Vonny Moyes (arts journalist and ‘social activist’) on redefining poverty:
We’re not hiking five miles for a jug of dirty water; we have good samaritans like the Trussell Trust handing out “golden tickets” to those in need.
All things being relative, we have systems in place that, despite allowing us to dangle perilously close to the bottom, keep us from falling into third-world hell. Our social safety nets imbue the unarticulated assurance that the UK is OK.
Well, it is. In comparison. We all know that.
When we discuss social exclusion, by interchanging “poverty” and “deprivation” with “inequality” we muddy the issue. We displace a word that conjures images of suffering for one with statistician-like sterility. We lose the juxtaposition of poor against rich and settle in a no man’s land of figures, studies and linguistic relief that frees us from facing a rather ugly reality: poverty exists in Britain.
Oh, indeed, we mustn’t negate the ‘suffering’ of those without the latest trainers, or still using the original iPad…
While it may not be the levels of far-off destitution we’re most inclined to recall, the truth is that many go without the most basic of comforts we consider intrinsic to living.
There is little dignity in regularly going hungry to feed your children, telling crying two-year-olds to put coats on in bed or being in such a bind that you pawn a dead parent’s wedding ring just to keep a roof over your head.
There isn’t meant to be any dignity in it! It’s meant to provide a hint that you’re doing life wrong!
Applying new labels to a timeless problem veils the jagged reality with woolly language – often used to justify actions that directly harm those most in need. Words are the catalyst for action, and in positions of power we must employ them conscientiously. In dialogue, whether for peace of mind or otherwise, we must stop rendering our social dysfunction invisible.
The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” has never been more pertinent than when we apply it to the poor. We owe it to them and ourselves to voice evocatively so we don’t forget their injustices, or that we have to fight against them.
So go ahead, continue to use the word ‘poverty’ and expect to be laughed at by everyone.