Generally, the more “right wing” our economic/political view, the more likely we are to regard money as being a reward for effort and talent, the more “left wing” the more we may be suspicious of the effects of money.
Perhaps a good way to sum up the political/social angle is with a couple of: “I wish I’d said that” items.
First, a quote:
“If you want to know what God thinks of money, look at the people He gives it to.”
If you think that is unfair, perhaps you’ll like the story (probably apocryphal) about the reporter who interviews the very rich man. Towards the end of the interview, the reporter says:
“You know sir, if I had as much money as you I’d never work again.” The rich man replies, “Boy, that is the reason that the Good Lord will see to it that you never have that much money.”
That’s a quote from what I wrote in Taming the Pound, about three or four years ago.
I was reminded of it when I saw an article about poverty driving nearly a million (913,000) to food banks.
The Trussell Trust (a Christian charity that works to combat poverty and exclusion and apparently the largest provider of food banks) said that this was “the tip of the iceberg” as it doesn’t include “those helped by other emergency food providers, those living in towns where there is no food bank, those too ashamed to seek help”.
Taking the last group, it ties in with the Money Advice Service figure of about 1.5 million of the estimated 8.8 million who are “over indebted” (political speak for in deep s**t) – but nobody seems to be able to work out whether this is because they’re ashamed to ask for help, don’t know where to go for help, don’t realise they’re in debt and so on.
It’s a standard official answer that people are too stupid to know they’re in debt, or have no idea where to go (despite the MAS spending millions on advertising on TV, on buses etc.). I doubt it, I think people are quite complex and for all sorts of reasons (but not ignorance about money) they choose not to address the problems they have in much the same way that people soldier on with illness, relationship breakdown etc.; they know it’s going on but they try to ignore it because it’s too painful to deal with.
After all if, even when people need food, they’re still reluctant to ask for help, doesn’t that say something about complex human motivation – surely even the Government and the MAS don’t really believe that people are so stupid that they don’t know when they’re hungry.
But the whole thing has stepped up a notch now, with an article that one of my friends referred me to in the Guardian.
It looks as if the argument is that any person with a disability or indeed without a job is being categorised as lazy and work-shy and therefore deserving of starvation. That’s apparently not everybody’s opinion, because a couple of days before there was an Observer article that suggested that while IDS (who does sound like a disease, his critics are right) thinks that food banks are evil and encourage laziness, Cameron (fresh from his latest attempts to be a Blair clone and embrace religion – although I don’t think he’s trying to be Pope), says that the Christian charities like Trussell Trust are doing a good job.
It would be quite nice if they’d actually think about what they’re saying (hard for politicians, I know). Do they truly believe that “the disabled” are one, unitary group? Do they really think, seriously, that everybody who hasn’t got a job is lazy or that everybody who doesn’t ask for help is ignorant? I’m prepared to accept that people might be too stupid to understand the benefit system (nobody understands that), but surely there are plenty of reasons why people don’t ask for help, don’t have enough food or don’t have a job.
It’s the sort of simplistic drivel that I was trying to point out in the quote at the start of the article. The sort of rubbish that Boris (another political simpleton) spouts regularly and that I said last year would be a problem by increasing financial hardship.
Why is it politicians and policy-makers, officials and all the rest fail to understand that people are complicated? There are no simple answers. Yes there are some lazy people who fiddle the benefits system, and there are plenty of people who through no fault of their own can’t get a job although they want one, or want one but can’t afford to take one because of childcare issues etc. Similarly, there are people who can’t afford food because they’ve lived beyond their means and become the authors of their own misfortune and there are those who can’t afford food because they have suffered bereavement, had appalling luck and simply don’t have enough.
There isn’t an easy, unitary answer, each person is unique and trying to claim, as most of the powers that be do, that “all people in this situation are lazy/martyrs/stupid/oppressed” is harmful. That attitude perpetuates the same stupidity shown by Boris, and the facile reasoning of the quote at the start, with the difference that at least the quoted examples are funny.
I realise that in talking about this my article title brands me, I think of income as monthly, not weekly or daily – so I’m from a background of relative privilege. But really, shouldn’t people who have the power to do something about this not be so childish and simplistic, and shouldn’t they challenge the notion that the only thing that matters is money – so that greed isn’t good and the most good we can do is to make sure that we don’t have people queueing up for food parcels?