Blaming the Poor

There’s nothing new about blaming the poor for poverty. To my knowledge, the same ideas have been doing the rounds in the UK for as long as anyone has been keeping notes on such things. It is (we are told) the fault of the poor for being lazy, careless, making bad decisions, drinking, smoking, having too many babies.

Somehow it is never the fault of the rich, who claim to be rich thanks to their own merits. The relationship between riches for some and destitution for others is something we have never talked about enough. Wealth is made by extracting profit. The choice to pay workers less, and charge them more is very much part of how capitalism works. Having the power to decide how much a person is worth, and how much they should be charged for essentials – food and shelter – is a decision that remains in the hands of the powerful. 

When there are more people than there are jobs, it is easier to keep wages down. Desperate people are more likely to accept appalling and dangerous work conditions. 

Lately I’ve seen the rich blaming the poor for food poverty on the basis that poor people don’t know how to cook. Never mind the cost of the resources you need to cook – a cooker, a fridge, utensils, saucepans… it’s no doubt also the fault of the poor for not knowing how to whittle their own spoons and make an oven out of clay. It is also, we’ve been told, the fault of the poor for not just getting better paying jobs in more lucrative careers. Yes, clearly that one’s on poor people too and I’m sure we can all see how we just need to try harder.

Making people responsible for things they have no power to change is a revolting thing to do. But then, admitting that hunger could be eased, that homelessness isn’t inevitable and that there is no moral virtue in working people to death would have all kinds of implications. The people with the power to make change are seldom inclined to give up their power for the sake of being nice to others, more’s the pity. 

Perhaps the biggest fight around all of this is convincing people that they should be better treated and that they do not deserve the ways in which they are made to suffer. The impact of blaming people for their own misery is that it makes it harder to push back and demand better. This is not an accident.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. 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

2 responses to “Blaming the Poor

  • jswhite

    Yes, this happens in the United States all the time.

    Even people in less than ideal situations – not people below the poverty line, but perhaps working class or lower middle class who worked hard and still don’t have enough themselves maybe – have internalized this message to the point that they, too, blame people poorer than them for “not doing enough to help themselves”, being lazy, or just “wanting handouts”.

    To me, it goes part and parcel with the same mentality people have that sick or mentally ill people just “aren’t trying hard enough” or if could just they could just do this or that, they could do better.

    It’s victim blaming. No different than blaming a woman for getting raped. It’s always her fault, not the fault of her rapist.

    Lack of compassion and reverence for others is in short supply it seems and that makes me very sad.

  • darrack1

    Reblogged this on The Passing Place and commented:
    Some thoughts on the Poor from Regina Waterbury, minister for house the ungrateful common herd

    “The trouble with the poor is they expect so much of the rich, like our respect, something called common decency, not to be blamed for the latest financial crisis, to be able to eat…”
    “It’s clearly their fault we are in this mess, why it’s getting so the government can hardly afford a drinks party. Let alone get in some image consultants to help fix the problem of seeming like a bunch of out of touch gin swilling liars without a shred of common decency…
    It’s their fault they are in this mess, they should not have wasted their trust funds, at the very least they should go ask daddy for bit of pin money to tide them over like I did last year when I need to find a new stable for Mr Waffle-bums. Can some one pass me the cake?”
    “What? No Mr Waffle-bums isn’t a horse, why on earth do you think he’s a horse? He’s the Marques of Blamford.”
    “Anyway, its all the fault of the poor, they should pull themselves up by their boot straps and cash in some shard in north-sea gas or something if they are that hard up.”
    “Gerry be a dear and get the Marquess a new nose bag will you?”

    (And now so more clear and coherent thoughts on ‘Blaming the poor’ from the wonderful Nimue Brown)

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