I had a bit of a shock today. It happened when I was listening to one of the podcasts I download weekly. A fine program called "Everyday Ethics" produced by the BBC and available here. It looks at local Northen Ireland and World problems with a Christian perspective but is accessible even for an apostate heathen like myself.
One of the articles on this weeks show was "Do journalists believe in poverty" and from this topic came my shock. To precis the questions the article poses ...
Do journalists accept that many people in the UK really are poor? Or is it the case that many journalists believe that people on benefits are working the system to their own advantage? How well does the media report on the realities of poverty in the UK today? Is there enough exploration of the causes of poverty, social deprivation and inequality? Are journalists at times part of the problem by re-presenting stereotypes and caricatures of poverty where they could be challenging myths and false portrayals? Are stories about poverty presented to broadcast, print and online audiences as though poverty was someone else's experience? Can a moral distinction between the 'deserving poor' and the 'undeserving poor' be detected in some media portrayals?
It would seem that we, the reading and watching public, are served up a mish mash of stereotype and urban myth more often than the actuality of poverty. Poverty is not NEWS it is OLDS... it has always been there and looks set to stay. My shock came not from the frightening figures that in 2006-7 there were 13 Million officially "poor" in the UK or that of that 3.9 million of them were children but from the fact I had forgotten was it actaully was to be poor.
Don't get me wrong I have never been poor. I came from a middle class family that wanted for little and my current situation is far from fiscally challenged. My experience of poverty was only as an observer. When I was involved with the Corrymeela Community (an organisation that my Mum and Day were and are actively involved with) and then later as a Nurse in Belfast I came across the sort of poverty that slowly grinds the soul until there is little left but a husk.I did come across the odd person who was working the system so they do exist but in general most were just poor, alive and supported by the state but mind numbingly poor. I had forgotten the truth about poverty that had motivated me to get involved in activities 30 years ago. I had forgotten the fire that observed social injustice had lit and had made me join the JCSS (Junior Council of Social Services) at school, I even won a prize in my upper sixth year. I had forgotten that ..
Poverty is not simply about not having enough money. It is about struggling to get through each day. About constantly making sacrifices. About living in a state of worry verging on perpetual fear ...In starting a career, getting married, starting and bringing up a family I moved in a different direction and to be blunt I became to busy to care ... for that I am ashamed ... It is all to easy to get sucked in to the sterotypes we are fed by the media. In the run up to the election in America I heard on several occasions opnions posited that Obama's taxes and social reforms were "socialist" and "evil" or "Why should someone take my money (in taxes) and give it to someone else?" When I was in my late teens I would have not stood for rhetoric like that. I would have made a noise and got annoyed, 30 years later .. not a peep from yours truly .... for that I am ashamed.
I am not talking about the poor in Africa or some far distant "other country" who are also deserving of our help. What is more frightening is the fact that I am talking about that "far off country" that starts not far from the house where I live.
In the run up to the holiday season when the darkness of winter ends and the days start to get longer and bring the promise of Spring, I am going to remember that for every fraud and sponger "outed" in the press there are 100's if not 1000's who who are living day in day out in a condition that leads to misery and an early death. I WILL remember that this is happening in my own community. I will do something to make a difference.
I don't want want to be to busy to care.