Monday, 20 May 2013

Polly Toynbee playing at being poor

I have been reading Hard Work by Polly Toynbee. Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee tried living on a council estate and tried different low-paid jobs. I was interested in Chapter 4 Spending where she recounts trying to buy food cheaply. She went to Lidl, seemingly for the first time in her life, and bought what she thought was cheap food.

Looking at the list of foods she bought, my first thought is that she's including rice, pasta and yellow split peas. That's good, rice and pasta are really the cheapest foods that you can buy, and yellow split peas are a cheap source of protein. There was something a bit strange about this list though. She wrote that 1 kg of rice cost 55p, even though it was reduced in price. However, in Lidl and a number of supermarkets cheap rice has been 40p a kilo for a number of years.

The other strange thing is that she wrote that Lidl doesn't sell lentils. She wrote that she went to Sainsbury's to buy lentils. Lidl do sell lentils, and have done so for years. I remember that they were 88p per half kilo for years, and now they are 90 something p. The book was published in 2003 but I find it difficult to believe that cheap rice was 55p per kilo and they didn't have any lentils.

She was quite pleased with her efforts. She wrote:-

I add it up and it totals £8.05! How clever! I feel like one of those smug people who sometimes send me letters responding to pieces I have written about poverty, boasting about how they brought up family of six on lentils and home-made bread - and jolly good it was for them too.

She doesn't comprehend that when someone sends her letters like this it's not because they are boasting, it's because they are angry. If a journalist writes something - that poor people can't possibly afford to eat healthy food - and a poor people knows that this is false, then they want to show that the journalist is wrong. It makes them angry that journalists are not helping poor people by telling them they are condemned to eating unhealthy food for the rest of their lives when they know damned well that this is not so. They know it's not so because they have been eating healthy food for years on little money.

Perhaps Polly Toynbee would think that Jack Monroe is smug too. Jack Monroe is a single mother who writes a blog where she shows people how to cook for little money. There's a section on her blog detailing budget recipes. I think that Jack Monroe is more of a help to poor people than Polly Toynbee will ever be.

Polly Toynbee ends chapter 4 by saying that if you're poor you might as well go into debt because they've got nothing to lose. I suppose if I was to suggest to some of my neighbours in my council block of flats that they would be better off going to a credit union than a loan shark, she would consider that smug too.

In my estimation, there's nothing more smug than a middle class Guardian journalist who goes to Lidl for the first time in her life as material for her book but doesn't stick around for long enough to find out where the cheap rice and the lentils are.

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