Poverty: The callous and dismissive ignorance of saying ‘It could be worse…’

The argument that we, in the UK, don’t have genuine poverty is something that some try to make, especially in support of the current economic system that we have (such as this hilariously stupid, naive, ignorant, just plain bonkers post, it’s honestly the most ridiculous thing that I have ever read). Cries of “have you been to India? That’s real poverty.” “Here, in the UK, people have access to welfare, free health care, free education, if someone wants to change their predicament then they should get a job, or a better job, they should work harder, they should stop moaning about it and do something about it.” 

If we ignore, what to many that are even just slightly knowledgeable on poverty, social issues, economics, the world of work and so on, if we ignore the many, various and vast valid reasons as to why it isn’t so simple, which are explained in the links in bold above and that I’ll elaborate on later. If we ignore all of that then on the face of it what some argue regarding poverty in the UK may appear to some as fairly reasonable, we do have a welfare system, free health care and so on, compared to poverty in places such as India, poverty in the UK, to those not experiencing it or that haven’t witnessed it, it won’t appear as ‘bad’. But, what those arguing that we don’t have genuine or real poverty are missing is that they’re massively over simplifying such a complex and intricate issue, they’re being ignorant to the truth of what some people, in such a ludicrously wealthy nation, are going through, they’re dismissing the suffering of others out of ignorant selfishness, they’ve been manipulated by our self-interested, ideologically out of date, ignorant and callous government and mainstream media and have become puppets for the wealthy elite to continue their plutocratic rule.

But before I talk about the real poverty that we do have or why we have it and why it isn’t as simple as what some try to make out, I’d first like to point out the idiocy of the ‘it could be worse’ argument.

Saying it could be worse for one – is completely irrelevant, two – it isn’t in anyway helpful and three – it’s incredibly ignorant. It’s like saying to a man that has a broken leg that ‘it could be worse’ because he could have two broken legs. Saying to someone that is struggling to feed their children that it could be worse because they could also be homeless. Then what of a family that can’t feed their children and are also homeless? Oh it could be worse because they’re in the UK and not India? There is never an end to the ‘it could be worse’ argument, there will always be circumstances that could be described as ‘worse’. I’m not saying that the ‘it could be worse’ argument isn’t sometimes helpful, but not to those that are really suffering. To some people that are in a relatively ‘ok’ situation in life that are maybe going through a rough patch or a spell of ‘feeling sorry’ for themselves, saying it could be worse and pointing out the positives in their life can, depending on the individual and circumstances, sometimes help to give people ‘perspective’ or to make them aware of the things they’d maybe forgotten, to make them aware of how much certain things in their life meant to them or that actually do matter to them, but they’d become too distracted by the negatives rather than positives in their life. But in most cases saying ‘it could be worse’ is to basically entirely dismiss what is bothering an individual, it basically shows that you don’t care, you don’t understand, you haven’t even tried to understand, you haven’t tried to empathise or sympathise. Do people really think that this is what somebody wants or needs when they’re struggling? As I said, occasionally, very rarely and depending on a lot of circumstances, will saying ‘it could be worse’ actually benefit the individual, the vast majority of the time it is just an ignorant, heartless, unhelpful, judgemental and callous thing to say to someone/to say of a situation. 

Whether or not we have real poverty shouldn’t be compared with the poverty in other nations, it is irrelevant. How we define poverty in the UK shouldn’t be determined by poverty elsewhere but by the resources available within the UK. As a nation we have more than enough resources for every single person to have more, especially of the basics, than they could ever need or want. No one should be homeless, no one should be without warmth, be without food, no one should have uncontrollable amounts of debt, no one able too should be without work, be without the pay, security and hours of work that they require or desire, and those unable to work should have enough to have a life, enough to have a high quality of life. 

An entirely new system is needed, but for now, despite it only tinkering with a corrupt system, what we should support is a proper Basic Income (not the pathetic one that the Greens offered at the last election). It will put an end to extreme poverty and destitution, it will free people to pursue a career that they’d like too but can’t now within our current system, the benefits of a Basic Income are immense, please click the links in bold above to read more on a basic income.

Why is it not so simple as for those in poverty to merely ‘get a job, a better paid job, to merely stop moaning and do something about it.’?

For starters it is ludicrous to instantly judge those in poverty as though it is entirely their fault, that it is entirely within their control, that the poor ‘choose‘ to be in poverty. Psychologically, assuming that someone in difficult and sometimes entirely traumatic and horrific circumstances is to ‘blame’ for their situation/circumstances is known as Fundamental Attribution Error. Thanks to Thatchers engineered individualism, which has been perpetuated by consecutive governments and heavily exploited by our mainstream media, we have a culture of ‘blame the individual’. This culture has been intentionally created to divide and cause conflict amongst the working classes, by design it has deflected attention away from the causes of poverty and inequality onto the individuals that find themselves in such circumstances. The wealthy elite, the establishment, the 1% have purposefully created a system that shifts wealth from the poor masses to themselves. To be able to maintain such a system, that exploits the many for a tiny few, they have brainwashed society into individualism, created division and conflict, manipulated society into our ‘blame the individual’ culture. Not only do we have an oppressive system but we have a culture that blames those being oppressed. Poverty, and the blame and hate towards those experiencing poverty, is engineered.

Unemployment levels are intentionally kept at certain levels to increase competition at the bottom, to force people to accept low paid, insecure work as they have no other choice and are competing for scraps with many others in similar predicaments. Far too often there are around 40 people that apply for a single job, not a high paid, secure full time job but low paid (below the amount needed to be able to afford a decent life), insecure, part-time, zero hours, agency jobs, jobs that are monotonous with far from ideal working conditions. Not to mention ‘workfare‘, which is purely forced slave labour, those receiving Job Seekers Allowance (the pitifully low amount that no one can survive on) are not ‘something-for-nothing scroungers’, they have paid national insurance, they have paid into the system to be able to receive JSA when they find themselves without employment. Workfare is an abhorrent scheme that creates further unemployment as paid roles are replaced by slave labour, it gives big profit making businesses the opportunity to have unpaid staff to increase their already obscene profits. Workfare not only exploits people struggling to survive and creates further unemployment but it fails to do what people are conned into believing it does – ‘helping people into work’. The statistics on it show that it has no more impact on helping people to find work than doing absolutely nothing would. It is yet another policy to shift money from the public purse into private businesses as the individuals on workfare are ‘paid’ by taxpayers, by public money. 

Regardless of where in the world you live, poverty is poverty, being homeless, without food or warmth is being homeless without food or warmth. 10’s of 1000’s of people die in our country every year because they can’t afford their heating bills, these are usually some of the most vulnerable people in society, the disabled, sick and elderly. Deaths that the majority in society don’t give a damn about. If there was a natural disaster or a bomb that had caused these deaths there would be nationwide mourning and outrage, yet the majority in society don’t care about the deaths caused by poverty, as I mentioned earlier this is largely due to our individualistic ‘blame the individual’ culture whereby people blame those in such circumstances, they dismiss their deaths as they see it as being the individuals fault, they never stop and think about who is really to blame or why those people have ended up in those circumstances, they just oversimplify it and dismiss it. There aren’t words strong enough to describe how despicable and callously abhorrent it is that 10’s of 1000’s die and the accompanying culture of ignorant, oversimplification dismissal and blame of an individual.

The definition of poverty and extreme poverty here in the UK, is to be changed by our Conservative government to fiddle the statistics. In such a wealthy nation, a nation that has seen forced, economically inept, austerity on the poor and vulnerable (with those most in need being hit 19 times harder than anybody else), while the wealthiest 1% more than double their wealth. How can that not bother people? Regardless of your political views, how is there not outrage at how austerity has affected those that carry no blame for the crash while those responsible have benefited in such a monstrous way for a ‘crisis’ that they caused?! I can here the cries of Tory supporters and right wingers… “It’s their money, they’ve earned it and deserved to make that money.” Seriously? Are those of such a view, those working class that have themselves seen their wages stagnate and their living standards fall, are they really that ignorant of the truth of the system we live in?! Do they really think that we have a system that if ‘you work hard and make the right choices then you will prosper’? – as Cameron et al love to spout repeatedly. Do they really think those in abject poverty, the disabled and most vulnerable ‘deserve’ to be hit 19 times harder?  That they deseve to have the Independent Living Fund taken away from them? Leaving those most in need to be forced to wear a nappy rather than have the support to help them go to toilet?! Do they really believe that those already with more wealth than they could ever spend in a 1000 lifetimes ‘deserve’ to acquire even more obscene amounts of wealth, while this is happening to societies most vulnerable?! 

I won’t even try to go into the physical and mental difficulties that come with being in poverty, not just abject poverty but poverty where you are forced to live from pay cheque to pay cheque, knowing that any problem with your car, your fridge, any rises in rent/mortgage, any rises or any mishap at all will push you into a debt spiral at the mercy of legal loan sharks. Those that say – Get a job are asking the wrong question and they’re asking the question to the wrong person, why are there no jobs available, who’s doing anything about it to create jobs, create opportunities, why isn’t there any genuine or even slightly useful support to gain employment? Those saying to get a better paid job are asking the wrong question to the wrong person, why is it that the jobs out there don’t pay enough to cover even the basics in life? To those with anger at those being oppressed that are almost entirely powerless in their situation, your anger is misplaced, it’s time you turned your anger on those responsible, time to turn your anger on those doing the oppressing.

If you’ve never experienced abject poverty, or poverty that some ignorantly disagree should be called poverty, then it’ll be hard for you to ever fully understand. Even those that have experienced poverty and have managed to ‘escape’ it will never fully understand the plight of someone else’s experience of poverty. Just because some can cope/manage/escape poverty it doesn’t mean we should dismiss the struggles and suffering of others in poverty, we’re all different, an experience will affect different people differently, we need to accept that and learn to empathise, learn togetherness, learn to be unified, learn to understand and learn to support rather than vilify, blame, judge, attack and dismiss others, and the experiences of others, other people, other human beings, our fellow citizens. 

It isn’t the definition of poverty that needs to change, it’s the system and culture that needs to change, desperately and quickly. The vast majority of those in poverty are in work, and yes being unable to afford anything above the most basic of essentials is poverty. Life isn’t just about working to survive, life isn’t about working, we live in such a wealthy nation that all can have quality of life, all can have well paid, secure work, all can, regardless of whether fit or unfit to work can have quality of life, regardless of whether currently employed or unemployed, all can have quality of life. 

That there is even a question on what is or isn’t poverty is entirely the wrong question, the question is why we have poverty in such a wealthy nation in the first place, the question is why we allow the ruling elite to run a system so heavily in their favour, why we have a culture of ‘blame the individual’, why we fight amongst ourselves when we should be united in ensuring societies most vulnerable are protected, united in having secure work that pays enough to have quality of life, united against our oppressors, united we can and will bring about change to a system that works for all and a culture of collectivism over individualism.

The words in a slightly darker shade, in various places within the post, are links to further explain/elaborate on the points I’ve made and to back up/provide evidence for claims/statistics.

I really appreciate your patience in reading this post, I am on a ridiculous amount of medication for various physical and mental health difficulties that affects my cognitive functioning, my ability to articulate thoughts, especially in a concise and clear manner, but I try my hardest and I’m very grateful for your understanding and patience.

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4 thoughts on “Poverty: The callous and dismissive ignorance of saying ‘It could be worse…’

  1. Thank you for this detailed article on the subject.

    We do have abject poverty in this country; I was in that situation when the tories were in power during the 80s. They stopped housing benefit for the working poor, added on poll tax, and we had to start paying for water.

    We couldn’t afford heating, and as a result ,all of us had chillblanes on our feet and hands. No heating in the flat brought about inch thick mold all over the walls; my asthma deteriorated and I kept having one illness after another; similarly the children. In the winter ice covered the inside of the windows. Our clothes smelt of mildew in the winter because it took so long to get the clothes dry with having no heating. We could barely afford one meal a day; there was no money for fresh fruit or anything nice; we basically survived on offal. I couldn’t afford bus fare so had to walk back from the local village with bags of heavy shopping. I got to the point that I had no underwear left, not winter coat, holes in my shoes that I had to put cardboard in. We couldn’t always afford soap, and definitely no personal things like sanitary pads. Our electricity was constantly being cut off because we couldn’t afford to pay the bills. It was a miserable existence to say the least. We got into serious debt having to subsidize our income with loans to buy things like a washing machine. We were so desperate that one time I paid for a week’s holiday in Wales basically with a credit card; it was like heaven, but I paid dearly for it later.

    Things picked up for us once I could get back to work once the baby was a certain age, but since then I’ve similarly struggled when I was out of work and a single parent once divorced. We used to joke that we were living in a 3rd world country; the only difference being that we had water and a house (but we couldn’t afford to pay for the water!). As above, we went without all personal items you might need, and it’s quite humiliating to have to go back to old fashioned methods of coping with your ‘monthly’, or smelling because you can’t afford deodorant and your clothes smell of mildew anyway.

    If it was like that back then, when benefits were worth more, goodness knows how people survive now. And poverty IS relative, we all know the ‘people are worse off than you’ chime: that may be the case, but it doesn’t negate the fact that you haven’t eaten for 3 days and you’re freezing cold! How is that meant to make you feel better?

    Liked by 1 person

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