On losing everything

A few weeks ago I came across an article on the Guardian website on blogger A Girl Called Jack. Fascinated, I read through the near entirety of her blog and immediately signed up to her Facebook page.

Fascinated – yes, impressed – even more so, after being plunged into poverty, of having to feed her two-year old son Weetabix with water, Jack not only shared her experience of feeding two people on ten pounds a week but also now uses her fame to campaign against poverty.

One of her commenters commends her on her courage for battling “Asituation which is by no means unique but shared by too many people of this planet.”

Vulnerability, not only a concept that much of Europe has rediscovered in its economic crises but one that shadows much of the economic progress that’s being made in the Third World, with Zambia being an example.

In Greece, UK and Spain it was taken for granted that one gets a job, enjoys the benefits of personal finances such as owning a car, being a homeowner, travelling and eventually retires with a pension to see you through until your demise. However, in a brief period this has proven to be a fallacy.

In Zambia we speak of a growing middle class. Neither rich nor poor, the middle class own cars, take holidays and shopping trips to nearby countries, do Sunday lunches at game lodges, play video games and watch 3D cinema.

However, Zambia lacks social security. The loss or illness of a main breadwinner, divorce or unemployment can spell the end of the middle class dream and the beginning of poverty. Retirement benefits are usually a relatively large but once-off payment which, if squandered or spent on something significant, say medical expenses, is gone. Furthermore, education and medical care cost money, public transport is privately owned and formal employment is the privilege of a minority of the population.

There are always those who can pull themselves out of the quagmire but as Jack says of herself “I almost have my happy ending. Almost. But hundreds of thousands of families in Britain are starving – and they don’t get a book deal, and they don’t get to roll onto the Sky News sofa and shout at politicians about how it is.” 


pia puu oksanen said...

As a Finn I remind myself occasionally that it was not long ago when Finland was war-torn country where the tenure over property was very limited especially for women. In 1950 life expectancy was 59 yrs in Lappland, 62 in Southern parts of Finland. Maternal and infant death rate was one of the highest in Europe. In the end of 1930 of all children under 1 year every tenth died. 1940 approx. 9 out of 100 nwborns died) and 4% of small children died before reaching the age of 5. Legally women had their right to vote in 1906, but until 1930 they had no right for tenure or property. Anyway, my point is that Finland was still in 1940-1950 country with significant social an legal insecurities compared to other Scandinavian countries. Development of welfare state has really made a great difference - rapidly. 2012 life expectancy is 83 yrs for finnish women and 72 for men, infant and maternal deaths hardly exist, children are healthy.

From history and statistics to individual herstory. My father was the oldest of 11 children, and his responsibility was to sell branches for brooms (pine, spruce). He went door to door, to town square, everywhere.Practically it was begging, as trees grow everywhere in Finland. My father learnt to read, but nothing more. And here I am, middle-class woman in Rastila, home-owner, strong in tenure, social(ly) secured. The question of the future of welfare state is the questions of losing everything.

Mwila Agatha Zaza said...

Thanks for sharing your family history - looking at our own lives and the lives of people we know can be quite difficult when looking at a subject like vulnerability.

Even with the relative safety of the welfare state, being unemployed or losing status can be a blow to self esteem and cause a lot of stress families - the feeling of being different, or of being a failure don't need absolute poverty to flourish