In 2018, a UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights made some shocking findings in the UK, one of the richest and most developed economies in the world. Almost 14 million people, or a fifth of the population, live in poverty, leaving four million children without access to healthy and nutritious food.
According to the Food Ethics Council, many families in the UK are ‘food insecure,’ facing stark choices between buying food, paying the rent or heating their home. A combination of a lack of shops selling fresh food, fast food outlets near schools and vegetables that cost three times more than ultra-processed alternatives means that cheap food laden with salt, sugar and saturated fats are often their only option. This is known as food poverty.
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This tweet by the chairman of Cheltenham Civic Society, whose main aim is to maintain the special architectural qualities of Cheltenham and its environment, is a perfect example of victim-blaming by someone completely out of touch with the reality for many people in the UK.
Mr. Booten shared an image of the chicken stir-fry he prepared for his family for £3.89, or 97p each. “Don’t tell me we have food poverty in this country,” he captioned the image. “It’s just idleness.”
See, you’re only malnourished because you’re lazy, you silly poor person!
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There are many reasons why the tweet was in poor taste, as well as being factually inaccurate. People were quick to point them out with nearly 5000 responses, most of them negative.
Mr. Booten has since deleted his tweet with an apology, saying that he was sorry for “having trivialized a serious issue.”
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Now, there is a lot of denial about these inconvenient facts about poverty in the UK, and a tendency for those who aren’t affected by it to blame the victim for their own shortcomings. Nevermind that many of the jobs in northern, industrial towns have been sold off for short term profit.
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Those people most affected by job losses and endless cuts to public services are, in turn, encouraged by rabid right-wing newspapers to blame foreign influences like immigration and the EU, whilst the gradual dismantling of the welfare state continues unabated.
Welcome to Brexitland, everybody!
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“British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instill discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today’s world, and elevating the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest levels of British society,” the UN report states.
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“The experience of the United Kingdom, especially since 2010, underscores the conclusion that poverty is a political choice.”
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“Austerity could easily have spared the poor if the political will had existed to do so. Resources were available to the Treasury at the last budget that could have transformed the situation of millions of people living in poverty, but the political choice was made to fund tax cuts for the wealthy instead.”
Sound familiar, American readers?
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What we need in the face of this greedy, selfish politics is more empathy and compassion for those who are getting left behind, not less.
Resist the calls to blame foreigners for your society’s ills and look closer to home – it is our leaders and their big business buddies that are doing this!
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