Are we to blame for our own Poverty? [A Response to my vlog]

So a couple of haters (they’re actually friends of mine, but it’s more exciting to call them haters) have written a blog on which responded to my recent vlog:


(This is a joint blog post by [@fifi_ldn] and Bennett. Bennett is currently teaching A-Level economics in Switzerland, you can find him on Linkedin)

In the UK, an increasing number of people are finding themselves living under financial stress, exhausted from juggling multiple jobs, and relying on food banks. Is the coalition’s austerity measures to blame? Or is it rather the product of a lazy mentality, unhealthy attitude and overall poor decision making?

Ely, our good friend and vlogger, raised the point that sometimes, too much blame is placed on “the system” and not enough emphasis is placed on individual responsibility. It’s true; ultimately we each are responsible for what we make of life. No matter how unequal and “evil” the system is, our individual efforts and talents help us to achieve the most out of life as possible. But realistically, to what extent is it true that “the hard work and effort that people put into life, is what they get out”?

We are not born equals. Some find themselves, through no fault of their own, placed at a great disadvantage in the battle of life right from the onset. Even in more economically developed countries, such as the UK, many continue to find themselves in poverty. Why? Because whether we like it or not, a lot of what people earn is down to ‘luck’ and entirely beyond individual control.

For example, growing up in a poverty-striken neighbourhood to parents who also had disadvantaged childhoods, is simply a matter of fate. Less privileged individuals in society are statistically more likely to be a teenage parent, develop a mental illness, and perform worse educationally, to name a few unfavorable examples. Also, although many work extremely hard to move out of this poverty cycle, they’re still hindered and continuously discriminated against in terms of career progression, getting on the property ladder and even within the criminal justice system where there is clearly an unequal enforcement of the law.

A more privileged person, on the other hand, will face fewer obstacles when climbing up the social ladder. For instance, some people are born into a family able to afford an expensive education, consequently guaranteeing them a well paid job, and equipping them with the personal connections required to “get you places” *wink wink*. Not to mention the accents and attitudes acquired only in these exclusive ‘subcultures’, which most underprivileged individuals are prevented access to and sometimes unfairly discriminated against for having the “wrong” characteristics.

Although, there are the odd exceptional cases where a few manage to escape the poverty cycle, its probably less to do with individual differences in effort and mentality, and perhaps more to do with a combination of working hard and just happening to be in the right place at the right time, meeting the right people etc. 

The system itself recognises inequality and acknowledges that social measures play a huge role in partially counterbalancing these disadvantages. For example, unpaid internships and placements indirectly discriminate against underprivileged young people, who cannot afford to work for free. Therefore, despite having excellent grades and applying for numerous job vacancies, in most cases it is government interventions and schemes – specifically designed to help those from disadvantaged backgrounds – which open doors that ordinarily would’ve remained closed.

All in all, although personal responsibility and mentality is accountable to a certain extent, it’s simply naive to ignore the huge effects of social barriers and inequality. Just because “the system” isn’t exclusively to blame when it comes to poverty, doesn’t mean that it should be exempt from criticism, nor should it be slapped down when brought up in these types of discussions.

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