In a special iteration of this week's newsletter, we'd like to take a deep dive into understanding the criminalisation of poverty:
Mainstream and normalised depictions of poverty tend to paint a picture that sees poverty as the result of bad luck, or due to the missteps of an individual who has made unfortunate choices. While it might be convenient to blame poverty as an outcome of individuals not being as ambitious as others, or having the wherewithal, what really produces poverty? And how come there is so much of it in very rich nations?
Put bluntly, people experience poverty and are made poor, while others become rich. There is a reason Jeff Bezos is a billionaire when the necessary warehouse workers - that enable him to deliver the service by which he amasses wealth - are paid less than a living wage.
People are made poor and experience poverty because classism funnels resources into those who are deemed worthy and deserving - the middle class and the wealthy - and away from those who are positioned as undeserving.
How is this maintained you might ask when this is so clearly unjust. One of the ways the unfair allocation of resources is maintained is by criminalising poverty. What do we mean by this?
These are some examples:
We mean that in the above examples individuals are made culpable for taking action(s) that allow them to survive under poverty. The response for their actions to survive is to punish and criminalise them - turning acts of survival into crimes- which is then further used as evidence as to why ‘these people’ are undeserving of resources. And the cycle continues.
[Image description: On a teal background, text says "How People are Made Poor" with four pink boxes connected by arrows that say "People try to survive impoverished conditions, These actions are punished and criminalised, People are seen as responsible for their "bad choices", and People are denied resources because they are deemed undeserving."]
When we turn our attention to the individuals taking action to survive conditions that have been designed to maintain the status and comfort of middle class people, we are turning our attention away from the system that produced these very conditions. Instead of criminalising a person stealing food to eat because their employer pays them below a living wage - which means they’ll never have enough for all their needs - we could focus our attention on a system that allows employment like that to exist in the first place.
Instead of criminalising a houseless person for rough sleeping or begging, we could insist on a society that lets no one be without a warm roof over their heads. That’s not what’s taking place however. In the U.K. Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) have been around since 2014 and are broad powers allowing Councils to turn particular, non-criminal, activities taking place within a specified area into crimes.
PSPOs come with on-the-spot fines or prosecution and a potential £1,000 penalty if those fines go unpaid. Across the country, councils have used them to target rough sleeping and begging in an attempt to airbrush their streets - for the benefit of middle class interests and desires who see houseless people as eye sores to be done away with.
What does all this mean for our workplaces? It means that identifying the ways that money and resource generates frictionlessness in some people’s day to day, will be sites where the exact opposite is true for others. In order to truly tackle classism then, we have to change our workplaces to account for the unearned advantages of some at the expense of people made poor's access or success.