We hear a lot from politicians at the moment about how much the poor cost society. So, I thought that could stand a closer consideration. Money is paid from the public purse to support people who are in desperate circumstances, but this is not the only way in which poverty costs money, and the other ways need thinking about too.
1) Poverty often leads to poor diets, in turn causing obesity, malnutrition, and weakened immune systems. These contribute to ill health. Sickness costs the economy in terms of lost work days, and people needing health care.
2) Poor people are known to be at higher risk of depression as stress and anxiety are causes of mental illness. An inadequate diet increases the risk of poor mental health. (Prisoners given vitamin supplements are less likely to reoffend.) Again, loss of days from work due to ill heath, cost to health services in terms of anti-depressants, and counselling. Huge knock on costs of suicide and attempted suicide.
3) Poverty is a motivation to commit crime. The more desperate people are, the more justifiable crime seems, including robbery, violent crime and rioting. Police, courts and prisons are all very expensive.
4) People with no disposable incomes cannot invest in their children’s education. No extra curricular activities or lerning resourecs at home. Under fed children are less able to concentrate in school, leading to a knock on problem of lost talent and economic potential.
5) Poor people have no disposable income with which to support the high street. Money for leisure tourism, entertainment, and luxuries are non existent, reducing available cash flow for large sectors of the economy. The more people are poor, the more these sectors are starved of cash. See HMV, for a recent example.
6) Heating costs money. Damp, unheated and cold homes can be very unhealthy. Being cold all the time is exhausting. This contributes to ill health and hypothermia can kill the sick and elderly. More costs in terms of lost working days and stresses on the health service.
7) Poor people don’t necessarily have spare cash for running shoes, gyms, swimming pools etc and if undernourished won’t have the energy for exercise. Absence of exercise in the lifestyle contributes to poor physical health and poor mental health, costs as described above.
8) Desperate, depressed and disadvantaged people are known to console themselves with drink and drugs, which can lead to violence. The cost to wider family, knock on effects on crime, with its attendant costs, impact on children, cost of social services interventions etc.
9) Bored teens with no prospects and no means of entertaining themselves are the most likely source of vandalism and antisocial behaviour. Repair costs, police costs, damage to communities as fear keeps people indoors.
10) People who have no hope eventually give up. If you don’t believe there’s any chance things can get better, what on earth is the point of trying? The harder things get for people in poverty, the more incentive they have, not to find work (as the government mistakenly imagines), but to fall into despair and apathy, with suicide an ever more tempting option.
Forgive the lack of detailed referencing to sources, please, but I’ve not drawn on anything wild or obscure here, and a lot of it I would like to think is common sense. My point is that none of the costs of poverty outlined above can be reduced by making poor people even worse off. I think there is every probability that short term cuts to the welfare budget will result in elevated long term costs on the health bill, social services, police, courts and prisons. We are storing up problems for the future.
There are economic arguments for not punishing the poor as a solution to recession. Point 5 should be the most evident. Take money out of the bottom of the system and business suffers. If you want economic growth, money in the hands of poor people moves. So what if they spend it on booze, or fags? If what you care about is GDP, someone made a profit there, some business benefitted, and will pay tax and maybe get to hire more staff. Economies depend on the flow of money. What we’re doing at the moment is reducing the flow.