The Easter Bank Holiday marked the official start of the DIY season: a riot of sawing, drilling, fixing, plugging, botching and death. According to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), every week some 3,900 people are treated in hospital after DIY repairs go wrong, and every year 70 people are killed and 250,000 people injured in DIY-related accidents. The latest statistics show there are about 47,000 DIY-related injuries between January and March, while in April alone, the figure is 21,000. So we are at the start of a highly dangerous month, and Melanie Johnson is very worried.
Melanie, 47 and mother of three, is Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Competition, Consumers and Markets. She is responsible for consumer affairs, company law and investigations, competition policy, insolvency service, the Patent Office, Companies House, overall policy on Europe, and people falling off ladders.
There’s not much to be done about company law at this time of year, the Patent Office toddles along to the tune of time immemorial, as for overall policy on Europe, where does one begin? Ladders are different. Something can and must be done and, like Churchill before her, Melanie’s catchphrase is “Action this day”.
On Good Friday she launched a television advertising campaign to warn of the potential hazards of DIY. In doing so she adopted a tone of voice that was not so much Churchillian as Milly Molly Mandy. “Doing jobs around the home can be fun and saves money, but before you start you need to weigh it up and decide whether it is something you can manage yourself, or whether you need to call in the experts,” she said.
Melanie is, of course, a busy woman, what with twin daughters and a son to look after, not to mention caring for her constituents in Welwyn Hatfield, of which I happen to be one, and keeping an eye on what Companies House is up to, but has she tried calling in an expert lately? Experts in the UK today are so thin on the ground that you can walk for miles without treading on one. We don’t have experts any more, we have cowboys, and notoriously greedy ones at that. They have shaven heads and tattoos and, with the approach of warmer weather, they wear shorts. They consider &£300 a day the minimum reward for a semi-skilled job. Their victims are the middle classes, whom they torment twice over: first, when they overcharge; second, when they turn up on the same Barbados beach to spend the fruits of their overcharging.
I would like to see the DIY accident figures broken down by social class, for it is my suspicion that it is disproportionately the hapless middle class who are toppling off ladders, electrocuting themselves, and sawing off their own thumbs. Tired of being taken for a ride by experts, they attempt to do their own plumbing, fix their own guttering, and erect their own sheds. Many end up in casualty wards and, tragically, a few make the ultimate sacrifice.
There is further evidence to support this contention. According to one report, the national obsession with DIY is fuelled by TV shows featuring Carol Smillie. Since it is on BBC that she weaves her seductive spell, often using nothing more than MDF and a glue gun, her audience is likely to be predominantly white, middle class, well-educated and southern. We have the word of the BBC’s chairman for that. Director-general Greg “Crap” Dyke would add the qualification “hideously white”. It is those viewers, victims of stealth taxes, their pension funds raided by the Chancellor, their souls scarred by encounters with botchers, who are driven by penury and necessity into the arms of B&Q.
No amount of TV ads warning of the dangers of doing it yourself can still the power drills of suburbia. The bourgeoisie’s urge to avenge itself is too great. Every shelf successfully erected, every tap washer successfully changed, yea, every chimney triumphantly repointed is one in the eye for the white van men whose names can be found in the roll call of infamy that is the Yellow Pages. If, as happens, a few valiant do-it-yourselfers fall by the wayside, or into the privet, often from a ladder, we salute them and honour their memory. Theirs was a noble cause.
Melanie Johnson lists among her interests gardening. The DTI has investigated this activity and found that it, too, is dangerous. The most recent data collected under the Home Accident Surveillance System shows that nearly 465,000 accidents happened in or around the garden, one in five of all accidents. There were also 46 deaths, one in 75 of all domestic fatalities.
“Forty four per cent of accidents involve falls, 20 per cent are concerned with striking by or against objects and 12 per cent involve cuts and lacerations or skin puncture,” says the DTI, adding, “The question of falls in the context of the garden will be difficult to reduce. It will be difficult to reduce cuts and abrasions except where specific activities are involved. The use of protective gloves while gardening may help.”
This rather limp conclusion contrasts starkly with the nannying heaped upon DIY enthusiasts and is all the better for that. So, if you’re out in the garden this weekend, Melanie, try not to trip over a rake, dear, and do put on your gloves.