I’ve come to a realisation recently; turns out, I’m poor. Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I’m ‘skint’ or ‘broke’, and other ‘acceptable terms’; the ones that don’t embarrass me, and don’t make other people uncomfortable. But, today, I embrace the real one. The one that’s based on NUMBERS and FACTS. I’m poor. Properly poor. So, how did I get here? What does it mean? And why haven’t I accepted it before? And why does it matter?
Let’s start with the easy one. How do I know I’m poor? Well, let’s consider that relative poverty is living with finances below 60% of the median average household income of a nation. Well, I’m hearing a lot of different numbers for this, usually between £21,000 and 25,000. But, I’m going to go with the lowest, for the sake of fairness. Don’t want to accidentally say I’m poor when I’m not, you know. So, the lowest figure I’ve heard was £20,801 in 2010. (I’ve added 2 references at the end there. Read them, one’s from the Daily Mail. Super hilarious because it’s talking about how rich everyone is in comparison, but anyway). So, 60% of that is £12,480. I’m working (I do work! I really enjoy working) in food service, earning between £100-150 per week. So, over 49 weeks (I’ve taken out Christmas week and even given myself two weeks holidays! Unpaid like but still!), at an average of £125 per week that’s £6125. Now, I’ve also done a bit of work for University, so let’s add a grand for that. That’s £7125. So, that’s a good bit below the 60%. (And no, I don’t know the percentage below! I’m a Doctor, not a maths-person!) So, that’s question one. I’m definitely poor.
Let’s move on. Why does it matter? There has been some important media interest recently about the ‘poor’ and the negative way in which they are framed in debate (Another wee article at the bottom for ye’s!). Work-shy, lazy, uneducated, criminal, drug addicts, scroungers. And it got me angry. How dare we blame the poor for poverty? But, when I realised I was poor, and that so many of my friends are poor, then I realised so many of us need to stop looking at this from the outside. Many of us are poor! So, let ‘the poor’ be demonised and stereotyped and lied about, and we are letting many of ourselves be demonised, and stereotyped and lied about. And we are letting social support that we need; not want, not scrounge; need be taken away.
So, how did I become poor? Well, let’s take that list of descriptors and see how far they led me to my poverty. Work-shy? Well, I mentioned that I work. I actually enjoy my job, really, really. And, I truly appreciate having it. And, I’ve always worked. I’m not too proud to take any job (I’ve worked nights washing dishes for (well) below minimum wage, because I needed a job. I work hard in my current job, and take every single hour I can get (let’s strike ‘lazy’ off the list too). I am highly educated, which I have done for a love of education. I suppose you could argue that I could have taken a job straight from school I would be rich by now, and certainly I have made my life poorer by going back to Uni again and again. But, I also don’t think it’s a bad thing. Criminal? Nah, I’m dreadfully well behaved. I’m not addicted to any drugs (except tea, maybe), and I do enjoy going out for a drink, but I’m not a raving lunatic on this either. Scrounger? Well, I have claimed Job Seekers Allowance, but I wouldn’t say it was scrounging, since I was seeking a job at the time. Plus, since I earned some money from Uni, I was apparently too rich to get much money. Which was hilarious.
I got poor despite working hard, getting educated, volunteering, being a fairly well behaved citizen. I became poor because it’s REALLY HARD TO GET A JOB!. That’s not my fault! I apply for plenty, but there simply isn’t enough employment. You know, because of the recession you might have heard about. I’m just on the list of people who are in part-time work, and can’t get fulltime (Reference 4 at the bottom there!)
So, what is being poor like? Well, it’s hard. I’m lucky because I have some work. And I’m really lucky because my parents have been able to support me and I’m so grateful. But not everyone has that, so can’t be depended on. It’s hard, because I can feed myself and pay bills. I can have occasional pints. But, I can’t do much else. Every birthday that’s coming up scares me, because I don’t know how I can afford presents, or to go out. There are a lot of friends I don’t see, because I worry that they’ll say ‘let’s go to the cinema’. Everything is on a budget. And sometimes I’m terrible at that. Sometimes I take my last £20 out of the bank on a Tuesday, even though I don’t get paid until a Friday, and go to the pub with mates (and pray I don’t run out of gas or milk or toilet roll on Wednesday). And, maybe that;s a stupid idea, but you know what? Being poor is really shit and sometimes it’s nice to go to the pub and pretend I’m not.
Finally, why am I saying any of this? Mainly because I think it’s time that the voices of the poor were heard. The voices that say ‘I’m not a feckless work dodger’. Does this sound like you? Brave enough to realise that you’re poor?