Consumer price inflation has been floating at around just under 10% for a year now, since May 2022, and this means that people in Britain are, on average, worse off financially than they were a year ago.
A survey by the Office for National Statistics recently found that seven in ten adults are spending less on non essential items and a recent IPSOS poll found that half of us are worried about our finances.
The Bank of England’s chief economist has called on workers to stop asking for wage increases and for companies to stop passing on their increasing costs to consumers by raising prices.
In short he thinks that Britons to accept the fact that they are getting poorer and are just worse off and that this will lower inflation.
An individualised solution to a structural problem?
This strikes me as possibly the ultimate example of what Bauman would call an individualised solution to a structural problem: one of the global elite asking individuals to solve inflation.
Whereas in reality the cause of the current inflation is structural: it is 40 years of neoliberal economic policy which has sucked hundreds of billions, probably trillions of dollars out of the UK economy over those 40 years and into tax havens, benefitting the global elite (and many non-British people).
Of course the elite themselves blame our current ‘cost of living crisis’ on Covid and the Ukraine War, but Britain’s economic decline predates both of these events.
In a neoliberal system it becomes easier for investors to extract profit from state enterprise because of deregulation, and so what we’ve seen now for 40 years is lack of investment in infrastructure and education and health and social care and huge profits getting sucked out the country.
We could have, over the past 40 years, invested more in green energy, more in local food production, more in creating a highly skilled, high wage workforce, but the neoliberal Tories (and New Labour) chose not to, and hence we have inflation and the ordinary people suffering.
Progress towards universal access to clean water has stalled because of climate change and the inability of governments to provide infrastructure.
2 Billion people in the world still do not have access to clean drinking water, with most of these living in Sub-Sharan Africa and Central and Southern Asia, according to a recent State of the World’s Water Report issued by the World Health Organisation (1)
The proportions of people with access to contamination free drinking water varies considerably by region: in Europe and North America 98% of the population have access, but in Sub-Saharan Africa only 36% of people have access to clean drinking water.
Access to safe water supplies is Millennium Development Goal number 6, and we have made progress in the last 2 decades, with the proportion of the global population with access to safely managed water rising from 62% in the year 2000 to 74% by 2020.
However, progress is stalling, and the United Nations realises that we probably NOT going to reach the goal of achieving safe and affordable access to clean drinking water for EVERYBODY by 2030, in fact by 2030 they predict that 1.6 billion people will lack access to clean water, and higher numbers will lack access to decent hygiene facilities.
Why this matters for development
Drinking dirty water is one of the main reasons people get ill, which directly reduces life expectancy, but also the capacity for children to school and get an education or adults to go to work.
There is also a dimension to this. In situations, usually rural areas, where there is no clean, piped water to towns or villages and people have to walk miles to fetch water, it is usually women who do the fetching, in up to 90% of cases in some parts of rural India.
This improving water supplies would improve health, education, work prospects and gender equality.
Why do people lack access to clean drinking water?
Climate change seems to be the main culprit, and there are different reasons for lack of access in different parts of the world. In Subsaharan African the main reason is persistent drought: there simply isn’t enough clean water year-round for the populations in some areas.
in other parts of Africa and places like Bangladesh, water supplies have been ruined and polluted by widespread flooding, which mixes various waste products with what used to be clean water.
The report also points to lack of basic national and regional level organisation in failing to provide widespread access to clean water.
in the worst affected countries such as Malawi there is neither government nor private ownership of water supplies. In such countries local communities are left to fend for themselves to sort out their own water, which may mean digging down into river beds and relying on muddy, contaminated water for drinking, unless they are lucky enough to work with NGOs which may help them sort out a bore hole.
The report is keen to stress that IF we want to sort out clean water for 2 billion people by anytime near 2030 it is up to governments to work with the private sector to set up large scale infrastructure development and regulation to ensure that all people have access.
To my mind, this seems like a sensible priority: for a relatively small investment you are giving people access to what really is the most basic of human needs which can have knock on benefits for health, education, employment and gender equality.
Awaab Ishak was a toddler who died in December 2020 as a direct result of exposure to black mould in his flat in Rochdale.
Awaab’s untimely death is a consequence of poverty in the U.K. and government policy which allows landlords to get away with putting profit (or money saving) before people’s health.
The death of Awaab Ishak
Awaab Ishak developed a respiratory condition due to exposure to black mould in his house which caused his death, just eight days after his second birthday, according to the Coroner’s report.
Awab’s family lived in social housing, renting from Rochdale Bouroughwide Council (RBH) and Awaab’s father, Abdullah, had repeatedly raised concerns with RBH about mould, first reporting the problem in 2017 shortly after he moved into the flat. At that time he was told to paint over it.
According to the inquest into Awaab’s death the toddler had frequently been plagued by respiratory problems and a health visitor had written twice to RBH in 2020, expressing concern about the mould and the negative health effects it could have.
Also, in 2020, Abdullah had instructed solicitors via a claims company to try and get RBH to conduct repairs, as it was the social landlord’s policy to not do repairs until a formal claims procedure had been initiated.
At the inquest into Awaab’s death RBH accepted they could have been more proactive in dealing with the mould issue (which to my mind sounds like something of an understatement!)
The Social-Structural Causes of Awaab’s death
The initial cause of Awaab’s death was the staggering inactivity of the social housing provider in Rochdale, but a wider enabling causal factor was the fact that government regulations over standards for social housing provision allowed them to get away with such inaction for so long.
The national level policy which allows a housing association to not deal with sub-standard housing conditions which are life threatening, such as the existence of mould, until tenants file a formal process via a solicitor means delays in addressing such conditions.
The very fact that a formal process, via a solicitor, is required means that some tenants simply won’t initiate such a process because of maybe language barriers, or negative experiences with such institutional authorities in the past, or just plain lack of time or organisational skills.
Tenants also require sufficient knowledge of the system to be able lodge such complaints, knowledge they may not have, especially when English is their first language, as was the case with Abdullah who first came to the U.K. in 2016 from Sudan, and this was probably a causal factor in his reporting the mould first in 2017 but then not going through a solicitor until much later in 2020 – it took him a while to learn the formal processes.
Some people have even accused RBH of blatant Racism, claiming an English speaking family would not have had so much of a problem getting the mould issue addressed promptly.
At least there has been a policy reaction to this horrific event….
Following an online petition at change.org the government recently announced (3) that it will be amending Social Housing Policy to specify time limits for social housing landlords to address problems which are potentially threatening to human health.
Sociological Perspectives on the death of Awaab Ishak
This unfortunate case study is a reminder of the extent of poverty and relative deprivation in the United Kingdom today, the death of this toddler just being a very tragic and extreme indicator of this.
About 450,000 homes in England have problems with condensation and mould (2) so this is far from one isolated case, that’s about 2% of the housing stock, and most of that is going to be in the social and private rented sectors, those houses owned by landlords that are taking advantage of the lax laws to keep more profit rather than re-investing their passive income back into providing better quality housing.
Probably another underlying factor to the mould not being sorted promptly is underfunding for social housing from the State, which is caused by more than a decade of austerity policies by the Tory government.
If we move away from the social rented sector and consider those houses with mould in the wider private rented sector, this demonstrates the downside of the profit-motive within the capitalist system. This would literally be a case of those with capital keeping their profits for themselves rather than re-investing in improving society. It is literally a case of profit before people, and the fact that law currently still allows this to happen demonstrates that the state is aligned with Capitalism rather than the people.
Most people don’t die from poor housing conditions such as mould, but poor quality housing is still resulting in poor physical and mental health for millions of the poorest adults and children, and such conditions more generally will lower life expectancy and mean children are less able to do their homework effectively (in damp bedrooms) which explains differential educational achievement by social class.
In short, this is a very stark example of how poverty negatively affects life chances – in the sense that Awaab now has no life and his parents’ lives are probably now ruined as well given the emotional toll on them.
Finally, something else you might want to explore more is the possibility that Racism was a causal factor in Awaab’s death.
16-19 year old students who are eligible for free school meals underachieve by 3 A-level grades compared to their wealthier peers.
This is primarily because of lower prior attainment at GCSE, but also because poorer students take fewer and different qualifications (BTECs more likely than A-levels).
This is according to some recent quantitative research published in 2021 by Tuckett al: Measuring the Attainment Gap in 16-19 Education (1).
The rest of this post summarises and evaluates this research.
The sample of students was about as close to a ‘total sample’ as you can get. It included all students at the end of their 16-19 study at a state-maintained school or college other than those on apprenticeship programmes.
To measure (or ‘operationalise’) disadvantage the researchers used students’ free school meal status during their last six years of school (prior to key stage 4) as the indicator.
They also conducted some analysis using a measure of persistent disadvantage which was defined as any students who had been eligible for Free School Meals for 80% of the previous 6 years.
Measuring Educational Attainment
To measure educational attainment the researchers used the best three qualifications achieved by the end of 16-19 education.
Interestingly, they used two different weighting systems to take account of the different types of qualification students achieved results in: the main difference being between A-levels and BTEC subjects.
For on measure of attainment they treated all level 3 qualifications as being equal, giving the same weight to all level three courses with the same guided teaching hours – so all A-level subjects had the same ‘achievement’ rating as all level 3 BTEC courses. (This is the standard way of measuring Attainment used by UCAS).
They also used a second measure of attainment by adjusting the above for the economic value associated with the different qualifications. Thus science based A-levels would receive a higher score than BTEC business studies, because the kind of jobs students who achieve A-levels in physics, chemistry and biology go on to do are higher paid.
Analysis of results
This is a bit technical for A-level students, but they use Regression analysis. More specifically they used ordinary least regression squares holding attainment as the dependent variable with students clustered into institutions.
They also used Oaxaca Blinder decomposition to find out how much of the difference in achievement between disadvantaged students and non-disadvantaged students were down to a specific variable.
The rest of this post outlines the findings of this study.
How many 16-19 year old students are disadvantaged
in 2019 there were 119, 497 16-19 year old students who were classified as disadvantaged, meaning they had been eligible for free school meals for at least one of the previous six years.
119, 497 students is equivalent to almost 25% of of the total number of 16-19 students in 2019 which was 497, 541.
How big is the attainment gap between ‘poor’ students and the rest?
By age 19 poor (disadvantaged) students are almost 3 A-level grades behind non disadvantaged students, if we give all A-levels and BTECs equal waiting.
It we weight different qualifications according to their economic value then poor (disadvantaged) students are more than 4 grades behind non disadvantaged students.
The disadvantage gap narrowed slightly between 2017 and 2019, but not significantly and more recent evidence suggests that the Pandemic increased this gap again.
interestingly in terms of ‘average’s it makes quite a difference whether you use the Mean score which they use here or the Median – there are significant numbers of 16-19s who don’t achieve, so by including those you drag the results of the ‘disadvantaged’ down because the extreme majority of those who get no results are disadvantaged!
Why do poor students get worse results?
Regression analysis shows that:
Prior attainment explains 39 per cent of the total gap,
the type of qualifications entered explains 33 per cent.
the average prior attainment of students’ peers explains 12 per cent
The researchers also noted that fourteen per cent of the disadvantage attainment gap cannot be explained by student or institution characteristics, equivalent to almost half an A level grade. This could be the continued effect of disadvantage itself, and/or it could be due to differences in unobserved characteristics such as health or motivation
Disadvantaged students take different qualifications
Disadvantaged students are more likely to take vocational and technical qualifications. They also tend to enter fewer, and lower level, qualifications.
Taken altogether these differences explain 33% of the attainment gap, mainly because fewer and lower level qualifications mean lower point scores at age 19!
The disadvantage gap and ethnicity
There are significant variations in the disadvantage gap by ethnicity.
Poor white students underachieve by around 4.5 A level grades compared to their richer peers, equivalent to almost an entire A level.
The disadvantage gap is smaller for all other ethnicity groups.
One specific policy suggestion is to extend the pupil premium to 16-19 year old students. This means that colleges should receive extra funding for each student they enrol who is eligible for free school meals and have to spend that money supporting disadvantaged students with extra lessons for example,
Strengths and Limitations of this study
This study is very useful because it fills a research gap focussing specifically on the post-16 education sector.
It shows that the disadvantage gap at GCSE level continues into post-16 education and that poor prior attainment explains most of the achievement gap in post-16 education. It also shows that qualification type explains a significant amount of the gap with poor students having to ddo fewer and lower level qualifications.
Sampling is very strong with a near total sample used.
This is also an example of a study which uses some innovate research methods – through the use of multiple measures. I especially like the measure which weights qualifications for future economic value because anyone who has worked in a sixth form environment knows that not all A-levels and BTECs are worth the same, even though UCAS insists on giving them equal weight.
In terms of weakness I don’t like the fact they do most of their analysis using the mean, I’d rather the median – I think it’s fairer to compare students who actually do qualifications!
One final limitation is the time-scale – published in 2021 but it’s only showing data up to 2019, and with the Pandemic, we are now in a different era so this is already in need of an update!
Qualitative case studies of how real people are managing the Cost of Living Crisis is a useful way to provide insight into the reality of poverty in the UK in 2022, adding some necessary depth to poverty statistics which can be rather inhuman.
A very useful contemporary resource which does just this is a recent documentary from Panorama which aired in April 2022 and is called simply ‘Surviving the Cost of Living Crisis‘.
The documentary follows three working families – two two parent families and one single mum. All the individuals in the documentary have decent jobs and some even bring in the median income in the UK but all are living in relative poverty and having to make difficult decisions around how to spend their money.
One family earns £2000 a month, but after the mortgage, bills and food they are left with £63 a month to spend – which would just about cover a meal out for the family. The father of this family has a 75 mile round trip to work every day and they have found rising fuel prices recently have taken up a lot of their spare cash.
Another of the case studies is a single mum who works part time as a nurse – she can’t work more than three days because she can’t afford the cost of child care – and besides being employed she is dependent on food banks and hand-outs from friends. After her mortgage she is left with £80 a week fork food and everything else for her and her three children.
The documentary shows the dilemma of ‘heating or eating’ with some families having to stretch a few pounds on an electric or gas metre out for several days – expensive key metres don’t help here.
The adults of these families are going without food – one husband eats only one meal a day for example. And this causes stress to older children – who are aware that their parents are going without food and possibly say they are not hungry when they really are in order to make sure their parents eat more.
The documentary does a good job of showing how much stress being in poverty causes is also clearly a good deal of anxiety around future price rises and how they are going to cope.
The Video is available on YouTube here, at time of writing, but I don’t know how much longer it will stay up!
Inflation in the UK hit 9% in April 2022, mainly due to the rising cost of energy prices and food prices, the main cause of which was supply-line shocks caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, but also because of the longer term disruption to business caused by two years of the Covid-19 pandemic….
At least that’s the ‘official analysis’ of the causes of the cost of living crisis by the government in this recent report: ‘Rising Cost of Living in the UK‘ but while it’s hard to deny the fact that prices of basic goods and services are rising, some sociological perspectives may well go a little deeper than this in their analysis of the causes of this crisis, while others fail to explain its existence altogether…
Globalisation… and the declining relevance of Nation States…
EVEN if we look deeper at the cost of living crisis than official lines of analysis, it is still the case that global events are affecting Britain here.
Britain has very little control over the global forces that are influencing rising prices.
Moreover the British Government seems incapable of doing anything to help people. This of course is because we have a neoliberal government in power who believe in helping people as little as possible, especially the poor but even if we had a more left wing government in power it wouldn’t be able to do very much to soften the blows of the increasing cost of living other than taking on more debt by bailing people out.
This seems to be a case of Nation States being too small to deal with global problems as Anthony Giddens has pointed out in the past.
Marxism applied to the rising cost of living….
As with many ‘applications’ of ‘Marxism’ I’m applying some Marxist concepts here in a broad sense!
Most obviously Marxists would remind us that this cost of living crisis is affecting the poorest MORE than the richest – the top 10% will feel the effects of the crisis much less than the bottom 10%.
And for the bottom 10% of households by income a 10% immediate increase in the cost of living (NB it’s not just energy and food, rents have also gone up) really is a matter of choosing between ‘eating or heating’.
And Marxists would go deeper than this – reminding us that a crisis such as this was only a matter of time because Capitalism is ultimately doomed to failure. Even without the Pandemic and the War in Ukraine this rising cost of living affecting the poor more than the rich would have happened eventually, or Capitalism would have had some other ind of crisis which resulted in recession and more inequality.
In a world of finite resources and increasing population, with more developing countries developing large middle classes (such as India) this simply pushes the prices of everything up – labour, goods, resources, everything is more expensive – eventually the exploitation of the poor that cheap consumer items and food and energy are based on must come to an end.
At some point we have to start thinking about how we live in a post-capitalist world according to Marxists.
‘Micro Perspectives’ applied to the Cost of Living Crisis
This is an interesting article from the Conversation which argues that the government needs to measure poverty depth more accurately in order to effectively tackle the cost of living crisis.
It points out that not all people living in poverty face the same challenges – for example life tends to be harder for people with children rather than single people.
It also points out that government help needs to be more targeted on those that need it most – so far only 1 in 3 pounds of relief money has gone to the poorest 50% of households.
Perspectives which might struggle here..
Functionalism would struggle here, this is just dysfunctional! And clearly people aren’t all in this together!
And PostModernism – there’s nothing hyperreal about this, it’s very REAL, about energy and food prices costing enough and people going cold and hungry.
Although maybe IF people are living in hypereality this could help get them through – maybe the government jus needs to subsidise people’s Netflix subscriptions…?
Relevance to A-Level Sociology
This topic is most likely to be useful in the Theory part of the theory and methods exam – it is a contemporary event that can be used to illustrate understanding of sociological concepts and perspectives.
The latest research from the Nuffield Foundation has found that 31% of children in the United Kingdom are living in relative poverty in 2021.
The percentage rises to 36% for children under five years old.
The rates of child poverty have been increasing on average for the last five years.
Child Poverty and Ethnicity
There are some large differences by ethnic group, with Bangladeshi Households having the highest child poverty rates, more than twice the national average, and Indian families having the lowest.
Family type and Child Poverty
It’s probably no surprise that single parent families have the highest rates of child poverty, with child poverty rates of 60%.
Defining and Measuring Relative Poverty
The Nuffield Foundation collects its data on poverty from the Households Below Average Income statistics, which define relative poverty as household income below 60% of median income after housing costs.
The relative poverty figures are then adjusted for family size, which gives us the following amounts of income per week in 2021:
£248 or less a week for a lone parent with one child.
£305 or less a week for a lone parent with two children.
£342 or less a week for a couple with one child.
£399 or less a week for a couple with two children.
Neoliberal policies in America over the last 30 years have led to massive economic inequalities.
Policies such of tax cuts for the rich and restrictions in welfare spending mean that now even working people on relatively high incomes cannot afford rent in some of the more expensive areas of America, such as California.
As a result, we have a situation where hundreds of thousands of in-work Americans are forced to live in their vehicles in parking lots, as the documentary below explores.
The documentary starts with the case study of one woman who works as a carer and a cleaner and used to live in a very nice house with her husband in California.
The relationship broke down, and she preferred to leave the house and him behind, but her income of $1800 a year meant she simply couldn’t afford to rent anything in her local area, and so she chose to live in her car instead.
She parks in a free parking lot where a charity has provided water, toilets and an outdoor kitchen for use, and it’s most interesting to note that it’s not the State funding this, but charities.
We see a lot of other people in the same situation – working, but living in their vehicles.
Another guy, aged 53, used to work as a computer engineer, working 50 hours a week earning $7000 a month ($80K a year), but he had a burn out and then some heart problems and after 6 months of unemployment benefit and then nothing he burnt through all of his savings and eventually couldn’t afford to live in an apartment anymore.
He now sleeps in the driving seat of his car (which looks very uncomfortable) and does temporary work to try and get back on track.
Homelessness in Richmond, Virginia
Virginia has one of the highest homeless rates in America and this section of the video starts off with a clip of local police evicting a tenant who is behind with the rent at gun point. Entering with guns drawn is standard, the tenant is actually half way through packing and willing to go.
In Virginia, if you’re only five days behind with payment you can have a late payment order made agains you, and you then have a week to pay, and then be evicted and rendered homeless immediately.
We now get to see a guy who has been living in a motel room for 2 years at the cost of $1300 a month, sharing with his partner. He cannot rent because of his past late payment notices – the State keeps a public database of late payments which landlords can search and they tend not to rent out to people with a history of bad debt.
(It’s quite interesting to compare this to the case in the UK, where we seem to have the other extreme, as evidenced in the ‘Nightmare Tenant’s type programmes – where tenants seem to have too many legal rights to stay put while the landlord just soaks up their debt!)
Poverty in the Apalachians
The documentary now moves away from homelessness in cities and focus on poverty in rural America, heading to the Apalachians. It’s often said that the American Dream got lost somewhere along the way in Apalachia.
Apalachia is home to mainly white working class Americans, 80% of whom voted for Trump, and support seems to be unwavering despite the fact that life hasn’t got better for them under his administration.
We witness a family of five who are on benefits and receive around 1200 EU a month to live off (which I think includes food stamps) – this involves the parents eating only one meal a day at the end of the month. They rely on a free food for kids meal truck that hand out food to children in the area.
Lindon B Johnson created food stamps as part of his war on poverty, and to this day 40 million U.S. Citizens still receive them.
We also get to see a Veteran who is retired on 700 EU a month and receives about 650 EU in food stamps, to feed her, her niece and her three children.
Of course they’re all overweight.
Once a month a team of Doctors provides free medical check ups – many people here, like around 20 million Americans, have no medical insurance. The service is very popular! It’s not just Doctors, it’s also dentists.
The scene looks like something out of a war zone – a triage centre.
A more extensive welfare state would help these people
This video will challenge your stereotypes about homeless people – these are all people who are hardworking and want to get ahead but just had bad luck in life which set them on the path to homelessness.
The State in America offers very little assistance to such people – and the fates of these individuals seem to be a good argument for having a more extensive welfare state like we do in Britain which offers support such as free health care and housing benefit for longer periods.
A more socialist solution would simply be to have more state housing – designated not for profit housing in which people can stay, even have it subsidised at cost maybe?!?
Los Angeles – the Homeless Capital of the United States
In the last few years the number of homeless in Los Angeles have risen from 33 000 to 59 000
Here we get to see Elvis, a guy who has a plan to combat the problem of homelessness. He gave up his job (he lives off his partner) and helps those less fortunate.
He builds small wooden cabins which cost $1000 (paid for by donations) – they have window locks and a solar panel to power an alarm and a light – they basically allow people to get a secure night’s sleep.
However, they are illegal as the mayor has forbidden him to put them on the sidewalks of the streets, but Elvis carries on regardless.
We get to see a scene where Elvis delivers a cabin to a couple sleeping on the streets, an upset resident calls the police and there is a ‘remove or destroy order’ put on the cabin. They do manage to find a spot for it on private land, but that’s the way it goes in Los Angeles!
The Being Homeless Role Play in Waco Texas
The video finishes with a project in Waco, Texas. Once a month, people come to act out what its like to be homeless for 24 hours – to give them a feel for the reality.
Relevance to A-level sociology
This documentary should be of interest to any student studying the Global Development option – it’s a good illustration of the level of inequality in the United States, one of the richest countries on earth, and shows that even very wealthy countries have pockets of grim poverty and social problems such as homelessness.
Find out more….
The story of how the Los Angeles authorities have prevented Elvis from donating tiny homes is pretty depressing – an example of the State actually preventing a DIY solution to poverty.
Summary of a documentary on global inequalities and waste
This excellent 2018 documentary gives us a rare insight into the daily working lives of two men living in poverty, both making a living through trash, one in Kenya and the other in the United States.
It’s a really useful resource for gaining an insight into what the lived experience of poverty is like in these two very different countries, and for highlighting the extent of global inequalities.
Most of the documentary focuses on two men, and we get to hear a lot from them: details of their lives and their thoughts on poverty and inequality and what they would do to help overcome the problems of inequality.
We also here from a few experts and other people, but these take on a supporting role to the two main proponents (which is unusual for documentaries like this, but also welcome!
This is an excellent video to use to teach Global Development in A-level sociology, personally I would use it in the introductory lesson to the module.
Below i provide a brief summary of some of the key points of this documentary:
Sorting trash in Kenyan slum
After a brief introduction we get to see the first part the day of one guy in Kenya who works in waste management.
He gets up at 4.00 a.m and then spends several hours sorting through trash which is delivered from the nearby affluent suburbs and shopping areas. He sorts out food for his pigs and separates out any useful items which he can sell on.
There are a lot of people working sorting waste, many of them there because they have no other option. Many of them also eat waste food they find there.
Recycling cans in New York
The video now hops over to America where it follows another guy who also gets up at 4.00 a.m. to collect cans and bottles, which he then sorts to sell – there’s a good market in recycled containers it seams in New York – he can make $75 a day doing this.
We also get an insight into his life history – he used to be homeless, and he reminds us that many Americans are just one pay check away from falling into a similar situation.
Back in the slum
In this third section we see the guy in Kenya sorting out some of the cartons he’s found at the dump – he gets someone else to wash them and then he sells them on, making a daily income of $3-4 which is enough for him to feed his family, and lifts him above Kenya’s formal poverty line.
The U.S ‘Cultural Waste and Recycling Centres’
Back in the United States – we’re taken to a recycling centre, a community initiative that gives ‘canners’ support in their recycling endeavours – which plays a crucial part in helping them stay resilient.
The video also gets a bit more analytical at this point – there are 600 billionaires in the United States, but 40 million Americans live in poverty. But poverty is much worse in Kenya – it takes the average Kenyan 20 years to earn the annual salary of the average American.
There’s also a short interview with an anthropologist who reminds us that waste is cultural – a lot of things are only trash because we label them as such – and we take a trip to one guy’s museum of trash to drive the point home – he’s got thousands of dollars worth of perfectly good stuff he’s collected from what other people have thrown away!
Reflecting on Inequality
The documentary now highlights inequalities in the two countries – by taking a trip to the mall in Kenya – one gets the impression that the government there is investing more in malls for the wealth than in education and health for the poor.
In America we visit a guy who makes art from trash – one piece (which sold for a small fortune) adorns the wall of the one the most expensive apartments in New York – how’s that for irony.
in this section the two main men in the video give their views on inequality – both seem quite wise – neither think inequality is a good thing and would use our financial resources to give more enabling support to those in poverty, a leg up if you like to better help them help themselves.
Why do you think the video focuses on trash as a means of exploring inequality?
Have these two men found an effective solution (sorting and selling trash) to lift themselves out of poverty?
Do you agree with the two men in this video. Should our global resources be used to help the poor?