After a recent lecture on Socio-Political Perspectives on Poverty, I realised how wrong I was about the ‘type’ of people who find themselves in the ‘lower class’ bracket of society.
Before going to the lecture, I was asked to write down my views on those who experience poverty; their characteristics, lifestyle, attitude to life etc. I found myself writing words such as ‘scrounger’, ‘homeless’, ‘stealing’, ‘unintellectual’ and the list went on. As I sat up from writing these words, I shocked myself about how easily these demeaning and negative attributes had come from the tip of my pen. I began to feel ashamed as I had always considered myself an open-minded person, able to form my own opinions, and thoughts about society after considering the perspectives of those within it. How had I come to such a harsh conclusion? Why did these terms appear on the paper without any second thought? Was this really my view of potentially the most vulnerable members of our society?
After considering my approach to the task for a while, I soon realised that actually, these were NOT my own views; these were my learned views. But what do I mean by ‘learned views’? I believe that another source has had such prominent views about poorer members of the community that I have unconsciously accepted or abided by these generalisations and stereotypes that they outwardly portray on a daily basis. But what is this incredibly influential source that has dominated my own personal thoughts and beliefs I hear you ask. It is something that is present even when I do not want to look at it, something that is alert even when I am not, something that preys on the weakest and most vulnerable members of society, and that something is… the media.
The media is notorious for producing ridiculous, one-sided headlines which primarily focus on people who ‘steal’ benefits which they are not entitled to, or are too lazy to go out and find ‘real jobs’. Headlines such as ‘Is Britain a nation of lazy scroungers?’ (2013)and ‘Mother-of-five who pockets £18,000 a year in benefits says she needs MORE handouts because she can’t afford to buy school uniforms for her children (but still manages to spend £20 a week on cigarettes)’ (2016) further the stereotypical view which I adopted in the task around people in poverty, devaluing those who are actually in need and are trying their best to provide for their family.
One particular video which I came across during my research into poverty was ‘I live in real poverty, and it’s not what you think’ in which Kathleen Kerridge illustrates the real life difficulties faced by her and her family in our modern day society.
Kathleen demonstrates how easily it is to fall into poverty without any warning. She challenges people like me who have followed the media’s views and have been coerced into believing that it is their own fault that they are in this situation, that she was to blame. She goes on to explain how none of the events which led to her poverty-stricken status were caused by her actions; her heart attack, losing her job, mastectomy and a bankrupt landlord. I think that this shows that this could happen to any of us, at any time, as she was once in a financially stable position.
Another video which I found which shocked me was that focussing on Shelby’s Story, titled ‘Teenage poverty in the UK’.
I was totally shocked when Shelby revealed she was 17 due to her living AND providing for herself. Being 17 myself, I could NEVER imagine coming home from my work (which I get paid over the minimum wage for) to my home with 2 rooms, no cooker and no bed. It made me realise that anyone can be a victim of poverty – poverty does not discriminate against age, gender or race.
I sat down again after researching Poverty in the UK and wrote down my revised perspective on poverty after seeing and hearing what poverty means to those who experience it daily. ‘Misunderstood’, ‘ordinary’ ‘unfortunate’ and ‘hard working’ were a few that I came up with, what I should of come up with to begin with.
As I sit typing on my laptop that I got for my 14th birthday, in my University flat, with my family and my dog in my 4 bedroom home 40 minutes away, I start to wonder what I will have for my tea. This is not because my cupboards are bare, or because I cannot afford to buy another meal like Kathleen or Shelby, but because I bought too much food when moving into my flat… and this is when I realised what real poverty is.
Poverty isn’t being ‘too lazy’ to go out and get a job. Poverty isn’t people who have spent their live scrounging off of the benefit system. Poverty is ordinary people. Ordinary people who have to count their pennies to see whether they can afford their next meal. Ordinary people who have to sleep on a broken bed because they cannot afford to replace it. Poverty is REAL and it is EVERYWHERE, and it most certainly should not be defined by what we see in the media.