For a long time, the Netherlands has been a highly egalitarian country, but inequality is very slowly starting to increase there, even though most people in the Netherlands still live – in a comparison to make you understand – with caviare and champagne for breakfast and gold taps and door handles throughout the home.
For the past fourteen years, I have been living in a country that has a huge degree of inequality, which is much worse than in all the other EU countries. Yes, all of them. I want you to know what that looks like, at the bottom. So that you can help stop the Netherlands from going into that direction too.
There is a HUGE amount of homelessness here in the UK, for mostly financial reasons.
Yes, the simple lack of sufficient income for people to support their basic needs.
You see that in countries like the US and Australia too. It includes many female older adults and also people like Manda in one of the videos below, who sustained a brain injury with associated nerve damage. (The Hanes corporation decided to help her.) Most of these people never thought in their wildest dreams that they might ever end up homeless. Among the poorest retired women are former nurses and researchers but also many former stay-at-home mothers.
One of the things it sometimes leads to in Britain is a great deal of envy or discomfort when people in poverty see someone who does not appear to be miserable or who appears to be able to support himself or herself financially. It makes them feel like something has been taken away from them, and they often focus those feelings and their energy on the person who is not miserable. As a result, that person may then be pushed into poverty as well. There are no efforts, certainly not by the British government (to the contrary), to pull people out of poverty here.
In Britain, I have learned what it is like to live without hot water, heat and electricity, to sit in your bed all day long, and walk over to a place where they provide a hot meal for you (and where they may treat you as if you are a potentially dangerous wild animal for no other reason than that you are poor). In Britain, I have seen what it is like to live in deep poverty, to stop looking toward the future because you know that you will never get out of that poverty, and become so accustomed to it that you completely forget what a life is like without poverty.
The other side of the spectrum, the crazy consumerism, the drive for higher and higher GDPs, and the accumulation of personal possessions as the only measure of one’s self-worth, the push for ever-increasing industrial production without any concern for the costs of that and the senseless of it all seems to be also pushing a lot of people into deep poverty.
The key word in many developments and environments is balance. Leading simpler lives is generally more fun than pursuing a consumerist lifestyle, but deep poverty is is just as bad as crazy consumerism. And they seem to go hand in hand.
I’ve heard someone who was spending about 6000 a month describe himself as poor. That’s crazy.
Poor, in the western world, is 6000 a year, or 8000 a year, or 2000 a year.
Poor is having no or limited access to medical care, in the western world.
Poor, in the western world, is having so little income that you have to choose between having a roof over your head and having food in your stomach or having food in your stomach and having food in your children’s stomachs.
One of the videos below features Charlotte, a young British woman who lives on one day a meal and who does not want a sandwich for lunch because eating the sandwich would make her feel hungry the next day. When you have to live on very little food, your metabolism changes, and you will want to keep your body functioning in that mode because it helps you cope. (People who want to stuff people who’ve been living on very little food for a long time, say a year or half a year or one and a half year, and get angry when they don’t want to gorge themselves are simply totally clueless. On the other hand, when your food intake fluctuates, then you will likely want to stuff yourself and may not be able to stop eating when you do get food and may eat 4 plates full of pasta and/or 6 bagels in one go.)
You may also develop nutritional deficiencies.
The medical profession is mostly completely blind to all of this. If you complain about muscle weakness to your doctor, he or she will likely suggest that you join a gym club. Because that is what he or she would do in your place. But these doctors aren’t you. They aren’t poor and haven’t got the foggiest idea what it is like to be really poor.
So instead of buying yet another fancy this or that for your garden or patio and an Alexa or iPhone, you could go to your local Aldi or Lidl, look at how other people are shopping and spend the money you would have spent on your new garden ornament on on that new iPhone on people who would, in a sense, have been paying for your iPhone, Alexa or garden ornament.
Inequality seems to be the result of you not wanting to pay 600 for your new phone but only 400, so that you can spend 200 on your garden ornament. It seems to mean that there are people who get paid very little so that you can get what you want (but don’t need). It seems to mean that there are people who live in environments that have been polluted by the side effects of your consumerism. (It is not healthy to live close to a garbage dump, for example.)
Money and income are not limited resources like oil and gas, but consumerist spending is linked to the depletion of limited resources, and somehow, that results in greater inequality.
Research by universities and the IMF has shown that greater equality makes everyone better off, including those at the top socio-economic levels.
Once you start thinking about how many of the impairments of physically non-mainstream people are created by society, you notice it increasingly frequently.
Why, for instance, isn’t it much easier to roll onto a train than it currently is in most cases?
(For blind, deaf, and deaf-blind people, more could be done as well, but that kind of research, into wearable technology that connects with the already present station networks, is underway.)
About a week ago, someone tweeted about a very positive experience with Eurostar. Others reported similar experiences. But it still involves complicated activities that simply shouldn’t be necessary.
In my home country, it’s no better. If you’re in a wheelchair, you can get the required assistance that enables you to travel by train, but I think that you actually have to book it in advance. So, while the rest of us simply hop on the train to the next town if we suddenly feel like attending a theatre performance or concert of any kind, anyone who uses a wheelchair is probably forced to jump through multiple hoops first and then realizes he or she won’t be able to get to the event in time.
(At this point, I am not aware of any transport-related research in my home country that focuses on accessibility, but I have not concluded my little investigation yet and still need to make some phone calls as well.)
Why don’t trains come with automatically extending ramps that lower onto the platform?
In the rare cases that the platform is higher than the train floor, they should not extend, of course, but that can be accomplished either sensor-based or programmed.
Someone on Twitter (Sven Slootweg: thanks!) helpfully made a drawing for me:
Well, here is one possible answer as to why no innovation is taking place, for the case of Britain:
I also ran into some other news, though, and sent the message below to the Spanish manufacturer of those new trains. I am looking forward to hearing back from them.
I saw that you are constructing new trains for Britain (here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-42937218).
As you probably know, 10 to 20% of any population is considered “disabled” but many physical impairments are actually caused by hindrances created by society.
By 2050, there are expected to be nearly one billion urban dwellers who are “disabled”. How are you taking them into account in your new designs? Do your trains have automatic extending hinging ramps that lower onto the platform so that anyone in a wheelchair can easily roll on and roll off and make use of public transport just as easily as anybody else?
I am neither disabled nor looking after someone who is disabled. I am merely becoming increasingly aware of how biased society is toward mainstream people.
I look forward to your reply. Thank you.
There is no way that they can ignore such a large proportion of the human population, and I can imagine that increasing accessibility, also for parents with small children, would also improve punctuality.
As someone else commented or hinted at (a blog post for which I currently don’t have the link at hand), such automatic ramps would likely also be very handy for freight trains.
For more on the topic, see for instance this article in The Guardian:
This morning, the first news today’s papers informed me of was a row over food banks.
Apparently, someone – an aide to the current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – threatened to have food banks shut down if they continued to raise awareness about their activities and about food poverty in the UK. This aide has the wrong idea.
Only a few years ago, in 2011, I noticed a major discrepancy in this area. The Trussell Trust – which runs the food banks in the UK – wasn’t accomplishing even 10% of what Dutch food banks were doing.
- UK food banks handed out 40,000 parcels per year.
- 900,000 per year were handed out by Dutch food banks.
- The population of England & Wales on 27 March 2011 was 56,075,912. The population of Scotland on that day was 5,295,000.
- On 1 January 2011, the population of the Netherlands was around 16,700,000 persons. That’s almost 45 million people less!
So, while British food banks were handing out 0.00065 parcel per person per year, Dutch food banks handed out 0.054 parcel per person per year. Or did my calculator trip me up badly?
Around 83 times more food parcels were being handed out in a tiny country with much greater equality and almost none of the appallingly deep poverty of the UK!
That is not the Trussell Trust’s fault.
While the number of food parcels handed out in the UK has gone up substantially since then, it still is nowhere near enough. The Trussell Trust gave emergency food to 913,138 people in the UK in 2013-2014. Presumably, that means ‘once’.
According to the Trussell Trust, 13,000,000 people in the UK live below the poverty threshold. (That’s what it also said three years ago.)
Addressing the UK’s persistent poverty problems would improve the lives of everyone here, not just the lives of the poor. When UK scientists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett investigated the impact of inequality on society, they had to conclude that a higher degree of equality would lead to overall improvements for everyone, not just for the so-called vulnerable.
Conquering poverty would also benefit the nation’s budget, as the estimated cost of child poverty alone in the UK is £25 billion per year in terms of costs to business, the police, courts and health and education services.
Inhabitants of the Netherlands rank among the happiest people on the planet, year after year after year. Dutch children consider themselves very happy children, regardless of their socioeconomic background. The same cannot be said for British children.
At the end of 2010, UNICEF research into child inequality in 24 developed countries showed that income poverty has the greatest impact on child inequality in the UK. The UK ranks alongside countries such as Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. There is little inequality in the Netherlands, however, and the lives of children from the richest families differ little from the lives of the poorest Dutch children.
UNICEF UK commented that addressing income poverty is the crucial factor. ‘David Bull, Executive Director UNICEF UK said:
‘We must not lose sight of the importance of family income to eradicating child poverty in this country. We must ensure that no family with children has to live on an income which cannot provide the warmth, shelter and food they need.’
We need to hand out many more food parcels. There is no shame in handing out food, and none in accepting it either. The embarrassment is in not handing it out.