The Twitterati have been making helpful comments in defence of the poor, snorting at the idea that chickpeas might be considered aspirational and telling Jamie to leave the povs alone because it’s not their fault they don’t know how to cook. Cheers guys, I think I can take it from here…
My life as it is now cannot in any way be associated with poverty of any kind. I was fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of the opportunities I was presented with and to be able to work hard enough to turn those opportunities into a steady job, a roof over my head and food in my belly. But I came from a family that David Cameron could easily have fed through his propaganda machine and mangled out “scroungers” on the other side. A stay at home mum/carer, an intermittently unemployed father, a family member with disabilities. So I know a little bit about the choices people make with their limited funds.
Guess what. Most of us know how to cook. Sometimes however, after another daily grind of squirrelling away a few pounds a week for the bills, making your second or third meal out of leftovers, and rushing to find your daughter or sister at the hospital again, you lack the physical and mental energy required to rummage through the cupboards and put together another meal for your family that they won’t like anyway. Faced with a choice of kids crying at you or going hungry or getting a couple of portions of chips from the chippie, you choose the path of least resistance because tomorrow you have to get up and do it all over again.
For those of us who are fortunate enough to derive our entertainments from a trip into town to see the latest show/exhibition/restaurant, or attend dinner parties with our equally sophisticated friends or really just anything that involves leaving the house and finding somewhere else warm, comfortable and inviting, the size of our TV or the channels available on our Sky package are unlikely to be of such consequence. For people whose options are limited by such things as illness or disability, unnaturally long working hours, young children at home, or a lack of the cultural capital which primes you with some immunity to the likelihood of being judged for your hair, your clothes, the contents of your packed lunch whilst out and about at various cultural events and venues, staying at home with something on your TV, and yes why not let’s make it a massive one, could easily seem preferable.
No one would care about the size of my TV because I have a job and don’t claim benefits. As it happens, I don’t have a TV now and as a child, we only had a small one and didn’t have any more than the standard 4 or 5 channels. But for those people who have to go to rip off merchants such as Brighthouse for one of their few luxuries, they would pay several hundred pounds more than me. A choice they make because they feel it’s worth it. To have something that so many other people take for granted. If you were to put media speculation aside, I think you’d find the TVs aren’t as numerous or as massive as they would have you think.
For those who choose the big TV, I expect they have to ration its use because they’re also getting ripped off by keycard meters for their electricity.
Going to your local market
Jamie thinks we should go to the market every day and buy exactly what food we need. Sorry Jamie, some of us povs work 12-16 hour days. It doesn’t leave much time for browsing the markets. Some of us live too far away from them to walk and can’t afford the bus fare every day. Some of us live in areas that have become inexplicably trendy and gentrified (something to do with spiralling property prices, people moving to cheaper areas and then trying to transform it into something “liveable.” We were already living here thank you) so now we can’t afford the things in the market. Personally, my local market is infested with starlings and as you may know if you know me at all, that means a no go area for me. So we’ll keep going to the supermarket instead.
On the aspirational nature of chickpeas
Yes, chickpeas are cheap. When I was growing up, they were also considered to be quite fancy and “exotic.” If I’d stayed in the cycle and had children at a young age instead of leaving home and learning about chickpeas, my children might not have had much contact with them either.
Such cycles pervade the nature of poverty. To escape poverty you need education, opportunity and ability and a huge chunk of luck. I was lucky enough to have parents who valued education in all its forms. Some generations left school at 14 and went straight into work. Then, before their children could benefit from such opportunities, the rules were changed and you need o-levels or GCSEs to get a job. How do you get good enough grades with parents who weren’t educated to that level to help you along with your homework? And how do you help your children at school, and their children? How do you get a job? How do you break out of that trap when everything seems designed to keep you there?
If you stay in school, how far will you get in a city comprehensive, driven by targets and league tables, pushing the low-achieving students even further down? If you happen to be blessed with the fortune that makes you relatively high-achieving, will you have the strength to persist against the bullies who hate you for trying and succeeding, to persist against the system that refuses to stretch you, make the most of you, push you in directions you’d never believe you were entitled to go? Will you look for the chickpeas if you don’t even know they exist?
People up there talking about people down here
We love our aspirational stories about these charming cheeky chappies who more recently left school with nothing and now own multinational businesses. But when they tell their stories they need to have a long hard look at what their “nothing” actually consists of. They had a van, or an indomitable spirit, or their dad knew someone who knew someone who gave them a break. Life hadn’t robbed them of their internal locus of control and made them believe that no matter what they do, their life will always be the same old slog.
Much of the current focus is on a state of poverty in its own right, without connection to any social, cultural or other factors. I don’t believe it just emerges out of laziness. It is precipitated by illness, disability, lack of education, lack of suitable job opportunities, low wages and a society who just does not care or understand even the first thing about it. It is perpetuated by the ignorance of people like Jamie Oliver and all those snorting their classist defences and commentary on Twitter.
I’ve probably forgotten how it really feels to live the life of choices, forced choices, choices that aren’t really choices at all. But it’s left a scar deep enough for me to know that I’d rather die than go back to it.
And while we’re at Jamie, if you want to start picking on people for their working hours, let’s go. While you were slogging away in your 70 hour weeks, who was there in the background supporting you? Not everyone has that support. I’m really happy for you that your health and constitution are such that you were able to put in those hours. I work the occasional 48 hour week and it f***s me up. Still, no one will actually die if they don’t get their mange tout on time, will they? And you might want to take a good hard look at the wages you are paying if your migrant employees are feeling compelled to put in so many hours.
Lyric of the Week: You’ll never live like common people.