Last weekend Trafalgar Square, London, was the venue for a protest aimed at holding the Labour Government to its election pledge to reduce child poverty. What? You couldn’t be arsed turning up? You heartless bastards, how could you ignore the plight of those poor children?
I missed it too actually, not through indifference or inertia but by design. I refuse to subscribe to the notion that child poverty can be separate from adult poverty. All poverty is relative of course so how do we define child poverty? Are those who do not have the latest trainers, games consoles etc.. poor? Or are the onces who are decked out in the latest designer clothes and equipped with the latest toys and gadgets but starved of attention really the ones living in poverty? If everybody was given £1000 a week to live on then the people who smoke, drink, do drugs, live in over-mortgaged houses, drive Chelsea Tractors and eat only in restaurants would be impoverished while those who live on lentils, drink home made elderflower wine and drive a pair of raffia sandals would be in the money. Little Nicky’s Theory of relativity.
I digress however, so getting back on topic, a protest about the government’s failure to reduce child poverty is really nothing but a protest against hypocrisy. While this NuLab government is in power a protest against hypocrisy seems futile. Why did they single out child poverty? It is, is it not, hypocritical for a government that has devoted so much time and effort to increasing poverty among the lower paid, disabled and old and raising the bar below which people cannot afford to keep a roof over their heads, eat and keep warm to talk about reducing poverty when what they mean is performing conjuring tricks with economic statistics?
We should not heap all the blame on NuLab of course; Brown, Blair, Mandelson et al have made matters much worse than they need have been but the foundations of our broken society were laid by Margaret Thathcher’s Conservatives. The blueprint was drawn up long before them however.
The English speaking world, Britain, America, and to a lesser extent Australia and Canada suffers from a disease that though know in other parts of the globe does not periodically reach epidemic levels. The most visible symptom of this disease is an uncontrollable urge to buy houses. This obsession, once established, quickly becomes all consuming. People will sell comfortable homes that are well within their means to trade up to something bigger / in a better area / nearer to a good school (the list of excuses given by people about to plunge themselves into financial hardship is almost endless. At the bottom end of the market even people for whom anything but renting a home seems like insanity will clamour to get on the “mortgage ladder.”
not so many years ago it would have been impossible for the unemployed or low earners to buy a home but so effective was the great lie of the finance industry that property prices always go up in the long term the lenders in the industry even believed it themselves. They gave mortgages to people who should not even have been allowed to borrow the bus fare home. Thus demand was maintained in the market forcing up prices far beyond a level that was realistic and people were persuaded to take on debts they could never hope to service let alone repay even had their stated income been anywhere near accurate instead of just a figment of a cowboy who worked for a bank (The Loan Arranger).
For almost three decades and despite two major bubble / burst cycles the madness has gone on. How can the cycle be broken when even now governments speak of injecting cash into the economy to get the market moving again? The first step towards breaking the mould and alleviating poverty would be the most painful for politicians who have nailed their colours to the mast of Free Market Economics and would have to admit they were wrong. There needs to be a campaign to reverse the propaganda to the markets madness decades and destigmatise rented homes. People who rent their homes are not of less worth, it is simply the case that their circumstances are different, they have made different choices.
The next big step, painless for politicians but agonising perhaps for us ordinary punters, is a process of reeducation in individual responsibility. We cannot live on debt, we cannot simply keep borrowing more. That Cowboy Banker The Loan Arranger might tell us we can but it only works so long as we can keep earning more to service the debts. As soon as our interest payments default, good bye lifestyle, hello poverty. Borrowing more than on can afford to repay is insanity but only the individual can decide what proportion of income is available to service debts. Only you can decide how much you have to send on CDs, books, wine, gadgets, designer clothes etc. to maintain an acceptable quality of life. Only you can decide whether you want to live in a mansion, eat only bread and soup and sleep on the floor or live in a dump and go go to lots of gigs, parties, clubs etc.
The Loan Arranger says “If you will just be the same as everyone else you will be happy, trust me?” And you do because he is so likeable and really seems like your new best friend.
The very very first thing people need to learn to get themselves out of their personal mess is never trust anyone who says “trust me.”
If we get our heads round those simple things we are well on the way to alleviating poverty.