Fascinating article out of the US this week, in which a lady living in poverty explains just why it is that the sort of decisions people make in that situation that many more fortunate people mock or, worse, use as if they’re justifications for a person’s poverty, why those decisions are in fact perfectly logical and understandable and you’d probably make them yourself. You might find it eye-opening.
Now, we don’t live in America, and our welfare system is of course not as terrible as theirs. But NewStart is still kept well below subsistence level – which means not “you can’t live on it comfortably” but “you can’t live on it without falling into impossible debt and going without food or other necessities”.
Worse, many people don’t realise that the poor actually pay more for many things, further entrenching their poverty.
Here are some examples:
- Housing – if you don’t have a good job and good credit, you won’t be accepted for desirable properties, ie insulated, secure houses at the best prices in locations with decent public transport. You’ll have to pay more for a dump nowhere near anything which will be harder to heat and cool and cost more to secure. Also renting means that you can be forced to move with two months’ notice at the landlord’s convenience – good luck finding the money for house-moving transport when you’re already in debt.
- Transport – the poor have to live more remotely, where public transport costs more (we really should get rid of zoning systems for fares) and is less available. They can’t afford to keep their cheaper cars regularly serviced, so when they die they die more seriously, and because they’re cheaper and older they die more often.
- Utilities – if you’re poor, you can only afford an old fridge (the seals of which have probably gone) or at the best a new very inefficient fridge. Same for heating, washing machine etc. Your house won’t be well insulated, and you couldn’t afford to insulate it even if you had the right, which you don’t because, of course, you’re renting. Oh and you don’t get to take advantage of government subsidies for things like solar panels – those are just for the wealthy who own their own homes. Guess what – you’ll be paying a vast amount more on your electricity bill.
- Money costs more. They can’t get cheap credit secured by their home loan: they have to take the crappier credit deals where they pay more for less. Their credit fees cover wealthier people’s fee-free credit cards. And once they do fall into credit card debt – and good luck not doing that, when you’re trying to survive on below-subsistence NewStart – the interest on the interest on the interest becomes simply unsalvageable. It becomes a permanent tax on poverty, the recipients of which are the wealthy.
- Healthcare – whilst at least we cover most things if you’ve got a health care card, it’s not comprehensive. Bulk-billing doctors are difficult to find. There are massive waits for even basic surgery. I once had a client with his arm off at the shoulder who, for month after month after month kept being bumped for private patients even after being prepped for surgery. They pay for this in sick leave they don’t have from bad employers who’ll just sack them, and self-destructive workarounds (starting with terrible fast food) while they’re incapacitated.
And two bonus points as to why they’re even more screwed by the above than you would be:
- They don’t have networks of comfortable friends and family who can help them in emergencies.
- It’s harder to get a decent job to get out of this nightmare. Where’s the money for a clean suit and personal grooming for an interview? Sorry, car broke down on way. No, left two hours early for the interview on the terrible public transport where I live in Dumpsville Nowhere and the train was cancelled. No I don’t have an email address I can’t afford the internet connection. And if you do get the job – your work day will be hours longer than those of your colleagues because you’ll be travelling much further on much worse transport. Good luck out-performing them!
Those are not comprehensive lists, either. Please feel free to suggest others in the comments.
The point is, the status quo crushes the poor. It locks in poverty. We are wasting the talents of many of our citizens with a profoundly unfair system that prevents them working their way ahead. Anyone thinking we should do less for the poor needs to try a week living in their shoes.
The poor also struggle with day to day purchases. Premium healthier food is sometimes out of reach, for example the cheapest mince is noticeably fattier than more expensive packages. Recent talk of increasing the cost of cheap wine to discourage binge drinking may also put a glass of wine out of reach.
Sorry … Pavlovian reaction there …
Poverty also imposes a constant state of mental exhaustion that makes it harder to make good decisions: