I’ve been amazed recently at how little empathy the British public seems to have for the poor in this dreadful economic situation of ours. But following my recent post about the scrounger stereotype I’ve been contacted by a lot of people who were genuinely surprised and horrified at the gap between the rhetoric and the reality. I’ve come to realise that a lot of people are just too fortunate to understand why a problem they see as easily solveable can actually be very complex.
Just get a job
As I wrote in my earlier post, this is often far from easy. Recent figures show that there are at least 4 Jobseekers claimants applying for each unfilled JobCentre vacancy in the UK; in some areas there are more than 20 JSA applicants per vacancy. Then of course there are those who are already working but are applying for other jobs. A few years ago a new supermarket opened in the city where I lived and over 5,000 people applied for 350 jobs.
Childcare costs often prevent parents from working, as does the rarity of work in school-hours only. Some parents are able to work around this by training as childminders and looking after other people’s children as well as their own but this isn’t always appropriate or an option.
Learn to budget
An assumption often seems to be made that the poor fritter their money away, that if they could just learn to budget they’d be fine. This may be true for a few but in my experience those on the breadline are extremely good at budgeting – they have to be. When your basic expenditure is nearly equal to (or sometimes exceeds) your income you learn to be very careful with every penny. Of course living in the edge like this only works until the unexpected happens. Perhaps the car breaks down or maybe it’s the boiler; your child has a growth spurt and needs new clothes or shoes; there’s an essential school trip that hadn’t been mentioned before. This leads me onto the next point…
Don’t borrow money you can’t repay
Unexpected costs tend to lead to borrowing. Perhaps the individual is lucky and can borrow from friends or family but more usually it’s a credit card that covers the gap. Bank loans are highly unlikely and so the payday lenders have cornered the market. They guarantee you a short-term loan no matter what your circumstances are – but the interest rates are extortionate, usually 3,000% or higher. And of course once you’ve borrowed money your monthly expenditure increases until you can pay back the debt. But if you were already stretched to the limit you won’t be able to pay it back.
Don’t have children if you can’t afford them
This one irritates me intensely. Yes, the ‘scrounger’ who deliberately has hordes of children while claiming benefits is a popular stereotype (mostly thanks to portrayals in the press or television programmes like Channel 4’s Skint) but it is very far from the norm. What many people don’t seem to realise is that circumstances can change. People fall ill, are made redundant or have their hours cut. Just because someone is poor now doesn’t mean that it was always thus.
Another point worth making is that even the most effective contraception can fail, even when used correctly. If a baby is conceived unexpectedly the impoverished parents have few options – have an abortion, give the baby into care or keep the baby and struggle on. Having been in this situation I can assure you that it is a dilemma I would not wish on anyone.
Sell the car
Not a bad suggestion if you live in a city with cheap and frequent public transport. But if you live anywhere else it’s unlikely that his solution is as cost effective as you might think. Where I live the bus I would use most often runs once an hour and not at all on Sundays or bank holidays. It also costs £4.20 to travel 2 miles.
I don’t have a clever or pithy conclusion to this post. But in the week that a report by Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty announced that “There is mounting evidence that the inadequacies of the welfare safety net are now directly driving the growth of hunger and reliance on charitable food handouts” it seems to me that a little less ignorance about poverty and a little more empathy towards those suffering it can only be a good thing.