It’s poverty, let’s call it what it is

Wednesday 29 March 2017

Carole4I was distressed, but not surprised, last week to read about girls at school who cannot afford sanitary protection.  “Period poverty”.

I was appalled, but again not surprised, to read the results of the Young Women’s Trust research which showed that over ¼ of young mothers (aged 18-24) have used a food bank and half have gone without food in order to feed their children.  This is not just a few mothers and children going without.  It is true that fewer women under 24 are having babies but last year alone over 130,000 young women in this age group had a baby. A rough estimate would suggest that more than 100,000 young women around the UK are struggling to feed their children, let alone themselves.   “Food poverty”.

Over 4 million people in the UK are considered unable to heat their homes and sit shivering, compromising their health, rather than turn on their heating.  “Fuel poverty”.

I imagine you will know immediately to what I am referring when I talk about “transport poverty” and most young people I speak to certainly know what “housing poverty” is.

I wonder how many more types of poverty we will need to invent before we can accept that poverty is poverty.  And no matter what you call it, it carries stigma and shame which makes it even more likely that those who are struggling the most will be silent, reluctant to draw attention to themselves or their children.

Giving poverty a variety of names does not make the reality any different, it does not make it any easier to cope with the humiliation of using a food-bank in order to eat or begging teachers for supplies of sanitary products.

We are talking about the basic necessities of life – food, shelter, warmth, personal hygiene.  In a developed country how can we justify that people are having to choose between themselves and their children, between food and shelter, between eating and personal dignity.  I for one am ashamed, ashamed that so many individuals are driven to such desperate measures.

In the 21st century surely we can do more to ensure that all our citizens have life’s basic necessities.  Let’s also face up to the reality that those who are going with food, are those most likely to be going without fuel and the other basics as well.  Let’s stop talking about the type of poverty and look at what we can do about low pay, insecure employment and the cost of fuel, housing and transport as a way of making sure everyone can, at bare minimum, lead dignified lives.