The myth of a poverty-line

Although a lower middle-class youth (defined by relative income, not by education), I once went without food for a whole weekend; I had no money. For months I survived by finding casual work, but was forced to move from rented room to rented room as I struggled to pay the rent.

Later, my wife and I lived on the edge of financial survival, although happy. Through circumstances beyond my control, I have lived frugally all my life. That is destiny.

My sensitivity to the poverty of others began during my boyhood in British Malaya; true poverty reigned around us. It is also impossible for me to forget the sight, during the Japanese occupation of Malaya, of fellow-humans starving, lying on the ground adjacent to the local shops, for what seemed to me for months. No one stopped (to my knowledge) to offer them any food; I was already semi-starved. Evidence? I was caught and slapped for stealing a piece of tapioca root from the college grounds; I was seen eating it raw.

Today, there is a lot of talk about poverty in Australia. But those who had experienced real poverty, especially during the Great Depression, are long gone. If you have a residential address, and need sustenance, you will (I have been told) receive welfare payments. That is, no one is without an income, except those who, because of mental health problems, are incapable of handling money responsibly. As a nation, we also support a large number of asylum seekers through welfare.

The welfare industry, supported by financially irresponsible politicians and others, reportedly seek more OP (other peoples) money to be given to welfare recipients. Is this just, and in the national interest? They do not say. They remind me of that guy who calls the faithful to prayer at dawn; is that the limit to his responsibility?

Welfare paid on the basis of need is a historical by-line. Welfare has now become an asserted right – but unsustainable on national budgetary terms. Our governments will not acknowledge that. Indeed, middle class welfare is also here to stay. Any effort by the government to reduce the largesse, even slightly, is challenged by the media, which sheds crocodile tears on behalf of those who will be ‘worse off’! Shock! Horror!

Then, for a while, there was a great effort to define a ‘poverty line’ for the nation. This was not based on a measure of minimum need. It was a measure based on the nation’s relative wealth. Those whose incomes are below the median line (the half-way level) would be deemed to be in ‘poverty.’ Amazing!

There was no mention by the proponents of this mystical measure of poverty about anyone finding the wherewithal to fund any official effort to lift the incomes of those experiencing this poverty. As the median level rises in time, would those on the new bottom half of incomes be in need of a financial support?

Reminds me of a dog chasing its own tail!

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