams is pictured (Page 15) sampling ale at a beer festival. Perhaps I should call him mayor Nero, I’m sure there must be someone in Bexley who could put him in touch with a fiddle.
The North of the borough can be a pretty forbidding place. A BT engineer fixing a problem on my line said that one of the biggest cause of faults in Thamesmead is people diverting lines to get free calls, it’s probably more profitable to steal the cable nowadays. My journalist daughter did a feature on Thamesmead that revealed there were roads in Thamesmead in which every single house was being purchased with a fraudulently obtained mortgage.
Last week in Thamesmead I stood behind a pretty young girl around 20 years of age trying to buy 10 cigarettes on a credit card. There was insufficient credit available. She tried to pay cash but didn’t have enough but she managed buy the cancer sticks with a handful of small change and what little credit was left on the card. But for all that the majority of people in these poor areas are likely to be decent honest citizens doing the best they can after falling on hard times and some of the cases featured by the News Shopper make for disturbing reading. How do you bring up a gaggle of kids on £170 a week? I can just about manage on that, single, mortgage paid, Freedom Pass to get me around, if I needed to but fortunately I can be more profligate whenever I feel like it. £170 a week is stupid with a family to feed, no wonder some are tempted by street corners at 2 a.m.
Official figures say Bexley has 6,000 children living on such low incomes, that's about 3% of the population and MP Teresa Pearce believes that a lot disappear under the radar because only 70% of the people living in Thamesmead and North End are registered. Colyers, Erith and Cray Meadows are well above national average poverty levels too. But we all know where money is flowing freely don’t we? Will Tuckley doesn’t have to work a specified number of hours but a rough calculation shows he gets £170 in a little over sixty minutes. The two faces of Bexley.