A while back I wrote about a misguided offering from Sir Bob Jones about how not to be poor. Today, the Herald offered up a new variation on the same theme by Diana Clement. Again, it shows how very out of touch with poverty these people are.
Some of the advice is very good, especially for people with decent jobs. Commit to saving. Don’t buy things you can’t afford. Don’t abuse your credit card. Plan for bills that are going to come in. Save for a house. All good, solid financial advice. And if that’s all she had to say, then all would be well and I wouldn’t be writing.
” You’re broke because you choose to be. No one else makes you broke.” Really. You’re telling me that the people who apply for dozens of jobs a week are choosing to be broke. You’re telling me that people who were laid off at the beginning of the recession, that have used their retirement savings to support their family because the unemployment benefit doesn’t cover their bills, who have lost their homes to mortgagee sales, are choosing to be broke. You’re telling me that the chronically ill who have been classed as ‘jobseekers’ under the new WINZ rules, but who have no hope of finding a decent job due to the tight job market are choosing to be broke. Lady, you have no idea.
Sure, there are people who make bad financial decisions and suffer for it. I’ve done it myself, and I’ve seen friends who were in tight financial situations do the same. We tend to make the mistake a couple of times when we’re young, and with any luck, learn from it. There are probably even people who keep making bad financial decisions, and continually fail to learn from it. And they probably need Diana Clement’s harsh words.
But she’s divorced from the reality of poverty. Where putting ten percent of your income aside for savings is laughable, because you’re already trying to choose whether to pay the rent, the power, or buy food. Where you’re working sixty hour weeks at minimum wage and it’s still not enough to consider such huge indulgences as yoghurt for the kids’ lunches. These people are not choosing to be broke. They’re trying to get by.
Articles like this appeal to the middle class, because they can look at it and say ‘yes, this is what I did, and it worked for me. Therefore these poor people are obviously just doing it wrong’. It allows them to look at poor people and wonder at how they must have such terrible spending habits, or they must be so lazy, because otherwise, they would be comfortably off.
The truth is that under a capitalist system, there will be a lower class. There’s some movement between the classes, but it goes both ways. And the living conditions of this lower class is dictated by those in power. In this country, it’s not too terrible, but the minimum wage in not a living wage, and the various benefits are too little for even a spartan existence. And those are things that are imposed from above onto the poor. To then turn around and blame them for being broke smells of victim blaming from people who have never experienced poverty.
We (mostly) condemn victim blaming when it comes to rape victims. We see that as sick, and wrong, and aimed at the wrong person (and anyone that doesn’t, is morally bankrupt). So can we start thinking about victim blaming in regards to economic victims? We have created a society in which the poor do not have enough, and we blame them for going into debt, for turning to crime, for needing food banks and food grants. We put them in that position, and then we blame them. It doesn’t seem right to me.