When it comes to entrenched poverty it is often asked: is it a culture of poverty or a poverty of culture that is the problem?  But there really is no chicken and egg situation when it comes to poverty. Material poverty always and everywhere drives cultural poverty. It always has and it always will. Admittedly, once a culture of poverty has taken hold it too can work to further entrench a material poverty, but we should not allow ourselves be lulled into the mistaken belief that cultural poverty is at the root of the problem. But when you read through the latest government policy document on sport and well-being in Britain, that is precisely what we are asked to accept. We are asked to believe that if we can nudge people’s poor life style choices in a more positive direction, then everything will work out ok. It won’t. The stubbornly unpalatable truth for governments of all persuasions is that if you want to substantially improve the health of the nation beyond a few thousand extra people playing ping pong or going for a weekly swim, you need to tackle the root causes of poverty which are obviously unemployment, in work poverty wages and a chronic shortage of affordable housing. Governments can tinker all day long with school or community initiatives but, as the evidence continually makes clear; it won’t make any tangible difference.

When millions of our fellow citizens have their lives permanent blighted by a slow, grinding poverty, even when they are ‘lucky’ enough to be in work, don’t expect healthy life-style choices to be high on the agenda. When millions are forced to spend in excess of fifty percent of income on rent and the rest on relentlessly rising bills, the human spirit is soon enough crushed. Instead of maintaining a healthy life-style, the temptation is to look for some quick-fix, some instant gratification to make the daily drudgery of existence a tad more bearable. And when the tax system is punitive on low income earners and blatantly skewered to favour the wealthy, then the spirit of self-improvement is inevitably enough ground into the dirt.  TV adds promoting sun drenched holidays in the Caribbean or the latest high tech trinket is just so much salt in the wound of material poverty. The socially dysfunctional housing estate is a million miles away from some imagined tropical holiday paradise Maybe a new pair of highly overpriced trainers to create a semblance of prosperity, but don’t expect  those trainers to be pounding the athletics tracks in pursuit of health or Olympic gold. No, they are just another piece of corporate bling to cover up for what’s really happening in our towns and cities. And no amount of cheap government sports initiatives is going to make things better.      

There is nothing per se that one can take issue with in the latest government policy document. The shift of emphasis to the under-fives is to be welcomed but you know it is only so much hot air when the very same government is slashing the budgets for the once highly successful Sure-start programme. You know that all the government talk about encouraging community sporting participation from cradle to grave is just a bunch cheap platitudes when the very same government is decimating funding to local government – the very tier of government charged with delivering such a programme.  And when the government is still talking of an Olympic legacy, rest assured there isn’t going to be one while Britain is increasingly being turned into a low wage, zero hour contract economy. The more one finds oneself trapped in this low wage economy the more remote a healthy lifestyle becomes. And why? Because too many of us are simply worn down and worn out just trying to survive. Those that are doing ok will find time and resources for the yoga and pilates classes, the beautifully equipped gyms and the private health clubs. But for the ever growing precariat, it’s just a matter of getting through another day. Everything else is a luxury.

This is not to say that families and individuals should not take responsibility for their own well-being. We all should. But when we are surrounded 24/7 by junk food promotions and a ubiquitous regime of highly addictive processed foods - one that is fuelling a national obesity crisis, the emphasis should not be so much on the individual but rather on the corporate food sector which remains largely unregulated. Will the government ever put a tax on sugary food and drinks? It seems not. Getting the under-five school kids to play some extra sport is a sound enough idea but ensuring they have a good quality, affordable home to live in and their parents have a secure and adequately remunerated income is a far better one.

End JPK Copyright, 20/12/15

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Last Updated ( Monday, 21 December 2015 09:06 )