“Oh Boy, I’m Lucky” or The Euro Saver Approach to Poverty

As we flick through the various channels on the magic UPC box, waiting for the second part of a shitty show to come back on, we’re often assaulted with the ad for McDonalds where a 20s song ‘Lucky Day’ plays out while various plucky people find an aul euro and this somehow makes their day. Emboldened with their new found wealth they go to their local McDonalds where they are treated to the cheapest thing on the menu, a shitty burger.

In case anyone’s been living under a rock, or simply download everything here it is in its horrible entirety:

Apart from the cheesy song and the repetitious onslaught, there was something really bothering me about the ad that I couldn’t figure out. Then it came to me like a flash. It’s trying to make poverty out to be a bit of a jape, where plucky good looking people find a Euro and their day is made. So having no money and no prospects is grand once you can get an aul burger for a euro.

Similarly in shows like Shameless, the poor are shown to be feckless drug addicts constantly on the make. Even so called ‘documentaries’ like Benefit Street in the UK are all about making people on welfare out to be fat, lazy, unattractive and fundamentally dishonest. The multi-millionaire Jamie Oliver once lamented how poor people have large flat screen TVs but feed their kids take away food while neglecting to mention that the cheapest food is also the worst food for you and that all TVs are flat these days…

Even in news and comment sections, you never hear the words ‘poor’ or ‘poverty’ used at all. It’s always ‘vulnerable’ people or ‘people in financial difficulties’. It’s also never mentioned that poor people are not all on welfare. Many jobs pay so little that you stay in poverty despite having to work very hard in difficult circumstances. Like class, it’s another Irish unmentionable…

I have a job now luckily enough, but have been on the dole for various periods over the last 20 years I’ve been in the workforce. It happens – recessions come and go, companies close. Sometimes you have to change career mid stream. I’ve seen poverty up close and it is not pretty. It causes depression, ill health and a sense of helplessness. All of which work against you when going for any job..

Thankfully I’m not there now, but am often surrounded by people who have never experienced it and get their knowledge from TV shows like those above and insane McDonalds ads making poverty a ‘jape’.

The stress involved in the pure survival of poverty is something that richer people just don’t understand. They seem envious of the free time unemployed people have or the lack of responsibility in lower level jobs.

They don’t understand that the unemployed person probably lies on in bed to shorten the expensive day and wakes up to grinding poverty. The person on the low paid job has to do low skill work which is by definition more physically tiring and back breaking than your standard office job.

Also going to work costs money – once you get job you have to get there daily with a lunch and laundered pressed clothes. Also it can be up to 4 weeks between starting a job and actually getting paid from it, so you need a month’s salary just to rejoin the workforce.

Banks charge more to people on low incomes. Free banking is only available to the rich – most banks give free banking only if there is a certain amount of activity on the account and a minimum balance. If you have no money in your account and a direct debit bounces, they charge you for that too knowing full well that you have literally no money. Add to this the fact that loans are only given to people who can prove that they don’t need them and you start to see an odd pattern emerging. Exclusion. Am I really wanted in this society? It seems not as the barriers to re-entering ‘normal’ existence often seem insurmountable.

When politicians (particularly right wing ones) talk about eliminating poverty (which they seldom do) they frame the debate in such a way that the long term structural reasons for poverty existing are ignored. The lack of assets and the inability to access credit compounds the long term structural inequality that has never been addressed in Ireland.

Some myths about poverty elimination

Growth eliminates poverty

Myth: If the recession would just finish, the rising tide of economic growth will lift all boats and raise living standards so that poverty is eliminated.

Why this isn’t the case: If economic growth lifted people out of poverty then it would be gone by now. Cumulatively the economy has grown hugely since say the 80s, but the percentage of people in poverty has actually increased since then…

Jobs eliminate poverty

Myth: If we could just get some more of that sweet sweet Foreign Direct Investment into us

Why this isn’t the case: Most of the recent jobs created in the last few years have been low-paid and insecure. Zero hour contracts, temporary contracts and so on. The lack of security means that you cannot plan for the future or get credit. You always have to work on the assumption that the latest contract is the last one because it just might be..

Ambition and drive eliminates poverty

Myth: If people were more ambitious and hard-working they could lift themselves out of poverty (by the boot straps, apparently)..

Why this isn’t the case: The idea is that your success is based on a simple formula of –

IQ + Ambition/Education = Success

What this ignores is the role that privilege pays. Small advantages enjoyed continuously over a lifetime accumulate into an enormous advantage. The link below to a cartoon by Toby Morris illustrates this perfectly:

http://thewireless.co.nz/articles/the-pencilsword-on-a-plate

So the notion which conservatives bang on about is Equality of Opportunity. What this infers is that once discrimination is eliminated we end up with a meritocracy where we all are treated based on their ability to do the job and everyone finds their natural level.

The problem with this is that it assumes we all live in a vacuum, with no help from family, teachers, government or peers. People in well paid jobs often believe this myth about themselves. It makes them feel good and special.

It is also just not true..

 

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3 thoughts on ““Oh Boy, I’m Lucky” or The Euro Saver Approach to Poverty

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