Poverty Is Not A Problem, Says Man With Millions of Pounds

In 21st century Britain – a country which, for all the headlines about debt and deficits, still boasts the sixth biggest economy in the world – does poverty really exist? No. Not according to Alan Sugar, at any rate.

In an interview last week the business mogul asked: ‘Who are the poor these days? You’ve got some people up north and in places like that who are quite poor, but they all have mobile phones, being poor, and they’ve got microwave ovens, being poor, and they’ve got televisions, being poor’.

As demonising shows like Benefits Britain are only too keen to remind us, the poor today have never had it so good. If you managed to save up for a cheap Argos TV or microwave then you’ve got it made. To those still worried about heating their homes or feeding their children, go back to playing Candy Crush and quit yer whinging.

In fairness to Lord Sugar, if by poverty he means absolute poverty, he has a point. We don’t see the same scenes in the UK that are seen in Zimbabwe or Mozambique, where life expectancy sits below 50 and clean water is a luxury. But that doesn’t mean everything’s going swimmingly. And while perhaps I should just count myself lucky that I’m not in a workhouse singing Food Glorious Food and crossing my fingers for extra gruel like I would have been 150 years ago, I’d still argue that relative poverty is a pressing (and growing) issue.

poverty has been more-or-less consistently on the rise in Britain throughout the 21st centuryHowever you choose to measure it, poverty has been more-or-less consistently on the rise in Britain throughout the 21st century, most dramatically so in the post-2008 austerity years. Oxfam estimate that 1 in 5 now ‘experience life as a daily struggle’, while the Poverty and Exclusion Project found that 33% survive without three or more of life’s ‘basic necessities’ such as food, clothing and heating (a more than twofold increase on figures recorded thirty years ago). We have witnessed the sharpest drop in living standards since records began, homelessness has rocketed, and in 2013 the Red Cross launched the first emergency food aid plan in Britain since the Second World War.

Clearly, this is much more than a handful of ne’er-do-wells who’ve blown all their money on fancy gadgets without budgeting for food. This speaks to a leaner, meaner 21st century, where insecure and poorly-paid work has become so routine that employment is no longer any guarantee of being able to put food on the table. This speaks to a time where all want or need is attributed to individual moral inferiority, and where a welfare state that once looked out for the most vulnerable has been turned into a weapon that deprives and degrades them.

I should point out that, technically speaking, David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith have totally eradicated poverty. That is to say, they’ve abolished the standard definition of poverty as measured by income. Apparently the amount of money that people do or don’t have is irrelevant compared to things like addiction, family breakdown and poor exam results (surely symptoms, rather than causes, of poverty). But while the criteria may change, the level of poverty being experienced in Britain today isn’t - or if it is, it’s only going up.

None of this is likely to keep Alan Sugar awake at night. Never mind. Having spent the past four decades as a multi-millionaire, he probably wasn’t many people’s go-to expert on poverty anyway. Unfortunately, his is a view that is spreading, as more and more of us try to convince ourselves that things can’t be that bad. It’s not too hard to believe this, given the tendency for poverty to be swept under the rug. The people queuing at food banks, being evicted from their homes, dying after being declared ‘fit for work’ and committing suicide following benefit sanctions don’t make for pleasant viewing, so it’s easier to push them into the shadows, voiceless and anonymous. They still have a microwave, we tell ourselves so, all is well.

All isn’t well, though, and ignorance will only thicken the smoke-screen lingering over modern British poverty. Still, if Sir Alan’s tone-deaf remarks are good for anything, it is for sending out a message to those in poverty - don’t suffer in silence. Don’t let your hardships be glossed over. And, if all else fails, throw your television out, to sit discarded along with your wellbeing and dignity. Then, finally, the rest of society might start paying attention.

More about the author

About the author

Harry Mason likes to call himself a freelance writer, even if his tax forms say he's technically a waiter. He graduated last year from the University of East Anglia, and writes predominantly about social politics and film. He looks forward to the day when he's able to grow a beard; until then, you'll just have to blame his so-called 'bleeding heart lefty views' on youthful naivety.

Follow Harry on Twitter.

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