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Easy Ignorance

Last night’s Panorama painted an increasingly desperate, if somewhat biased, view of the poverty crisis the government and the media are largely desperate to hide. I say biased because Edwina Currie was, inexplicably, invited to contribute. I have no idea why; perhaps they figured they could show her ridiculous ill informed class hatred for what it really is. Also two out of the three case studies I saw (a recovering addict, a smoker and a part time worker) were vulnerable to criticism. The media and the right wing pundits (like Currie) will say these people are victims of personal failings and poor decision making; that one chooses addiction etc. As if such instances, even if we assume the criticism is fair, are representative.

During the programme there was a healthy twitter feed on the hash tag ‘hungry Britain’. Predictably there were the usual right wing clowns eager to latch on to the aforementioned failings and argue these people somehow deserve to be left to starve. I do not understand these people, but unfortunately attempts to engage two of these people ended with them chucking their toys out of the pram; one ended with an anti semitic post (I’m not Jewish), the other decided I was a cunt. Both took their ball and went home.

This is the problem with debate: there isn’t any. These people are frightened and insecure. That’s not to excuse their hair brained ignorance, particularly when you attempt to point out where they fall down and how they are wrong. I don’t have a huge amount of sympathy, let me make that clear, but maybe they will go away and think about their opinions a bit more carefully. Here’s hoping.

It seems to me that these people can’t understand what they are seeing. People are starving; thousands are in crisis using food banks the demand for which has trebled in two years. Almost a million have been sanctioned into financial oblivion leaving them vulnerable to loan sharks and predatory capitalism. The sort the government refuses to address or regulate. Yet these right wingers feel personally aggrieved: not only do they not understand, but they think that the ‘scroungers’ are personally taking from them and theirs. They have been divided and are so being ruled.

It becomes about scape-goating. One person was sanctioned after missing a number of appointments at the jobcentre. He claims he can’t remember the reason why, but doesn’t dispute the accusation. Is that any reason to starve him? More importantly, how does poverty help him? If he were to end up in hospital from malnutrition, which I suspect is a bomb waiting to explode since people must be in that situation (perhaps pride prevents them seeing a GP who would surely, if desperate enough, admit them), wouldn’t that cost more money? It would take valuable resources away to solve a needless health crisis manufactured by Tory policy.

Unfortunately for the gentleman in question he smoked and so the question then became “why should we feel sympathy for this person when he chooses to smoke?” But what if he can’t give up? Surely addiction is best treated by making the person secure first, building up their confidence. Taking away their income and leaving them vulnerable to destitution and starvation is hardly conducive to beating a nicotine habit.

It’s the cold logic of the internet. These critics are able to issue their judgements from a position of relative comfort and security. I suspect neither of my two opponents was living like that. So it’s easy to pass judgement in the forensic arena of twitter where the reality of that claimant’s circumstance is just pixels on a screen; no more urgent than a picture of a kitten or a wacky tweet from a celebrity.

In that environment it’s easy to point to the smoker and comment on how he can afford cigarettes but not food. That’s how Edwina Currie operates. She isn’t in that situation. She is as far removed from it as is perhaps possible. She doesn’t know poverty (despite attempts to show it), and, with the blinkers (paid for by expenses no doubt) firmly attached, never will. When the arguments get too much for the right winger they can just as easily detach themselves from the argument and run away or change the channel, or just log off. Meanwhile the problem of poverty remains, the issue of how to help people addicted to nicotine or whatever still remains.

In the case of the third case study, a woman working part time missing meals and visiting food banks because the big corporation she works for won’t pay her enough to eat, the low pay crisis continues. Yet IDS will perversely champion her solution, working a second job until 4am delivering junk food, as a positive sign. How can that make sense? Unless you think people are merely economic drones and that success is measured in how much of your life you expend making said corporation richer. She’s now ‘hard working’, despite the personal cost. This is the perverse logic of the western world: the more effort you expend the better you do, no matter how much is required or how wasteful. We waste lives living in a giant pyramid scheme; everyone knows this, it’s just a question of how you face this or whether you care or whether, like the Duncan Smiths of the world, it works to your advantage.


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