Truth and Lies about Poverty, report on the 22nd March meeting

Geoff Gay Reports:

In spite of the very inclement weather, 18 people attended the latest meeting, on Friday
 March 22nd, of the FRIDAY ROOM  progressive discussion group, at Unity House, Loughborough, at which Daphne Beale introduced a discussion based on the report “Truth and Lies about Poverty” produced jointly by Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Churches and the Church of Scotland. The report counters, with the correct statistics, six commonly-believed myths about poverty in Britain. The discussion converged on trying to answer the questions :
– “What are the symptoms of poverty ?”,
– “What are the real causes of poverty ?” and
– “What can we do to change the public perception and to seriously alleviate if not eradicate poverty ?”

Some of the attempts to answer the first question were :
–  An understanding that poverty in Britain cannot be reasonably compared to poverty in those parts of the world which are far less developed, and must be measured relative to the general standard of living.
–  Poor people find it very difficult if not impossible to make plans for the future.
–  There is something termed  “The Poverty Premium” which is basically a vicious circle in that access to money-saving schemes and offers is geared to those who can afford to buy in advance and in larger quantities.

Some of the causes discussed were :
– the dearth of proper, full-time, decently-paid jobs, at least partly due to the ease by which lower-skilled jobs can be automated ( On the bus home that evening, I overheard some older people talking about this very subject : one person said, “at one time you could lose a job in the morning and get another one the same day – there is no way you could do that now.” )
– greed and inequality are institutionalised in our society.
– governments prioritise spending money on war at the same time as making the poor and less well-off bear the brunt of their austerity programme. ( Even though the “defence” budget is small compared to the welfare budget, its about the messages that are sent out.)

The final question proved to be the most difficult as there seems to be little consensus about a viable alternative policy. While the political Right ,  helped by the hegemony of the privileged class over every aspect of our lives and culture, converges around the Tories, and the populist UKIP targets Labour voters, the Left  is held back by its proliferation of different parties and groups offering their own versions of the solution ( Daphne drew attention to a letter in The Guardian from a large group of academics etc. who declared their aim of setting up a “people’s assembly”, but there was scepticism about  whether this initiative will be any more likely than any of the others to unify the opposition to neo-liberalism ) . Some people talked about an ideal – what “The Good Society” could look like – while others said that the real, pressing questions are “How do we get from here to there ?” and “How do we get across the message that there really is an alternative which could be achieved if only ordinary people would see the potential of a really mass, united movement ?”
One suggestion was to concentrate on harnessing the energy of young people by telling them  about the massive threat to their future.

Geoff Gay             23.03.13.
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