Understanding poverty is clearly not something we have been taught properly how to do.
In 2018, vlogger Alfie Deyes came under fire for uploading a video trying to show how hard living on £1 a day can be. The video was met with enormous criticism, mainly by people feeling angered about watching a millionaire joking about the hardships of said budget from his mansion (while still clothes shopping, no less).
The tone-deaf nature of the video, when many people have to survive on said minuscule budget, somewhat stuck in the throat and lots of people started recognising this sort of ‘poverty tourism’ and the commodification of poverty as an entertainment source.The reality was that Deyes’s efforts were probably well-meaning, coming on the back of the news that 1.2 billion people across the world only have a pound to spend on food a day. At the time of his vlog, many news sources and bloggers were all trying this ‘challenge’ as an experiment to highlight how hard it was, perhaps believing that this level of poverty in the UK was near impossible.
and another journalist tried…
Journalist Sian Elvin also took on this ‘challenge’ to save money for charity and the food bank, and also to raise awareness of poverty in her local area: she referred to this level of poverty as “a fundraising challenge.
“For five days, I spent just £1 a day on my food intake – the ludicrous amount 1.2 billion people across the world, including some on our doorstep, have to survive on. And I struggled”.
While Sian’s efforts were to raise funds and very well intentioned, was playing pauper for a week really necessary to do so.
So what exactly is the issue with this type of thing, when surely the motive behind it is raising awareness and showing solidarity?
The answer is complicated.
We all learned a lot during the Black Lives Matter movement of the last few years, one of the most valuable lessons being to listen to the people involved. So to see such outcry for this type of article is to lead you to their arguably unethical and patronising nature, especially considering how they are perceived by people on the breadline.
Fast forward to this week and an article was brought to my attention of a man trying to survive on a diet of “yellow stickers only” for the sake of a syndicated newspaper article. Now, the article may well have been intended to highlight how adhering to politicians’ household budgeting restrictions was ludicrous (I should add that this wasn’t stated) – there was no doubt Alfie Deyes had intended the same naive message – but what needs to be addressed is how these articles make people living in genuine poverty feel.
One Twitter user said in response to Deyes, “when a privileged person such as Alfie Deyes does a video involving living on a £1 for a day, it’s fun for them because they know it’ll be over tomorrow. If they really want to help, donate to food banks, educate themselves, speak to people who ACTUALLY struggle.” @lilysherf
Let us compare the nature of this yellow sticker article with those of Jack Monroe, a former food bank user and anti-poverty campaigner.
Monroe regularly takes to social media to explain how British people could save each week on their food shops by doing a quick stocktake and hunting for yellow-stickered bargains.
As someone who has been in poverty themselves, Monroe understands the absolute life-or-death realities of food poverty, whereas the journalist on the eating yellow stickers food for a gimmick claims he “wanted to eat on a Universal Credit budget, but regrets ever trying it.” The inference here is that he is ‘trying on’ a lifestyle, no doubt from his centrally heated home and with an end date to his poverty.
So what can we learn from other people’s mistakes?
Since Alfie Deyes’ public apology for his video, what have the press really learned? Living on the breadline is something many are accustomed to. Finding enough money for a cheap dinner is something in a society that separates us the most. Comments from full-bellied politicians or the celebrity likes of Kirstie Allsopp often infer it is a lifestyle, but treating it as a “challenge” undermines the reality of genuine hunger: the reality of not having ‘treat’ money or any leniency from their poverty; choosing between paying for heating and food; using food banks when the money just isn’t there.
For a large portion of people, this is the reality. Poverty is not a clickbait tool or fun TikTok challenge: for many it is the source of genuine horror and exhaustion… and desperate, raw hunger.
To media outlets and people in the public eye, it should not be the responsibility of those in poverty to educate you on how society is against them, why they can’t get out of poverty or why that poverty isn’t a source of entertainment. In this regard, is modern society really that far from the Victorians who hosted slum tours for the rich to gasp in horror at how the other half live? If you as an individual or we as a society really want to make a difference, we can volunteer in a food bank, or at least try to recognise other human beings’ needs, rather than thinking we can somehow capitalise on others’ suffering.