Why can’t we trust them?

There is one great need in a poor person’s life, and that is money. With money, all the problems of hunger, of cold, all those things go away, because money solves them all. So what do we give poor people? As little money as we can! Instead, there are all sorts of assistance programmes, and homelessness, hunger and misery where those fall short. Instead of giving poor people money, we try to give them food, or clothes, or cheap doctor’s visits. I think this approach is both wrong and insulting.

The idea behind giving poor people stuff instead of money is that if we give them the things they need rather than dollars, they can’t spend their money on wasteful or frivolous things, and they will actually get what they need. And I say that’s a crock. It’s incredibly patronising to assume that poor people will go and spend their money on ‘bad’ things like they don’t know the needs they have. For all the fringe cases that are appealed to, of drug addicts and gamblers who spend money they don’t have on their vices, there are thousands of people who know exactly what they need and would go and get those things if they only had the resources.

Stop painting poor people as irresponsible, as children who can’t be trusted with more than their wee bit of pocket money. Poor people are expert budgeters and bargain hunters, wringing every last drop of value from every penny they have. It’s demeaning to force them to use food banks and other such initiatives. It’s an insult to their skills, giving them money only in the form of emergency chits that can only be spent in certain places on certain things. It’s humiliating, and it’s wrong

Who are policy-makers to say that they know better than people living in the trenches? What rich person understands what resources a poor person needs? There are times when food is nice, but money would have been better, because you can live on rice for a few days while you pay the power bill so the lights stay on. Having Weet-bix and milk in that time is really nice, but it’s not essential, and you could have used that resource to be eating hot rice in the light, instead of cold Weet-bix in the dark. Other times, subsidised power is nice, but you could have sat in the dark a bit more and made rent this week, rather than sitting in the dark on the pavement, surrounded by your belongings.

Budgeting an inadequate income is a balancing act, one that many poor individuals and families are very good at. Why do we not trust them with enough money to make the balancing act a little less precarious? What kind of smug superiority complex says that people with adequate resources know what’s best for people without adequate resources?

People know what they need, and if they have money they can buy it. It’s really that easy. Give poor people money, and watch them thrive, and pump it back into the economy. 

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