Thursday, September 3, 2015

Is UK Poverty Mirroring Our Own?

Child poverty in Glasgow, Scotland, reaches 43% in some depressed areas.

Note. While reading all this below, keep in mind the "special relationship" long touted between the UK and the US.

Caught a link in an Atrios post that highlighted the crush of poverty -- and low wages -- in David Cameron's austere UK. Here's what it looks like across the pond:
Commenting on the actions and choices of those in poverty seems to have become a national sport. It’s rare to ever have a discussion about economic hardship in Britain without a bystander or internet commenter leaning forward and opining “But they’ve all got flatscreen TVs and smoke cigarettes.” The economic choices of the very poorest are seen as ripe for public dissection.
But the psychological consequences of poverty are discussed far less. Oxford University and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have released a study that goes some way to silencing those who would argue poverty is simply a moral failing. The newly released Household Below Average Income figures for 2013/14 show no progress whatsoever on poverty rates, and a slim increase in child poverty and working families earning less than they need: so poverty is here to stay.
When facing poverty, the researchers found, individuals enter a “scarcity mindset”. When focused on short-term survival, your decision-making ability is scrambled and your attention span narrowed. The attendant worry means long–term planning and the completion of peripheral, routine tasks is downgraded as the immediate future becomes the only focus. Debt counsellors have found this for years, with people in debt struggling to understand how they ended up like that, only knowing that many short-term financial crises snowballed.
The "internet commenters" citing the poor having flatscreen TVs and cigarettes reminds me of Fox News commentators decrying the American poor who have refrigerators and cell phones. Oh, the temerity of the loser class to have items the middle class possess. Clearly the poor of Glasgow pictured above have their nerve wearing what appears to be decent shoes. And they call themselves poor?

It's no wonder, then, that we find articles in the British press condemning "dysfunctional families" for costing the taxpayers so many billions of pounds a year. Conservative UK reaction? Cut benefits! Oh, the inhumanity of the poor who won't fix themselves and get off the dole.
Britain’s problem families are costing taxpayers a whopping £30billion a year, it was claimed today.
The dysfunctional behaviour of half a million households in the country is resulting in a major drain on public resources, with the size of our ‘underclass’ four times larger than first thought.
Ministers have demanded an end to the ‘it’s not my fault’ culture which has allowed up to 120,000 problem families to avoid taking responsibility for their own lives.
It's good to see the Brits despise their poor just the way we hate our own losers. It's heartwarming to see that the Tories are hell-bent -- as our loving and compassionate Republicans -- on cutting the societal cost of our irresponsible "it's not my fault" culture. Yet we've known, just as the Brits have known, that poverty begets poverty as young brains wither on the vine before they get a chance to graduate from dysfunctional families:
Children raised in poverty or in orphanages experience chronic stress early in life that can have long-lasting effects on the brain, setting them up for future mental and physical ailments as adults, two studies found.
The stress of poverty may affect regions in a child’s brain that control emotion, according to research published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A second study found that children who had lived in an orphanage were more anxious than those who hadn’t.
In childhood, the brain is still immature and developing rapidly so it is more sensitive to high-stress situations than an adult brain, said Pilyoung Kim, lead study author of the childhood poverty study. The findings from both papers suggest that early intervention programs to address chronic stress may benefit these children, the authors said.
“Long-term exposure to chronic stress is likely to cause wear and tear in children’s physical and psychological systems for coping with stress over time,” said Kim, an assistant professor and director of the Family and Child Neuroscience Lab at the University of Denver, in an Oct. 20 e-mail. “Living in poverty at a young age can cause long-lasting changes in brain development, which contribute to difficulties in regulating of emotions and future devastating health outcomes, including mental illness and high mortality and morbidity in adulthood.”
Science can study these effects and we can have evidence and yet more evidence that we, both here and across the Atlantic, actually grow our impoverished classes with no hope of escape. But of course it's their own fault. Just as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan condemn the "47 percent," so do David Cameron and George Osborne do the same from their Tory perches.

Some British pundits pause long enough to see that the beloved British austerity is destructive:
The world falls in. For some unlucky people, the ceiling cracks, mould appears and there is some kind of warning that something might be happening. For others, the roof comes crashing down. It’s sudden and unexpected until one is rooting through the rubble of an old life trying to find a new one.
Accounts of what it is like to be poor mount up around us like unopened bills. Sometimes people spiral down because of benefit sanctions, a sudden rent increase, an illness. Things like a faulty boiler can tip someone from “managing” to “really not managing”. Once you have been poor, you always fear it. When people talk about their high-powered, high-stress jobs, I often wonder if they even know what stress is. To not have when others have is not just a material lack; it is to live with your children in constant anxiety.
So, for the festive season, we hear a lot about food banks. They are necessary, but they also function as the most tangible symbol of the cognitive dissonance that passes for political discourse. We live in the sixth-richest country in the world, yet the poorest among us have to live on handouts from charities. The choice that this represents is seen as a fact of life – like all inequality these days. Some choose to be rich and some choose to be poor. The poor often make themselves worse off by poor choices, apparently. Then their worlds can fall in and things no longer work at all, just like the cheap fairy lights these kind of people buy.
Once you have been poor, you always fear it. But for conservatives in America or the UK, when budget time comes, they look for yet another program to trim, another service to "defund," another social safety net that someone somewhere must be gaming with their TVs, refrigerators, and cell phones, and shoes too decent for their "class." It's galling. If they're not barefoot, they must be welfare cheats who need a benefits cut or they'll never understand how to do for themselves. Still, the UK keeps growing its poor:
One in five British children live below the poverty line with the number rising to nearly half in the most deprived areas of Manchester, according to research released today.
The Campaign to End Child Poverty published figures today showing that 20.2 per cent of British children are classified as below the poverty line, before housing costs.
In eight areas of large cities, more than four out of every 10 children lived in poverty in 2012, the research showed.
Remind you of anywhere in the U.S.?

A Baltimore neighborhood. Today. Let's cut benefits to help them, like the Brits.
 And, yes, we've already cut benefits. We also got rid of those pesky unemployment benefits extensions. And why not? The poor, it turns out don't suffer nearly enough.

Fox News, such a poor-friendly station. I looked for the British equivalent and couldn't find one, so here's a real look at expanding poverty under the Cameron-Osborne government, after which I offer the top comment on the YouTube page:

Here's one viewer's reaction:
After spending their money on cars, boozing, computers, mobile phones, plasma televisions and buying their kids designer clothes etc., it's hardly surprising that benefits dependents have little money left to buy food.I can only praise the food banks for getting these wasters off the backs of hard working tax payers.
For giggles, read more. The Brits are as nasty a bunch as our own "poors are losers" crowd.

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