This morning, ITV's Good Morning Britain launched its Meal Appeal. It calls on Britons to donate to foodbanks, saying: "Redundancy, illness, domestic violence, family breakdown and debt are just some of the reasons people go hungry." It didn't mention poverty but featured interviews with one person who is out of work due to ill-health and another who is forced to beg for hand-outs from a foodbank because he's caring for his wife. Isn't anyone asking where our taxes are going if the safety net's not there for those at the seemingly palatable end of welfare dependency?
By comparison, the trailers for Channel 4's forthcoming Skint programme looks set to add fuel to the fire of hatred against claimants, this time in Grimsby, where producers have been accused of promising fame to people involved in what sounds like particularly malicious exploitation.
These examples of how the media addresses issues, that are fundamentally about poverty, show how coverage will be handled about people forced to go cold this Winter. Older people will, as is traditional, be the victims of greedy corporates. Working age people not in full-time work will be presented as irresponsible, debt-ridden, nihilistic drinkers. Cameras will zoom in on cans of high strength booze (the cheapest on the market) and mould on the walls of their council houses.
Documentary narrators will not raise the issue of poor housing and increasing rents, or point out that to keep a home warm (or warmer) by keeping windows tight shut only leads to damp caused by condensation. They won't dig into the culture of an underclass that mainstream society has not only turned its back on but tangibly set upon. Like the satirical chat show host in The Hunger Games, the well-spoken voice-over artist won't contemplate how programmes like this are a stage from which benefit claimants can flick the Vs at polite society - a bit like punk but less self-aware. It's all self-defeating, of course, and adds fuel to the fire of prejudice against them.
Our research found more than half of people on low incomes will go cold this Winter for fear of their bills next Spring. For some reason, fuel poverty is more familiar territory than the sociology of class hatred these days and we steer clear of both when it comes to talking to our readers. We focus instead on 'bill busting' when talking to the people affected and 'good practice' when talking to professionals in the field.
There is well-established path in this neck of the woods: Cold Weather Payments and other schemes to signpost people to; What we respectfully call 'old wisdom' in drawing on what our grandparents, (grandmothers, probably), would have done - wrapping up in layers and stuffing socks full of old stockings to keep drafts from under doors; Then ways to keep bills low by switching everything off, keeping fridge doors shut and water levels in kettles low. It's not rocket science but as Tesco would say, 'every little helps', (which it does, by the way, because Good Morning Britain is urging its viewers to go shop at Tesco to donate to foodbanks).
But like with the fit and fed agenda, we've taken sideways steps to think about the psychology of why people are literally dying to save money through the Winter. People are kind of choosing death over debt and I can't help wondering if efforts to promote financial capability has made snuffing it the lesser of two evils. Without meaning to, of course. But let's not forget that the point of the exercise is to free up people's lives not end them altogether.
Of course we should applaud people who cut back to make ends meet. It is the essence of good financial management. We wish more people would do it but we're usually speaking about forsaking Sky telly for freeview, not food and warmth. I think we keep talking about helping people manage their money better but at the risk of overlooking that for many, there is no money to manage. It's time for debt advisors, the Money Advice Service and the likes of us at the Social Publishing Project to start shouting back up the line about poverty as much as good money management down the line towards people with nothing. For many, there is no belt left to tighten.
Politicians and the media have a lot to answer for. Politicians feed us sounds bites to lead agendas the way headlines feed into a good story for the papers. They are such a blunt instrument. Like Twitter. Can't MPs be prosecuted for 'trolling' whole groups of society?
Post the recession, instead of turning on the banks and corporate tax-dodgers, our leaders gave us: Carers and ill people (the acceptable poor) forced to turn to foodbanks; People's poverty and their gritty lives turned into ratings-chasing docu-soaps (the unacceptable poor); People dying to save money (the noble poor). One way or another, we chose the Government but I don't believe this is what we voted for.