Advertising: 'Mirror' takes us down the dead end on Poverty Street

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The Independent Online

Sad rooms in black and white, with sad single mums. An old woman sitting facing an unlit gas fire. A man in a wheelchair facing a window placed too high to see out of. Boys with bikes and footballs on sad sink estates.

It's all stills, like a charity exhibition, linked by rostrum camera work, tinkly piano and what sounds like a Ricky Tomlinson voiceover. I'm losing the will to live already. We've had a lot of Ricky Tomlinson recently, promoting his autobiography on Parky and Richard and Judy and practically everywhere else. (The Royle Family was marvellous, but I put that down to Caroline Aherne.)

But it's all meant tremendously well in an unfocused kind of way, this Here-to-Help initiative, combining seven big charities with the Daily Mirror showing you how to do your bit.

Of course I love this new/old Daily Mirror approach. There's nothing more nostalgic for me than "Forward with the People", the Shock Issues and those wonderful Sixties columnists. I can take a lot more John Pilger than most of my sensitive friends. (And I like to see Perky Piers on TV, but I'm not 100 per cent sure how it plays in Plaistow.)

On the big day, the Here-to-Help day, 24 October, the Mirror was only 20p, full of editorial about how your donation could make a difference to the five and a half million people who live in household poverty, or to the thousands of old people who die every year because they can't afford the heating, or to the wheelchair-bound people who never get out. Or the kids who've never seen real cows and confuse them with sheep.

I'm sure the Daily Mirror's readers are generous. I know the charities involved are well-run and realistic and they'll have thought it all through. But I've got three worries.

The first is that the problems are structural, that what it's describing is the Blair Gap - the polarisation of incomes and resources that continued after 1997 and shows no real sign of stopping. It's a US pattern and no amount of charity work will change it. Forget Hutton; it's the central shame of this Government.

Second, the conventional wisdom about sad stuff in charity commercials is that you should defuse compassion fatigue by demonstrating solutions. ("Just £20 gives this family clean water for a year", etc.) Then there's the Tomlinson factor, and that's enough to put anyone off.