My close encounter with a London Ghost last week!

It’s still a few days before Halloween and I have a whole plethora of Halloween themed posts as well as from history such as Corpse Roads and Dancing on the Dead at Enon Chapel – The Victorian Sensation! to more recent scary goings on such as The Enfield Poltergeist.

For a simple post today though, just a few days ago I may have had my own encounter with a ghost.  I was walking round a deserted City of London; I wasn’t giving a tour and especially not our Ghost Walking Tour but just for a minute my route took me along one of the locations on our ghost walk.

It was down a very dark alley in broad daylight just a few minutes walk from the Bank of England and so in the very heart of London but it was also in an ancient walk-way that one way or the other may be a millennia or two old and the buildings though not particularly ancient are a number of centuries old.

It is always a bit atmospheric as I like to put it and I told my friend how tourists always like it here due to its Jack The Ripper-like vibes.  The ghost on our walk near here is supposedly from a similar era but that’s not to say these alleys weren’t ancient when young Jack was knee high to a grass-hopper!

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As you can see from the photo above, it isn’t particularly the sort of place you’d want to be alone at night and if it wasn’t just round the corner from the Bank of England, you probably wouldn’t want to go here in the day time.

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If you have a look at the photo above which is a close up black and white zoom of the far wall then you might just be able to make out a ghostly figure with someone wearing medieval clothing and also a rather scary looking face peering over its shoulder.

Or maybe it’s just the way the light is shining off the wall.  Can you see it?  I know I will have it on my mind the next time I take a short-cut down there!

Happy Halloween 🙂 

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Why do so many think 2 weeks of Lockdown poverty is worse than 8 months being ExcludedUK?

I was in London yesterday.  Not for fun or spending money, not really for work, well not paid work but to get out of the house and feel vaguely human whilst trying to plan for a future that I have no idea when it may arrive.

Heading back to Tottenham Court Road Station I came across this sign which made me laugh in that 2020 tragic-comedic way that we would never have imagined a year ago.   A poor unfortunate cafe owner trying to lure spending customers into parting with their hard-earned furlough cash.

Customers apply within 

I should have felt sorry for them and to a degree I did but I was also hugely jealous which I admit is not a very nice thing to feel.  I thought to myself how nice it must have been to be forced to close for months and be given government support up to 80% of my salary and even now with obvious problems, they are still able to trade.  They still have customers, even if only a fraction of what they once had.

There are many of us at ExcludedUK who have gone months and months without any income or government support.  I myself am just days away from completing my 9th month and I can confirm I know the father of misery is Rishi Sunak.   In fact if I hadn’t have been excluded that very sign would have been enough to make me go in and support the struggling business.  The thing is, being Excluded by the government also means you’re excluded from society and unable to support myself, let alone anyone else.

The media is full of stories at the moment of local lockdowns which have just started off or are threatening too and everyone from the media to local MPs are making a big deal of people facing poverty for 2-3 weeks if they don’t receive any government support or indeed the furlough money goes down to 60% rather than its current 80%. 

For those involved it is of course terrible, in normal times having to cope with a viral epidemic and coping with just two thirds of your salary must be awful and yet it is something so many of us can only aspire to.

What would you do with 60% earnings for 2-3 weeks?  Me, I’d pay some outstanding bills from April and if I wanted to shut out the world for a bit and pretend everything is ok, I might sit with the lights on in the evening rather than to mostly sit in the dark to save a few precious pounds or maybe even increase the heating from the 17 degrees it is mostly at these days.

Incredibly newspapers, radio and television stations are obsessing about 2 week shutdowns and the resulting poverty.  Labour MPs are making a huge issue of it and rightfully so and yet the silence about the 3 million #ExcludedUK who passed the 2 week without help 7 or 8 months ago.

Look at Robbie Moore MP below, to an extent doing his job and helping people but only those who are currently in the news and only those who are already doing far better than most in ExcludedUK.  He and every MP and every media outlet should be leading on us as last year happened for Extinction Rebellion last year for example.

Screenshot 2020-10-21 at 09.55.01

The world might be going on for most people as they make a fuss about not being able to plan for Christmas or see family or friends in quite the same way as before. I can only think how nice life must be to be upset about not going to a pub or eat out for 2-3 weeks as I sit in the bathroom watching rain seep in through the bathroom roof which I can’t afford to repair in yet another one of those endless days of Shielding alone without any government help whatsoever.

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My new Donorbox Page

I’m putting out a little update, many will remember I was on the television and radio around the world in August on several occasions due to having no work since February and the British government excluding me from any support for the duration of the Coronavirus crisis.

From January until October 23rd my income has been only £490 and yet the government doesn’t care one bit despite the entirely obvious impact would have on anyone.

I’ve been asked by a few people to set up a donation page so that I may not be so reliant on food banks and help pay bills, let alone essential issues like my leaking roof or my broken door and window.

I’ve received over 4,000 messages of support since then, in fact pretty much the only people who haven’t offered to help are those responsible for my situation, the British government.

If you’d like to help, you have my sincere thanks and gratitude and you can click on the graphic below.

Screenshot 2020-10-23 at 13.53.03

Alternatively you can send a donation through Paypal for which you don’t need an account.  My Paypal address is stephenliddell@gmail.com

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London Vs Europe Map

It’s been a long time since I did one of my Maps posts and I thought I would break the ice again having found this map during the summer.

Everyone knows how London is a massive wealth creator and indeed wealth magnet but until I found this map, it was hard to relate just how much this is the case.

Europe Divided Into Areas With An Economy Equal In Size To London

Europe Divided Into Areas With An Economy Equal In Size To London https://merchantmachine.co.uk/europe-vs-london/

The map illustrates just how massive the London economy is by comparing it to areas of Europe that have a comparative economic size which in 2018 was a GDP of £487 billion ($600 billion).

It’s quite incredible that London has an economy the size of several countries.  What I find even more amazing is that the handful of counties just above and to the east of London (East Anglia) is similar despite much of it being very rural in nature.

London also dominates the UK economy having 13.4% of the UK population but its GDP is 22.8%.

When looked at on a per capita basis the difference is even more stark. The UK’s GDP per head (including London) in 2018 was £31,976 ($39,551) or £28,736 ($35,532) per head when London is excluded. However, London’s GDP per head is £54,686 ($67,619) or 90% higher than the rest of the UK which no doubt goes some way to show the feeling of being left behind that many feel further north in the country,

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Glaciers, ciders, blow-outs and the helping hand of Wayland Smithy

Having been blown about for a few hours it was time to return to the car but not before I took a look at The Manger.  An incredibly steep and beautiful valley formed during the las ice-age.  In fact you can see the markings on the walls of the valley which show how the ice melted away.

Brave cows!

Brave cows!

It is also home to some vertigo loving cows and apparently at night the Whitehorse of Uffington comes down here to graze, it is certainly big enough.  Normally slopes of this steepness would be grazed by sheep and I saw a flock or two round the other side.

The Manger and me

The Manger and me

On our way back home we took a few detours through some charming villages and towns and stopped off to have some traditional west-country style cider, us being just a few miles from Wiltshire and the start of the west-country.

Thatchers Cider

Thatchers Cider – It’s a little known fact that Mrs Thatcher was a great cider brewer…. or maybe not!

Having done almost a loop, we were were again just a mile or two away from Waylands Smithy when our car tyre exploded and we were left marooned in the middle of nowhere and without a spare tyre due to it being a leased vehicle.

A totally ruptured tyre

A totally ruptured tyre

It was entirely possible that we could have been waiting there for 3 or 4 hours on a Saturday night far from anywhere but I think my faith in Wayland the magical smithy who would re-shoe your horse overnight bore fruit as incredibly a repair man came to us in less than an hour.

Watching the sun go down

Watching the sun go down

As the repairs were put in place, I stood and watched the sun set as travellers have done here for 8,000 years.

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Dragons Hill – Where Saint George killed that dragon!

We’re nearing the end of my series of posts set on and around Whitehorse Hill and the Ridgeway.  It would be easy to think that surely there is nothing else to see within the short walk of the car park here but incredibly there is still more and if we have already visited the smith who forged King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, then it is fitting that it is here where another pivotal if slightly far-fetched part of English history played out here, that being the location where our Saint George, killed the dragon.

One route down from the Whitehorse to Dragons Hill

One route down from the Whitehorse to Dragons Hill

It is a hillock more than a hill, around 450 feet or 139 metres in height but only at a relative height of around 90 feet or 30 metres from the immediate area.  Reaching it from the Whitehorse was actually much more tricky than I imagined it would with a rather treacherous path down a steep hillside and with a barbed wire fence just an arms length away all ready to rip your skin to shreds should you forgetfully reach out to grab it when slipping!  Little wonder why I was (again) the only person here!

A tree that the dragon burnt with his fiery breath.

A tree that the dragon burnt with his fiery breath…. no I’m totally making that up!

 

Though it has been shaped by man, it is a naturally occurring chalk hill of a typeset particularly uncommon in these parts. What does make it special is the fact that Saint George killed the dragon here and the blood from the dragon flowed out onto the grass and poisoned the soil.  Ever since there has been no grass here and I have a photo to prove it!

Where Saint George Killed the dragon!

Where Saint George Killed the dragon!

Obviously this whole area is incredibly rich in history and mysticism and this hill itself is often home to pagan ceremonies. I find it fascinating that so much happened within a mile or so of each other all those thousands of years even if it is debatable how much of it was mythologised, it is a special place.

Looking up Whitehorse Hill

Standing where Saint George killed the dragon towards Whitehorse Hill. There is a road between the to which you can’t see due to the steepness of the slopes.

Lockdown Hair and the dragon

Lockdown Hair and the dragon or at least a strong wind.

The wind comes up the valley in such gusts that a second after taking this photo my iPad flew out of my hands though its case protected it completely.  I also have a bad hair photo where I look like Cousin It from The Addams Family.  I made a mental note to not come here again until I either had a hair cut, wore a hat or there was no wind.

 

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The Uffington Whitehorse

This beautiful hill carving, lying close to Uffington Hillfort in Oxfordshire is best viewed from a distance but can be accessed by walking uphill from the signposted carpark. The horse is 110m long and carved through the grass into chalk and has been dated to between 1400 and 600BC making it roughly 3,000 years old!

It’s very stylised and created by pulling away the turf to reveal the mostly white chalkstone underneath.  This is the oldest of all the chalkstone monuments in southern England and they are all totally unique in the world, only the Nazca lines in Peru in anyway use the natural surface of the ground to create something so special.

The Uffington White Horse

The Uffington White Horse

Iron Age coins that bear a representation comparable to the Uffington White Horse have been found, supporting the early dating of this artefact; counter suggestions that the figure was fashioned in the Anglo-Saxon period now seem untenable.

Traditionally for centuries the local people would climb the hill and scour the chalk one day every year and at the same time feast and drink together making it a community event.  At times the horse and other similar monuments have almost vanished as without maintenance the chalk would soon turn grey and be covered by grass.

The Uffington Whitehorse

The Uffington Whitehorse – Almost up close and personal

Ironically, you have a much better view of the horse from almost anywhere but on the hill itself and in fact it can been from miles away.  However after initially deciding I didn’t have to see it up close, I decided I may as well so had to re-ascend the hill.  Sadly it was impossible to be within inches of it as the horse was taped off but I was extremely close by which was good enough.

The Uffington Whitehorse has been very important culturally in music and literature and it is said that it is here that King Alfred The Greats army camped in 871 the night before the Battle of Ashdown against the Vikings.  The great King summoned his men by blowing into another neolithic stone, handily known as Blowstone about 1 mile away and so creating something of a trumpeting effect.

For another famous chalk figure check out my post on the Cerne Abbas Giant!

 

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Amazon have a special offer on my #1 best-selling book – Secret Gardens of the City of London

I don’t normally do this but my new book Secret Gardens of the City of London is still number 1 in its section on Amazon! It’s quite an achievement given that the algorithms are always changing the ranks moved on an hourly basis.

Amazon have themselves reduced the price from £10.99 to £9.21 which they only do when a book is doing really well and they think and want it to do even better.

Secret Gardens of the City of London Kindle Cover
Secret Gardens of the City of London Kindle Cover

So as the weather gets more chilly and for most of us the days get shorter, why not treat yourself to the number 1 book based on Trip Advisors pre-covid number 1 authentic London tour experience and save nearly £2 whilst doing so.

My totally vested interest as most will know is that that I’ve had no work since February and not received a penny of help from the government and I receive £2 royalties per sale. So just like those guilt ridden and often awful adverts, your £2 might allow Stephen to buy 4 tins of baked beans. Buy 5 copies for your friends and Stephen can pay his electric or gas bill for a week!

Secret Gardens of the City of London is available in Kindle format for £3.99 from Amazon UK, $4.99 from Amazon.com and all over Amazon stores around the world.

Secret Gardens of the City of London is also out worldwide in Paperback including Amazon UK  and Amazon.com 

Last but not least, if you’re an Apple freak then Secret Gardens of the City of London will shortly be out on the Apple Store / iBooks along with other top retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords and more.

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Uffington Iron Age Castle

Just a short walk from the Ridgway and a little under 2 miles from Waylands Smithy is the old Iron Age hillfort which is known  as Uffington Castle.   It sits atop the summit of Whitehorse Hill.

This is not the sort of castle you might want to visit to see dungeons and towers and drawbridges as there is none of this.  Instead this is a much much older fortress with far fewer visible remains.

Clambering to the summit

Clambering to the summit

It consists of a large enclosure, measuring about 220 metres by 160 metres, surrounded by a wide chalk-stone bank or inner rampart about 12 metres wide and 2.5 metres high, and formerly lined with sarsen (sandstone) stones.

Around this is a grass-covered ditch about 3 metres deep and a further, smaller bank forming an outer rampart. A causeway, flanked by the out-turned ends of the inner rampart, provides an entrance to the site from the west. This would have been closed by a gate.

Uffington Castle

Standing in the ditch of Uffington fortress

Postholes and pits revealed during archaeological excavations serve as evidence of structures built within the enclosure during the hillfort’s occupation, while pottery and coins have been found in burial chambers close by.

The Iron Age buildings are likely to have been large round huts, each housing an extended family group. In the Middle Ages the land within the enclosure was ploughed and earthworks mark the ridge and furrow pattern of cultivation.  In fact the top of the hill which was enclosed by the fortress is a giant plateau and completely flat so perfect for both living on and farming.

On top of Whitehorse Hill

On top of Whitehorse Hill where Iron Age people would have lived in huts within the fortress

Large Iron Age hillforts are rare. Most are located on the high chalklands of the southern counties of England, and Uffington Castle is regarded as an outstanding example.  Standing at around 880 feet high or 260 metres and on top of such steep slopes, it must have been impregnable until the Romans arrived and I am sure even they must have struggled with it.

From the summit you can see 6 counties of Southern England in various directions and of course the Ridgeway which must have been incredibly important a few thousand years ago.  It was particularly windy on the summit when I was there for September and there were numerous kite fliers and hand gliders around.  Infact there is a market to show that this is the highest point in Oxfordshire and was used by the Ordinance Surveyors when producing the ‘modern’ maps of the country.

The highest point in Oxfordshire

The highest point in Oxfordshire

Having left my friend down near the carpark, I did my brief reconnaissance and took my fill of photos before going on to find my next paint of interest.  The fortress is on the summit of Whitehorse hill and thats because very nearby is the world famous Uffington White Horse.

Looking down

Looking down from Uffington Castle

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The Excluded UK March – Westminster 30th September 2020

As many of you may know I have been without any real work since the 6th February this year due to the government understandably shutting down inbound tourism to contain the Coronavirus outbreak. I was also told not to work, in fact it was illegal for me to do my job and yet 8 months on I have received not a penny of support from the government despite appearing on national and international news, the BBC radio network several times and meeting with Oliver Dowden, MP and Cabinet Minister.

There are 3 million others like me, #ExcludedUK. Some faring perhaps a little better than be, a few perhaps even worse but all of us united by the fact that we are normal people who have been discriminated against by the government in a way that would be illegal if it was based on our age, sex, race or religion.

We aren’t rich enough to buy or influence power and we aren’t important enough financially to be taken into consideration despite the facts that we are on average overwhelmingly a net gain for the UK economy. Yet we are entirely ignored, my taxes were very nobly spent to support people richer than myself to work from home or not work at home, to then enjoy state subsidised meals paid for again with my taxes at restaurants owned by multinational companies that don’t pay tax… whilst I receive food parcels from abroad, have out of date food from charities that makes me ill and rely on strangers to send me shoes and clothes as mine wear and tear to shreds.

And so it was decided that we would assemble last week to make our feelings known right outside the mother of Parliaments. We’ve sat inside politely and law-abidingly as others have disobeyed legal and moral laws in mass gatherings and we decided we were going to do things differently, properly as we always do as hard-working tax-payers.

Due to the virus it was decided only around 70 of us would meet in London this being so that we could ensure social distance spacing between ourselves and also not to endanger members of the public or the police. It also bore in mind that some of us are bankrupt, closing our businesses down, selling our houses and even becoming homeless. I couldn’t afford to make a sign to protest, many others from further away from London couldn’t never dream to pay for transport.

‘I can’t afford a bigger sign’ – ExcludedUK  Ray Burn Photography: http://www.burnimage.co.uk

I must admit I was a bit apprehensive and very excited about the march. Apprehensive only because of the virus and with chronic asthma and other complaints I have been shielding. Excited because finally I could make my feelings known and meet some of the 3 million people who are suffering similarly, months after much of the rest of the world has gone back to normal. 

Despite Boris telling everyone to go to work and indeed that everyone was back at work, I sat on a deserted tube train and got off at a deserted tube station and walked a little way to the National Theatre. I was a Marshall possibly due to my nominally knowing the way to Parliament seeing as I normally visit the outside each year more times than the average politician.

The cavalry arrives

The cavalry arrives – There is nothing like a Dame!

At first it didn’t look like many of us would make it, the weather had been forecast to be grim though as it turned out on the day it was perfect. I got chatting to Anna from Scotland but living in Kent who had a very colourful t-shirt on full of catchy slogans. As we waited for others to arrive, I gave her a tour of London from our bench!

Bt 9.30am we were being briefed and by 10am those that had been travelling for 4 hours or more had arrived and we were off; split into group of 6. The route was simple enough, along the South Bank past the London Eye, then across Westminster Bridge to Parliament, right down the Embankment to New Scotland Yard and then to opposite Downing Street where we took up place next to Monty who famously was the first man to strike a victory over Nazi tyranny which seemed somewhat appropriate.

Anneka addresses the crowd

Anneka addresses the media and crowd of ExcludedUK, Equity and Bectu protesters.

We politely made ourselves noticed as we got to know each other. People from all backgrounds and all doing creative and jobs that may be outside the norm but ones which enrich everyones lives and were very profitable and viable until the government tried to close us down whilst offering no support as everyone else receives thousands pounds in help a month.

I’ve never met such a large crowd of people where everyone was interesting, witty, inspirational. Until now it has always been said that people like ourselves are the backbone of the economy. We invent things, we make things, we spot opportunities that no-one else does and often work harder and longer just for the chance to either make a difference to the world or at least be independent from working in another menial job that doesn’t really matter. Everyone I met was amazing and I would hire everyone of them myself, so much drive and determination and energy.

Boris is a massive Johnson...Indeed he is

Boris is a massive Johnson…Indeed he is!

And yet despite our suffering we kept our good humour and soon we had re-inforcements from groups acting unions such as Equity and Bectu. What an impact they had, a whole load of workers from Londons famous West End and theatres and cultural venues across the land. Pantomine Dames being incredibly loud and charismatic and attention seeking. For my foreign readers Pantomine Dames might be a very alien concept but they are often loud and big men who dress up in the most colourfully outrageous female outfits for special plays at Christmas time, known as Pantomines… very popular with families and children and a way to get them into the arts and financially very important to theatres in the winter months with fewer tourists.

Excluded but viable

Excluded but viable

We were treated to some rousing speeches from individuals such as Paul Flemming, head of Equity and my new friend and #ExcludedUK joint founder Anneka Hicks as well as Tracy Brabin, Labour Shadow Minister for Culture. We were entertained too with the journalists, tv news crews and the police laughing at some of the witty one-liners. There are other ways to get notice without violence 🙂 It was here that I had a wee chat with individuals such as LibDem MP Jamie Stone and SNP MP Alison Thewliss.

As we were on a vague time-table we then walked a few hundred metres past The Cenotaph. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to think of our relations dying for the good of their families and descendants, I’m not sure they’d think their sacrifice worth it for 3 million of us to be impoverished and that whilst Boris Johnson is famously Turkish and at that time had ancestors in the enemy Ottoman Empire… oh well enough of me and my history, We don’t have to got back 105 years to prove he is in the wrong.   In fact we had a van with large digital screen that was driving around Whitehall with proven facts that 100% disprove the government line.

ExcludedUK

The government state there is support for us but their own figures prove there are less successful claimants than there are those Excluded.

The drums were being bashed, dancers were pirouetting down Whitehall and flags were being waved as we socially distanced our way in a long snake to Parliament Square. I heard more than one Police office say that we were the best organised and most law-abiding march for a long time which probably says a lot about us and our cause.

At Parliament Square more banners were unrelieved and the more colourfully dressed dames posed for photos as we rallied at first around the statue of the man who most epitomises the struggle of right against wrong, the small against overwhelming power, Winston Churchill.

Never in the history of British politics have so many been excluded by so few

Never in the history of British politics have so many been Excluded by so few.

Out of his many famous sayings and truisms, in the face of enemy invasion he said that he had nothing to give but blood, toil, sweat and tears when our country was on its own. Boris Johnson likes to think he is like Churchill despite the fact though a clever and inspiring man is a less coherent orator than my wet shopping bag and when his moment in history emerged, rather than giving blood, toil, sweat and tears found he couldn’t even be bothered to help 3 million of his hardest working citizens because it was too complicated. His Chancellor Rishi Sunak ignoring us entirely, just like Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer.

As the crowds dispersed, a small group of us met with Members of Parliament who went out of their way to come and speak to us, many supporters such as Caroline Lucas and Tim Farro as well as Paul Scully, a government MP and Minister who unlike some in the government had actually run a business and done some real work. He was approachable and sympathetic whilst not promising anything, which is fair enough as he didn’t have to come out at all.

Protesting with Pomp – ExcludedUK

After 30-40 minutes of friendly dialogue we dispersed and as we did, I managed to stand on a giant nail that went right up through the sole of my shoe and into my foot, happily just to the skin.

The weather was still fair and so bearing in mind the dreaded virus, 20 or so of us went to have a drink not far from where we started, on the banks of the Thames and in the deserted South Bank district, normally swarming with tourists and those working in hospitality but today like every day at the moment, all but empty.

6 hours after we met, people began to make their way home to avoid the nominal rush-hour though a handful remained to light up Parliament after nightfall. I had met dozens of lovely people who rather scarily all seemed to know me.

Parity not charity - ExcludedUK

Parity not charity – ExcludedUK

Hopefully we will all meet again next year when the virus is gone and life is somewhat back to normal but we are all ready and actually very enthused to protest again in the near future if it is needed.

Incidentally this weekend my new book became both a number 1 best-seller in paperback and number 5 in Kindle format on Amazon. My speculative piece was published as the main Travel Feature in the Independent and both are based on my tour which Trip Advisor showed as being the best off-beat London attraction. Rishi Sunak and the government says people like myself are frauds and unviable. I’d hate to think how successful I would be if I were viable.

There are over 3 million people like me and everyone has their special talents which are very much needed if you are going to be an entire business by yourself against all the big corporations and tricky laws and ever changing government policies.

I might not be a billionaire like Rishi or have £200 million like Jacob Rees-Mogg but his recent book flopped despite his high profile and position in the establishment whilst mine is a best-seller. As my Mam would say, money can’t buy you class…. but it is needed to support us through the worst crisis in over a century. Not only is it not fair and inhuman but all of you in normal jobs being supported by the government or big business will find life almost pointless after the virus without the jobs we perform as we will have packed up our bags and gone home… or sold it and be living on the streets.

If you want to help us, write to your Member of Parliament or contact the media in your country.  If you are one of the 3 million #ExcludedUK then why not join our growing 19,000+ members on Facebook.

ExcludedUK beamed onto Parliament Photo by Aron  Padley

ExcludedUK beamed onto Parliament Photo by Aron Padley

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