“Troubled Families” is Rich-Friendly Code for Poor Families

Poverty linked to not having any money” reported the satirical news service the Daily Mash in 2013. As often happens, many a true word is said in jest and I was reminded of this earlier this week when we were told that so-called troubled families “cost” society £30 billion.

This concept of troubled families is all of a piece with increasingly common narratives that seek to avoid addressing the root cause of poverty, namely, a lack of money in far too many people’s pockets because of our economy’s inability to distribute its largesse fairly. It is far more common these days to hear of the various symptoms of poverty as if they were the causes, rather than the cause itself which is our hopelessly unequal distribution of income and wealth. It is striking that while certain families are supposed to have cost us £30 billion, the richest 100 people acquired £40 billion last year. One could pay for the other and George Osborne could still bank £10 billion for a rainy day.

The reasons for the twisted presentation of these issues are the ancient and persistent prejudices about the poor and their supposed moral failings. While we now trust richer folk to spend their pensions how they wish we do not seem ready to put the quoted £30 billion figure in the hands of the families in question. In our moralising, patronising, and antiquated way we prefer to “spend it at them” on what they “need” rather than just allowing them them the money to spend as they see fit. I can’t help but wonder whether the money spent on the dedicated family case-workers’ salaries would be better used by giving it straight to the families?

With enough money to live on people are better insulated from the stresses of debt and the threat of ruin come the next utility bill or broken washing machine. Tensions in the house are substantially reduced and each person perhaps listens a little more to what the other person is saying. There’s a bit more time for the kids, a bit less shouting and swearing – and recourse to comfort eating, alcohol and drugs is far less likely when life is not so precarious and awful that it just has to be blocked out.

Money cannot cure all family problems but it can go a long way and it can certainly smooth off some of the jagged edges and improve the quality of social relations within and beyond the home. Having sufficient money gives people a stake in society such that they can hold their heads up high and feel a bit more like most other people. They are more likely to feel good about themselves, and others, and feel that society is working for them and so contribute to its flourishing rather than its demise.

We know the money exists to achieve all this but we need a massive shift in the distribution of income and wealth from the few that have too much to the many that don’t have enough. We need to have a society where the richest take much less of the pie and far more is paid out in decent wages to those on decent contracts. Along the way, it also means junking the poisonous old attitudes towards poverty and killing off, once and for all, the vile notion of the deserving and undeserving poor.

Bill Kerry, Supporters & Local Groups Manager.