Saturday, 9 July 2011

JRF - could do better...


I've found the conversations challenging JRF's Minimum Income Standard hard this week - I too can live on less. In fact I can cite numerous examples of people who live on considerably less than I do and rarely complain. But that's not the point.

My greatest challenge when first working on Zero-credit came from friends in West Wales - how could a low income household, bereft of private transport, possibly access all of the creditfree assertions I was making? I confess that I was and still am humbled.

Here on my doorstep, we have seen public transport cut, through streets of elderly and infirm - the journey between towns "more efficient" without a detour for these timewasters. A twice weekly round trip to the supermarket is all that's on offer now.

Imprisoned by an imposed loyalty to goods and services, the monopoly over low income earners is complete. Without access to market or discount store, how can people shop around? 

Even greater penalties are born by the bearers of meter keys, who top up at the corner shop only to be met with a premium on other goods too. Every little helps, when value is off the shelf.

It is not simply inflated subsistence costs that drive low income into poverty. The lost opportunity of inaccessible healthcare, education and work delivers a prevalence of foodbanks where none should exist. Convenience for one imposes compromise on another.

In our failure to admit our interdependence, we find the easiest criticisms of the Minumum Income Standard: I can do better, or worse still, you do not need what I can live without. Get off your high horse!

In the depths of poverty, my teens were marked by the purchase of items no average household needs - bow ties, cummerbunds, silk hankies and shoes - investments in my father's trade as an opera singer.

Averages are not a command to blanket uniformity. They count the breadth of every experience to create a benchmark that allows us to track trends. Thus, we cannot pretend that a 20% contraction in the income perceived necessary to maintain living standards is not significant.

It may well be that, after years of credit fuelled excess, society perceives more than is necessary to achieve a minimum standard of living, but what the JRF statistics show is that if this is your opinion, you are in the minority.

Moreover, no matter how right you think you are, making others feel useless and wasteful will not change their behaviour, for just as you will not bend to their will, they will not bend to yours - and there are more of them than you!

The green community has been particularly adept at recognising our need for humility. Guided with can do alternatives, consumers convert suggestions into achievements in which all may feel proud - I changed my lightbulbs, recycled some cans. I'm doing my bit... what's next?

In the plan A or plan B of political correctness, time is running out: if we're in it together, this is global recession; and if global recession, together is precisely how up to our necks in it we are.

By telling us that a representative sample of the population believes that families need 20% more than last year to maintain living standards, the JRF Minimum Income Standards serve as an important wake up call. And I, for one, have no intention of surveying the folorn with an "I told you so". 

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