So this is real poverty then, is it?

Sure, it’s not exactly what I would desire to be living upon myself but:

Kathleen Kerridge’s family food budget is £40 per week – to feed five people.

She had a heart attack, cannot really work outside the home. Her husband makes less than the amount to pay their rent.

Clearly and obviously the welfare system is picking up some of the slack there if after the utilities and everything else they’ve still got $1.80 or so a day to feed each family member. Recall that $1.90 a day (yes, at current UK prices) is absolute poverty. Except that that’s for food, rent, heating, cooking, clothing, education, health care and the pension that most won’t live to see.

She’s currently working on her fourth LGBT fantasy fiction novel, that’s her full time job. Might be the best she can do from home although I’m pretty certain that there’s better paying parts of the putting words in order market. There are writing markets out there, easy enough to find, where you will get £20 to £30 a day with not a great deal of effort.

Sorry, this can be many things but it just ain’t poverty. It’s relative poverty, sure, it’s not having very much to be certain but it just isn’t poverty. Housed, clothed, fed, and able to pursue what is really a hobby?

Societal duty has been done methinks.

45 thoughts on “So this is real poverty then, is it?”

  1. And even if it wasn’t, and she was really starving, this would simply be a demonstration of the state having utterly failed, not of there not being enough money or enough government. I am sure there are genuine cases of people living in poverty because the callous, often spiteful state apparatus has failed to perform as advertised, but the Guardian won’t run these stories because of the conclusions any sane reader would draw.

    So to deflect attention from those who blatantly game the system and take the piss, they have to dig up cases which are marginal enough that they hope a sufficient number of readers will be outraged and demand an end to the evil Tory cuts.

  2. But nowhere does she claim that she is trying to claim the status of ‘poverty according to undeveloped nation standards’. She says at the end ‘what poverty in this country really means’ and it sounds pretty accurate.

    She isn’t saying ‘gimme, gimme, gimme’

    And it is tough to be hit by such a sequence of disasters and fall into poverty (UK poverty). Most people don’t realise it.

    As for doing other writing jobs…. well, possibly but just as likely ill health (heart attack) and anxiety (poverty, bill paying etc) and constant child/family care can make it very difficult to approach people and fulfil deadlines. Very difficult.

    Totally agree that poverty is relative in this country, but she ain’t saying it isn’t. She’s just saying this is what it’s like for her (and likely enough many another).

  3. I don’t doubt she has a tough time with her income. But I do wish that these poverty pron style articles would actually do a bit of analysis. What actually is her income? What does she actually spend it on? It sounds like rent is a (the?) major issue but we have no idea what it is. What I do know is that her child benefit payments are bigger than her stated food budget alone.

  4. “Her husband makes less than the amount to pay their rent.”

    Well that needs some digging into. Which isn’t to say there can’t be a good reason for it. But if it’s anything like her heart attack, this is an outlier. Large welfare systems are unlikely to ever handle extreme cases like that reliably.

    If he’s fine, just low skilled or in a bad job market, you have to ask why they had 3 kids.

  5. The poor state of the woman and her family are the result of statism in general and socialism in particular.

    The great parasite opens the markets veins sucks out and wastes most of the blood and then has the brass neck to complain that its victim is anaemic, weak and staggering in little circles cos he is just a bad person.

    The woman’s husband works but can’t earn enough to pay the rent. Jobs being created are mostly at the piss-poor end esp if state-schools left you with an equally piss-poor education and no skills. Rents thro’ the roof because of state-created bubbles. And on and on.

    Combined with real bad luck it is not surprising she is poorly off.

    She will be a lot worse off when the states economic bungling really hits home. As will the rest of us.

  6. She’s got a husband, and she’s writing LGBT fiction.

    If she’s such a good writer, she should write straight bodice rippers, since there’s a bigger market for those.

  7. So Much For Subtlety

    Ted S. – “If she’s such a good writer, she should write straight bodice rippers, since there’s a bigger market for those.”

    But a lot more authors. You have to be good to compete with Barbara Cartland and Mills and Boon. I recommend a more niche market. Perhaps Icelandic Were-bears? I am sure there is an audience.

    She says her husband’s wage is above the minimum wage but barely covers the rent. The minimum wage for someone over 22 is £6.70. Or £268 a week. £1072 a month. I can see that it would be hard to rent a big enough home for that in much of Britain.

    However it does mean that they are spending something like 25 times more on rent than on food. Assuming she makes nothing on her porn career. This is a remarkable number. I notice they do not share any other details with us. But as a proportion of income that is insane.

    However the real point is the obvious one – to reach this point she had to be hit by the perfect storm of a job loss, illness, a landlord’s bankruptcy (presumably explaining why she was homeless) and so on. Extreme bad luck is extreme. Not routine.

  8. “There are writing markets out there, easy enough to find, where you will get £20 to £30 a day with not a great deal of effort.”

    I suspect that with a heart condition/COPD, she is not capable of even “not a great deal of effort”, at least not on a regular basis. Writing a book let’s her write at her own speed and when she is capable.

  9. @Ted S.

    “She’s got a husband, and she’s writing LGBT fiction.”

    Yeah- I saw that. Not sure how I’d feel if I was her hubby.

  10. “…with his tall beautiful warrior-elf lover always at his side”

    @JuliaM – do you really think even worse is possible?

  11. So Much For Subtlety

    The Meissen Bison – “do you really think even worse is possible?”

    He has an office job. So if he writes the sh!t that my local council used to pump out, by all means. Worse, much worse, is often achieved.

  12. I agree with previous posters that someone with a chronic health condition plus childcare responsibilities may simply be unable to undertake work with deadlines or fixed hours of work.

    Which denies her access to better-paying parts of the market.

    Thinking about it, this is probably the first time I’ve ever thought about deadlines in a positive way. Their existence denies other people access to my corner of the job market, and bidding my wages down… three cheers for deadlines(!)

  13. Why aren’t they moving to a cheaper property, and why isn’t she getting a proper job and just writing in the evenings?

    It’s meant to be a safety net, not a ‘stay at whatever standard of living you deem appropriate’ net.

  14. JonnyA: “It’s meant to be a safety net, not a ‘stay at whatever standard of living you deem appropriate’ net.”


    Meanwhile, over at another CiF article on the ‘bedroom tax’, we are invited to support Charlotte and Jayson, pushed to breaking point by the £12 a week ‘tax’:

    Except…in the comments, someone notes:

    “mtfbwy2 5m ago

    Just had a look at the husbands (Jayson Carmichael) FaceBook page…for someone whose complaining about an extra £12 a week he seems to be able to afford some lovely holidays in the past 2 years – New York, Africa, Rome, Portugal, Las Vegas, LA and my personal fave – Venice, not the easiest place to take a wheelchair.”


  15. “Does one know how much success the first three LGBT fantasy fiction novels, er, enjoyed?”

    Has she tried writing LGBT science fiction novels?

    Also, why restrict yourself to approx one percent of the market?

  16. Let’s look at the numbers. Her husband works full time at just above minimum wage – say 35 hours a week at £7 per hour = £12,740 per year, on which he will pay £915 of income tax and NIC’s. Her income from writing is negligible, let’s say £1,000 per year..

    According to they get £10,657 in tax credits, £8,910 of housing benefit, £2,501 child benefit and £221 council tax benefit – a total of £22,289. So they have total annual net income of £35,114,

    Their rent is just above the husband’s net income say £12,000 a year. Allow £1,000 for council tax. So £22,114 net income or £425 a week. And they spend less than 10% that on food. This simply does not add up.

  17. Intractable Potsherd

    I know I’m going to be flamed to hell and back for this, but how verifiable are these stories about people living high on the hog from nothing but welfare benefits? I have worked with psychiatric in-patients (not many of those work at all, let alone in highly-paid jobs), lived in ex-mining towns (just after all the pit closures and job losses), and also council estates, and I do not recall ever knowing anyone who was doing well out of benefits. I have, however, known a lot of people who needed help to subsist but weren’t getting it (one of the reasons for the “revolving door” syndrome in psychiatric hospitals used to be that the social security hadn’t paid up because of some stupidity, and so the patient had a relapse, or threatened one, so that they would have a bed, food and warmth.)

    Also, I see regularly on here that the welfare state is pointless (or worse), and that fine upstanding workers shouldn’t be forced to contribute to those who cannot work. So, what do you consider to be the alternative, given that there are always going to be people who cannot work, or cannot work within the constraints of employers’ demands, due to illness (let’s keep it at that – going into issues about the causes of unemployment of people who could work will tend to obscure the question)?

  18. Intractable Potsherd, I have no problem looking after the widows, the orphans, the sick and the disabled. The bone idle can just fuck right off.

  19. I think you misunderstand the take of many readers of this blog. Certainly personally, I see several major issues with the welfare state but don’t advocate it’s total abolition.

    For example I don’t think there is a case for a welfare state that pays for people to live in very expensive areas indefinitely – in the example above, it’s being suggested they are paying around £1k a month in rent. Move where I am (and it’s not an unpleasant part of the world), and and a decent three bed house can be found with change from £500 a month. If people can’t afford to live in inner London on benefits, then they perhaps should be look at the price of housing in Stoke or Newcastle.

    A lot of the problems (as indeed you mention) are because of stupidity and incompetence on the part of those administering benefits. This needs fixing, but has exactly nothing to do with the question of whether on not £12 a week of “bedroom tax” or whatever is about to plunge millions into starvation – often at the bottom of sob stories like the one above, it’s incompetence rather than a lack of benefit entitlement that’s caused the problem.

    <(let’s keep it at that – going into issues about the causes of unemployment of people who could work will tend to obscure the question

    but that's the nub of the whole question – how do we support the genuinely deserving without providing a way for the lazy to avoid pulling their weight in life.

  20. IP: “Also, I see regularly on here that the welfare state is pointless (or worse), and that fine upstanding workers shouldn’t be forced to contribute to those who cannot work.”

    Replace ‘cannot work’ with ‘will not work’ and you’d be more accurate. Is there something wrong with your reading comprehension?

  21. Also, ‘I have worked with psychiatric in-patients’.

    Well, there you are then. These aren’t likely to be the sort of people able to warp the benefit system to their own advantage, are they?

  22. Potsherd: Friend of my wife, raised with her two sisters in the same household. After school, she got a job, built a career, had a family etc. Struggled from time to time but worked hard.

    Her two sisters? Five kids by four fathers between them, and literally have never worked a day in their lives, but still smoke like chimneys and have TVs the size of a barn door. Mid-40’s now. When their kids were little they used to have a family holiday in Spain each year from the benefits, because the kids were ‘deprived’.

    It makes my blood boil to think of it. Don’t even ask what kind of language our friend uses to describe them.

  23. These Guardian poverty sob-stories always seem to involve someone engaging in a self-indulgent hobby, like being an author. Is that the best they can do? It’s never someone working a crap job in a factory who can’t make ends meet, but someone doing some self-centered activity that Guardian readers will consider worthy, and putting that ahead of their family. That might make Guardian readers tut-tut, but it won’t convince anyone else.

    And as several other commentators here have said, there’s never any actual figures involved, and in their absence, and given the sort of calculations that Sam Jones did, one has to be suspicious of the circumstances (eg. is there exaggeration involved? Or money going out on something else that we’re not being told about?)

  24. Intractable P: I am one who wants rid of the welfare state 100% .

    But it can’t be done overnight.

    It has taken 60 years to get into the fucked up state we are now in with families squeezed and an epidemic of dragged-up-scummy bastardy fueling social collapse.

    Nor have the antics of BluLabour done an iota of good. Pathetic little cuts that cause problems and give ammo to the scum of the left while being a drop in the ocean next to the corporate handouts to their hangers on such as the toy-train set (HS2).

    Freedom and markets will have to be restored gradually while getting rid –a little at a time–of the trappings of tyranny–state-education, shite unis that spew brain-dead red guards with toilet paper inhumanities degrees, the piss-poor NHS, middle-class Marxist bullshit propaganda etc.

  25. @ Intractable Potsherd
    You are reading the blog selectively. I am fully in favour of the welfare state for those who need welfare, and have always expected to pay my share. [Do I cease to be a fine upstanding worker because most of my work is now done sitting down in front of a computer?]
    I occasionally meet up with a friend of a friend of my wife, a rich socialist (a lawyer who is the widow of a Trade Union official), who bores with me her moans about her adopted daughter who is living off welfare by having enough children from different fathers to maintain her entitlement to benefits without working (and about the “grand-daughter” who seems to be heading in that direction). Since upbringing contributes to character formation, what can I say without giving offence that would upset my wife’s friend?
    I believe that there are deserving poor who far outnumber the undeserving poor – I can remember on a visit during the ’90s recession to my home town (I had to leave under Wilson in order to get a job), talking to a woman whose son* had sent off applications for over 100 jobs (so far), but it’s got worse since then: a bit ago, there was a newspaper photograph of the queue outside a department store in Middlesbrough that advertised five or six jobs – the queue went all around the block and a bit more before the store opened.
    The handful of cheats cost us a bit but they infuriate the working poor. I am not the most obvious guy for them to chat to, so other people probably hear even more of the complaints than I do. One of the folk groups from Stockton-on-Tees has published a song called “Benefit Street” where the chorus is “I may be down, but I’m not beat – you won’t find me on Benefit Street” – that is what 99% of the working poor think.

    *He didn’t have a maths degree so couldn’t follow me south

  26. Intractable P – actually I found it rather interesting that many posters here, never the most socialist of crowd, seemed to understand that she might need support.

    I agree with you in one major respect; people on benefits did tend to be somewhat ‘cash poor’ unless they are doing a little bit cash-in-hand on the side.

    But tax credits and lax incapacity standards changed that in a big way for certain ‘clientele’. The other thing that people see is the housing; used to be allocated at the median(!) rent for the category, which is how if you popped out three kids of the right type you could have a four bedroom house funded for life(!) The rent probably more than the income of your single working peer. And hence the bedroom tax trying to correct the injustice

  27. “Societal duty has been done methinks.”

    Society’s duty to her, maybe. But she doesn’t seem to have done much for society (unless that lesbian porn is very good).

  28. John77 said:
    “I can remember talking to a woman whose son had sent off applications for over 100 jobs”

    Yes, I remember doing that when I had to look like I was seriously trying for a job (can’t remember who I was trying to fool; my parents, I think).

    None of them were ones I had the faintest chance of getting. Policy adviser to the TUC was one; editor of Defence Helicopter Monthly was another.

    It amused me to get the standard rejection letter: “although your skills are highly suited to this role, we regret…”

  29. @ Richard
    But his were serious attempts. His parents couldn’t afford to keep him in luxury and his contemporaries would look down on him as he hadn’t got a job.
    I’m talking North-East England, not Islington or Tunbridge Wells

  30. How is $1.90 a day absolute poverty in Britain? Even if that should have been pounds it is still an insanely low number.

    As a, now single white male, who has significant difficulties with going to a physical location since my back surgery I could very easily be on welfare. I have lost several jobs now due to the fact the there are days when I simply can’t walk yet I refuse to consider myself disabled so I miss out on the majority of benefits. Luckily I was able to pay off my house so my only expenses are food, utilities, transportation(I have to have a car as there are many days when the 700m walk to the bus stop just isn’t possible let alone the 1.2km walk from the bus stop to my job), and taxes. Food is an issue due to reactions to additives in the cheapest food.

    To break down the monthly, non-tax, expenses I spend, all approximate numbers, $300 a month for utilities(water, sewage, electric, and gas), $120 a month for food(assuming I buy the cheapest options that won’t make me directly sick), and $60 a month for transportation. Without clothing, home and vehicle repairs, or any luxuries I need at least $16/day($480/mo) just to survive. If I had to pay rent this number would jump to at least $880 a month without welfare.

    In this woman’s case she obviously isn’t living in my area so the number will be slightly different. From what I’ve seen foods that I can eat are slightly cheaper than my local prices in Britain. Housing is solely based on local market forces but I doubt there are areas where a studio apartment goes for significantly less than £250/mo. With a family of 5 average utility payments should be significantly lower. I did not include health care as the costs(NIS ends up costing around half of what the US system does per capita with statistically better results) are far different. Transportation expenses are also based on the area. Someone in London can use public transportation whereas other area will not have suitable public options.

    Shouldn’t the absolute poverty number indicate how much a person needs for the basic necessities, food, water, shelter(including heat) and access(transportation) to these without any outside(welfare or charities) aid?

  31. 1 in 11 tax credit claims contain fraud – not my claim, that’s from HMRC. On top of that will be a lot of claims that are genuine but where people have positioned themselves to maximise their benefit from the system – e.g. the 24 hr/week working couples.
    It is still the case in the UK that the majority of parenting takes place on at least some welfare ( i.e. a means tested benefit excluding universal benefits like health and education and excluding child benefit ). So having sex and expecting other people to pay for the outcome wholly or in part is the default position. Paying for children yourself is the minority position.
    The moves to take £11 a week off new families claiming Housing Benefit after May, and restricting new child tax credit claims to maximum two children after April 2016 are popular according to the polls.

  32. Yep. I wonder what the rest of the income is spent on.

    It’s amazing how many of these things turn out to be misleading, for example which is so extraordinary you wonder if the right has an undercover agent in the BBC, or more recently (note the girl has a laptop and SLR camera)

    After having read this heartwarming story, have a look at this blog which is by the girl with the SLR camera.

  33. “These Guardian poverty sob-stories always seem to involve someone engaging in a self-indulgent hobby, like being an author. ”

    She’s writing LGBT fantasy fiction. For the Guardianistas she is living the dream.

  34. @ Liberal Yank
    Tim’s point is that this $1.80 is for food alone after paying for everything else and, since her husband doesn’t earn enough to pay the rent, she must be receiving substantial amounts in benefits.
    The $1.90 a day is absolute poverty in *the world* – as an American this is outside your comfort zone. Years ago I was staggered to learn that a single mother on benefits in New York had a higher income per head on PPP than a Bank Manager in Albania. Of course I much rather prefer to be me than you (even without the back pain and divorce), but US and UK incomes are so far away from absolute poverty that we struggle to imagine it.

  35. john77 thank you for letting me know where the $1.90 figure came from. Since the cost of living in London is far above the world average this figure doesn’t really add to the discussion.

    Does anyone know what the amount is for London and the UK in general?

  36. @ LY
    I do not know and if there was one I should not beieve it – the cost of living in different parts of London are so vastly different that any figure claiming to represent the whole of London would be nonsense.
    Someone may be able to give you a figure some part of it, but

  37. So Much For Subtlety

    Can I just say that I admire everyone here’s self-restraint?

    After all, I watched that video. To put this delicately, if that woman is having trouble putting food on the table she is not showing much sign of it. And yet here we are 42 comments in and no one has mentioned her obvious weight problem.

    Gentleman, that’s what we are.

  38. Without knowing what her diet is I wasn’t going to bring it up. I was trying to avoid the debate about sugary foods on this thread. That said she doesn’t look like she is lacking in calories.

  39. Intractable Potsherd

    Thanks for the very reasonable comments, folks. I apologise if I seemed to be selectively reading comments – I only started coming to Tim’s blog when he was ousted from El Reg, and I don’t read it every day.

    Despite being of a left-of-centre opinion, I agree with much of what has been written. I have a three bedroom house with gardens and garage that I let in quite a pleasant part of South Yorkshire, and the going rate there is around £550 a month. We have moved around a bit, and the difference in the house we could rent in a small town just south of Warwick University (two(ish) bed mid-terrace) and then near to a large teaching hospital in Scotland (four bed with study, garage and gardens on a cul-de-sac) for basically the same rent pointed up the differences in the cost of living.

    I am gratified that the majority of responses were in favour of retaining some social welfare. Without knowing more about what Mr Ecks proposes instead of the (in his opinion) dreadful welfare state (I don’t agree – I have worked for both public and private healthcare providers, and public and private education providers, and been on the receiving end of public heath and education in the last twenty years, and the public service standards are *way* higher than the private lot), I still can’t see how an entirely private system would work for e.g. people who have never been able to earn anything. I tend to see the only outcome as “can’t pay, so die” – and I doubt Mr Ecks means that.

    Like John 77, I am refusing to be disabled – for instance, I could get a blue badge, but don’t. I work – currently two jobs – and have been fortunate to find employers that accept that I might not make it to every class. Computers have made things a lot easier for me.

    I find the figures for fraud cited by Henry Marsh (therefore about 9%) to be less than I would have expected from reports. I’d almost say that is to be expected in any system (there are probably at least the same percentage of people who put in fraudulent expenses claims for work).

    Oh, one last thing – when my nephews were still below school-leaving age ( not all that long ago), I was astounded to find that their parents, on ~£35k per year plus company car etc, were getting tax credits! That didn’t seem right.

    Thanks again for all the comments.

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