Have you ever experienced poverty? SNP’s Shona Robison said the Chancellor’s plan to end the £ 20 universal credit hike means 60,000 Scottish families, including 20,000 children, will soon know what it looks like.
This is a shocking claim. But will this lead to destitution for tens of thousands of Scots? And if so, why aren’t we more angry about it? Where are the mass protests?
One of the biggest problems surrounding the issue of poverty is the term “poverty” itself. What does this really mean? The dictionary can define it as a “state of extreme poverty”, but it suffers from ambiguity as do terms such as “politics” or “art”. It means something different to different people.
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It can be emotional. For the less charitable, it can smell of failure and weakness. We may have moved from Victorian-era moralizing of the poor or insensitivity to Norman Tebbit’s hopefully “ride your bike”, but traces of “poverty is a choice” remain.
Indeed, figures from the British Social Attitudes Survey 2010 revealed, over 15 years, that individual factors (laziness or lack of will) (23%) were increasingly seen as an explanation, while injustice social was less (21%). It will be interesting to see if the pandemic reverses this trend. Thirty-five percent believed that living in need was an inevitable part of modern life, while 13% attributed it to bad luck.
For the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, poverty is “when your resources are well below your minimum needs”. But research he conducted in 2013/14 found it to be “something associated with the problems of the developing world, rather than the UK.” This made the participants feel disengaged when they heard about poverty, as they could feel that the problem was exaggerated ”.
So in the UK, out of poverty, we are not suggesting that five-year-olds openly beg in the streets as in the Indian subcontinent. But we are talking about insecurity, uncertainty and impossible decisions about money.
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Poverty is insidious and can even be invisible, having as much, if not more of an effect on the mind than material circumstances. It clings to all aspects of life, clouding judgment, affecting self-esteem and therefore life chances, passing from generation to generation.
It’s no surprise that the drug-related death rate is 18 times higher in poorer areas than in wealthier areas, as drug addiction eases the pain of reality.
I consider myself lucky, but I briefly touched on poverty. In a year without a job after graduation, I remember having to sleep at night in an unheated apartment wearing a winter coat and two pairs of sweat socks. I had a limited choice of clothes and food, and struggled to raise enough money to pay for the bus tickets. It was shameful and embarrassing, so I kept it a secret. But I was young and I knew it was only a stage in life.
The pandemic has made an already dire situation worse for those less fortunate, and a little more would make a huge difference. But poverty is a stain that no civilized society should tolerate. And unfortunately, a £ 20 document is not enough to solve this problem.
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