Tag Archives: poverty

Avoiding economic exclusion in Paganism

People experiencing economic difficulties will often go to considerable lengths to hide this. At the same time, poverty can be a huge barrier to participation. What follows is by no means an exhaustive list, but its issues I’m aware of from personal experience and seeing problems friends have had. I’ve included suggestions about how best to minimise these problems to make Pagan activities more inclusive.

First up, be aware that your own measure of ‘small charge’ won’t be other people’s measure. People with financial challenges are probably budgeting, and that budgeting can be down into the pennies. There may well be no wriggle room. Advanced warning of costs enables budgeting and participation. Predictable costs are easier to deal with.

Entry cost. This is the most obvious financial barrier to participation. Offer concessions if you can and don’t humiliate people who ask for them. Working tickets can enable participation. Make sure your ticket price is the whole cost a person will have to pay – surprise expenses and sudden additions t the program are a nightmare, either causing the embarrassment of being compromised through lack of funds, or putting people in a position where paying now means they might not be able to eat later this week.

Transport costs. Poverty often means not being able to run a car. Public transport isn’t cheap and doesn’t go everywhere. Late night taxis are prohibitive. Look for venues people can get to, actively organise lift shares (it’s greener anyway). Stop before the last bus. Publish your end time, and stick to it so that people can make viable arrangements.

Childcare. If your event excludes children, then you may make it impossible for less affluent parents and single parents to attend. End times are really important if you’ve had to pay for a babysitter, as with transport issues. Name an end time and stick to it.

Kit. Required reading lists, and pressure to own certain items or wear robes etc. It all costs money up front, but there are hidden costs too.  If you’re on public transport either you travel in robes – not always safe – or you carry them and can’t carry anything else. For people in dire circumstances, laundry can become a problem, so pressure to have pristine white robes can become exclusive.

Compulsive attendance. It may be that a person can afford to attend sometimes, but won’t always have the money for the train, or the door. In extreme circumstances, being able to afford hot water to wash the self and clothing can be a problem. If there’s a requirement to make every session, even if the session itself is low cost, people in extreme poverty may be pushed out.

Buying food and drinks. Look for venues where people can self cater. The cost difference between bringing your own lunch, and having to buy lunch, is huge and can easily be a deal breaker for anyone in a tight financial situation. Make it clear if self catering is an option. If you are taking people to a venue – for example a pub – where they will be expected to buy drinks, check out the prices first. Some pubs are prohibitively expensive. Mentioning the likely drink costs will help people judge if they can afford to attend.

If some events have a significant price ticket on them, try and make sure there are others that don’t, so that people who can’t afford the weekend retreats etc can at least show up to something. Walking moots and house moots can be very affordable.

There are other things we can do to help each other. Share things, give things away, offer lifts… if we act more like a community, we don’t have to force out those who are unable to bear the costs. Paganism is a spiritual path, not a hobby, and no one should be priced out of participation.

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A sense of perspective

We spent yesterday in Slimbridge – somewhere we lived for several years. Going back into that landscape brought a rush of all the emotions associated with living there – the fear and anxiety, the pressure we were under, the hideous uncertainties. Those were tough times. I was surprised by how bodily my response was and how it was a response simply to location. We aren’t there any more, in any sense, but the perspective that creates is decidedly interesting.

I can’t say this last year has been easy, either. There’s been much to do, some demanding challenges, steep learning curves, vast amounts of work. There have been scary bits, too, but that’s worked out for the greater part. Much of this stems from being more in demand, having more to do, and playing at a higher level than we were.

Success creates challenges and pressures, but they are nothing compared to the challenges of failure. Working hard to get a job done is a whole other game from working hard to try and stretch a small amount of money far enough. The anxieties around house buying are nothing compared to the anxieties caused by fearing homelessness. (The Canal and River Trust routinely threaten liveaboard boaters with homelessness. Apparently they can square this with being a charity.) The stresses of deadlines and a packed schedule are as nothing compared to the stresses of not being able to see how you’re going to make it all work. We fought our way out of the one and into the other.

One of the things the ‘hard working’ can easily be persuaded to feel about the ‘scroungers’ (to borrow the divisive language of politics) is that to be unemployed is an easy life, just dossing around with everything paid for.  Much of the benefits money in the UK actually goes to working people who just aren’t earning enough to live on. The minimum wage is not a living wage, and part time jobs won’t reliably keep a roof over your head. When you don’t have much money, and have to think about every penny, thing are stressful.

If a sudden request for funding a school trip could compromise your food budget, or means you can’t replace worn out shoes yet… the jugging is intense and unending. What can we cut back on? What can we do without? And so you end up with one in five mothers skipping meals to feed their children. As the government sets up ever more bizarre and pointless hoops for the unemployed and ill to try and jump through, the pressures of poverty become dire.

We were in some ways, just plain lucky. We have privileges on our side – skills and education that enables us to get some brilliant opportunities. I had the time and space to get depression and anxiety under control so that I can work, rather than sinking entirely as so many other people do.  We never stopped believing it was possible (sometimes by dint of taking it in turns), where many people are defeated. It is possible, but that’s a hard thing to hang onto. Once we no longer had to pay solicitors on a regular basis, things became a lot easier. Not everyone’s pressures and problems go away.

To be poor and dependent on the state to any degree, is to live with uncertainty and vulnerability, especially with this current, compassion-free political culture. The stresses of getting somewhere can be huge, but when you feel like you have some control over your life, some scope for hope, that’s really not as bad as the stresses that come from being slowly crushed by life. I have, to a degree, done both. Powerlessness and hopelessness are hellish things to face on a daily basis. We could be a lot kinder to people who are in that situation rather than demonising them.


Questions of worth

We live in a culture that values people based on their economic power. It is not the value of how that money was earned, or how it is deployed, but the money itself. This is how we are able to entirely respect people whose wealth came to them by chance – via inheritance, by gambling, by using money to make money out of other people’s money. To make a fortune from share dividends is perfectly socially acceptable. Never mind that the pressure to create dividends pushes down wages and quality in order to cream off a layer, and undermines scope for re-investment. Never mind that the desire to make money at all costs is trashing the planet.
If we valued people in terms of the actual contribution they make to society, we might be able to look at whether the massively rich are as useful as they claim to be. We are told that affluence trickles down (I see Smaug on his pile of gold jealously watching the one coin bounce away). We are told that the wealthy create jobs and affluence for others. Only if we stop assuming this to be a truth and start looking at it will we be able to see whether or not its the case, but I have my suspicions. The gap between richest and poorest is growing all the time. If wealthy people were good for us all, surely we should all be gaining materially at about the same pace, not seeing a widening gap?
Money, as economist Molly Scott Cato has been pointing out a lot recently, is a social contract. It is about trust, and the means to move resources around in a community. Money exists to get things done, and can be very useful indeed in this regard. We can use it to measure how much we value something, and it saves having to get the right number of chickens when you fancy a new rug. Money as an expression of exchange can be a great social enabler on many levels.
On those terms, valuing a person in relation to their money makes sense. They are worth what the people around will pay for the things they make or the things they do. Money could therefore be expected to flow towards a person who is really useful and highly valued. However, what we’ve been able to do as a culture, is manufacture scarcity. When things are hard to get, exclusive, or rare, their value goes up. The person who can control the flow of resources can therefore create extra wealth. Not by adding more value to the world, but by artificially pushing up the cost. Keeping land vacant can be a way of pushing up land prices to make more money off it, for example.
We have the resources to feed, clothe, educate and power everyone, modestly. However, that doesn’t allow a minority to stockpile wealth. The desire for wealth has broken the trust-contract that money was created to represent. We don’t move things around fairly, and we push up the prices to make profits, and squeeze down wages, and that is having the effect of starving cash flows in our economies. We need to look very hard at our system that allows people to make money by moving money about, rather than by doing something useful. If we valued what people contribute a bit more, and valued their bank balances a bit less, we might have a cultural revolution on our hands, quietly and with no bloodshed.

Pagans at Lent

Lent is a festival that exists in a context of tradition, and the cycle of the seasons. For our ancestors, Shrove Tuesday was the time when you used up the last of the fat, flour and eggs, making the pancakes. That which had been stored from the previous year would tend to run out somewhere around now, while new resources would not yet be reliably available. The thin weeks that were an inevitable consequence, became Lent. Making a virtue out of necessity, and a spiritual experience out of the hard times is a good, pragmatic response. It wasn’t a case of giving up one luxury of choice, it was a case of having very little to live on.

With our complex supply chains and supermarkets, the majority of us do not expect to feel the pinch at this time of year. We are disconnected from the cycles of the land. A Pagan might therefore consider joining in with Lent in order to connect with their ancestors, and to re-connect with an agricultural wheel that wasn’t persistently bountiful. Of course if you aren’t in Europe, you may have a wildly different seasonal situation to consider, and that should be taken into account.

For many, the quarterly power bills came out over the last few weeks. Winter is the time we need most light and heating. If you were a bit marginal with the money, it may well be that the coming of the winter bill creates a need to cut back and save money in the coming months. Modern fuel poverty may well re-invent Lent as a practical necessity for some.

When I was a child, back in the eighties, giving up something for Lent was common in the community around me. However, I did not see much of it as a spiritual practice. Competitive self-denial, self-aggrandisement through a personal martyrdom where the difficulty of the sacrifice was much emphasised… when you have a great deal, giving up some small thing is not as difficult or as noble as we might like to imagine. It’s also a very long way from genuine privation.

If you are thinking about Lent at all, it is worth sparing a thought for the many who are fasting and doing without luxuries. Not the people who do it by choice, but the ones so knocked down by life that they now depend on food from foodbanks. More specifically, the kind of food you can heat with water from a kettle, because they have no money for gas or electricity. For many, the experience of fasting and abstinence is not sought, or used for spiritual purposes. It is a harsh reality, and it will not magically end when the Easter eggs hit the shops.

To give up one chosen thing for Lent, as a personal exercise, seems highly suspect in this context. If you are going to make some kind of sacrifice, do it for the good of someone else who is in need. Giving your luxury foodstuffs to a foodbank for the month might be a lot more meaningful than just not buying them. I’m seeing online people taking this as a prompt to switch over to fair trade goods, or to bring other ethical considerations to their shopping.

Fasting as a practice was common for ancestors in many traditions across the globe. It has a very different feel and context when you also know what it means to give up and cut back out of necessity. We don’t have a good collective sense of the difference between necessity and luxury, nor much collective sense of what it means to lack for necessities. I think this lack of awareness contributes to our collective lack of action and compassion over people in abject poverty. Too many of us have no idea what that means, and when you look at undertaking it that way, fasting for Lent could be a very productive cultural activity indeed.


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 – 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.


Pauper arts

art gearThe twentieth century saw some radical cultural shifts for the western poor. We moved away from self-sufficiency, and towards consuming low cost goods. We stopped cooking from scratch and bought processed food. Many of the skills that had historically been essential for paupers, became lost to the vast majority. We’d ushered in a new era of prosperity and ease, and no one would ever have to cut worn bed sheets in half again to re-sew them for a re-use.

Now, many people are finding they don’t have the money to support the lifestyle they’d once taken for granted. It comes as a shock. Being poor is very hard if you have no idea how to do it. Let’s just consider food. If you can grow your own veg and fruit, make jam from the fruit, keep a few chickens, if you know how to re-use your leftovers, how never to waste anything, then you can eat for very little cost. It takes time. We’re used to throwing away a third of the food we buy. There’s a huge distance between those two ways of being, and the pauper arts are not reclaimed over night by people who find they need them.

The twentieth century taught the western poor to want all the same things the rich were getting. Of course we want fairness and equality, but we didn’t pause to ask on what terms we were getting it, or what it meant. Nor were we encouraged to, because turning us into an avidly consuming class drove the economy along. The more we can be persuaded to want, and the more willing we are to go into debt to have those things, the more vulnerable we are. We’ve been sold the idea of comfort and convenience, and now we have to work ever longer hours to pay for it, or the money dries up and we suddenly can’t afford to eat.

The cheap boom of the twentieth century was underpinned by low cost goods from abroad. The environmental cost of cheap food is huge. In another country, people are working in dangerous conditions for little pay to put cheap consumables in our shops. That’s a very high price, and just because we aren’t the ones paying it, does not entitle us to be comfortable. We can’t go on consuming at the current rate or in these ways.

What we need to do is stop being seduced by advertisers and junk pedlars. We need to stop accepting that we need everything done for us, by someone abroad, or by a machine. We need to reclaim the pauper arts that truly can allow us a better quality of life for less money. Much of that knowledge is still out there, and much can be re-invented. The important thing is to know there are options.

If you know how to do a good job of being a pauper, a little money goes a lot further. There is a sense of power and achievement in self-sufficiency, in being able to repair clothes, mend useful items, convert one thing into another. There’s a lot of use in cooking with leftovers and making compost out of kitchen waste. No one is going to pick all of this up overnight, but thinking creatively and imagining solutions is a good place to start.

In front of me on the table is the sorting and storage system for Tom’s art gear – an old, unwanted metal tea set, bought for a pound, and doing the job very well. Next to it is a plastic sweet box that I cheered up by collaging it with paper from old calendars, and am using to store my sewing kit in. We had fun with those, they will serve us well for a long time, and they cost very little. They kept a few things out of landfill, too. We’ve got a draught excluder made from a pair of worn out jeans. Bags made out of old curtains. Old curtains cut down to be smaller curtains suitable for these windows. It adds up.

What we all need is a new aesthetic; a sense that clever re-use is chic. If we only collectively decided that ‘make do and mend’ is a great look for this year, it would be easier for a lot of people to tackle poverty whilst feeling good about it, and to step back from the over-consumption that is pushing our planet to the brink. We need to declare re-use the sexiest thing imaginable. That it currently isn’t, is just a trend, and trends can change.


Hermit and tribe

There are lots of good reasons for picking solitude and a more solitary life. Not everyone is gregarious by nature. There are lots of introverts in the world, an abundance of folk for whom human contact is not that engaging or delightful, for all kinds of reasons. There are also a lot of things that can push a person into being a hermit, not because they want to be, but because they can see no other way. While I am someone who likes a lot of quiet time, I’ve also had some experience of feeling obliged to be a hermit and I’ve seen a lot of what it does to other people.

1) Poverty. If you can’t afford transport, or suitable clothes, social contact can be difficult. Most normal social activity has a price tag, a person in poverty may not be able to afford a beer at the pub, and can’t step up to buy a round. All of these things are humiliating, and rather than expose the feelings of shame poverty causes, people stop showing up.
2) Geographical isolation. Only pagan in the village can be a real problem. Loss of public transport, rising fuel costs, loss of rural venues, loss of urban venues even – there may not be anywhere you can realistically get to from where you live, and so you become unable to engage socially.
3) Illness. Both mental and physical ill health make it difficult to engage. If you have to constantly explain why you can’t do things, because the limits of your body and mind are not where people expect them to be, that can be depressing, humiliating. Fear of having something go wrong in public can leave many unwell people just afraid to go out, and afraid of being rejected for having something wrong in the first place.
4) Low self-esteem. If you don’t feel you have anything to offer, how can you ask to be part of a tribe? How can you expect people to accept you socially? Assumptions of not being welcome and not being good enough keep people isolated, which reinforces those beliefs.
5) Expecting rejection or other bad outcomes. People with bad histories (and there are a lot of us, perhaps a third of all women) find it hard to trust that social situations will be safe, that they will be welcome and well treated. Fear of anger and aggression, fear of abuse, of rejection, mockery, humiliation etc.
6) Fear of crime. I have met plenty of people who, even though they have not been victims of crime, are so fearful of this as a probability, that they don’t go out much. Instead they stay in watching news and crime laden TV programs that reinforce their beliefs about how dangerous it is out there. Which is ironic because statistically you are more likely to be raped, assaulted, or murdered by someone you knew and trusted, not by a random stranger.
7) Disbelief. If you think there’s nothing out there worth connecting with, nowhere you would fit in and nothing you would enjoy, you won’t even look. Lack of information about other people leads to a belief that you wouldn’t find anyone to engage with reinforced by not going out and finding anyone to engage with.

Most of these become self-perpetuating, and can take a person to a place of feeling anxious about having to deal with other people. Once we start to see human contact as threatening, unrewarding or impossible, we tie ourselves in to cycles of behaviour and disengagement guaranteed to reinforce the perception. I think there are many facets of our culture that help to perpetuate this. These fears are not crazy or irrational, it is important to note that every last one of them is well founded.

1) We denigrate poor people and uphold concepts of expensive chic, reinforcing the idea that to be and look poor, is to be unacceptable.
2) We don’t have a good public transport network, and the cars much of our planning decisions were based on are getting too expensive to run.
3) We have rising rates of mental illness, and a culture that is not tolerant of, nor reliably kind to people in difficulty.
4) We don’t have all-inclusive tribes. Membership of anything social depends on activity, and at least on actively showing up.
5) Our culture, TV led, says its ok to rubbish and ridicule people, to shout them down, humiliate, harass and otherwise behave in shitty ways. A few episodes of the soap opera of your choice, or any reality tv show where judges rubbish people as entertainment, will teach you this.
6) While violent crime between strangers is on the decrease, domestic abuse exists at a monumental scale. The irony is we’d probably be safer going to the pub than staying at home, statistically speaking.
7) And what is there, to go out for? Where are those tribes and communities we might belong to if only we made it out the door? Mostly they don’t exist, for all of the above reasons.

This is not about individual failing, this is a crisis of culture. No, I don’t have any answers.


Identity and address

When pondering that deep question of ‘what defines the self?’ we might bring location into the mix. The land we grow up in, the shape of it, climate, trees and the such can shape our growing selves. We might think about our relationship with the soil, and the presence, or absence of the bones of our ancestors. There’s much scope for getting all poetic here.

What you probably won’t jump to thinking about, is the relationship between your postal address and your identity. Legally speaking, your post is a big part of your identity. Your credit rating, police checks, your contracts, and ability to access the wider world are all tied to the post. Your ability to vote in elections depends on an address, or a lot of wrangling, assuming you can find out how to do that. In some circumstance, a letter or two with your name and address on, constitute proof of identity. For most of us, most of the time, there’s no reason to give that a second thought.

It was only when we moved to the boat that this one really hit me. By having a care-of address rather than a letter box of my own, I was suddenly a bit marginalized. Extra hoops to jump through sometimes manifested. Lengthy explanations had to be given. No, we don’t live at the post office, we live on a boat. Fortunately, the lady running our post office was brilliant and really went out of her way to help us. For example, important paperwork allowing you to stay in the country can only be delivered to your postal address and your passport must be shown to get it, and no, they can’t give you a day or time. All manner of things I had taken for granted suddenly became tricky. We managed, but it was a lot of unwelcome hassle.

This is a common issue for boaters. I’m sure other travelling people must have the same problem, and for anyone who is homeless, it’s another problem to add to the many. It was an isolating and unnerving experience, and it left me feeling vulnerable and disenfranchised. With housing ever harder to afford, housing benefit being capped, wages not going up while rents and mortgages rise, ever more people are going to have to resort to unconventional living arrangements, for the short term and for some, probably longer. Cars, caravans, boats, yurts, couch surfing… there are all kinds of solutions that take you out of what is normal. There are, I gather, people in the UK who in desperation have resorted to living in caves. No postal address there. Where poverty gives rise to shanty towns, no formal addresses exist, and those at the margins are vulnerable indeed.

We don’t tend to think about legal identity as part of our personal identity unless we are pushed into a place where that’s an issue. It can come as a nasty shock. A person without paperwork struggles to legally exist as a person at all. I’m a Druid, author, daydreamer, wife, parent, cat-mother, activist, trouble maker… I am now a person who can apply to vote, a person who pays council tax and has something of an official existence. I didn’t notice those as being part of myself until I no longer had them. What else have I taken for granted? What else is more fragile and unreliable than I would wish to think?


The happy Druid

I’ve met a lot of people along the way so far, from people who were penniless and living in single rooms in Bed and Breakfasts, to people who have big country houses and go skiing every year. People who have been invalided out of the workforce, the self-made and the downright lucky. I’ve known plenty of wealthy people who were a long way from being happy, whilst misery and poverty go together very easily. Without a doubt, the happiest people I know are either retired, or self employed, doing something they care about and feel has value, and have strong friendship networks.

Often self employed people like me work longer hours than regular employees and do so for less money, but, you get to say no when you need to. You can fit your work around your life, and I see a lot of that amongst the self employed, especially around child raising. People who work for themselves always have more scope to be creative, and get more direct financial reward for the things they get right. There are more risks, but these days most regular employment is so insecure that the risks seem a lot smaller than they used to. At least when it’s your company you can really fight to keep it going and don’t have to depend on whether anyone else is determined to make sure your job continues to exist. What I hear from regularly employed friends suggest that increasing numbers of workplaces are becoming unreasonable, disrespectful pressure fests. The self employed may not have as much cash, but we don’t endure any workplace bullying unless we do it to ourselves.

There are basic essentials that we all need. Recent discussions on facebook around food budgets demonstrate that a person who knows their stuff and has enough wriggle room for some bulk buying, can live well on fairly little. Less desire to be fashionably dressed keeps the clothes budget down. Feet as transport save money, and the cost of gym membership. There’s an art to being less affluent, and one of the key requirements is knowing that cash does not equate to happiness. Yes, life without the basics is miserable, but that’s not always a money issue. Rest and sleep are basics, plenty of highly paid, high flying jobs will deprive you of those. Human relationships are also a basic human need, and if you’ve got to work all your waking hours, or deeply antisocial hours, money costs you in terms of relationship.

The first secret to finding happiness rests on knowing what actually makes you happy. That’s going to vary for all of us, but whatever you think you’ve got, it’s worth poking it. The joy of shopping, for example, can often be about getting a temporary sense of power out of spending money, but if you run up debts, that disempowers you, it can become like an addiction. Getting drunk can feel like happiness, but there’s thinking out there that our young people do this just to blot out the reality of the rest of their lives. So just how happy a state is that? Merry is great, slightly pissed can be wonderful, but so off your face that you don’t know which way is up? Its popular, hugely expensive in terms of police costs and antisocial knock-ons.

I am able to get by on very little because I know what I need. I have books, online articles and radio 4 to supply me with intellectual stimulus on a daily basis. I have good company in the form of my bloke, my child, fellow boaters, excellent friends and a wide selection of casual acquaintances in the wider world. I need time outside and most especially, panoramic landscape views. Enough food, exercise and rest are possible to achieve, although I don’t always get that balance right. Lying in bed, snuggled with my man, cat purring in my ear, child giggling at the other end of the boat as he reads Pratchett in bed… of these things are contentment made. Happiness is not a big, dramatic sort of emotion. If I need thrills and adventures, moving the boat on a windy day, cycling a hill, undertaking an epic walk – I can challenge myself. I don’t get bored. I have the freedom to think and feel as I please, to choose a lot of what happens, or negotiate it in ways that work all round. I am free from bullying, and unkindness doesn’t feature much in my life. I feel very lucky in all of this.

I’m happy when small things go well, and when what I do works for other people, when publishers say yes, and the child says ‘today was an awesome adventure’ or things to that effect. I’m happy when I feel that I’m acting ethically, and walking my talk in some way or another, and when what I do manifestly benefits someone else. Money can be nice, especially when it represents people who bought my books. But money does not buy me the call of the cuckoo, a child’s laughter, or the man who looks at me with adoration in his eyes.


Why poverty is so expensive

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.