Poor Show

Look, before I start I know that we are living in straitened times. We’re all broke and missing out on holidays and promising ourselves that if we ever meet George Osborne in the street we’ll punch the little fucker in the face. Yet there’s one aspect of this belt-tightening that’s actually making me shit out of my own ears and that’s the rash of newspaper features about the poverty stricken middle classes.

You know the sort of thing. You open the pages of the Guardian, Independent or Times to read about how one middle-class family or another can no longer afford skiing holidays, hummus or private school for their kids. So far, so what. All of us are struggling with budget cuts, wages that never meet the rate of inflation and shitty interest rates.

Yet it’s the notion that this makes you poor that bothers me. Slowly the middle classes are taking ownership of the word ‘poverty’, inaccurately comparing their experiences of cancelling their kids’ private tuition to not being able to afford a pint of milk. And, yes, they are taking the piss.

Look, I don’t doubt that the middle classes are struggling. In fact I know they are. But I also as sure as shit know that they are not facing poverty, at least not in the true sense of the word. You see, in my town poverty is like a permanent fog and you see it on every street corner. Our foodbank is struggling to feed the people who rely upon it and those people are struggling to send their kids to bed without grumbling tummies. They live in damp and cold flats, have shitty health and rely on benefits because there are so few jobs in these parts that when one comes up it gets a headline in the local newspaper. I know kids whose parents can’t afford to buy them decent coats and even kids who miss school because their parents can’t afford the shoes they need to walk to school.

So are you seriously telling me that the middle-class people who can no longer afford to run their holiday home are suffering from poverty too? Oh spare me, will you, because they haven’t got a clue.

More than that, think about these features for a mo. They are written by people bemoaning their fate and they get paid a few hundred pounds for their effort. Can you even imagine that happening to someone who is genuinely poor? Because while it’s now almost fashionable to not afford that expensive handbag it’s not fashionable to be genuinely, agonisingly, gut-churningly poor. No one wants to read about what it’s like to find mushrooms growing on the damp walls of your baby’s bedroom but for some reason people do want to read about how hard it is to have your new Audi repossessed. I’m scared that poverty has become the new mockney accent of the chattering classes, where pretending to be poor is up there with pretending that you were born within the sound of Bow Bells even though you were brought up in Surrey and your childhood friend was a fucking pony.

I don’t want to negate how hard it is for the middle-classes right now but I do want us to keep some perspective on what poverty actually means. Poverty is when your kid wants milk at bedtime but there isn’t any and poverty is when the knock on the door means that the bailiff didn’t have a problem finding your address.

So this Christmas, how about giving the middle-class poor schtick a rest. If you’ve got the heating on, a gift under the tree and something good to eat on the big day just give a quick thought to those who have none of those things. For Christmas the true poor will want exactly what you have got. Enjoy it while it lasts.

So what do you reckon? Have I got it wrong or have I hit the nail on the head? Oh, you know what you have to do. The comment box is thataway.

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10 Responses to Poor Show

  1. Jo says:

    Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I’ve been at the end of the wedge where I am trying to feed a family of three on £20 a week inc nappies etc., and now can afford to give my kids lovely things and good meal and clothes, and would NEVER claim poverty just because we might need to tighten our belts. It’s utterly ridiculous that people think they can. If the the nail had a target on the top you would have hit it right in the center.

  2. Spot on.

    We are all having to tighten our belts and I know that those “in the middle” often miss out because they aren’t rich enough to sort themselves out and aren’t poor enough to qualify for help. But the flippant use of the word poverty really gets my goat too.

    I wrote an essay on social justice at uni last year and looked at the word “poverty” – there was a great quote which of course I can’t remember but it basically said that poverty isn’t just about not having any money. It is a mindset, a message, a cruel whisper saying “You are worthless.” That really struck me. You know the wee poor kid in Polar Express? Breaks my heart every time I watch it because for me he represents Poverty. He doesn’t believe that he has a place on the journey because he is poor. He feels like he doesn’t belong there. He hesitates to take the hot chocolate and free presents because he doesn’t think they are for him. He is poor, therefore he is undeserving. That’s what poverty is. It isn’t having to rethink your budget and go without a treat. People really don’t know they are born.

    Great post, thank you :)

    • The Kraken says:

      God, you have made me cry! You are so, so right. That’s exactly what poverty is. It’s not just financial poverty but poverty of self-worth, education, prospects, health. Real poverty gets into your mind and your body and it never, ever leaves you. Crikey, I’m off for a very early stiff drink.

  3. Sonya cisco says:

    Spot on. Bugs me that one of the criteria for child poverty that was quoted in the paper was the inability to afford a weeks holiday. We can’t afford that- but I would never describe us as poor, not while we have plenty of clothes, full bellies, and a warm house.

  4. Gemma says:

    I am one of the lucky middle classes and what terrifies me about our country at the moment is that for the people for whom deprivation and poverty are real and unrelenting is that their situation will only get worse. Their disadvantages in life are multifactorial and so they are being hit from all angles as the cuts are made, from disability allowances to housing benefits etc. Take, for example, today’s news that the statutory redundancy notice period is to halve to just 6 weeks. For a middle class couple this may be a difficult but not totally unmanageable time as they may have fall backs (mortgage insurance, a few thousand ponds savings, a solid education and good CV and even parents to bail them out in the tough times) but a couple who are living hand to mouth have no such luxuries and 6 weeks will not be long enough to save them from destitution. I fear that social mobility (not great at the best of times in this country) will become completely impossible and the gap between rich and poor unbridgeable.

    • The Kraken says:

      Exactly. It is terrifying isn’t it? It’s as if the Government is intent on destroying the poor rather than helping them. It makes me sad beyond words. I only hope that we all remember this sort of thing when the next election comes around.

  5. Angel says:

    Thanks for this post. This point of view needs spreading, not just to put middle class “mockney” in it’s place, which it does, but also because divide and rule means that a war between people who are struggling to feed and keep their families warm and those who feel like that’s happening when they can’t go on holiday is exactly what this Government wants!
    I will promote your post and ya boo sucks to anyone who dumps you for being outspoken in such a humorously reasonable way.

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