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Just Managing?

 | 
Mark O'Brien
, 
Paul Kyprianou

Part III: Just managing? Perspectives on poverty

7. Family Views: ‘Who’s to Blame?’

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1Throughout the testimonies that have been reported in this work, there were consistent themes of struggle, of constant effort to avoid ‘going under’ and sometimes of exhaustion. However, there were also moving examples of determination, of overcoming the difficulties faced and of a belief in the future, come what may. There were also notes of questioning and criticism of a society that inflicts such challenges upon people who in the end simply want happy and fulfilled lives, free of worry and stress, for themselves and for their children. Although there were many opinions offered that were political in nature, none of the family members identified themselves as ‘political’ in the sense of party affiliation or activist orientations. However, many of the comments made along these lines resonated with the zeitgeist of opposition and social critique that had emerged around the issues covered in the interviews.

2The sense of social injustice conveyed in many of the interviews often focused upon income inequality. The UK has one of the most unequal distributions of wealth by income of all the industrially developed economies. In 2017, those in the bottom income decile of the population had an average annual net income of £9,277. Those in the top income decile had more than nine times that (£83,897). The polarisation of wealth in British society has been dramatic over the last two decades. The distribution, assessed in broad terms, has seen a huge shift towards the highest income holders, a relatively unchanged picture for those the middle strata of the income spectrum and a marked reduction for those at the bottom.1

3The point was not lost on many of the families, that with each successive budget the government bias towards business and the ‘already wealthy’, and against the poor was proven once again. So whilst they struggled from week to week against a backdrop of cuts to the services upon which they relied, and new costs resulting from the loss of many of those services, businesses in the UK had enjoyed repeated reductions in Corporation Tax as it fell from 28 percent to 24 percent in April 2013, and then to 21 percent in April 2014; the lowest in the western world. In the March 2016 budget it was reduced once more to seventeen percent. At the same time and relatedly, high profile news stories had emerged of major companies such as Starbucks, Vodafone and Google having paid negligible amounts of tax, despite huge profit levels.

4It was no surprise then that many times families expressed the view that the government was hopelessly out of touch with the life experience of those on low incomes. More than this however, a sharp sense of unfairness was clear in what participants had to say about the causes of the difficulties they faced.

5This is what they said.

On politicians

They’re cutting everything, but not their own wages; disgusting. But they get all their expenses paid for don’t they? Why doesn’t the normal Joe Blogs get their expenses paid? My partner pays £15.50 a week and he can’t get that back in expenses. We’re supposed to live on so much. How come they can, say like, when they’re earning say £60K, and they’re still claiming expenses for the house and the mortgage and when they’ve got a house somewhere else. You only need one house, surely. You don’t need any more. It’s pure greed, pure greed.
Grace

It sickens me and saddens me, that they’ve [politicians] never known what it’s like to come home from school and nothing be in for tea. They’ve never known what it’s like to have holes at the bottom of their shoes. I did. I’m not saying kids should live like that because mine certainly do not. What I’m saying is, they’ve had everything handed to them, including top of the range education; and they take it all away from our young people and it just saddens me. It upsets me and, as I say, I’m trying to remain completely polite.
Eileen

On social class

Well, I think there is a class thing. They think if you are working class then you’re not educated or you’re thick. You do get that day-to-day. I’ve worked in a hotel and you get some people coming in and they think you’re stupid; but I’m not illiterate. I might sound common to you. Just because I’ve got a slight accent doesn’t mean I go home and sit in a pile of poo. My house is spotless, but you know how people come across. They do think they’re better than you. I would never treat anybody any different; whether you’re a cleaner or a doctor. I want to treat people all on the same level. I say that to all my children; that you treat everyone the same. If they give you respect, you give respect back. But I do think there is a class issue. I think that people who do have money think they’re better. They probably have had better education, that’s why I fight for all my children.
Grace

I think it varies depending on the people. I think there are things you’re certainly excluded from if you haven’t got money or access to people with money. Nobody really knows your exact financial situation, but only what they can see; like the symptoms of it. I suppose, but yeah, people make judgements don’t they?
Fiona

They look down their nose at you and they’re like ‘What do you mean you can’t afford that?’ And you’re like ‘I can’t afford it’. ‘What you’re not going away again?’ The poor kids’. And it is horrible: ‘Budget your money better?’ How can we budget? You know what I mean?
Phoebe

Because it is a class thing; people who’ve got the money seem to be able to pay for whatever they want. They can pay for the best education; the best. Obviously, everyone has got opportunities, and everyone’s entitled to an education. But it’s the standard of your education, isn’t it?
Liz

Sad to say, but where you are born and education, you know [limit one’s life] […] if you are in a deprived area. They are just taking everything from the working class, aren’t they?
Sue

I think it’s all about money; everywhere that you go; everything that you do. If you haven’t got money, there’s no life. Class as well. It depends where you’ve been born; what country; what family; your education.
Karolina

I do believe that there is a class system, and I think if you’re born into a certain class it is very hard to move away from that. Obviously money and class go hand-in-hand don’t they? That’s how you determine whether you’re working class, middle class or upper class.
Amy

On discrimination

I hear people talk and moan and complain about ‘These immigrants’ and ‘Send them back’ and ‘We shouldn’t have any more’. Then the first thing that springs to mind is that people who consider themselves British who are here—sounds very harsh I know—but they weren’t originally here. They weren’t indigenous. They came from other countries. Some Vikings from Scandinavia, and some, a lot, from Ireland. We have a lot of Irish immigrants. We have a vibrant Afro-Caribbean community here; and I think Somalis. But you get lots of ‘Oh they should go back, we should close our borders’. I like to challenge those attitudes, because a lot of them are very ignorant.
Cath

I keep feeling that way. Look at me, I’m foreign. And I don’t ask people for money. I’m trying to sort out my life. I know some people are where they are because of drugs or alcohol; but it is difficult to be Polish and live in the UK. It is, especially now with the Government blowing everything up about the immigrants.
Karolina

I have thought about it. I think it is, after all, still the language barrier. I have been to those English classes and actually have studied for a few years. Now the government has cut the funding on many, enormously. Many places have now closed down, so I cannot go there again.
Jiao

On fairness

I’m always talking about it; decrease the gap between the richer people and the poorer people. It’s simple. The way I see it, the more I work, the more I earn, the more I’m going to get taxed. So the Council Tax for one; if we need to lower the debt, why can’t we lower the debt from some of the people who are getting paid big amounts of money? We’re all the same; we all feel the same; we all bleed the same. What’s different is where we have to really, really struggle and people who have got loads of money that don’t have to struggle? They kind of flow through life and their priorities are just what colour car they’re going to buy, and those types of things; what holiday they’re going to go on this year. Why can’t it be fairer basically? And then I think, that would get rid of the deprivation and you would probably see a lot less crime.
Brenda

On family backgrounds

I think now, when I look back, I would have liked to have gone to university. But at the time, at that age, my family didn’t have any money and I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. My Mum and Dad were separated when I was younger and, yeah I think I would have liked to have done more education and gone to university when I was still at home. I don’t think I’d be able to now. It would have been a good opportunity. But my Mum was always short of money, because she had me and my brother, and I started working when I was fourteen. We used to work after-school and weekends to help my Mum out with money. So it was more like, we had to get straight to work really to help out. University was never an option really; we had to get into work. For my daughter, I’d like her to have the opportunity of university. Even that’s more expensive now, isn’t it? But I would like her to have that opportunity. So, fingers crossed she will.
Kay

And also, one of the things that used to come up a lot with my family was ‘There’s no jobs, no opportunities for Black people in Liverpool’. They said Liverpool’s a racist city, so it was a case of ‘This is how it is’ kind of thing. They said ‘People like you, don’t try and succeed’; ‘Don’t try and push yourself because it’s pointless’; ‘There’ s only a certain level that you’ll be able to get to’. I’ve always wanted to travel, but there’s just no money to do it. I remember when I was doing a course when I was about eighteen. It was winter and the only shoes that I had were open-toed. So, I quit the course because I didn’t have the shoes to do it. I’m not saying I was poor; but it was that embarrassment thing. Sometimes I didn’t have the bus fare. So, I’d walk.
Brenda

As a child I think I missed her [mother] not coming to the school play, to watch me being an angel, and things like that. She’d always be like ‘Hurry up I’ve got to go to work’; and I’d think ‘Oh you think work’s more important than me’. She didn’t, but growing up, that’s how I felt. And I mean I do two days here [volunteering] just to try and better myself; just to try and get into a job which fits round the children. Even a dinner lady, anything, just a few hours each week.
Grace

On income inequality

I get really emotional about the inequalities. I just think of the greedy fat cats at the top. It does annoy me; but I am more compassionate about the poor people who don’t even realise the Government puts so much stress on them. I suppose it is me really as well; we are one of the richest countries in the world, aren’t we?
Sue

There was a footballer on the news this morning moaning that he doesn’t play football anymore. He is moaning because he doesn’t get the wage anymore. What he is moaning for? Driving round in these cars that we can only dream of if we drove. I don’t drive, but if we did! And the houses! I could only dream of owning a house like that.
Terri

It is unfair; it should be smaller the [pay] gap, because some people have got everything. They don’t need to think about tomorrow; what they are going to cook; what they’re going to buy; whether they’ve got money for that. People who do work, they need to have that in mind every single day. I keep thinking about the money every day. It’s such a difference between the lifestyle of these groups. The lower group and the higher group; it’s getting wider.
Karolina

On the National Minimum Wage

The Living Wage? Employers need to realise that there has been no increase in benefits, or a one percent increase, and it just doesn’t cover things. You are talking about years and years of debt and vicious circles building. I would like someone to come along and offer me a job that pays good money. Ideally, I wouldn’t want to claim benefits.
Amy

I think things need to be sort of levelled out with regards to money. I think I used the example last time of the footballers. It is a ridiculous amount of money, when there are people begging on the streets, who are trying to get a job because they have got no home and things like that. I am not saying they shouldn’t be paid a good wage. It would be nice for us all to have a wage and be able to go to the shops, and not take the calculator sort of thing. Not have to buy the value stuff because you can’t afford the non-value; you know what I mean?
Colette

On education and a ‘second chance’

Well, to be honest, I think that’s just my own fault. I did go to school, don’t get me wrong; but I didn’t do very well, and I think that’s why I’ve had to go back now. And I think to myself, ‘Well I’ m 32 now; I’ve had to go back to college, and do Maths and English again; and it’s all new to me, when I should have just got my head down at school’. But I just couldn’t then. Well, I tried my best; I just wasn’t good enough.
Denise

I think I’ve probably wasted opportunities really, and again it’s down to circumstance; things like the kids and stuff like that come along. I’ve got a good education; I’ve got a good brain in my head; I can apply myself to all sorts of things.
Carol

I left school to go into a factory where I was earning £119 a week when I was sixteen. It was a lot of money and I just saw the pounds. It was like twenty-two years ago or something, since I left school. So, even though things had changed—like the feminism-thing movement—but we were still expected to leave school, get married, have kids, bring our families up type of thing. That was always still there at that point. To be honest with you my family always encouraged me to do what I wanted to do and my Mum always worked as well as my Dad. I was thinking about it last night, how some people do always seem to work.
Amy

You can make opportunities for yourself. Once you are educated you can go on then to get a better job, a well-paid job, you know it makes a massive difference. I do think the opportunities, when you come from this area, for women was basically when you got out of school, you had children and that is what you did. You just had babies and then you just went on the dole. There was nothing else.
Ruth

It’s support; having that support. It’s where you come from; it’s who you are; it’s the difference between being a parent who can assist your children into doing whatever it is that you want them to do. I funded myself in university, but now I’m in £30,000 worth of debt, and now I’m going ‘Was it worth it?’ I could have done what I’m doing now without that; but it made me grow up and it made me understand the world a lot more than I did when I went to university. I do think that what I learnt in university should be offered anyway without those charges being put on, because it was just basically opening up the world to me.
Brenda

I think access to appropriate education is a massive one isn’t it? Certainly how you’re able to interact with those opportunities for education really can make a big difference to children. As you get older things like being able to study again or go back to re-train or keep adding things, make a big difference to the level of work, to where you fit into your career path or whatever. And sometimes it’s not that the opportunities aren’t there; it’s being able to take them up isn’t it? Money though, money’s the big one; if you can’t afford to just get by, you’re not going to be able to afford to develop.
Fiona

On opportunities for children

I think what needs to happen is more opportunities for education. They need to be available; that’s the key word, the ‘opportunities’, and being able to have the choice. When I was growing up, it was kind of like ‘What do you want to be?’ So yeah, just more opportunity for kids to go off and get a good education. Now with university fees it’s not helping anyone. The kids who are benefitting are the kids whose Mums and Dads have got loads of money to give them.
Brenda

It has to be a good education, doesn’t it? It’s having the opportunity to be able to make something of themselves. Money is going to come later on, isn’t it? You’re going to have to get a good job before the money comes into it. I think it’s what you make of it, and as long as your kids are happy and stuff like that, I think everything else is extra isn’t it? You just want to make sure your kids are getting brought up properly and they’ve got all the opportunities that you probably didn’t have when you were younger. It’s the only thing you can do, isn’t it?
Janet

I think it’s also important to be an individual as well, and show your children drive and passion and work. Maybe that stems back years from when mums never worked and that’s maybe why there’s so much unemployment in the area. They haven’t seen that side of life. I think it’s like a drive with me; I’ve always been a little bit like that. I was walking donkeys on the beach when I was twelve! I’ve done dog walking and worked in hotels when I was thirteen. I’ve always wanted my own money, and my own bit of independence; and I think that’s just normal to me. So, I want that for the kids.
Sian

I think education is very important and I don’t necessarily mean academic education. I mean you will find young people who aren’t academic, they’re never going to be academic; but they need more vocational training. I think more ‘hands-on’, more opportunities, more apprenticeships. Definitely more apprenticeships for young people. Education is very important.
Eileen

I have really pushed them, and motivated them. I mean they’re all in some type of either employment or further education. I hope they’re all career minded.
Emma

On blame

I think if you talk about fairness, it’s got to be about removing the barriers so people can achieve and do what they’re capable of, without removing safety nets for people. I suppose it’s about making sure that people see things as a society, isn’t it? What’s the quote about ‘Your society’s only as strong as the weakest people and how you look after and care for those people’. I don’t think there should be kind of anything about punishing people for being in that position, even if it’s through choice; even if they are choosing not to work and to live on benefits. It’s hardly a desirable lifestyle, so you know, as somebody who works really hard, if I get to be really successful and have to pay tax that supports other people, I don’t begrudge paying that. I would rather people who wanted to work, had the opportunity to, than trying to force people who are happy just getting by on £60 a week to do it.
Fiona

I don’t blame people who are on the dole and not working, because at the moment it seems as though they’re better off. I just think there should be more of a balance between everyone. At the moment there have been times in the last few weeks where I’ve thought ‘Am I better-off not working?’, because I feel like I’m getting penalised all the time for having to give extra money back. I just think there should be more encouragement and more help. It just doesn’t seem fair does it?
Joy

Everybody’s feeling the pinch. There are people who live off benefits and they really need those benefits; and people are getting sanctions. I really feel for them because they have got no income whatsoever once that sanction goes into place. We are struggling as well, everything is going up in price, and the benefits don’t go up to meet those needs. So the money has to come from somewhere else.
Amy

On taxes

You need to make people feel more appreciated and give them more back. Do you know what I mean? Working Tax Credits? You have got to work 24 hours, with a family of four children. I can’t physically work 24 hours to get Working Tax Credits. It’s given to you like a bonus. It isn’t a bonus if it’s needed.
Ruth

What is stopping [things] being fairer, I think is the Government by saying that people on benefits are ‘scroungers’. I’ll tell you, the biggest culprit is taxes. Billions and billions all these big companies owe, and they’re discriminating against people who they call ‘scroungers’ who are claiming benefits. No wonder they’re stressed-out going to the job centre. They say the Government’s got no money; but what about all the backhanders! They’re all part of these companies. They’ve all got something in these companies that go offshore, and owe billions. I just don’t understand. And the press, they just publish what they want us to know. It’s ridiculous.
Sian

What I would change now is for the Government to stop taking money off the welfare bill and make [two well-known telephone companies] pay their tax bills. Simple solution: £6 billion [well-known company] owed in 2010 and they cut £7 billion off the welfare. Stop taking off the poor. Does the Government want to be remembered as ‘the Government that introduced foodbanks’?
Eileen

On the NHS

You know, as a nurse, they are all saying ‘Oh it costs this much to look after alcoholics. You know what is happening now, with youth culture? So many millions, it is costing with all the alcohol problems. But why don’t they go to the alcohol companies? They don’t care do they? You know, make a healthier option and just say no more blank cheques. Yeah, and all the big companies that sell all the bloody products should be made accountable. They should pay the bill for the NHS.
Sue

We tried the other hospitals. The only hospital that had any appointments left at all was the Royal, and when I phoned up there was one appointment left between now [November] and April. In Whiston, St Cath’s, Runcorn, all the hospitals, one appointment and that’s it. It’s just not good enough. Let’s hope there’s a cancellation. But again it’s funding; that’s what it’s all down to at the end of the day isn’t it? The Government are talking about wanting us to pay for our medical care and things, and I think you’re creating a situation where we’re going to end up like America: if you haven’t got the health cover then what are you left with? Those free hospitals in America, good grief, they’re just atrocious; and it’s like the worst possible care. You can’t treat people like that, you really can’t. Just because they can’t afford to pay for the medical care. There’s something very, very wrong, you know? Poor politicians are debating about whether they should have their champagne budget cut. Dear me; what a dilemma!
Carol

On social justice

There’s so much injustice, right across the nation; it’s like where do you start? Where can you possibly tackle that sort of thing? A lot of it is attitude as well, I think, and ignorance. The Government? I don’t know what world they’re living in at the end of the day. I think they’re seriously out of touch with people.
Carol

They’re saying there’s no money and people are ‘scroungers’ and this that and the other. They’re all millionaires in their own right; and they get big expenses and jobs. How can that be justified; how? But the rich get rich and the poor get poorer.
Sian

… and finally

Things can only get better for the kids, can’t they? That’s my answer to it. I’d like to see them abolish zero hours; up minimum pay; and [have] better opportunities for kids leaving school. More apprenticeships. Life isn’t living on the dole.
Tammy

I do feel that the Government is just not in touch with us. I really do feel that. That’s the beauty of this [research] at the end of the day; and that’s where that’s going isn’t it? And I hope they do read it; and I hope it opens some eyes for them.
Carol

Notes

1 Equality Trust (2017), ‘The Scale of Economic Inequality in the UK’, https://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/scale-economic-inequality-uk

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