Saturday, 8 August 2009

How the Other Half Live Part 2 Review

All quiet again on the Clackmannanshire front. Little niece must have been a bit worried to come out with the hyper twinkle twinkle display she got last night. Did I tell you that my nephew now perfectly sings 3 German songs? That's about to draw with Cubling, just that I'm not actually trying to teach him any German. He'll even tell me now when I speak German, argh, that boy is too clever for his own good!

Anyway, on Thursday night I watched the second installment of How the Other Half Live. Again I was torn whether the benefit of highlighting what child poverty in the UK actually means outweighed the cringing implications made in the programme. This time, the poor family was a working family, thus demonstrating that even if you have a job, you may not be able to meet the cost of living without letting your kids and yourself seriously go without. Again it was an ever so nice family.

The rich family at one point criticised what their sponsorship of 2000 quid had been spent on, and of course the poor family, happy to comply in the hope of more dosh from Mr and Mrs Rich, took the criticism on board and apologised again and again. Argh. For goodness sake, it wasn't that bad a choice (the woman got herself a computer rather than clothes for the kids, the computer was for her own business, so could have made the family money) and we're back to the argument who knows better. Rich family who don't know the start of what it means to live in poverty, or poor family who for once have the chance for a treat rather than pay of debts and let money slip away on bills.

The joint holiday made the poor kids long for the better life, and made them miserable going back to their council flat. What benefit was that holiday to those boys? Are they looking down on themselves now, on their parents? Do they see themselves in rich boys' eyes rather than accepting the life they lead to some extent and getting on with it as best as possible? I don't doubt the benefit to the rich kids in meeting their poorer nemesis, it can only do them good to realise how lucky they are and that their lifestyle is not something that can ever be taken for granted. But the benefit for the poor kids? I just don't see it.

Again I found the concept of sponsorship humiliating, and the reaction of the family ("I'm not proud to take the money, but if it's about your family, you sometimes have to swallow your pride) just underlined that. Getting to know each other also seemed to serve mainly the rich kids, an educational activity, no more than that. Then there's the issue of the money transfer. The amounts are peanuts for the designer clad family with three holiday homes, while for the poor family it's an amount they haven't held in their hands in a very long time. Does this demonstrate the shocking income gap? Does anyone, as a consequence, question the rightfulness of this? I fear not.

Research has shown that we are generally engaging in positive stereotyping of the rich (they did something to get there, it's deserved, they probably have lots of responsibility etc) while we generally engage in negative stereotyping of the poor (there are opportunities out there if you only try, they are lazy, they don't try). This episode never questioned the rightfulness of the ridiculous wealth of Mr and Mrs Rich while it criticised the spend on a computer of Mrs Poor, effectively looking down on her. The older poor child adored the rich lifestyle while the rich kid came to the conclusion that he'd be very depressed having to live like his counterpart (what an insight). Negative stereotyping of the poor and positive stereotyping of the rich was thus continued and perpetuated, which doesn't exactly help change attitudes in the long run.

What I would hope for is for the third episode to step up and expose the growing income inequality in the UK as a systemic issue. According to some (The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better
), the growing income inequality in this country results in a lot of social malaise, and is actually to blame for high crime, high rates of drug and alcohol addition, poor health and low life expectancy. Tackling income inequality needs public support because only with it can there be policy change (which in my mind includes a total rethink of our taxation system) and I just don't see that it's there even as a seed of change.

Right, and to get my health on the right track, I'm off for a jog.

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