Poverty

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People who need to claim benefits also have to live hand to mouth, from week to week. We are already poor. It just takes one missed payment to completely empty your cupboards, to strand you indoors, to turn your light, heating and hot water off and leave you in a state of soul-sapping desperation. And if you are chronically ill, that flare – an exacerbation of defining symptoms – will also pay you a visit, for sure. You are having a bad time. Well have some more.

Poverty is far worse than simply having nothing. Its hungry reach is much less superficial than skin deep; it bites down to the bone and has you strugging to keep body and soul together. It robs you of motivation and animation, poverty leaves you battling for your heart and for who you are. It relentlessly erases your sense of identity a bit at a time.

And don’t for one minute ever assume that you will always be paid what you are entitled to; for we have a government that has explored every way possible to take away your support – which you have paid for via national insurance and tax – regardless of your circumstances, and it DOES so.

Poverty reduces people from cultural and social beings to isolated individuals who are pre-occupied with the struggle to fulfil biological needs in order to survive. Poverty is uncivilising. It involutes society and subverts culture.

Take meals for example. On a socio-cultural level, meals are shared, and food for us is not merely nourishment; it presents the occasion for gathering together, hospitality, sociability, affection and sometimes, dressing up. Food is always a part of sociable occasions of ceremonial recognition.

Christmas, birthdays, going to college, getting a place at university, weddings, funerals; we use food to celebrate, mark rites of passage, mark milestones, start relationships, maintain relationships, gather our friends and family close.

To share means that we need to have an abundance – more than we need for ourselves, because food is fundamental to survival.

Poverty isn’t simply about material deprivation: it means conceptualising the world without the prospect of freedom and choice, and in increasing isolation. It excludes people from even the most basic joys of normalised cultural rituals, and from the fellowships that bind us as a society.

It strikes me how dazing and isolating poverty is; how very lonely an experience, even with friends and family around who are supportive and kind. It marks you as a stranger, even to yourself.

I’m thinking of last winter, a snow-blurred  landscape and my agonisingly permanently cold blue feet, painful hands, the shaming underweight lecture from my consultant: “You’ve lost weight because you are ill. You need to eat much more and you must keep warm with such severe Raynaud’s,” she said. I told her I couldn’t do both, and she looked at me uncomprehendingly, though she usually understood me. We once spoke as mutually accepted equals, but in that moment, her expression betrayed her, it was as though I had suddenly become a stranger to her.

She has retreated behind a brusquely professional role ever since, becoming a stranger to me, too. I think my being poor embarrassed her. I was left with a sense of powerlessness over my own health problems – it reduced me to a patient role of inert non-participant observation. To become someone who no longer has sufficient provisions to alleviate the symptoms of an illness is a self-diminishing experience, however, food and fuel are fundamental to basic survival.

Poverty transforms everything, from the material world to the subjective realm of relationships. Poverty makes us selfish and pre-occupied – simply because of the overwhelming necessity of meeting basic survival needs. It switches us off a bit at a time until we can no longer be ourselves, or fulfil our potential, or remain pro-active in social events.

Poverty divides us. It splits families, separates us from friends, and excludes us from having even a basic level of social esteem and cultural participation. It turns us into strangers, it prescribes our existential separation and exile. We become the socio-political Other.

How can it be that the most basic human right – the right to survive – is being so cruelly trampled in a country of great affluence, by those in positions of power and authority, in a so-called first world Liberal democracy? Poverty is a violation of human dignity that leads to a vicious cycle of degradation.

Such degradation is buttressed by a pathological Conservative ideology and a long-standing feudalist tradition of eulogising social inequality; imposing it through policies that reward greed, exploitation and inflict human misery, whilst the cavalier public schoolboys draw on a narrative, informed implicitly by Social Darwinism.

They disguise their deeds, they blame the victims of their psychopathic proclivities. The final indignity is the politically scripted biography, freely handed out on Benefits Street and in the Daily Mail, written to blunt and bludgeon public sympathy and to invite a collective condemnation: the declaration that poverty is caused by the poor. How irresponsible, how feckless, how lazy of us to wallow and languish in our poverty.

Gosh, we must be in need of more of those “fair” Tory policies, allegedly based on “incentives” to “help us into work”: even more poverty to punish us for our poverty in the hope that absolute poverty will stop us being poor.

Didn’t we try that approach once a couple of centuries back – the 1834 Poor Law Reform Act?  I could have sworn that we’ve since decided as a society that policies imposing abject poverty on the population were an abject failure. Did I imagine those college lectures on the historic reasons for birth of the welfare state? Those books I read, those humanist writers, kindly, and writing their optimistic formulae for a hopeful future for all?

Mr Cameron says a barefaced yes.

However, such shameful, loud Tory negations and attempts at invaliding our own experiences cannot hide the truth: poverty is caused by government policies. It happens because of politically manufactured structural inequalities; politically motivated and designed to reward the rich and further impoverish the poor.

Growing poverty reflects a large-scale economic failure, regardless of the pitifully thin distillation of Tory “evidence” of “recovery” and “growth” which is localised to a handful of millionaires. Poverty is about the loss of much more than money. Poverty entails indignity and humiliation and exclusion. But it is the powerful and wealthy that ought to feel shame and humiliation for intentionally inflicting suffering on so many, just so that they can have even more.

Such frank inequalities, with increasing affluence and prosperity for a few, and increasing poverty, disempowerment and disenfranchisement of many reflects a political party that is FAR from democratic, serving the needs of no-one, fulfilling the wants and doing the bidding of an elite.

We have long needed to put the Tories out of our misery.

And we must. scroll2

The right to food is recognised in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25) as part of the right to an adequate standard of living, and is enshrined in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 11), ratified by the UK.

The human right to food

For the Special Rapporteur, the right to food is the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensure a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear.

Malnutrition soars by more than 70% since Coalition came to power

3.5 million UK children will live in ‘absolute poverty’ by 2020 – children’s watchdog

The Poverty of Responsibility and the Politics of Blame

The poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame – part 2

 10407927_677369232332608_5384979058089243718_nThanks to Robert Livingstone

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33 thoughts on “Poverty

  1. I agree wholeheartedly, but the archaic 19th century electoral system works heavily in the Tories favour. They know they only have to win a few so-called marginal seats to gain power.

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  2. Great Blog Kitty
    You are right, poverty is about far more than lack of food. its about lack of opportunity and social mobility for starters. Most of us poor manage to survive on the meagre benefits handed to us for our material needs, because we do not value these materialistic things.

    Its the lack of social justice and social opportunities which cripple us and eat away at our self worth and self esteem.
    Its the propaganda and lies portrayed in the media and in parliament which isolates us from our peers and from ourselves.

    I am shocked and very concerned about the state of our nation since the Tories gained control of the policy making.
    But I fear this is all part of the propaganda machine working to create fear and uncertainty so as to make manipulating public perception an easier task for them. By creating a mass fear, (mosty in a covert manner) they are far more likely to be able to bring in their cruel and derisive policies as its so much easier to control the masses when their security is constantly under threat.

    thank you for your blog. It makes me feel less alone in this alienating world.

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  3. all the human rights that the govt signed seem to be ignored and I don’t see anyone taking them to the human rights courts for denial of food and/or shelter, this is so evil: that in the C21st people in this wealthy country (David Camerons words and not mine) should starve or end up homeless

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  4. You said it. I don’t recognise my country any more. I don’t recognise my fellow human beings.
    On a different, though connected note, we have something interesting in common – Raynaud’s! I was diagnosed when I was 14 but at 21, it was confirmed that I had developed C.R.E.S.T. or Limited Cutaneous Systemic Sclerosis, as they now call it. At nearly 58, I use a mobility scooter and often need to use a wheelchair. I do hope you never developed the collected symptoms that make up other conditions under the Scleroderma banner. I’m appalled that your consultant reacted as she did. That’s disgraceful, to say the least. Are you a member of the Raynaud’s & Scleroderma Association?

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    1. Sorry to hear you have CREST.

      I also have an autoimmune illness – lupus. I’ve had raynaud’s since my childhood, in my feet, though it wasn’t severe, it gradually got worse as I’ve got older. When the lupus became severe, and I hit a crisis, the raynaud’s also suddenly worsened, and affected my hands (mostly the left), knees, nose and ears.

      I’ve not become a member of the association, I run an autoimmune group on FB.

      I think my consultant was simply ill at ease and her discomfort was handled badly. She did used to ask about my campaign work, I’ll try and re-engage her that way.

      She may be miffed as i’ve stopped my chemo injections – methotrexate really doesn’t suit me, but have rituximab too

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    2. Maybe she was embarrased cying the salaries they are on ive always worked havnt had a rise in four yrs so in similar boat

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  5. The political expediency is based on pay. Who can pay to spread and flex their polictical muscle. It’s entirely based on monetary policies. Millionaires and billionaires on this side of the pond have seen hundred fold raises in last thirty years. The minimum wage has barely doubled. Staples of milk, bread, meat have raised by four to five fold. The system perpetuates the poor getting poorer. I’m sorry it’s the same all over.

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  6. Allies in everything… I was reading this (reblogged, elsewhere) and I had no idea you were writing about UK until I hit “Tories”. It is the same here, in the USA, maybe even more so. We don’t have socialized medicine for the masses, for example.

    Excellent article. I especially related to the part about the Raynaud’s and it is either warmth or food and the therapist just not comprehending. I’ve been in a similar situation. And, yes, it is isolating.

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    1. I set up an autoimmune support group on FB, and many members are from the USA. The problems that people have getting adequate healthcare there are horrific. But it’s heading the same way here, with our NHS being steadily privatised and severely underfunded to the point where many chronically ill people are seeing their treatments rationed.

      Yes the USA is how the UK is becoming very quickly. Neoliberalism is the common denominator.

      Love hugs and solidarity to you, Laura x

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