Poverty and Nature

Recently, a survey carried out by a washing powder company suggested that some 60% of parents don’t want their children playing outside because they don’t want them getting dirty. Clearly, given the outfit paying for the data, there’s scope for bias here. However, it got me thinking. The knee jerk reaction is to see misplaced parental prioritise, or laziness, but there could be another explanation, and that explanation is poverty.

Washing and drying clothes costs money – electricity, cleaning products, water, some means to dry. You’ve got to have enough clothes for the child that they can change while you deal with suddenly dirty clothes. You’ve got to buy that clothing, or source it from hand-me-downs. Further, there’s nothing like being out in nature to risk tearing and damaging your clothes, which is a problem if you can’t afford to replace them. And if that wasn’t enough, being outside for much of the year in the UK requires extra kit – waterproofs, wellies, extra warm things, more socks… if you have no money to spare, these are pressures you can’t necessarily manage.

Then there’s the question of accessing nature. The poorer you are, the less likely you are to live somewhere green. Big tower blocks with areas of grass around them do not nature playgrounds make. So you have to travel someone and to do that, you need to know where to go and to be able to afford to get there. Again, these may be luxuries that just aren’t available. Children in poverty are known to have less access to outdoor recreation, and are less likely to have bikes and other outside gear.

Back when we lived on the boat, my son went to a running club after school. They ran in all weathers, but he didn’t. It’s fine to come off a field filthy and soaking wet to be bundled into a car and back to a hot shower, a tumble drier, a massive supply of towels. It’s quite another thing to be filthy and soaked with a mile to cycle home, and nowhere really to dry anything when you get there. I expect the woman running it thought I was being a wimp, making a fuss. She pointed out to me that running is an all weather sport, and I didn’t feel equal to explaining to her the practical implications of living on a very small boat.

I recall a parallel story about urban archaeology exploring the contemporary archaeology of homeless life in Bristol. Homeless people came to watch and share information, but would not dig because they had little scope to change or clean their clothes and could not afford to be wet or filthy. It’s a similar issue. It is easy, safe and comfortable to get cold, wet and dirty when it’s quick and uncomplicated to sort that out afterwards. Not everyone has this option.

There is a known correlation between parenthood and poverty. There are increasing numbers of children in poverty in the UK. If we’re worried about children accessing nature (and we should be!)then simply blaming parents isn’t the answer. The problem of getting dirty may not be about middle class fussiness at all. I suspect it’s something else entirely.

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

13 responses to “Poverty and Nature

  • contemplativeinquiry

    Thanks for a valuable reflection. I’m sure poverty is a contributing factor, for the reasons you describe.

  • Adnama72Blog

    Children will find a way to defy that. ☺

  • Emma Cooper

    This is a very valuable insight. We have a tendency to reach for simplistic conclusions; unfortunately nothing in life is simplistic.

  • Bookworm

    Very true. Me and my kids would get drenched walking to school, they’d stay wet at school I used to then go to work wet all day and same on the way home. We couldn’t afford heating until December and then only for an hour so it was nearly impossible to dry stuff.
    As for wet weather clothing etc the budget didn’t extend past wellies.
    When they did paper rounds they always told me that some kids were actually driven on their rounds in a car by their parents when it rained!

    • Nimue Brown

      I did a fair few wet to the skin school runs in winter – managed to keep the boy drier, but it’s a horrible,miserable thing to go through. We’ve always had the best wet weather gear I could afford, but with the crazy rain in the UK, that’s not reliably good enough to do the job.

  • Aurora J Stone

    Wow! What a truly powerful reflection on a real problem. I’ve lived in a small caravan, sans kids, but the same held true. If you can’t really get dry you can’t afford to get out and get wet. And the wet weather kit is expensive. Well done for highlighting this issue.

  • jrose88

    Good insight. Sometimes there might also be a mental health aspect at play. I know someone with OCD who will avoid leaving the house on some days mainly because venturing out of the “clean” space results in more laundry to wash, and each load has to be washed twice, hands must be washed 13 times after touching the machine and anything dirty laundry has touched, hands must be clean and purelled to move the laundry from washer to drier WHILE making sure the clothes touch not even so much as the lip of the drier to prevent contamination. Also, washer-to-drier is preferably done directly after showering in case clothes touch the person moving them.

  • Ann Beirne

    Are there no fireplaces in homes anymore, my family was very poor, but our mum always made sure we had warm and dry clothes when we got in wet from school or playing outside, in winter months or wet days, she dried them on the guard in front of the fire, or a line in the kitchen near our back door there was no gas central heating then either. We were allowed to get dirty too, mum washed once a week and our clothes were ironed and put away, and there is always the outside washing line on warmer days. I don’t have a tumble dryer, but we can always dry stuff on the clothes horse in front of the log burner or outside line, and sometimes in front of a sunny window. We didn’t I might add have many clothes and my dad soled our shoes himself. I think society today so mamby pamby, and because everything is made so easy by all of the gadgets they never will be able to cope with any real hardship that might come their way.

    • Nimue Brown

      Not in small flats or new cheap build, often. I don’t have a fire – first place I’ve lived without one. I agree that the culture of gadgets is a big part of the problem. the loss of skills, the loss of those cheaper ways to do things. The flats I’m in have a couple of washing lines, for potentially 40 people…

  • OneHundredandOnePursuits

    Perhaps another aspect of it is the pressure put on parents for children to be well put together, fashionable and tidy etc. I have known patents to change their child’s outfit as soon as they dropped a little food on it or got some little mark, even if they had no intention of leaving the house that day. I have a sentence ringing in my head though I’m not sure where it comes from but I can just hear ” don’t jump in that puddle you’ll spoil your dress” vanity over experience and joy could have a role to play.

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