It’s been more than three torturous years in the making, and finally Brexit is almost upon us. Where better as a centre for our very own independence day celebrations than one of the country’s most iconic monuments?
Picture the scene: crowded streets (at 11pm), filled with thousands of waving Union Jacks (in the dark), a festival spirit (in deepest winter), and to complete the picture, 11 magnificent chimes from Big Ben itself.
But there’s a catch – Big Ben hasn’t chimed regularly since 2017 when it was suspended for extensive restoration works, and it would have cost an estimated £500,000 to make it operational in time for January 31.
Each individual bong – 11 in total – was thought to be worth a staggering £45,454, with the need to reinstall Big Ben’s clapper and carry out dramatic work on the scaffolding that surrounds the clock.
Enter ardent Brexiteer and Tory MP Mark Francois, who just really, really, wants that big old bell to ring out – and has donated £1,000 of his own money to make sure it happens.
At the time of writing, on Thursday morning, the GoFundMe page, hosted by Stand Up For Brexit, had reached £82,000 – within just 18 hours of its launch.
But on Thursday it emerged that there was an almighty catch – the House of Commons cannot accept cash raised directly from donations websites.
Sorry to say it, but it seems the bongs are dead.
It is not clear whether funders will be given their money back or if the cash will be given to Help for Heroes, as was originally planned if it missed its target – the crowfunding page offers no contingency plan for the cancellation of the entire project.
Nonetheless, since people seem so keen to pay for things, here are five causes right on the doorstep of Westminster Palace where the £500k #BongsForBrexit wouldn’t have been a gigantic and insane waste of cash.
1. Nineteen (and a quarter) newly-qualified nurses at St Thomas’ Hospital
The surrounding skyline might be dominated by government buildings and office blocks, but there’s one group of public service workers who are better acquainted with the facade of Big Ben than most – the nurses, doctors, healthcare workers, and endless other staff at St Thomas’ hospital.
It’s no secret that the NHS is desperate for nursing staff – the service is short of some 40,000 nurses in total – and London is no exception.
According to the Royal College of Nursing, the average wage for a Band 5 NHS nurse in London is approximately £26,000 – meaning £500k could pay for 19 full time nurses.
But hey, those bells wouldn’t have rung for free!
2. 12,500 overnight stays in a homeless shelter
It’s an image many of us have seen time and again – suited and booted workers walking past the homeless, some of whom seek shelter just metres from the doors of parliament inside Westminster’s Tube station.
A number of homeless people have died in the shadow of Big Ben itself in recent years, and in 2019 it was revealed by the mayor of London’s office that homelessness within the borough of Westminster had risen by 16% on the previous year.
According to MyLondon, 13 people homeless people died in Westminster alone in 2018, including two in the Tube station.
With the issue of homelessness so severe, there are numerous charities working to help vulnerable people in the area – one of which is The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields.
On its website it states that a donation of just £5 could pay for a hot shower, food, and clothes cleaned, whilst £25 buys an in-depth assessment to understand the individual’s circumstances. It’s £40 for a night’s stay in a shelter, and £200 to help someone into employment.
With that in mind, £500k could pay for:
- 100,000 hot showers, meals, and clothes cleaning
- 20,000 assessments
- 12,500 overnight stays in a shelter
- 2,500 people helped into employment
But all that pales in comparison to our precious democracy bongs!
3. 200,000 courses for families supported by foodbanks
Little more than half a mile from Westminster Palace, you’ll find Westminster Foodbank – run by the UK’s leading foodbank charity Trussell Trust.
According to the Trust For London, 38% of children living in Westminster are living in poverty, the fourth worst out of 32 boroughs.
According to the charity’s website, a donation of just £2.50 could pay for all the materials and ingredients for one person to attend an Eat Well Spend Less course. £500k could pay for 200,000 such courses.
But why help a starving family when you could have BONGS?
4. 833 isolated elderly people supported by a befriending service
Going off official figures from the City of Westminster, 18% of the borough’s population is aged 65 and over, with 24% of this demographic living alone according to the 2011 census.
In London, the proportion of over-65s is just 12% on average, and the borough as a whole falls within the worst 30-40% in London when it comes to income deprivations amongst older people.
One of the charities working with elderly people in Westminster is Age UK, which has its own dedicated branch in the area and runs a befriending service for some of the borough’s most isolated and vulnerable residents.
Their website states that a donation of £600 could pay for six months of befriending support, whilst £60 could pay for three Christmas lunches for isolated elderly people.
A £500k donation could pay for 833 elderly people to spend six months receiving befriending support, or could pay for 25,000 Christmas dinners.
But, still, those lovely #BrexitBongs could have been a welcome distraction.
5. Sixteen (and a bit) teachers
Westminster is home to some of the capital’s most prestigious private schools, revered for turning out some of the pupils most likely to take a seat in Westminster in the future – but of course that’s only half the story.
For every public school there are several state-funded schools, all of which – in one way or another – face the same issues as thousands of other schools up and down the country.
Figures published by the Department of Education revealed that the government failed to reach its recruitment targets for secondary school teachers for the seventh year in a row in 2019 – meeting just 85% of its target.
Meanwhile, The Guardian reported in 2018 that there was a “growing crisis” when it came to teacher retention in London, with 40% of teachers quitting the profession within five years of qualifying.
According to Get Into Teaching, the minimum a qualified teacher could expect to be paid in inner London is £30,480 per year.
A sum of £500k could pay for 16 teachers on that minimum amount, or you could even stretch to paying 12 teachers the average maximum wage for a teacher in inner London – £41,483 – and maybe convince them it’s worth staying in the job.
BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG BONG.