Skip to main content

The poor get poorer and the rich get richer but let's blame the poor.

There are some no doubt who won't really care about the poor in the UK until they are homeless in the streets with bloated starvation bellies. I guess it will wait for a 'live aid' concert by rich pop stars with crass lyrics to tell the world that the poor in the UK need feeding. Since writing my piece on the cuts in benefits driving 200,000 more children into poverty, at least a few have questioned me about 'what real poverty means'. It is the 'yes but' kind of argument. Poverty they say is 'relative'. No it is absolute. It is absolute because of its effects on inequality and opportunity.

Poverty, particularly in childhood, produces a cycle of poor health and lack of opportunities to break out of the chain. Poor health blights a generation through poor educational attainment and poor job prospects. Poverty, bad housing and undernourishment create a cycle of poverty handed on across generations. The cost of the coalition's policies is difficult to calculate, but over time with increasing burdens of poor productivity and of ill-health and the consequent impact on health and social services, the cost in terms of resources will be immense. It is a foolish and short-sighted approach. But it is also cruel. It blights the lives of a generation and more.

The truth is the politicians won't touch the middle class. That is where the votes really count. For decades now, politically the poorest have been ignored; an underclass economically, without effective political representation. If only we could distribute them to some key marginal constituencies then perhaps they might have a voice. Yet the real beneficiaries of 'welfare dependency' have been those of the middle classes. 

Those of the middle class have been the ones who through concession after concession have built up equity in their homes, benefited from the enormous expansion in higher education for their kids. The flip side of the cycle of poverty is the cycle of wealth. Wealth produces greater health and well being, better housing, better education and attainment, better job prospects and more wealth and greater political influence. And meanwhile the poor get poorer. And inequalities in health and well-being grow ever larger. 

It is no coincidence that the Liberal Democrats cynically promised not to raise university tuition fees.  There were votes in it. The greatest beneficiaries of low and no fees have been the middle classes. Yet we are told the poor are 'trapped in welfare dependency'! No, they are trapped in poverty and inequality. It is the middle class who are trapped in dependency. 

But what of the poor? What we tend to do with the poor is blame them, or at best to blame their 'lifestyle'. It is as if the poor are poor because of their behaviour. Rather than address the real issue of poverty, inadequate income and opportunities, we address their behaviour and lifestyle as if by exalting them to behave differently they can miraculously break free from the cycle of poverty and poor health; it is all extraordinarily Victorian in approach. 

Yet public health policies have been so directed without the slightest evidence that they are effective. The truth is, as a study set up by NICE concluded in 2007,  "interventions designed to change behaviour rarely alleviate inequalities in health, and in some cases may exacerbate them." And in the process they may stigmatise the poor for 'bad' lifestyle and perpetuate a myth that it is 'lifestyle' rather than inequality that keeps them in poor health.

Inequality kills, but it is the poor who get the blame. As if they had the means to solve their poverty; if only they would do this or that and 'help themselves'; the poorest who had no hand in the financial mess created by the greed of the middle class and the bankers for whom there was no tomorrow taking their fat bonuses. Yet, the poorest are asked to carry the greatest burden of cuts. We mortgaged our tomorrow and now it is the poorest who will suffer the most. It is cruel and unfair. It is unjust. It is a disgrace. 


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Ian Duncan-Smith says he wants to make those on benefits 'better people'!

By any account, the government's austerity strategy is utilitarian. It justifies its approach by the presumed potential ends. It's objective is to cut the deficit, but it has also adopted another objective which is specifically targeted. It seeks to drive people off benefits and 'back to work'.  The two together are toxic to the poorest in society. Those least able to cope are the most affected by the cuts in benefits and the loss of services. It is the coupling of these two strategic aims that make their policies ethically questionable. For, by combining the two, slashing the value of benefits to make budget savings while also changing the benefits system, the highest burden falls on a specific group, those dependent on benefits. For the greater good of the majority, a minority group, those on benefits, are being sacrificed; sacrificed on the altar of austerity. And they are being sacrificed in part so that others may be spared. Utilitarian ethics considers the ba

A time for every purpose

All life moves. Or, more precisely, all life moves purposefully.  This is true even for trees and plants.  Movement is essential for maintaining life.  Animals migrate; plants disperse.  Some form of migration is an ingredient of all life.  For many organisms, it is a key function of reproduction.  We don't reproduce merely to create a new organism, but also to disperse the population - finding new fertile ground, or resources. Reproduction is a form of migration. Reproduction isn't merely to replicate. Reproduction produces change and diversity.  While we may have strong resemblences in families, we also have differences.  Creating a difference is how evolution works.  In this sense, nature is a continuous exploratory process, finding what works best.  Nature senses change and responds.  Some of this is immediate and physiological or behavioural; some of it is over generations.  If we look at a forest over long periods of time, we would see that it shifts. There is a movement

A weaver's tail - the harvest mouse

Living in the grass is a tiny mouse: the tiny harvest mouse, with a wonderful scientific name that sounds like the title of a Charles Dickens Novel,  Micromys minutus.   It is the only British mammal with a prehensile tail. It uses its tail to hold on to the slender grass stems, at the tops of which it builds a nest. Photo: Nick Fewing These tiny mammals (just around 5 cm long) build a spherical nest of tightly woven grass at the top of tall grasses, in which the female will give birth to about six young.  In the fields, we see cows and horses brushing away flies with their tails; often they will stand side-by-side and end-to-end, and help each other.  Two tails are better than one!  In nature, tails are put to good use.  Just as a tight-rope walker uses his pole for balance, so for some species, a tail provides balance. When running, a squirrel uses its tail as a counterbalance to help the squirrel steer and turn quickly, and the tail is used aerodynamically in flight.  But many anima