POVERTY – DO NOT JUDGE
"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."
"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.
"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"
"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."
"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.
LATER THE GHOST SHOWS SCROOGE
They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.
Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.
“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.
“They are Man's,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree; but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end!”
“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.
“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”
The bell struck twelve.
Scrooge learned a valuable lesson about judging the poor in Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol”. In this post I will look at the hazard of judging poverty with your own bias, especially comparing yesterday’s poverty to today.
Firstly, however I will state, “There is too much fake poverty.”
I am angry that poverty is distorted by many . It seems to be a bizarre cultural practice that poverty is a condition you try to hide while you experience it, but brag about afterwards. This is embodied in the famous “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch originally performed by Tim Brooke-Taylor, John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman where they try to outdo each other with recollections of their past poverty.
Sadly, there is a practise far worse than this that distorts poverty in the press, TV and social media. I am infuriated to see people give interviews about their distress and poverty only to examine theirs and their friends’ social media to discover well off lifestyles with meals out, high end cars, theatre trips, expensive holidays and even second homes whilst pleading poverty. Quite often they are political activists and appear in media many times, albeit sometimes months or years apart. Whilst I do not believe in personal witch hunts, you do need to look at everything you see and assess the source and question it with critical thinking and a little research. I do concede such cynicism does require caution as a person’s fortune can change overnight. However, it does need greater diligence by professional journalists to properly investigate poverty rather than being mouthpieces for every activist with an agenda.
So when I say “Do not judge” I am arguing that anyone that looks at poverty needs to understand the individual, their needs, and how those needs are not being met. The biggest challenge for an older person is to view poverty through the eyes of their own past experience. This is simply because the standards of poverty change with time. I woke up to frozen windows, had no central heating and double glazing as a child. I didn’t have a telephone or internet as a child, but these things are basic necessities in the current world. It is no accident that a sizeable majority of people with low incomes or in poverty do not claim every state benefit and assistance available to them. Without internet and up to date functioning devices many services are not available. On top of this without using the internet you end up disadvantaged by either paying more for goods and services or simply missing out on opportunities, whether they be education or employment. Without an email address you pay more for electric, gas, insurances and even shopping. Technology was supposed to be a great balancer of equality, in reality it is frequently socially and economically divisive to those that cannot afford, or are unable to use it. Indeed technology and internet delivery are the most common reasons for the withdrawal of a service especially banking and the supply of cash.
The ability to help yourself through education, re-employment, managing bills and debts are all reliant upon access to good useable internet on a current up to date device. Such things a s smart phones, ipads are not luxury gadgets, but rather the basic tools that enable you to function efficiently in modern society.
If you are living in a more modern home in destitution the ability to “throw another chair leg on the fire” to keep warm is not available as you typically have no fireplace. The ability to cope is taken away by modern design.
Thus comparing one era to another is crass. However coping mechanisms from past generations can help you cope with low income and may help prevent you falling into poverty or help you cope with poverty. I will look at this in my next post.
Travel to work, education, health and welfare services is a considerable expense when experiencing low income or poverty. This is made worse in rural areas by lack of public transport. In London (with other towns and cities to follow) the Congestion charge can have a similar effect on poverty. You have to remember that many of those on low incomes have jobs with unsociable hours that fall outside the patterns of available public transport.
Comparing your current or past experiences to another’s poverty is also dangerous because of the varying needs dictated by circumstance. If you own a house you are less likely to experience poverty than a person with a mortgage. If you have a mortgage you are less likely to experience poverty than a tenant. The tenant has an ever present threat of homelessness as they can currently be easily given notice to vacate and find themselves without a home through no fault of their own other than their landlord’s whim. Those in shared housing without formal tenancies can be even more vulnerable to homelessness. Eviction can cause jobs to become unviable due to travelling or local housing costs and thus a rapid spiral into poverty ensues.
The highly paid individual with a nice house and car can overnight find these in jeopardy if they lose their job and cannot afford the mortgage and car payments. Even if immediate re-employment is possible, as it certainly is in Spalding at the moment, the drop in pay level can still be catastrophic as ability to reduce outgoings is seldom instant.
What I am trying to emphasise is that each generation and each circumstance has different needs that need fulfilling to live their life without poverty. Poverty is individual and needs assessing as such. It needs empathy to be understood. So I ask that whilst you should not be “taken in” equally assess critically but “do not judge”.