Friday, 10 June 2011

Poor kids

Some things are just seen as too depressing and upsetting to dwell on. Okay, mention them briefly if you must so we know about them, but then push them away quickly into a dark corner while we focus on something more cheerful.

The number of children living in poverty is one such dreary scenario. Yes, 3½ million British children don't have enough food, clothes, toys, holidays at the seaside, or a dry and warm place to live.

They're miserable for years on end. They feel permanently disheartened and constricted by their living conditions. Telling their schoolmates what their home is like is humiliating. They can't see any way of improving things. They hate the wealthy families who take for granted they can have virtually anything they want. One in six of them have considered suicide.

Yet the rest of us tend to ignore them. Very sad, of course, terrible that in a so-called advanced country like the UK so many children are trapped in such dreadful conditions. But there's little you and I can do about it, it's up to the politicians to put it right and why don't they? There's no point in rubbing our noses in it every day, it just makes us squirm.

It's odd though that while poverty-stricken kids are swept out of sight, children who go missing or are violently attacked get huge headlines day after day. Why do these tragedies grip us so unshakeably yet the tragedy of poverty doesn't? Why has Madeleine McCann had such colossal coverage while little Tracey in her worn-out shoes and threadbare coat gets barely a mention?

Poverty is still treated the way cancer used to be. It's too awful to contemplate. And it might be contagious. Take it away quickly, it's putting me off my cornflakes.

24 comments:

secret agent woman said...

I work in Appalachia, an area rife with poverty. I take Medicaid (the health insurance provided to the poor), so I see these families every day. It's sad that we continue to allow such an unequal distribution of wealth.

Wisewebwoman said...

The ever widening gap between the rich and the rest of us. It is appalling.
And it is worsening with so many on relief of some kind or another, I dread to think of when that rug is pulled.
XO
WWW

Megan said...

There's a great chapter in one of Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels when the heroine realizes that the townspeople can only be appeased if they are given an "emotional fix."

Nick said...

Secret Agent - Sad indeed. Mainly because the wealthy don't want to share any of their wealth, they just want to keep it for themselves.

W3 - True, so many people are dependent on some kind of state aid, they're in real trouble if it's taken away. And the British government is slashing welfare benefits in all directions.

Nick said...

Megan - What sort of emotional fix? You mean they're fobbed off with some reassuring gesture while the underlying problem is ignored?

Baino said...

I remember Bob Hawke saying "By the year 2000, no Australian child will live in poverty" and he won the election based on that comment in no small part. Guess what? Welfare is the first cut here too, sadly, like illegal immigrants, the dole bludgers get the attention and the ripple effect on the needy is damaging.

Roses said...

I stay away from the whole Madeline McCann business. I do feel for the parents, it's an awful, awful thing to happen, however, she's not the only disappeared child. And her coverage takes the place of the other disappeared children, who did not have wealthy parents to keep the pressure on, to divert resources.

As for the eradication of poverty? Well, there's not enough space on the internet to hold the breadth of that debate.

I don't know that taking from the rich to give to the poor is the answer. Or that the poor are 'deserving'.

I do know that I can make a small difference, and when the opportunity presents itself, then I do.

wendy house said...

I suspect the notions of 'fault' and 'hereditary' still play a big part in what is considered newsworthy, what is discussed. For example, to use language from the Archbishop of Canterbury's recent critique of UP Govt.'s discourses - the "deserviing" and "undeserving" poor. It would be great to see strong political movement premised on the belief that all people* are deserving of support - its just the nature of that support that should be adapted based on their circumstances.

(* bankers would be a special exception to the defintion of all people)

Nick said...

Baino - Tony Blair was always promising to drastically reduce poverty but predictably there was little change during his government. The Tories promised welfare cuts would not hit the vulnerable, but predictably again they're doing just that.

Roses - True, there are thousands of missing children so why so much fuss about Madeleine? I would say most of the poor are "deserving" even if a few are out for what they can get.

Nick said...

Wendy - I think you're right that the notion of blame affects news values. The contrast between the welfare cuts hitting the vulnerable and the government's indifference to colossal bonuses for bankers is sickening.

Rummuser said...

I share your angst with you. In India, considering that we are still a developing nation, the figures are a mind blogging 57 million children.Just have a look at thisreport.

Nick said...

Ramana - That's a mind-boggling figure simply for malnourished children. In the UK there are also large numbers of malnourished elderly people - even many elderly patients being discharged from hospital are still malnourished because of poor nursing.

blackwatertown said...

What to say?
What to do?
I suppose if you do or contribute something, at least you're able to swallow down the cornflakes a little more easily.

Nick said...

Blackwater - Hard for individuals to do anything useful, it seems to me the causes of poverty are social and economic - inadequate wages, poor education, lack of skills, over-large families etc. Mainly things only the government can change.

Eryl said...

I suspect that the major stumbling block, the reason people turn away, is that this is such a big thing. We can deal with individual tragedies such as that of Madeleine McCann, especially as there really is nothing we can do about them, but the sheer numbers of children living in abject poverty makes it feel like an insurmountable problem. It's also incredibly complex: these children aren't living in poverty for one, sole reason, it's multifold. Each element needs to be examined, and then, I expect, some big changes that will affect us all will have to be made. So much easier to blame the parents for being slackers.

Nick said...

Eryl - Some very good points. Yes, I guess poverty seems such an enormous problem with so many causes, we don't know where to start. And as you say, easier to blame the parents for not getting their arses in gear than to blame the whole society.

conortje said...

as www referred to it's only getting worse too. Shocking!

Nick said...

Conor - It's getting worse, for sure. The British government is doing its best to paint all claimants as undeserving scroungers, as an excuse for slashing every benefit in sight.

Suburbia said...

I hate it Nick. Shameful

Nick said...

Suburbia - And even if we vote for the party that says it's going to drastically reduce poverty, once in government they give it a very low priority.

Grannymar said...

There is only one way to sort out the problem. That is to make it compulsory for Government leaders to live on the poverty border line for six months. Only then will they realise and wake up to how life is.

OR...

Pay said leaders a minimum wage with a promise of a bonus at the end of their term for actual results.

Nick said...

Grannymar - Good suggestions. Government ministers simply don't know how ordinary people live. Many of them are millionaires, and they take care to maintain their own substantial salaries and pensions.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

The United States is quickly becoming a feudal state with a shocking percentage of the wealth owned by the upper 1% of the population while most people are on a downward spiral. And it's certainly true that anything unpleasant is regarded like a contagion. Madeleine got more coverage than Tracey because most people are suckers for sensationalism, perhaps because it makes them feel better about their own condition.

Nick said...

Heart - This is it, the wealthy are getting phenomenal increases in their wealth, while everyone else is really feeling the squeeze and being told they have to make "sacrifices". How do the fat cats get away with it?