The child poverty industry is at it again. This is a preview of an exhibition of 30 “haunting” images of childrens’ bedrooms in 21st century Britain.
Sadly I won’t be able to attend the exhibition at the Foundling Museum and produced by a charity called Childhood Trust in London in February so all I can comment on is this article.
We are told, of course, how these images show the grim reality of life at the bottom. The head of the charity tells us that we can donate or get involved in a local grassroots action. (Charities these days are rarely so stupid that they fail to disguise their primary concern – getting donations – by not also encouraging people to “get involved”).
There isn’t that much to go on. But a few comments:
i. You can get cheap toys for a few pounds. Even people on a reduced level of benefit could afford one or two toys. Already they can probably afford more toys than many people had 150 years ago. Of course; poverty is relative. It hurts when you have blatantly much less than other people. But this level of poverty is not destitution. Charities present their demands for redistribution as demands to overcome destitution. But this is misleading.
ii. We are told that conditions in local authority hostels for the homeless are bare. Indeed they are. But – people are being housed. Many of these people are costing the taxpayer a great deal – free housing, money to live off, free schooling, free medical care. Conditions in hostels are bare because local authorities are trying to manage their costs somehow. Some of them at least are in these situations because of choices they have made. (This author had some friends who stayed in a hostel with their child for a while. They deliberately made themselves homeless and allowed themselves to be housed in a hostel so they could get into a Housing Association property and escape from private renting. This is probably not unusual). The charities who are up in arms about this rarely actually challenge the underlying social and political environment – capitalism, the free-market, the legality of private renting etc. They just complain about the consequences of all this and demand ever greater sums of public money be spent to ameliorate the worst aspects. This is though a bottomless drain. If you accept on the one hand a system which embeds inequality and then claim that those at the bottom end are impoverished and unfairly treated simply because they are at the bottom end your position is contradictory. – The explanation for the contradiction lies in the self-interest of all the self-appointed guardians of the poor – every pound spent on improving childrens’ bedrooms helps maintain a nice comfortable job for a charity executive. Ultimately these people support the system they claim to be concerned about.
iii. One of the sob-stories concerns someone who came to the UK as a “domestic slave”. She is here illegally and cannot work and therefore cannot afford clothes for her growing children. This is one of those Guardian stories about which we would love to know the actual details and facts. If she cannot work and cannot buy clothes how can she afford anything at all? E.g. food, rent? We are urged to feel sorry (and donate money) or outraged (and write to our MP asking that the government donate money) on the basis of what sounds like a very fishy story. The idea is to overwhelm our reason with the emotional impact of the story. – But, we can ask – if she is here illegally would it not be best for her to approach the authorities and try to legalise her position? (If she really does have children that might well help her case).
There is a lot wrong with the world today but small bedrooms is probably quite far down on the list of real concerns. And if the relative difference in incomes (which lies behind this) really troubles you – then do something about it. – Something other than blackmail and begging bowls.