Another year is coming to an end. For some, the festive season is a deeply spiritual time, for reflection and bringing together those you love, while others see it as nothing more than a meaningless commercial ritual that they’re obliged to honour.
At this time, many people reflect on the value of Christmas and the year ahead, and I have taken this opportunity to indulge in some reflection of my own.
This year has been unkind to many of us. We in the North East are no strangers to the years of austerity the country has endured. Brexit negotiations are uncertain, and whilst there are hopes by some of a boom once we are freed of Europe’s constraints, others fear a post-Brexit crash and isolation as a stand-alone country.
So, let’s look at some reasons to be cheerful as 2018 dawns.
We remain the sixth richest country in the world. We have much to do to eradicate poverty bearing in mind that half of the population could not scrape £500 together if needed and many are worse still, subject to payday loans and other pressures. Our own region is enjoying a 12-year low in unemployment, affording more local people than ever the chance to explore work possibilities.
Drinking water is an abundant supply and available across the country. There are few, if any health concerns from drinking it. At least 40% of the world, cannot access what is described as “potable” water. Of those that do, half of them access it from wells and communal facilities. Although we may take it for granted, we are never far from something clean and safe to drink.
Despite the inadequacies of the benefit system, we live in one of the safest countries in the world, where starvation need not occur. Food banks are a national disgrace, and creative policy measures are needed to address poverty, but we are a long way away from the position of many other countries. It is also heartening to see the many North East charities and volunteer groups working so hard to support those in need, especially as we get closer to Christmas, which is a difficult time for many people in poverty.
The ‘Silence-breakers’ being recognised as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year shows that, as a society, we are moving closer to gender equality. We are seeing year by year greater entry of women into responsible and/or senior positions in companies and public service. Domestic violence is tolerated less than at any time in my living memory, although I would be the first to say there’s a long way to go before we overcome the historic and cultural misogyny that women experience.
We are one of the most diverse populations in the world. While this may generate tensions, atrocities that have happened in other countries throughout history are not something that could easily happen here. Mosely didn’t do it, the BNP didn’t do it, and far right demonstrations at Grey’s Monument are always met with the contempt they deserve.
There are many reasons to be cheerful. True, we have the biggest debt in peacetime history, but we can pay it. We have some of the most educated people in the world with prominence in science and technology. By the very fact that we have the ability to read, and in my case write, an article in The Journal means we are living with a huge amount of privilege.
Have a great Christmas, and as you toast the New Year, acknowledge how half full your glass really is.