For those of you outside the UK, Jack Monroe is a single mum who has given a face and voice to UK poverty. She is also completely at odds with right wing myths about the poor, which makes her very important indeed.
Jack is a blogger, and you can find her here – http://agirlcalledjack.com/ she has a book, and does things with Sainsburys and talks at Green Party conferences, and these days probably doesn’t go hungry any more. But she’s been to the bottom, and she knows what it’s like to have nothing but debt.
The right wing story about poverty, is that the poor are feckless. The poor are poor because we are lazy, ignorant, work-shy. When we have money we blow it on drugs, fags, alcohol and tattoos. We have no pride, and no work ethic, but delight in fleecing the system and getting something for nothing. With a story like that, it’s very easy to justify not giving money to the poor. We’d only waste it. So easy to say there is no point even trying to help us because we are too stupid and lazy to help ourselves.
Jack’s story paints a very different picture. She was unlucky. It really is that simple. She didn’t make especially bad decisions or irresponsible choices. She didn’t get herself pregnant (think about that for a moment) to get housing. Things went wrong for her and she got into a lot of trouble and for a while her life was hell. Because she is also strong, brave and determined, she turned her life around thanks to a bit of help in the form of food bank aid, amongst other things. She got lucky, off the back of her hard work (you need both, usually), her blog became a book and her story brought her work and a new start.
It’s not a unique story. There’s another famous one, the lone single mum, unable to afford to heat her house, writing in cafes, who went on to become a legendary author and one of the richest people in the UK for a while.
Most people who fall on hard times are simply unlucky. Most people who get the breaks Jack Monroe and JK Rowling did are just plain lucky. The vast majority of people who get into trouble are trying not to be, until or unless they succumb to despair. Most people want a decent quality of life, and some dignity.
Anyone can fall. No one is so secure that a run of bad luck could not put them in the gutter. Whether you get to stay in the gutter, depends a lot on how able you are to get up, and that in turn depends to a degree on whether you get any help. If you write people off as useless, the odds of them staying down are really good. What Jack Monroe and JK Rowling demonstrate to the world is that if you take care of the people who fall on hard times, they can pick themselves up, and amazing things happen.
We can choose to punish the poor because there are a few people who abuse the system, or we can choose to support the poor because there are some people who go through hell and come back to do amazing, powerful things that have huge benefits for us all. It probably comes down to whether you enjoy punishing people, or you enjoy giving people a chance to thrive, and the current culture in the UK seems to take far too much pleasure in the suffering of others. There’s little to be proud of in kicking people who are already down, but all too often, that’s exactly what happens.