We posted this on our Facebook page this week, and the reactions of many seemed to really reinforce the point we were trying to make. Many people questioned the figures, saying the rent was too expensive (yes, yes it is, but it is what people are paying for private rental of a 2 bedroom home in the south east!), or that the food budget was too low (again, yes it is but a lot of families are trying to feed themselves on this amount or even less). We were told to move somewhere cheaper, or not to have a car, or even that people who couldn’t afford children shouldn’t have them. The responses surprised us, the fact that these were the first reactions people had, rather than anger at exploitative workplaces or the lack of affordable housing. Has the constant media “benefit porn” become so ingrained in our subconscious’ that our first instinct is to judge and criticise people stuck in the poverty trap rather than the issues that put them there?
This is an example of the finances of a working family living in private rented accommodation in the south east. It allows for only the most basic of living costs, not including clothing a family, birthday or Christmas presents, any social events or treats, or even haircuts. With 2 working parents it isn’t possible to live without tax credits. There are many vital jobs that are paid the the national living wage. Social care, childcare, retail, warehouse and factories to name a few. Many of these jobs are also zero hour contracts, providing employees with very little security. The corporations that employ thousands in this manner, such as Sports Direct, Care UK, McDonalds, Amazon and many more, make large profits for owners, shareholders and private equity firms. We need to acknowledge that for a majority of families the living wage is impossible to live on. Tax credits are not a benefit for employees but a subsidy for large profitable organisations that also aggressively avoid tax liabilities. Our system, our laws and our politics are weighted in their favour. We are encouraged by media and politicians to direct our anger at the poor because they claim benefits, or to migrants because they accept low paid work. Why? Because it creates a diversion from the real problem. A 50p per hour increase on low wages in a society that doesn’t provide enough genuine social housing, and that reduces in work benefit thresholds, achieves nothing. The system is fundamentally and deliberately broken. Until that message is received and understood by the majority, we won’t see any real change.