Pushed For

I hope I’m able to explain what I mean without causing offence to struggling individuals. I’m focussing on the poverty line in Britain mainly, or other similarly wealthy states. And in no way am I trying to trivialise the problem of poverty, or suggest that it doesn’t exist. I do hope to show that money is not the answer.

Money hasn't been a huge issue for me, but I haven’t always had a decent standard of living. I recall a number of factors that caused me to have a fairly low standard of living (relatively speaking, but even so) while I was growing up. 1. I didn’t keep myself clean. My own fault? Maybe so, I’m not assigning blame, but not looking after your personal hygiene is enough alone to create a low standard of living. 2. I didn’t eat properly. I ate a bag of crisps or two for brunch, threw my apple and sandwich in the bin (I have no excuse for this appalling behaviour, I just didn't want what I was given.) And then if I could afford it (which I rarely could) chips after school. I barely touched my dinner. 3. I didn’t sleep. Whilst at college I slept on average 2/3 nightmarish hours a night. The rest was spent sweating and stressing about problems. 4. For no clear reason whatsoever I didn't drink enough fluids and so was dehydrated a lot of the time. 5. It sounds ridiculous but I didn't have the wherewithal to put on an extra layer of clothing in the winter and so was, to top it off, cold during the cooler seasons. Life was pretty unpleasant. No, let's be realistic about those days - they were very unpleasant. But everything I needed was there. A bit like the availability of time at university; plenty of students have an abundance of time, and yet the vast majority of them (in my experience) spend nothing like the expected amount of time on study. I hesitate to write this, but from first hand experience that’s the way it is.

Here’s an example to put the issue of money versus wealth in perspective: imagine that you yourself are in possession of a high number of trade skills. You are a builder, an electrician, a plumber, a carpenter and a chef, and, crucially, let’s assume you are efficient and well-organised. Illogically, but for argument's sake, you are out of work, but there is a welfare system and you are in receipt of a low income. So long as you have the raw materials and tools, most of the issues that face those on the poverty line are not going to be an issue for you. You would hardly ever have to pay out for someone to sort your electrics or mend a busted pipe, buy furniture or feel the need to dine out regularly. You would be able to have a decent standard of living in a well-maintained home, eat well, and live in relative comfort. Many on a high income would not live nearly so well. Someone on a high income can live in squalor, never clean, eat junk food all the time, forget to call out someone to fix the electrics/plumbing, never bother to buy new clothes or furniture and generally let their home environment fall apart. To make a direct comparison, this may be exactly the situation for someone at university. Or in contrast, by the time I was at university (for the second time to be specific) I was cooking experimentally and healthily, sleeping well and looking after myself in general. I had enough money, but not a huge amount, I still had to borrow, but more importantly the basics were catered for so my standard of living was reasonable. Not expensive, just decent. I didn’t have any trades, but I didn’t have too many hang-ups about organising my life (my emotional health was okay too - which was a bonus, and an assumption here, but that is not the focus of this discussion (although throwing money at emotional problems won't solve them either.))

I’m going to interrupt the subject with a short piece of advice on study. At college (16) I had a terrible time with study, all my essays were late and I was more or less constantly rigid with fear about them. At university (aged 24) I enjoyed study enormously, lectures, seminars and all, and gave in almost every essay on time (having enjoyed writing them). The difference: when I was younger I stressed about it. When I went to university for the second time I had learnt my lesson, and I only ever studied when I felt like it. That’s my short piece of advice. Perhaps it only works for me; all I can say is, if stressing is not solving your study problems, give it up (the stressing).

Back to the topic in hand. I'm not saying poverty doesn't really exist. What I’m saying is that I have had experience of a low standard of living, and it had very little to do with money. If I'd been given an extra £100 a week my living standards wouldn't have improved! My standard of living is directly related to the organisation of my physical circumstances. During the first year of university at the age of 18 I lived in a ‘shoebox’ of a bedroom, but I kept it, though I say so myself, in excellent order, clean and tidy, and cooked good food. That’s a large part of the reason my standard of living was OK.

Clearly, I am on the side of training being one of the answers to the problem of poverty, since it is a first-hand way of alleviating the difficulties that face the impoverished, those factors adverse to living conditions in general. Money isn’t a special commodity that summons up magical spirits to make poverty disappear. Poverty, in my view, is directly related to the effective application of skills in specific trades, such as those mentioned earlier, by oneself or by a professional. So long as someone can afford to call out electricians/plumbers etc. (which is one hurdle of course) being organised is the real task. Meanwhile, even more important factors such as cooking and cleaning, personal hygiene, sleep and exercise are what keep us healthy. I am suggesting how money for the impoverished may be as plentiful as time is for many students, but that doesn’t mean it will improve living standards, or that an essay will get finished/started.

I am certainly not saying it isn't difficult, or that some people don’t struggle to pay the bills, I am talking about the poverty line – nobody knows precisely where that line is, but I am assuming it is constituted by living standards which severely adversely affect the health of the individual. Neither am I saying being organised comes naturally to everyone, and I have a fair share of disorganisation in my life. What I am saying is that you don’t need to be rich to have a decent basic standard of living, just as you don’t have to be poor to have a low standard of living. And it goes without saying - you don’t have to be pushed for time to hand an essay in late.




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