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.