Against an emergency response to poverty

I agree with Adanna Shallowe that we need radical solutions to the problems of poverty in the United Kingdom, but I don’t think an “emergency response” is the answer.

The RSA

I would argue an “emergency response” allows wealth to abdicate responsibility for poverty, as if they have no part in the cause of hardship. We also need to recognise, a government engaged in hostile actions against the poorest among us, cannot be trusted to respond urgently or adequately?

The grim reality is we’re born into a very specific set of economic circumstances. A family, community, society, country, and world, with conditions that govern our progress from day one. In fact I think it goes back beyond that, nine months, minus several generations, as far as can be remembered. Those conditions, that history, define how we think and our ability to prosper.

That said, we need to remember, current levels of poverty in this country are a direct result of Tory attempts to dismantle the welfare state, while also making the poorest pay for the sins of the richest. Those at the bottom of the economic pyramid are paying for the greed of a banking industry that crashed the economy in 2008.

Wealth treats poor as “other”, as something to be feared and demonised, a burden to be survived. They think of us as feckless beggars. That’s why I don’t like the idea of an “emergency response”. We risk falling into a hole dug by the Tories, a bear-trap, that lets them treat the poorest as lesser citizens.

We are not victims of a natural disaster that destroyed a costal village, or flooded a delta, or swept away everything in a tidal wave. We are the product of an economic system that puts the accumulation of wealth above everything else. One that seeks to fatigue “you in every way – physically, mentally, (and) financially”.

Framing poverty as if it were some kind of natural disaster, and using an emergency response to sort it out, asks us to give cash so those who have lost everything can be helped. Charity is a short term solution, for an acute problem, and allows wealth a choice, they can choose not to give.

We need solutions that are mandatory.

I agree with Ms Shallowe, we need a universal basic income, and legislative recognition of social rights. To achieve this we have to unpick everything, repurpose trousers into a skirt while trying not to flash our arse. It’s possible but not easy. The poor of this country are not charity cases deserving of handouts. We are full citizens who should be afforded all the privileges one of the richest countries in the world has to offer.

This is a clumsy example but is the clearest way to explain. A child born into wealth gets a private education. That child will do better than someone born into a family with no money. The former has a better chance of getting a well paying job, and living a longer life, than the child who lives without the instruction manual.

I use the term instruction manual to make the point, wealth get to navigate the world they live in. The poor get no such chance. We must learn for ourselves how to survive, while all the time being told, the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer, as if it’s the natural way of things. It is not.

The narrative of “emergency response” should be replaced with one of equal rights. Frame poverty, not as an an economic issue, but as an abuse of our human rights. As citizens of the fifth largest economy in the world we have the right to a fulfilling life. And in this world, the right to a life means having money.

We are not poor through choice, we are poor though circumstance. Poverty is not a lack of character, it’s a lack of money. Give it to those who have none and they will use it. They will be happier, and more productive, and the world will be better for it.

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