Monday, 13 December 2010

"You do not have enough for a minimum standard of living!"

I have always related to The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), they are a charity that funds a large, UK-wide research and development programme. They say that they seek to ‘understand the root causes of social problems, to identify ways of overcoming them, and to show how social needs can be met in practice.’ They also fund groups who work in economically deprived communities. They are a well respected charity and they have the ears of governments, social service departments and many other key agencies working in the social poverty area.

I’ve read a lot of media articles recently, based on reports funded by the JRF. These studies, written by academics, try to get into the mindset of those living on what is termed the lower end of the economic scale. All of the finished reports though, appear to be based around people’s desires rather then their real needs.

On the JRF site, you can fill in a 'poverty indicator,' if you want to find out your level of living is. 
It calculates information you key in, and tells you, based on the information, if they think you are living below the poverty threshold, and how much extra, they think you need to live on.

It’s conclusions left me bemused. I found it laughable to be honest. According to these calculations, we are living way below the poverty threshold!!

Here are what, (in their words), the indicator has calculated we ‘need’ for a proper standard of living:

“Here's what you need as a minimum now…

£21,807 per year, so that income after tax and benefits covers outgoings.

Here's your situation…

You do not have enough for a minimum standard of living.

Your outgoings exceed your income.

You need an extra: £153.01 per week.”

It informs us, amongst other things, that we ‘need’ £14.85 per week for alcohol and £64.83 per week for social/cultural activities! On my goodness, no wonder people think they are poor! Neither of us drink,apart from some elderberry home made wine at Christmas. As for social/cultural activities!! We walk in the countryside, garden, visit friends, or read books, all for free! We have a car, but in our isolated, rural location a car is a real necessity.

But we certainly don't feel poor! We eat wholesome food, have a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs. What else is needed really?

There’s an old Buddhist saying worth taking note of: ‘we need warm clothes, a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, the rest is just desire!’ Unfortunately though, many are seduced into the whole consumerist merry go round, constantly drip-fed a media diet of desire. Whenever we turn on the TV or open a paper, we are beguiled and seduced by slick marketing, constantly trying to seduce us into buying products, we could quite easily live without.

But enough is enough; it’s time to reclaim the right to be poor and proud. To show that being poor doesn't have to mean a life spent in a constant struggle of ambition to ‘better oneself,’ where one may eventually clamber out of a well of despair and toil, up, into the a desirable land of wealth. Notice that wealth is nearly always equated with happiness and contentment!

True poverty is to be found in the slums of India or the Philippines. My understanding of the term implies a state of destitution, an inability to be able to afford even the basic necessities for a healthy life. A situation which would be very difficult to emulate in this country, where state benefits are a universal right for everyone unable to work, even under the forthcoming welfare cutbacks.

Poverty is a relative term! Yes, there is a basic level, where poverty means real, grinding hardship, where, due to whatever circumstance, a person found themselves in, it would be very difficult to escape from. And compassion must be extended to anyone who finds him or her self in such situations. A mark of any civilised society is surely when all of its members alike, receive an adequate income, to feed, clothe and house themselves and their families! Far too many people face a daily existence of misery, through sometimes, insurmountable, financial problems. I do not want to belittle anyone who lives in this sort of gruelling hardship. There are still far too many who find it almost impossible to lead any kind of normal life, due to the debt trap. Yet, even here, informed choices can be made, where some of the misery can be alleviated.

It is entirely possible, if one is careful and expedient, to live a life of contentment, and well being, whilst living below the so-called poverty level. If you are able to extricate yourself, from the trap of materialism.

We are fortunate I suppose, in that we cook our own wholesome foods, and we preserve much of the produce from our large garden, we forage for wild foods and neither of us smoke or drink alcohol. We have carpentry and basic home repair skills too. We even make all of our own soap, shampoos and cleaning agents.

I pointed all of the above out in a mail to the Centre for Research in Social Policy, at Loughborough University, who conducted a recent survey for The Joseph Rowntree Trust, on Rural Poverty. I received a courteous reply from one of the team, but it left me aware that many of the indicators they use to calculate poverty levels, are based on 'desires,' not on needs: I quote from her reply:

“In their deliberations, the groups think very carefully about the difference between unnecessary consumerism and normal participation - but at the end of the day people we talked to didn't agree that all that was needed was food, clothes and shelter. They felt that it was important to be able to interact with the society around them and not feel stigmatised and this translated into items that went beyond these basic necessities. One of the key components of the definition of what kind of living standard this is meant to be is that it should be such that people have opportunities and choices – not unlimited amounts of either – but enough to feel that they can choose how to live their lives rather than to be living at a level where their choices are limited to eating or heating, for example.”

This really is utter nonsense to be frank. People’s desires have to be separated from their real needs. If anything, what poor people ‘need,’ is to be better informed as to their real needs, and to switch off the incessant conditioning that is directed at them every time they turn on a TV or open a paper.

I really do also feel deep compassion for those who need to surround themselves with a continuous supply of possessions. Who accumulate wealth, and who imagine that wealth is desirable. It really isn’t wise for anyone to be covetous of such situations though, the accumulation of wealth and its associated bedfellows of power, desire and pride, are the surest ways to keep one trapped on a permanent round of sufferings and frustrations.

By surrounding themselves with riches, people perpetuate their sufferings of attachment, fear of loss, and need for constant security to guard their possessions.


  1. £64 for cultural and social activities - I really must be deprived! I'm aiming to have nothing, to be a member of the dignified poor! I aim to be time rich, to have time to read, to sit, to look, to pray. My life is enhanced by spending less. As soon as I am debt free, I intend to work a lot less, earn less and live on less! I shall go to the library, spend time on faith activities, help others, walk outside, sit on cliff and look at the sea. It's our birthdays this weekend and due to certain reasons, we never 'celebrate' our birthdays. we have this time planned to take some packed lunch and go to north cornwall, find convenient places to stop, park the car and watch the sea boil and crash on the rocks............a bit of fuel, but otherwise nothing. I don't spend £64 on social activities in a year! Totally with you on this one John!

  2. As for the blog above, what gets me down too, is that we receive lots of unwanted presents for Christmas from relatives, who feel it's a duty to buy presents. What do you do? All I want really are warm woollen socks and a yard brush. But we'll receive piles of stuff wrapped in plastic again no doubt. Oh well we'll pass it on to the charity shops.

  3. I went into a charity shop yesterday and a Aboriginal homeless man was trying to purchase a old blanket as it's been coldish and raining outside. His Basics Card was empty of money so they would not sell him his blanket and asked him to leave.

    I was furious! I went up red faced and stated that I would pay for the inflated $8 for his blanket. An item that they got for free and could not pass on to someone who was in need? While people like me were looking for designer brands to resell on Ebay, get bargains and discounts. So corrupt, greedy and unbalanced!

    I was comfortable under the poverty line for years - partying and living the good life. I now am above the poverty line since having my daughter but choose to live under my means so that I can save, invest and retire at 50.

    I get given stuff all the time as our world is consumer focused and if people know you will take stuff they offer it to you all the time. I like stuff but it overwhelms me. But my aim is to not purchase any new stuff as I try to lead a more eco life.

  4. We have lived below the ' poverty line' since we had children 23 years ago. We have never missed a mortgage payment,have had a holiday every year even if it was a few days at a holiday camp, have run a car, and have never felt 'poor'. How have we managed? I can cook from scratch,knit,sew, bake, wallpaper,paint, grow my own fruit and veg.J is fab at DIY. We don't drink or smoke and don't feel the need to go out to expensive places to socialise.Our children grew up knowing the simple pleasures of leaf kicking in the woods in Autumn, running free along a beach, looking for shells and picnicing in the park. I guess we never felt the need to follow the herd.