So. According to super-wealthy, multi-millionaire business tycoon Lord Alan Sugar there is no such thing as real poverty in Great Britain any longer. Not the type of poverty that existed when he was growing up anyway.
And he bases his ascertations on the fact that poorer people now have enough money to own mobile phones, computers, televisions and microwaves which they didn’t have when he was growing up in the East End, sixty-five years ago. Allow me to let you into a surprising secret Lord Sugar – people didn’t have those things when you were growing up because they hadn’t been invented.
But, I’m being trite, what you are actually saying, I think, is that for the people who were deemed to be in real poverty when you were growing up had far fewer material possessions than poorer people do now. You are saying that people then really had far fewer opportunities to get out of the extreme poverty trap than we do today.
I think your problem, Lord Sugar, is that you are looking at things the wrong way. You are looking at things that are necessities nowadays as luxuries.
Firstly, let me point out that when you were growing up the welfare state did not exist so poorer people were not reliant on state support. That is something that has changed for the better. The welfare state is there and should, in theory, mean that poorer people now at least have access to the money they need to be able to survive. The problem is, if you are someone who needs to receive welfare payments then you also have to have access to some of the things that Lord Sugar calls luxuries to be able to get them.
Firstly, if you are someone who needs to apply for state support then you have to be able to make that application. The only way to do this nowadays is online. That means that, in order to get the money you need to live and to support your family, you must have access to a computer and an internet connection. You can either get your own computer and pay for broadband, or you can go to the jobcentre and queue up to book to use a computer there or you can go to an internet cafe or the local library. The problem there is that the queue at the jobcentre is lengthy and it’s only open during office hours, an internet cafe costs money you don’t have and you don’t get the privacy you need and many local libraries are now being closed due to council cutbacks. There is no real option but to get your own computer and have access to the internet. Not that expensive though, from a popular high street catalogue store you can buy an internet ready laptop for less than £150. Not bad.
Once you are receiving welfare benefits then you will definitely need that computer and internet access. If you are doing what the Government demands, and you are looking for work, you won’t be able to do it without being able to access that computer Lord Sugar sees as a luxury. Most job applications are made online and access to email is almost a prerequisite for everything. If you don’t have a computer or, at least, regular and reliable access to one, then you are stuck. No computer, no benefits, no money, extreme poverty.
Lord Sugar also considers having a mobile phone to be a luxury. Not really. Not any more. If you are applying for jobs, as the benefits system requires you to do, employers will need to be able to contact you in order to invite you in for face-to-face interviews or conduct telephone interviews with you. In order for them to be able to do this then you must have a phone. A mobile is a lot cheaper than a landline, and has the benefit of being a form of communication you can have with you all the time. It is perfectly possible to pick up a pay-as-you-go mobile for less than £10 and you can buy credit for as little as £10 too. £20 in total is not much and, in my book, can hardly be classed as a luxury.
Then there is that extreme luxury. The microwave. Well, cooking food is a necessity. Without food you will die. You need an oven and hob or a microwave or a grate with an open fire. If you opt for an oven and hob then, as well as the equipment, you will need to pay for the gas or electricity you will need to power it. Very expensive these days. If you want to try the real fire option, then, apart from the damage you will be doing to the environment and the obvious safety aspect, you will need to live in a house with a grate and a chimney. These days, most homes do not have either. Cooking on a real fire therefore is not really a viable option for most people.
So, we come to Lord Sugar’s decadent luxury, the microwave. The cheapest microwave currently available from the same store as the laptop is £34.99. That, in my book, is hardly expensive. It is, in fact, a very cheap option. Microwave cooking may not be the best possible way to provide a larger family with decent, nutritious cooked food but its better than nothing and it is hardly something only the rich should be able to afford. I do remember when a microwave was expensive and could be considered to be luxurious but that was years ago when I was a child, not now. Now, a microwave is almost a throw-away commodity they are so cheap.
Essentially Lord Sugar, what I am saying, is shut up unless you know what you are talking about. If you really want to see something done to help poorer people stop spouting nonsense about luxuries that are no longer luxurious. Why not start using some the millions you have in your bank accounts to help poorer people to live. Create some more employment opportunities for people within your businesses. Make sure your employees are receiving the living wage. Help the people who are trying to help themselves. Stop criticising us for trying to live as best we can. Support disabled people who are unable to go out to work and support themselves. Help children that don’t have proper, cooked food every day to get what they should have. Look after older people who are left alone in badly heated homes day after day. Use you money for good and encourage other millionaires to do the same thing. All that money won’t mean you live any longer yourself but it may help people in extreme poverty to just live. Stop talking about luxuries and start working on the necessities. You could do so much to help, why not begin today.