Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Deserving?

Another report on child poverty based on research done on nearly 1300 Christchurch kids since 1977 tells us what: that if you're born poor you're likely to continue to be poor; if you're born in a better-off family you're likely to do well.   Hardly a staggering revelation.

'Child poverty' is an emotive phrase and does its job pretty well, but what it somehow indicates is that the children are poor, rather than that the families they come from are poor.  There's no point separating the children from the families.   A more realistic phrase would be 'family poverty' but for some reason we don't want to go there.

And on top of that, we still have the general mentality that the poor, if they try hard enough, will pull themselves up.  Some poor families do.  But with the inequality between rich and poor increasing, it's the poor who have a long way to go to catch up with those on just the lowest rung of the rich ladder.

There's political talk of tackling inequality, but it's got an uphill battle against the political mentality that the wealthy deserve what they have, and deserve more of it.  It's always seemed ironic to me that those who are already well off get more benefits just by being well off.  Is your name well-known?  You'll be first in the queue at the famous restaurant.  Are you on the rich list?  People will fall over themselves to give you more stuff.  How does that make any sense?

From the time they're born many rich children live in incubators that keep them from knowing what goes on in the wider world.  Their worldview is limited to the 'deserving' rich that they find themselves surrounded by.  (Of course, as with everything, there are exceptions, and many rich children actually break out of this incubation and discover the rest of the world.)   People tell them that they deserve what they get (the TV ads that insist that women should look good 'because you're worth it' is an offshoot of this idea) and of course they believe it.

Being told I deserve something (unless it's a good whack around the head) is something I've usually reacted against.   We came into an unexpected inheritance a few years ago - a friend told me we deserved it.  Why?  Had we been particularly good in our behaviour?  Had we done heaps of things for other people?  (The answer is no in both cases.)   On what basis could we possibly have deserved it?  It was gift, and we were exceedingly grateful for it, but there was no way we deserved it.

The poor don't deserve what they get either  - or don't get.  Circumstances can easily drive someone into poverty; none of us are immune from it (including those rich people who've had startling falls from grace).   Of course there are some who are in poverty because of their own behaviours; but the majority, the vast majority, are not.

So when I hear that ministers of Parliament are 'setting up a ministerial committee on poverty' I groan inwardly.  Unless there's a major change of view about how things work in the world, I don't think it will do a thing.   And that major change hasn't happened for a long time.  


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