“Did you know that the worldwide food shortage that threatens up to five hundred million children could be alleviated at the cost of only one day, only ONE day, of modern warfare.”

Peter Ustinov
Actor, writer and director (1921-2004)

Do you ever wonder when you hear about the poor or underprivileged at home, what it actually means in relationship to the world’s population as a whole?

What I’m trying to get at (I think) is that our view of poverty is benchmarked against the average wealth of the surrounding society. In many societies poverty is so ingrained, so intense that it’s almost in the blood.

In Africa for example: one in six African children dies before the age of five (source: World Vision). Nearly 2 million children under 14 years old are HIV positive (source: WHO). 43% of children in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have safe, accessible drinking water (source: UNICEF).

Now that’s poverty, isn’t it? Agreed, it’s poverty more often than not born of corruption, greed and mismanagement. For Africa, let’s face it, could be one of the richest continents in the world. Instead it is one of the poorest.

Mr. Amoakohene Dennis, of Ghana has this to say on the subject:

“All the ministers and those in the higher positions have swimming pools in their homes. They waste water, whereas the poor people don’t even have access to clean drinking water..”

In the UK we tend to talk about poverty in terms of income:

“Over the last decade, the poorest tenth of the population have, on average, seen a fall in their real incomes after deducting housing costs. In other words, after adjusting for inflation, their incomes are, on average, slightly lower than a decade ago. This is in sharp contrast with the rest of the income distribution, which, on average, has seen substantial rises in their real incomes.”

This might be another way of saying the rich get richer, the poor poorer?

But what does this poverty mean in the UK? Well, according to the UK Poverty Site:

“Many people on low incomes say that they cannot afford selected essential items or activities – but so do quite a lot of people on average incomes; regular holidays are by far the most common ‘essential’ item that children in low-income households lack because their parents say that they cannot afford them; the essential items that are mostly commonly lacking are those which are directly money-related.”

The report then goes on to itemise select “essential items”:

Possessing two pairs of all weather shoes for each adult (as opposed to one pair).
Hobby Activities.
Having friends round for a drink each month.
Holidays away from home one per year.
Money to spend on yourself as opposed to the family.
Being able to afford house contents insurance.
Money for the maintenance of home, internal and external.

(see HERE)

“The UK has a higher proportion of its children living in workless households than any other EU country. It is almost twice that of both the EU average and that in France and Germany.”

We are talking about 1.9 million children in total, two thirds of which are in lone parent households. Nine out of ten lone parent families are headed by women, and nearly half of lone mothers are single (never been married).

The Housing Act, places a statutory duty on local authorities to provide assistance to people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness and fall within a priority need group. Included in these priority need groups are pregnant women and people with dependent children. Consequently homeless families, including lone parents, are considered one of the highest priority groups for social housing.

Of the 15,000 households in England accepted as homeless in the first quarter of 2008, half were lone parent households. Of these, 46 per cent were headed by a female and 4 per cent by a male. In the same period in England, 45 per cent of households in temporary accommodation were female lone parent households with dependent children (Source: General Household Survey (Longitudinal), Office for National Statistics; Communities and Local Government).

There is a body of anecdotal evidence in the UK to suggest that a number of single mothers conceived in order to obtain housing and improved state benefits…can that possibly be true, do you think?

So then I read THIS and while I sympathise (I really do), I have to say it’s easy to see why the Aussies nicknamed us “Whinging Poms”. There is in the UK this attitude that Government (really the tax payer) should sort out all life’s problems. Years ago as a young man with a wife and one child, there were NO benefits. No child benefit (it started with a second child in those days). No statutory duty on local authorities to provide a roof over our heads. Nothing. You worked. You paid your way. No credit cards. There was HP (hire purchase) which was too expensive. No housing credits or benefits.

I was lucky I guess because there was work about. I did one fulltime job and two part time jobs, one in the early hours of the morning cleaning in the local school; the other in the evening five nights per week, 7pm to 11pm, with a local pub.

Obviously, there was no minimum wage back then; you were paid what the boss felt you were worth (never a lot as it happens). And I didn’t get to spend a huge amount of time with my family. But I didn’t think of myself as poor – just not well off. Nor did I whinge because I felt the world owed me a bloody living. It didn’t and I accepted that. I stood on my own two feet, owing nothing to nobody.

But time has changed this. We seem to have produced a society that thinks it’s hard done by…

“This isn’t sink or swim economics. I don’t have the choice of sinking. I exist. And so does my daughter. But I don’t have the choice to swim either. If I work, I am in poverty. If I can get work. If I don’t, I am in poverty. My daughter is in poverty. Unless she goes to live with her dad. The poverty could be eased by moving away from the community we are part of, or finding a relationship which will bring financial security.”

Welcome to the real world. One wonders how much daddy contributes to this single parent family? If nothing, why not? And it may come as a bit of a shock but a vast number of people have to cope with this sort of situation – and far worse.

“The only difference between a single mother, and a married one, is a partner. Another adult to earn money, or take responsibility for some of the domestic.”

Exactly. So daddy should put his hand in his pocket and help pay his child’s way. This isn’t poverty. This is Life. And yes, it isn’t easy. In fact it can be bloody hard.

But poverty, to my mind, is where people have to survive on a dollar or less a day, where many children starve or die because of easily treatable diseases, where every year more than six million children die from malnutrition before their fifth birthday…

As young parents my wife left her work to look after our child – so we effectively became a single parent family (as far as income is concerned). The huge initial reduction in income coupled with a robust increase in outgoings wasn’t easy to manage, or afford. But we scraped by, as did everyone else. Children grow up. With luck, life eventually becomes a little easier…

Without wishing to denigrate those living on or near the “poverty line” in the UK, I can’t help but feel many of those Africans who are busy burying their dead children or worrying about where their next meal is coming from, might look on their UK counterparts with intense envy…

In fact Our World might be Their idea of Heaven?

Back Home

July 31, 2010

Home again, home again, clickerty click…

Zell am See

So, I’ve returned from my travels – and with a tan! After some weeks, of at times torrential rain (or so I was told), Austria found itself at the heart of a mini-heatwave which coincided with Peedeel’s arrival there…



July 12, 2010

Peedeel is off on a short holiday to Austria – Zell-am-See, Salzburg, Hallstatt and Bad Ischl are on the itinerary…ah! walking in the Salzkammergut in bright Austrian sunshine! That’s just what I need!

See you all soon.


July 12, 2010

The house is empty now,
Nothing left that bears your name –
Only household ghosts remain,
Allowing us to feel in touch.
Footprints of furniture
Mark out the space of daily life;
Shadows left by picture frames
And shading, like the faintest bruise,
Where fingers searched for switch and light,
Are all that’s left to mark your stay.
But outside, where your flowers bloom,
The planting brings you back to life:
A shadow toiling in the shade,
A smiled “goodbye” in fading light.

Patrick Osada

Titling Shadows

July 8, 2010

The church is on the other side
of the estuary being beautiful
may not save it.

I went there once
with the children
the day full of sun and chat

though something happened.
Gone now, the man’s dead,
anyway I never knew him.

Today the mud is bared,
the sea out
the boats tied and tilting

as if they might sink at high tide
instead of rising as they did yesterday
and Thursday and the day before.

The season’s done and the inevitability
of winter is honed in the fresh winds,
the late sun.

Inside the tidy school – quiet.
Our children safe?

Nowhere is –
not the estuary mud or the fields
by the church, even the lanes
are haunted

and each day we wait breathless
for the rattle of the gate, the child’s shout,
‘I’m home! I’m home!’.

Solar-powered flight – test pilot Andre Borschberg flew the aircraft from Payerne airfield in Switzerland this morning and is aiming to achieve an altitude of approx. 28,000 feet – and may fly all through the night, conditions permitting (this following on from the short flight earlier this year).

Very exciting news. See HERE. And more HERE.