20 Feb 2014

The price of a second chance

Listen to noises from government and media alike, and you could easily come to think that hardworking people, and poor people, are two separate groups. Hardworking people are good, virtuous and to be commended, while poor people are lazy and manage their money badly which is why they are in this mess in the first place. It’s a very deceptive style of talking. For a start, a lot of benefit money goes to pensioners, and in-work poverty is widespread. Hard work and wealth do not neatly go together.

What is most worrying is the way this rhetoric creates the illusion that if we work hard, it won’t happen to us. If we are protecting ourselves from the dangers of poverty, then we don’t need to feel so sympathetic about those other people, who are not wise of careful or responsible enough to do what we are doing.
However, it is worth considering that most disabled people are not that way from birth, but become ill or injured to a degree of being unable to work. That can happen to any of us, no matter how careful we are. It has rather a lot to do with luck, or random chance.

Do you get the pay rise, or the sack? This is a matter of luck, not judgement usually. Does the effort you put in make or break whether your company thrives or fails? Usually the answer is no. If you’re a regular person, employed by a company, then its viability does not come down to your personal efforts, and no matter how good, how diligent and hard working you are, if your firm goes bust, you are out of a job.

This has been the size of it for a lot of people in the UK. The recession has cost jobs, and the shrinking economy puts pressure on those that remain, and round we go in slowly decreasing circles that make life harder for the majority of us. Those who were closest to the edges are the first to be pushed out into unviable situations. The longer we suffer hard economic times, the more people are pushed out to the edges. With interest rates at rock bottom, savings do not increase in value to keep ahead  of inflation, while rents and housing prices accelerate. Even people who made wise and careful choices over a lot of years can find themselves in trouble due to simple bad luck and the impact of the struggling economy.

It is a terrifying thought that most of us are really vulnerable. Many of us would get into debt or difficulty very quickly if our circumstances changed beyond our control. Too many people are a big car bill, a fuel prices hike, a cut in hours away from disaster. We all need the safety net of knowing that if things get totally beyond our control, help will be available.

It’s not a one way street, either. JK Rowling has been explicit that, without the support of the benefits system, she would not have been able to have her amazing career. She’s been distinctly good for the economy. I personally know of quite a few examples of people who have fallen on hard times, survived and gone on to build a new and better life. There’s Jack Monroe as a good current example, too.

We are all of us worth taking care of. We all deserve some safety net in case we are floored by situations beyond our control. Some of us, if given the time and space to get up again, will  not just get up, but get up and go on to do brilliant, inspiring things that make the world a better place. If we leave people who have fallen down in the gutter, the chances are they will never be able to get up. If we recognise that this could happen to any of us, and that we’d all want that help and therefore shouldn’t begrudge it to others, we can help each other achieve more, in all kinds of ways.  

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