(edit: I should advise this is a brain-dump, rather than a cohesive blog post with a definite point to make. Take from it what you will.)
I’ve been reading A Good Childhood, the published results of the inquiry commissioned by The Children’s Society in 2006. It made lots of headlines a few weeks back – the usual tabloid misrepresentation and oversimplification, most of it picking out half a sentence which appeared to blame working and single mothers for the shambolic state of the world today. The usual thing. I hope working mothers (a bizarre term in itself – are there mothers that don’t work?) are used to it by now, and can shrug it off as the misogynistic rubbish it is.
Anyway, it clarified something for me, in a bad way.
A few months before this report was published, I started seeing adverts on the side of buses, stating that “3 in 10 children in the UK live in poverty”. I, along with many others, I suspect, found this quite shocking. But, being as I am ever distrustful of shocking figures peddled by any media, I went home and did the maths. I was then even more shocked to find out that two of those three children were mine. Hmm. But we don’t live in “poverty”; we have food to eat, a roof over our heads, clothes to wear, a good education, many and varied leisure activities… somone’s manipulating the statistics, and demeaning what the word “poverty” really means. I thought. I even had the opportunity to have a good old rant on some internet forums with people who felt as disgusted as myself.
I’ve read the report now, and I understand. It is not poverty they’re exposing, it is inequality.
“In European countries a person is defined as poor if they have below 60% of the typical (median) level of income. This is, as it should be, a relative concept – it shows just how far you are from enjoying the things that other people’s children take for granted. In Britain 22% of our children are living in this type of poverty.” (A Good Childhood, chapter 8.)
We all know (don’t we?) how much children want to be like their friends. Dress like their friends. Go places that their friends go. I understand now, what they mean when they say “poor”. It means going beyond the feelings of ‘but there are people in India much worse off than us’ and embracing the feeling that ‘but in this country, at this time, with all that we have, our children should not be subject to this.’
On most of the other counts (Family, Friends, Values, Schooling, Mental Health), my kids come out with top marks, so I guess that should make me happy. We chose a single income lifestyle, so that one of us could be at home with the children. Our happy, secure, well educated children. But in this world of “relative concepts”, there will always be those with more. More shoes, more holidays, more freedom… Always those desires that gnaw at our subconscious. I still don’t know what’s right. I suppose it is the lot of a mother to be constantly aware of what she can give her children, and what she can’t.
So next time someone disses “working mothers” – those who work to pay the bills, and provide for their children – I may just have to vent my outrage in a rather physical way.