A couple of years ago, one of the online papers, or it may have been the BBC, ran a little questionnaire that was supposed to determine what class you belonged to. I filled it in, for fun. The result? Precariat. Despite being financially sound, educated to postgraduate level, and expressing an interest in those areas weighted to send you hurtling towards middle-class, I was declared one of the precariat. The reason was, I’m sure, because my wife and I are tenants. Apparently, living in rented social housing, presents quite a barrier to social mobility. Being a tenant, not a home owner, or rather, home buyer (you don’t actually own your home until you’ve made the final mortgage payment – just try missing a couple of months) is a big negative, because of the precarious position a tenant finds him/herself in. The roof over your head could vanish at any time. People like us are living on a knife edge! No, not really.
I have endured poverty, and it scars for life, but no matter how low you go, it’s possible to witness someone enduring far greater hardship than you can ever imagine.
Back in the 70s, I knew a couple who had a young family. They were tenants. He worked, really hard, for peanuts. She kept the house scrupulously clean. The few sticks of furniture they owned, neatly arranged on a bare floor. Little piles of money on the sideboard, each sat on a slip of paper with the creditor’s name hand printed on it. These people were proud. Their children were well dressed and spotless. Back then I thought the world could only get better. That in the years to come, no one would have to live on the breadline again. But in Britain, 2017, people are not just living on the breadline, they are actually becoming malnourished and sick for want of food. The finger pointing continues, while families, many of them in work, suffer for want of basic sustenance. These are the people who are truly living precarious lives. Although the last thing on their minds is a nagging doubt about which class they belong to. They just want food on the table, thank you very much.
Next week, I start volunteering at the local Food Bank. It’s a small contribution, on my part. But hopefully I can help to make a difference in some small way. Of course, Food Banks should never exist in a healthy, morally conscious society. But they do; and they will continue to exist in a culture of self-obsession and false classification. Not to mention the general unwillingness to acknowledge the fine line between comfort and privation that can be crossed by any one of us, at any time.