So if you have seen the UK weather reports the last few days you will know we are having lovely storms this week … the next has just started to blow up here and it all seems to be hitting the guest room window … so far this week I have had a night disrupted by my dogs woofing; a very early morning to avoid my dogs woofing; a very late night; another night disturbed by my dogs and now I have wind!!!!
However the stormy waters I really wanted to address is some people’s attitudes.
People I have never met and do not know. Over the 24 hours of Christmas Day I heard that various important people had highlighted the plight of those suffering poverty and encouraged everyone to act differently to reduce poverty. And then I have heard some of the people who have had power cuts complaining about what they are having to go without … no heating; no hot water; no cooking facilities; throwing out food that cannot be refrigerated; no lights; and so on. People here is a thing … here is what the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury and others were trying to raise your awareness of! Some people in so called developed countries suffer such poverty that they live without some of those things you are complaining about not having … not just for a few days but they live without them 24/7.
Poverty includes – when the boiler breaks down boiling several kettles of water to have a strip wash instead of a shower; not having heating because it costs too much to run; not buying fruit and veggies because the cost is too high; never having a fridge full of food to throw out; and/or not being able to replace light bulbs when they go. This is life every day of the year for some people in the UK … poverty is not just for Christmas!
People who suffer these types of poverty are then at risk of their health failing … apologies if you are eating breakfast whilst skimming blogs … skin that doesn’t get the right nutrition and that gets cold and stays cold starts to break down and become stressed. Rashes, ulcers, sores, itching, scabs, inflammation, pain, extreme discomfort and without treatment potentially sepsis, impaired mobility and even amputation. This is compounded if poverty means a person is eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates (rice, pasta and potatoes are comparatively and sometimes artificially cheap); this speeds up the skin break down and adds risk around circulatory disease and obesity and all the conditions that link to that.
Not only physically but mental health is affected by nutritional imbalances and depression and stress both further compound the physical conditions.
Then some of these people who suffer poverty are treated as even less human when they claim help in the form of benefits. Not all benefit claimants are lazy spongers. People with qualifications (and certificates to prove it) suddenly find their certificates are not sufficient to prove that they have basic literacy and numeracy skills … so they have to take a test! By the way we are not talking about people who have English as a second language but people who are British citizens. Why do they have to sit a test? because otherwise it would not be fair to the people who are not educated … really? are you sure? apparently so … looking at those certificates and ticking a box to confirm literacy and numeracy would be picking on those that don’t have evidence of their education. Does it make you wonder why you bothered getting certificates and attending school? because it sure does me.
May be next time some high up wants to persuade people to consider helping those in poverty s/he might have the sense to define the poverty in question? Then maybe ordinary people will take the time to find out about poverty in their area and start to think about taking action?
Actions and not just words
So what is being done to support those in such poverty … not much … less than is being done to restore power to a small minority of homes in the UK; possibly less than the effort of the speechwriters of all those Christmas Day messages of peace and love. People in the affluent developed countries who have light, heat, potable water, and abundance of food please don’t just listen to those messages and then carry on regardless in your spoiled lives. Think ahead to practical things you can do to help … instead of throwing out that food in your fridge this week you could have found a charity that was helping others to have a little Christmas cheer and offered then a boost (knowing you made a few people smile might even warm you up a little even in the absence of heating).
Foodbanks are much in the news recently and for someone in crisis getting a few day’s basic food is very welcome – but what that doesn’t do is educate the recipient in how to avoid repeating the crisis; there will be families in food crisis in the coming weeks because they splurged on Christmas. How can you help someone facing that level of poverty? do you grow your own veggies? give a few of the plants to another family and encourage youngsters to be interested in home grown foods – even if it is only cress grown on a window sill. If you don’t garden but have a little spare cash see if any local charities exist to encourage home grown produce and ask if you can donate seeds or basic gardening tools – you know that saying “give a man a fish and he feeds his family today; teach a man to fish and he feeds his family for life”? The Big Issue operates on a similar basis … the sellers buy the magazines at cost and keep the profit to meet their living costs – so they have to make the effort to sell them otherwise they won’t see a return.
Try a life of austerity for a short time and see how much you can truly manage without … don’t they say “Necessity is the mother in invention”? so invent some new recipes using healthy ingredients or try a few new foodstuffs like couscous or bulgar wheat. Walk into your local shops instead of getting out the car and try using the bus for a week – it might seem expensive to you but it is cheaper than the real cost of running a car and while you are on the bus you are free to chat with people or read – which you couldn’t be doing in the car.
If you really wish to understand poverty use a benefit calculator to find out ho much your family would be deemed to need to live on and restrict yourself to that budget for your utilities, travel, food and household product needs. It might seem easy if you have a good store cupboard – so try not to use that. There will be none left out for nights out or luxuries like alcohol and sweeties.
Ask people what they need and encourage them to help themselves with your support. Perhaps you have skills you could share with someone facing poverty which would help them out of poverty? Maybe you are good with words or numbers and could support someone who struggles with literacy or numeracy? Maybe you have really god inventive cooking skills or maybe you are a keen recycler/upcycler who could share that knowledge or maybe you have a great social network and you could encourage some of them to join you in taking action – you could even start an anti-poverty timebank in your community.
Actions speak louder than words? so please do not wipe those Christmas messages from your mind and carry on regardless; please do one thing today to reduce poverty. What you do is up to you and you don’t need to broadcast it … but having done something please then spread the word and persuade others to take action as well. Because I feel so strongly about this topic I am going to do something I rarely do – I am going to post this blog post on other social media sites to try and increase readers and the levels of actions taken. If you have read this far and taken an action please do one last thing for me and share this onward … pay it forward.
And one last thing – just in case you are reading this and thinking well I pay taxes to support those poor people … you need to go find out exactly what your taxes are being spent on because trust me the Work Programme is doing virtually nothing to support people in escaping the poverty trap – more details will follow but in a nutshell they spend public money to pay for people to travel to their premises so that they can tick boxes and say they are getting people back to work. Their outcomes include: sending people to placements in charity shops to volunteer (isn’t the very word volunteering saying to you that people do it because they want to?); making people take Primary School level literacy and numeracy tests; typing people’s CVs instead of supporting them to learn computing for themselves; and writing off 22 year old people as long term unemployed because they have poor literacy.