Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Poverty: curtains or blinkers? Yesterday morning I had a meeting at home, concerning one of the poverty projects I’m involved in. Unconsciously as we talked, gazing out of the window I happened to notice curtains being drawn in a house across the back. Come lunchtime and at last some high profile criticism of Tory ministers’ mythology of ‘scroungers’ who laze at home ‘with the curtains drawn’ while ‘decent hard working people’ strive to get the economy back on track. No matter that more and more of those working people face grinding hardship; as Polly Toynbee notes, this is mendacious, disreputable dishonesty. And some people, like my neighbour, have the curtains drawn during the day because they work nights. How have we got to this wretched level, as a society, with this smirking politicisation of the misery of millions? It’s offensive to pretend that ‘we’re all in this together’. As I wrote a couple of years ago, Some are poncing about with Pimms on the upper deck while some are clinging desperately to the sides, and many detached are screaming from the rising waters. Responsible politicians would acknowledge that, then do something about it. Even Demos are a little concerned about how policy makers will interpret and exploit their recent analysis of poverty. They point to the ways in which multiple deprivation gets associated with anti-social behaviour or criminality: it is not impossible that the Government or media might brand one or other of the groups associated with a type of poverty (perhaps those with the most entrenched poverty or negative features such as poor education and material deprivation) ‘neighbours from hell’. Demos have set up a website for the project, Poverty in perspective. I’ve been really impressed with the report, with it's practical, meaningful breakdown of 15 categories of poverty. It’s timely in the way it shows how The most prevalent types of poverty are among the working poor and the recently redundant (as a sign of the current economic climate), who have sophisticated financial coping strategies and lack the social disadvantages all too commonly conflated with low income. It also helps show something that my colleagues and I will be ‘striving’ (can I use that word?) to do, which is to emphasise how levels of income and outgoings are only one aspect of that experience.

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