Modern Myths: No.1: Poverty
Myth 1: Relative poverty is a social problem which desperately needs addressing, because it is at the root of all public disorder issues and failures in the education system.
Truth: Relative poverty only means you have less than some other people. It does not mean that you don't have enough of everything you really need, which is the definition of real, material poverty. Material poverty has all but disappeared in this country due to our state welfare system. Where people are unable to afford to eat or pay their bills, this is usually due to financial mismanagement, not lack of income.
To quote Charles Dickens: "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery." This quotation was widely repeated throughout my childhood by my chartered accountant stepfather, who in the course of his work had seen a lot of misery. It annoyed me then but has stayed with me resolutely ever since.
Relative poverty is only a problem for the family involved if they succumb to the marketing campaigns and peer pressure to constantly acquire the latest thing, when they don't actually need the thing. This is a choice everyone is free to make.
Furthermore, a family living in relative poverty who is satisfied with their lot has many advantages over their more affluent counterparts. Being happier with less, there is more spare time freed from working to devote to family, house, garden and children. Having just enough money, as opposed to too much, is a far less stressful way of living. I know this because I've lived through both situations. Surplus cash is just as much a cause of worry as lack of cash, but this is something most people won't believe unless they've actually experienced both.
For individuals and families, poverty is a state of mind which is easily cured.
The acceptance or choice made by swathes of the population to live in relative poverty is, however, a huge problem for those people who devote their lives to the goal of keeping our country's economy artificially inflating. There is no such thing as a stagnant financial situation: the economy is either shrinking or growing. When people stop increasing their spending rate, the economy starts shrinking and we are classed as being in a depression. I would argue that a healthy, naturally run economy has natural ups and downs (booms and busts) like everything else in life, but governments stake their success on avoiding slumps, for which they are invariably held responsible.
I see that David Cameron has jumped on the 'relative poverty' bandwagon now, saying: "In the past we used to think of poverty in absolute terms - meaning straightforward material deprivation. That's not enough. We need to think of poverty in relative terms - the fact that some people lack those things which others in society take for granted. So I want this message to go out loud and clear - the Conservative Party recognises, will measure and will act on relative poverty," because of course the issue goes way beyond party politics and Mr Cameron is setting up his stall for his time in office which will, I'm sure, be little different from Tony Blair's in terms of policy and legislative program.
The think tanks are working hard to 'prove' the relative poverty argument. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, whose research papers are widely used and quoted by Tony Blair has worked on very little else in the past few years. JRF's page on poverty forms a main part of their website hub. If you read it you will notice that the term 'relative' has strangely disappeared, although relative poverty is undoubtedly the subject of the page, not absolute material poverty. I expect this to be an increasing trend in the near future.
Being seen to be trying to solve the (invented) 'problem' of relative poverty has many benefits for government and big money/power people, including:
1. Giving them an excuse to introduce a raft of surveillance and social control laws and measures, such as:
- Imposing full-time childcare on children from as early as two years old
- The targetting of poorer families for compulsory intervention programmes
- 'Contracts' between citizen and state (drawn up by states not citizens, naturally.)
2. Enabling them to keep the economy artificially growing, by:
- Increasing productivity, whether people really need more things or not.
- Increasing employment, whether people really want or need to go out to work full-time.
- Increasing spending, both public and private.
3. Using people living in relative poverty as public whipping boys for issues like rising crime, failures in the education system and major public health problems.
4. Drawing attention to the so-called 'poverty' issue makes government look...
As opposed to looking like the greedy
$$ warmongers $$ they really are.