Wednesday, 15 October 2008

What do I know about poverty?


October 15th is Blog Action Day, which this year is concerned with poverty and, hopefully, it can at least do something to raise awareness, gain empathy and some respect for the world's poor - who aren't only people far away in Africa, or the homeless on benches; they're ordinary people like you and me. We're not all the great unwashed (well, not always); we're not a bunch of drunks and addicts. We live and work among you and you would hardly tell, but we still suffer.

What do I know about poverty?

Quite a lot more than I want to know and, yet I'm well-off compared to many.

According to government figures, both here and in Spain, I'm "officially poor" and have been for many years. The threshold, in Britain, in 2006/07, was £112 per week [1] for a single adult with no dependent children and, for much of the last few years, my income had seldom been more than £200 - £300 a month: less than 1/2 to 3/4 of that "poverty" level, although they're talking about disposable income after income tax, council tax and housing costs have been deducted, where housing costs include rents, mortgage interest (but not the repayment of principal), buildings insurance and water charges.

My figures, however, are for total income, out of which those bills still had to be paid.

While I was in Spain, I could never even admit to this, because it brought me below the "threshold of legality" for obtaining a residence permit (when it was applicable), or otherwise being able to prove that I could support myself.

Despite all this, sometimes, I managed very well (I certainly see it as a benefit to learn to live without a whole bunch of unnecessary crap or expensive and unhealthy junk food), compensated with fine weather and beautiful scenery; walks and free fruit, but living in sub-standard housing, not being able to buy enough food, nor pay for any heating, assaults you, physically and mentally, on a daily basis, wearing down your ability to fight. It ages you dreadfully.

Being denied access to adequate healthcare, or being unable to afford legal assistance are things that trap you in poverty and make sure you stay there.

Though I now have a roof and am being fed, my income reduced to zero for several months before I was able to get benefits, but even when I did, this is still below the poverty level.

Obviously, I'm a lot more fortunate than someone with no home and nothing at all to eat, but there is still a wide gap between things that most of you take for granted and, which for me are items I have to think twice about: not just luxuries, but things that could help with my health, or improve my life. Buses, they say, are for "poor people". I can't even afford the bus.

The unpoor often have no idea how to help ...

To me, it's almost laughable that the first item on this list of 88 Ways to Take Action Against Poverty Right Now, says, "Eat meatless meals 2x a week." Hell, necessity demanded that I eat meatless meals 7 days a week for years and doing so left me with no money over to donate. I'm hardly complaining, because this has been better for my health and better for the planet, but those of you who can afford that lifestyle, live a charmed life of a sort and don't even know it.

Actually, I feel sorry for you, because you live a kind of infantile unreality and I don't mean that unkindly. Right now you may feel protected, but if you ever do have to discover the naked truth, I fear that it will be much harder for you.

If I could offer some advice, it would be to give up something to help alleviate poverty now, not just for the poor, not just for your own conscience, but just in case you ever become poor. My hope is that it's kinda like owning a time machine: eliminate poverty now, then it won't exist for you to fall into.

But unless you've been in the situation, maybe, it's impossible to imagine.

“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Just in places around me: In the Canary Islands there are 400,000 people (around 20% of the population) who live below the poverty line. More than 50% of pensioners in the Canary Islands do not have enough money and older women are those who are among the most affected. 52% of children who live in one-parent families, where the mother does not work, lives in poverty. The percentage living in poverty among immigrants is greater than among those born in Spain, again, higher among women than men.

When you visit those "paradise islands" as a tourist, you don't see this, but I had friends there living in self-built "shanty" dwellings, made from loose blocks with corrugated roofs; the whole family sleeping in one old bedstead, cooking on an old camping stove and going outside for their "bathroom facilities". Yes, in the 21st Century.

In 2006/07, around 13 million people in the UK, around a fifth (22%) of the population, were living in households below the low-income threshold.

3.9 million children - one in three - are currently living in poverty in the UK, one of the highest rates in the industrialised world. And nearly half of children (47%) on the Isle of Wight are living in or on the brink of poverty.

In a country as "rich" as Britain, these figures are scandalous.

[1] Note they say that £112 was the threshold in the UK, yet the amount of benefits (PDF) or basic pension paid to a single person in Britain, is currently at most £90 per week, so even when you get help, it's below poverty level.

Did you know that 70% of those living in poverty around the world are women?

Stand Up & Take Action Against Poverty | More places to help

Photo: by haloocyn | By the way, I accept donations

This post is part of Blog Action Day 08 - Poverty

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