The challenge of Jack Monroe

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 – 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.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “The challenge of Jack Monroe

  • Julie Pritchard

    Couldn’t agree more. The problem is that the majority of our media at the moment are completely complicit in promoting the message of a ‘feckless, work shy underclass’ that bears no relation to reality. Unfortunately so many people seem to buy this line and are too lazy themselves to find out the truth. Another case of hypnotism of the masses by the prevailing culture of popular media and government conspiracy. I am heartily sick of it. My husband and I both work and yet the bills seem insurmountable, holidays and pleasures off the table for the foreseeable future. Something somewhere has got to give…. I don’t believe a civilised society can continue in this vein indefinitely.

  • Catherine Crayton

    Excellent. The same attitudes prevail in the US as well. Am posting this on my timeline. This is important for people to realize.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    I abe been at poverty level most of my life finally had to go into business for myself. I made even less money but I keep working and slowly things improved a bit but that took thirty years and I will always remain poor. But I would not be employable any more on the ob markets because physically I can do very little, use a walker and no longer an safely drive. However I work six days a week as a sales person in my little shop.

  • literaryvittles

    I was wondering, reading the first few paragraphs, if you were going to mention Rowling. I think this is why I was one of the seemingly few people who enjoyed her book “The Casual Vacancy” very much. Pity so few people liked it. Pity that that dislike was sometimes motivated by screwy ideas about society, the poor, and who is “deserving.”

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