Blog of Feminist Activism

The feminist activism of charliegrrl and co

Poverty is shit

Posted by charliegrrl on February 12, 2008

I’m fed up of being poor. I’m not even the poorest of the poor in this country, but I’m still poor. And nothing has ever changed. I’ve been poor my whole life. University promises lots, but dreams of a career fail to deliver in the real world. Cos the barriers poor people face their whole life to get to uni, are still there waiting for them once they leave…along with a student loan and astronomical overdraft to repay.

What many people forget is that poverty is stressful and time consuming. It pushes you into committing crime to save money. It drains you of creativity. It is isolating and depressing.

In this country they treat poor people as criminals rather than people who they are required to help. Housing is scarce for those with little money. Applying for state benefits leaves you feeling like a worthless individual who can’t get a proper job. The whole experience of trying to survive on benefits/low wage/no wage is scary, cos when things go wrong, you realise how little help there is out there. They don’t make it easy for you, but are there ready and waiting around the corner for you when things go wrong.

When the real problem is that poverty is not an individual problem of the fecklessness of tax-robbing individuals or single mothers who can’t keep their legs shut, as they like to make out, but it is symptomatic of class inequality that this country refuses to resolve. Don’t believe the propoganda. That’s what they want. Many people fall on hard times and need financial help; many people have genuine reasons why they are unable to work. We are not criminals. Safe and suitable housing should be a human right for all. Not a privilege for those with money. Everyone deserves to be fed, have clothes on their back, to be able to live a life with dignity.

The reason for this rant is cos I’m fed up. After almost being caught twice at the weekend dodging train fares, simply because I cannot afford to pay the ridiculous train fares we have, I find out that I am under investigation for benefit fraud. Sounds bizarre but true and all for applying for assistance with my rent. They think I’m lying. Whatever, I can prove different, but do they need to haul me and my mother into the council to have interviews under caution for which we might need to pay for solicitors and lost time from work. Treating me like a criminal for just seeking help that I was entitled to for when I was unemployed. Could they not just have been nice and asked me to provide further information in support of my claim… Arsewipes.

So what are us feminists doing about poverty in this country..? I’m not sure, please enlighten me, cos things are getting really shit. Debt is crippling, rent is unaffordable, homes being repossessed, gas and electricity prices going up, food prices up, council tax is a rip off, poor kids are hurting and killing one another, but yet we blame them cos they are evil. Join a union, I hear the socialist feminists cry. Yeah I’m sure that’s gonna help. When are we going to rise up..?

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25 Responses to “Poverty is shit”

  1. Laura said

    That’s just disgusting, I’m really sorry. Train fares are also a joke. And in my privileged middle class world I don’t think I’ve even once thought about how poverty is a feminist issue. Well, I’ve thought about it a little, I know it is, but I guess I’ve never thought about doing anything much about it from a feminist perspective. I will try to. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Oh my, you’ve just scared the living crap out of me! I’m planning on going back to England, and move to London, but I’m having a hard time finding the strength. Holly CRAP! Why does life have to be so difficult when you don’t have money?

  3. Debs said

    I hear you, Charlie, we had the bailiffs round the other day, making a list of our possessions, so they know what to take if we can’t make future payments.

    Poverty is shit, you’re right, and incredibly stressful. They don’t have to be arseholes about it and treat you like a criminal just because you ask for help.

  4. Anji said

    I hear you too. I’m in the process of re-applying for housing benefit, council tax benefit and income support after being fired because of my mental health issues. This is the second time this has happened, and the third time I’ve applied (the other time was when my ex left). It fucking SUCKS.

  5. Sorry you’re going through this shit Charlie. As Laura’s just said poverty *is* a feminist issue. As far as the benefit ‘fraud’ well that’s a laugh, seeing how ‘white collar crime’ etc hardly ever gets a mention. Oh no, lets concentrate on the working class, benefit scroungers, single mums et al -rustle up a few stereotypes and then let’s scapegoat them. I hate the way that governmental agencies swoop down onto folks who often through no fault of their own fall onto hard times. The media of course just love all of this and bloat it up out of all proportion but what they forget is that anyone in their life time can fall on difficult times whether it be due to job opportunities, ill health, family breakdown whatever. We live in a relatively rich society, we have a welfare state and they need to get over it. How many people *really want* to live at poverty level or below? Not that many.

  6. Thanks everyone. Debs and Anji, I feel for you right now x

  7. Yeah, to Debs, Anji and Charlie, I’m feeling for you all.

  8. witchy-woo said

    Gods Charliegrrl (and Angie and Debs), situations like this really bring home the lack of power women have in the world of men. The majority of the world’s poor (relative to the society in which they live) are women. And the majority of the world’s poor who are blamed for their own poverty are… you guessed it.

    And you’re right – the disproportionate level of poverty experienced by gender *is* a feminist issue. This, from the Women’s Budget Group report in 2005 –
    Women’s poverty matters. It matters because of the effects on women themselves and
    because of the effects on their children.

    Personally, my worst adult experience of poverty was when I was caught in the poverty trap – earning just enough money so that I didn’t qualify for benefits yet not earning enough to bring me up to the poverty line – the recognised, acceptable standard of living. I’d have been better off on benefits. Being poor makes (mostly) women an easy target for further social outrage a la Daily Mail while also being an effective means of social control – not to mention the reality that lots of poor women face i.e. renting out their bodies for sexual ‘services’ for men. Oh, but yes, join a union and even *that’s* made somehow ok. I can’t help but ask, “for whom?”

    For years now there have been political representations regarding poverty particularly as it pertains to women – Every Child Matters being just one of them. But, actually, it pays to keep women poor. It keeps us in our place at a time when our political movement is threatening to upset the status quo. Bottom line is Money = Power so best keep us poor and powerless.

    P.S. I’m a bit of an expert wrt the benefits system – ‘fraud’ investigations included – so just email me if you need any suport/help and I’ll do what I can.

  9. NETWORK RAIL said

    TRAIN FARE DODGING YOU SAY?

    OR SHALL WE CALL THAT STEALING NOW?

    THIEF.

  10. Sofie B said

    Hey, solidarity – no one really talks about the reality of poverty driving people into depression, feeling worthless etc. I find the worst thing is not being able to budget cos I’ll never know how much I’ll earn in a week, so it’s impossible to know when I can afford to do a weekly shop or buy a pint. Good luck with fighting the benefit police.

    Joining a union doesn’t automatically alleviate anything – socialist activists are under no illusions as to union leaderships being shite, calling off strikes when they ever actually organise them, refusing to stand up against privatisation and cuts in the welfare state etc. That’s why we need a militant rank-and-file movement to put pressure on the bureaucracies, and democratise unions. And it’s also why the feminist movement needs to become a mass working-class women’s movement too – because large-scale organising and direct action gets results.

    Being fucking dirt poor, having no council housing, no benefits, no living minimum wage is WHY I’m a socialist feminist, and why I argue with feminists who don’t care about these things – there are too many in the feminist movement who don’t care about poverty or class, and don’t think defending and extending the welfare state is a women’s issue. It bloody well is when the vast majority of women in this country depend on it to live even the shit, short, alienated lives we have now!

    I know we don’t see eye-to-eye on many questions, but I hope you’ll take this comment in the spirit of genuine comradeliness and concern it’s meant it. Again, solidarity.

  11. chewitt said

    These comments are a tad harsh – train fares in this country are astronomical and you can’t blame anyone for skipping paying them . The train companies would only lose out of they had to turf people off who could pay and that never happens . Considering the way London Tranpsort treat people who all pay their fares I’m glad Charlie is getting some thing for nothing

  12. Nice of you to drop by with comradeliness Sofie.

    Tis true that many feminists are not serious about poverty and class. I think you and I probably agree on more things than you think. The reason why I was having a little dig at socialist feminism, is cos I don’t think socialist feminists, or in fact feminists generally are talking about the many issues that matter and it fustrates me. As a lass from a working class background, I’ve never met a socialist feminist who I feel I can relate to. Many talk all academic, cos class oppression is such an interesting topic to read about…and they don’t have the first clue about the reality of being poor. I don’t hear the issues of housing, fuel poverty, rise in cost of living, welfare state, being talked about. It just seems people think that joining a union and marching through the street in protest is the answer, and I don’t think it is.

    I’d like to see a working class women’s movement most definitely. I’d like to see campaigning around housing, benefts, fuel poverty, child care… I keep plotting in my head ideas but cos I’m busy and feel like a one woman band, I never do much about it outside of work. All this union talk makes my head tired. Unions aren’t my cup of tea- too many men around and I feel the rhetoric is exclusive to many workers. I’d like to see more community direct action, advocacy for vulnerable people and cheap council housing. Maybe there is stuff going on and I don’t know about it…

    We’re sitting on a time bomb at the moment, with home repossessions rising, debt rising, cheap homes being scarce and a government that washes its hands and blames the individual for their own poverty. I reckon we will see more people taking to the streets in fustration.

    I’ve read a good book recently. Was recommended by Bea from Dead Men Don’t Rape. It’s an ace book about classism and how individual women can participate in direct action to re-distribute wealth and resources to the poorest women, to subvert class oppression.

    It’s by bell hooks and is called Where we Stand: Class Matters’
    I recommend reading.

  13. polly styrene said

    Life is treating us both like shit at the moment Charlie. I HAVE a job that is reasonable, though not brilliant, but because I complained about being bullied by a line manager, they are trying to prove I am ‘mentally ill’ – which is a precursor to trying to sack me. There is an entire department where I work which was pensioned off sick because of a bullying boss. And – right wing trolls – it’s YOUR taxes that are paying for this, because I work for a public sector organisation, so that IS something to whinge about. Well they’re not going to beat me. And I know they won’t beat you either Charlie because we’re both stronger than that.

  14. Connie said

    Hi Charlie,

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a better description of what poverty is and how it affects every aspect of one’s life.

    Thank you for this post. One of the most insightful, courageous and honest pieces I’ve read on the web.

    And I’ll second what Sparkle Matrix stated. ‘How many people *really want* to live in poverty?’

    Hear, hear.

    Not one person on this planet would ever opt for poverty over having a roof over their head providing warmth and comfort, food in their stomachs providing warmth and comfort, and every person should be able to utilize the trains free of charge.

    With the obscene wealth both the USA (where I live) and England have accumulated, the tax money could easily and freely offer free transportation to all individuals.

    I think back to the English women who fought like hell in your country to be able to vote like any other man, and how much they sacrificed in their own lives.

    They were strength personified and so are all of you.

    There are not many in this world who can compare to the Englishwoman.

    You ladies are strength, determination and grace personified.

    Take care and keep up the terrific work on your site Charlie…

    Connie in California

  15. Liz said

    Hi Charlie, that’s just plain awful. The benefit people are ridiculous, they refuse help to people that really need it. I still have to fill in a form periodically for my DLA (disability living allowance) despite the fact I am going to be deaf my entire life and that will not change. I also loathe the ridiculous prices of train fares: I complained about that last year on my blog and they have continued to rise. I really don’t blame you for being so pissed about this and you have my support. Ignoring of poor people and poor women in this country (and everywhere) is really awful because we all experience money problems at some point in our lives: how debilitating must it be to have no money at all and have to fight tooth and nail to survive?

  16. Tom said

    The trade unions are still the biggest organisations of workers in the country. They are organisations that are designed to protect the interests of their members against the worst aspects of the system, but structured in such a way as to ensure that workers’ demands don’t go too far. All unions are different and have different levels of militancy depending on the trade and the area of the country. The unions are always mediating between the interets of the workers and the bosses’ interests. If the rank and file is strong and confident then the union leadership will tend to pressure the government. If the rank and file is weak then the bureaucracy will dominate and the leadership will be filled with, mostly male, careerists.

    I think it is a necessity that, where possible, we join unions and play an active role in trying to push forward progressive demands and arguing for the most militant action possible. A lot of the time it is frustrating to see the union leadership selling out the rank and file and calling off strikes and negotiating with the bosses rather than rocking the boat. Our union colleagues can be frustrating also, and can harbour reactionary sexist and racist ideas, or can be so pessimistic that it is impossible to argue anything constructive. This is where progressive people have to make a stand and set themselves apart if neccesary. People will respect you for standing up for your beliefs and being uncompromising. It will always be harder for women to be respected in any environment and the unions are no different, so I suppose it is easy for me to say. That said, women have always been at the forefront of trade unionism, the gate gourmet strikers and glasgow care workers being 2 recent examples.

    The advantage of our time is that many more people are becoming political, angry and willing to make a stand. Established professionals like teachers, civil servants, nurses, prison officers and the police are organisng strikes and militant action because they are sick of below inflation pay awards. These aren’t the poorest workers but a victory for these workers will give everyone a boost and show it is possible to fight and win.

    There is an organisation, Defend Council Housing that may be of interest to you, which campaigns for more housing to be built and for it to be brought back under the control of the local authority. If there isn’t a local branch of DCH in your area, you could call a meeting and set one up. (should be some info on the net)

  17. stormy said

    To reiterate Ms Sparkle*Matrix
    I hate the way that governmental agencies swoop down onto folks who often through no fault of their own fall onto hard times. The media of course just love all of this and bloat it up out of all proportion but what they forget is that anyone in their life time can fall on difficult times whether it be due to job opportunities, ill health, family breakdown whatever.

    It happens to many of us, especially if female. I come from a middle-class background, and I’ve been there too. Currently, I am only just ‘clawing’ my way back to an even keel. I can certainly identify with much of what you have written.

    Liz, my experience of (transcient, but frequent) deafness has been “no reason to stop you getting work”. Unfortunately, my line of work at the time required phone and people contact, and no alternatives or accomodations were supplied by employers (they just don’t bother to employ you). Deafness is certainly not fully recognised for the disability that it is (like sight problems for example).

    It all sucks.

  18. Charlotte said

    Hi Charlie,
    I’ve read your blog for a while but this is the first time I’ve commented, so hello!

    Your post is really good, and my experiences have been much the same.

    I found out about this and I thought you might be interested. I don’t really know much about it, and I won’t be able to be involved because I’m all the way up in Glasgow, but it sounds quite interesting at least! http://conventionoftheleft.org.uk/

    Best wishes,

    Charlotte x

  19. Thanks for the link, I’ll take a look. I am a bit weary of socialist, leftie stuff though cos it tends to be male dominated.

  20. Charlotte said

    Indeed it does.

    I am a socialist as well as a radical feminist, and I do very little socialist activism anymore because of certain people’s attitudes. It’s important to remember that it’s not just socialists who behave in such a way, though – it’s the same in any political party, organisation, workplace, anything really. Patriarchy sucks! Even as a dedicated feminist who is completely aware of the power structures and the way society work, it’s still incredibly difficult to be asssertive and stand up for what you believe in when you’re up against a group of men, whatever the situation you’re in is.

    Now my socialism is being called into doubt because I choose to dedicate myself to feminism instead. It’s just so irritating, more than anything.

    Anyway, thank you for your blog and your hard work – we’ve often mentioned your blog at the Glasgow Feminist Network (“Have you seen what Charliegrrl did? Let’s do that too!”)

    Good luck with your benefits situation, I hope it all goes ok!

    Charlotte x

  21. lucyc1982 said

    I feel for you Charlie. Poverty and Gender are completely intertwined. The people in power, e.g. men need to pay women less because they need us to survive. Why else would us women put up with living with annoying,lazy ass men (I have personal experience!)if we could afford to live independantly?
    So they weaken women by making them reliant on a mans second/better income. Transference doesnt begin to cover it.
    The fight for equal pay, not just in male dominated jobs but also in female dominated profesions needs to come back onto the agenda.

  22. Hilary said

    Hi Charlie,

    a post that bought a lump to my throat, a flutter in my chest and a tightning of my jaw. Poverty certainly is a feminist issue, and you’re right that a lof of leftie activism is macho and difficult to feel engaged with as a young woman. Having struggled as s student single-mum and got my (good) job ob the back of an utterly crippling stack of personal debt I have every sympathy.

    But sympathy won’t get us anywhere. We should indeed be rising up. I’m really into starting / getting involved in an activist community on poverty action – there are some great organisation campaigning for a better deal for low income families but is there a grassroots movement that can operate free from the stranglehold of parliamentary relationships??…. If you know of one, please let me know. If not, then come on!! Lets start it. Now.

    Online activism, letter-writing etc is fine, but I’d love to be using my legal education and experience and professional media skills to raise the issues in the mainstraem too.

    I think this blog is fantastic and inspiring, but I am tired of complaining to people who agree with me, I am angry and I want to start changing some attitudes. Don’t you?

    The damaging daily grind of entrenched poverty and the painful expansion of the gap between rich and poor is tearing society apart and crushing the life chances of millions of women and children in this country. You know it – I know it.

    On the benefits thing – I used to do benefits law for a job so happy to advise, but quite honestly most lawyers will tell you you need a criminal lawyer if you get a fraud investigation. Providing you have evidence you should be fine…if not, call up the Community Legal Service for details of a decent free criminal lawyer on the legal help scheme. If you let me know where abouts you are I might be able to give you some names / numbers.

    All the best Charlie. X

  23. Hilary said

    Anji,

    sorry to hear your problems re work..

    just a thought… I am working right now for an organisation campaigning on rights for those affected by mental health problems, including employment rights. If you feel like getting involved in any way let me know.

    All the best Anji X

  24. anon said

    Hey Anji – my employers just tried to make out I was mentally ill when I complained because I was stressed by my bosses behaviour. Unfortunately the independent medical examiner they sent me to didn’t agree and said there was nothing wrong with me and the problem was my managers! But if your condition was made worse by the way you were treated, you could have a claim for personal injury, also if your mental health issues count as a disability you may have been unfairly dismissed/discriminated against and be entitled to some compensation on those grounds. Unfortunately these are both areas where you’d need legal advice as they’re quite complicated areas of law but if there are any community legal services in your locality you can access I’d definitely recommend talking to them. You could contact MIND as well for general info, or the equalities commission.

  25. v said

    “As a lass from a working class background, I’ve never met a socialist feminist who I feel I can relate to.”

    Same here.

    Sorry to read about your circumstances Charliegrrl.

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