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Opinion Piece: The psychological damage of poverty

Vicky Parry 6th May 2022 No Comments

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The writer of this piece has asked us to remain anonymous but wants us to share her story with MoneyMagpie readers.

The psychological damage of poverty

“On my way too work this morning I had a croissant, jumped in the car I own and drove. I didn’t have to wake up and worry how I would even do this. It was a simple process that many of us take for granted.

I however do not. Go back only a few years. The pandemic had struck, I had lost a whole year of clients in a week and just moved house. I started living off my savings, which understandably soon depleted. Thinking this was only temporary, I applied for no government help for over seven months. My house costs nearly £1000 a month. Those savings didn’t last long. Soon I was propelled into a poverty I had arrogantly never experienced.


Now I need to be clear. I live in a beautiful house, it was summer so heating wasn’t the issue, I was growing my own veg and foraging to help us survive. So my “poverty” was a very different level experienced by others. I did however realise I couldn’t afford the food I wanted, I couldn’t have any treats to psychologically help, no little ice creams out or new clothes when my clothes started to get worn through, even medications to manage my conditions (Crohns and Rheumitoid Arthritis) were out of my budget and starting to look like a luxury. So I went on UC. The process was easy enough, if not a bit traumatic (there were many tears). What I didn’t anticipate was the compound trauma of what this constant feeling would create.

Psychologists refer to CPTSD as “Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD, sometimes abbreviated to c-PTSD or CPTSD) is a condition where you experience some symptoms of PTSD along with some additional symptoms, such as: difficulty controlling your emotions. feeling very angry or distrustful towards the world.” And after months of struggling and “begging for money” from the authorities, I became so worn down that I started displaying symptoms of this condition. I was soon diagnosed and put on a course of medicine to try and help me with my symptoms. Symptoms I still manage to this day, from my warm home and with my full tank of petrol.

The long term impact

This is after months. So let’s try and imagine what years of this can do to your psychology? Therefore to look at the government’s patronising and outright clueless advice to “shop the budget range” or “hunt for yellow stickers” while eating, is an absolute travesty. Whilst they address the nation, they are so far removed from the reality of what many people struggle with. On paper it looks so easy. It looks as easy as telling a suicidal person to just “cheer up”.

What I never anticipated was the constant feeling of not being safe, the insomnia and constant gnawing anxiety in my stomach, the physical hunger of having no snacks or treats in, the monotony of day to day life. Now again, this is a mere fraction of what others are feeling. I spoke to someone last week having panic attacks over speaking to UC, being unable to answer their phone, being so trauamtised they were unable to answer their phone or deal with their rising debt. They were paralysed with fear. The advice of people like us is always to “confront”, yet the reality is that this is so much more difficult when in a traumatised state.

Let’s then look at a vicious circle. A friend of mine is now signed off with depression. After going from a very high flying job to losing it and being placed in the situation i describe, she is now in a state where she is not even able to hustle. Not even mentally strong enough to look at earning money. So when politicians or wealthy people imply that they just work harder, this is so ignorant and clueless to what places people in a position to not work.

The Government need to step up

I am exhausted. Exhausted of hearing people like Jasmine Birtles and Martin Lewis desperately trying to help us, when the reality is our own govenrment simply don’t understand what poverty does to people on every single level of their being. First generation poverty or living on the breadline is very different to generational poverty. So many people like myself are able to think differently and hustle (to a degree). But when this poverty is inherited, generational trauma becomes prevelant. Generational trauma is exactly what it sounds like: trauma that isn’t just experienced by one person but extends from one generation to the next. “It can be silent, covert, and undefined, surfacing through nuances and inadvertently taught or implied throughout someone’s life from an early age onward,” licensed clinical psychologist and parenting evaluator Melanie English, PhD, tells Health.

“This can trap people, make them despondent and not able to even equip themselves with the hustle we so freely take for granted. So to then blame people for their own poverty is so ignorant, so alarmingly privilaged and indicative of a broken system, that the people experiencing poverty feel dispondant and not even part of the society in which they live. The very Tory discourse of people spending their UC on big TVs and beer is only showing such a deep-rooted prejudice, that from their often luxurious homes they think poor people somehow below being allowed any treats or joy. They should live like dogs, if they are unable to contribute money to this consumerist society.”

So, when our dear leader Boris described the most deprived members of society as ‘chavs, losers, burglars and drug addicts’ how on earth are people meant to feel he cares.

How can people expect Rishi Sunak to help them pay their bills when he is married into money and wearing trainers that cost more that their whole month’s budget”.

What Can be done?

Jasmine says:

“What our reader has highlighted here is something we’ve known for years, but there are now more people feeling like this than there have been for years. Right now we are getting emails from readers who are desperate. One said ‘if you know a good way to kill myself, let me know’.

“I’ve said this many times but I’ll say it again: we need to support each other, help each other, give each other emotional and (where possible) practical support. We also need to be open with each other about our situation so that friends, family and neighbours know what is needed so that they can possibly help. Not everyone will, for good or bad reasons, but many people are keen to help if they know there is a problem.

“I certainly recommend the debt charities to get free help, advice and even emotional support. I particularly recommend, of course, Community Money Advice which I am patron of. It is run out of churches and local community centres around the country and was set up with caring, Christian principles.

“The thing is that we really do live in a land of plenty…in a world full of possibilities. Poverty is genuinely unnecessary wherever it happens. We need to both run the world better (small task!) and also realise individually the infinite opportunities open to each individual one of us. It’s the actual truth, whatever the world and our personal circumstances seem to say to us.

“I found practical help in Bible passages when I was horribly in debt, before I got clever with money! You can hear about it in this podcast.

“The team and I are working out ways that we can help the maximum number of people in the country, including lobbying government and setting up local community action groups nationally. We’re open to ideas from readers too so feel free to send them in!”

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Jasmine Birtles

Your money-making expert. Financial journalist, TV and radio personality.

Jasmine Birtles

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