The Poverty Pandemic, fossil fuels and consumer advertising

The UK’s Poverty Pandemic (aka ‘Cost of Living Crisis’) was already coursing through the lifeblood of society long before COVID-19. Over the past decade, the Poverty Pandemic has been more damaging than COVID-19 and far less easily treated. Indeed, many who promoted this Poverty Pandemic’s root causes may dismiss the inequities as collateral damage in the cause of the Conservative’s economic treadmill — a heartless Darwinian devotion to the survival of top dogs.

To excuse this Poverty Pandemic as ‘a crisis’ as if it might one day pass away is ‘deflective marketing’ where ‘problems’ are progressively reframed as ‘challenges’, and ‘challenges’ become ‘opportunities’, and imagined opportunities become the elusive ‘sunlit uplands’ in the search for infinite compound growth or some such supposedly faster-spinning hamster wheel, further fuelled by Brexit. Foodbanks, Pantries, and ‘charity shops’ were well established before that Brexit twist of the economic knife and before Covid-19 preyed upon endemic poverties that lacked insulation against escalating energy prices.

Any treatment for this Poverty Pandemic must inevitably be based on understanding the root causes. As our King, the UN, Climate Activists, and Extinction Rebels across the Planet have long maintained, ‘we cannot go on like this’. The world economy is based on fossil fuel extraction and conversion into the giddy creation of consumer crap, fast fashion, and consequent pollution — we have chosen to choke on, or sink into, a mess of our own making. Reliance on imaginary hi-tech solutions would be ‘displacement activities’ — further spins of the roulette wheel gambling on good fortune — another crank of fruit machines programmed to profit from addiction.

Effective treatments for addictions can only begin when patients are no longer in denial. Political leaders find that tricky — even London Mayor Sadiq Khan came under fire from supposed friends when combatting air pollution — and the re-education of entire populations is even trickier, especially when the media is beholden to ‘the way things are’. Change is inevitable but is oft assumed as being ‘for the worst’. The whole apple-cart upheaval is beyond imagination and can only be tackled in small progressive steps. But we must know where we are headed.

A wholesale re-ordering of priorities is a long-term investment project. There are no overnight solutions. Even celebrities toil for years before stardom. But there is no shortage of ‘get well’ plans. It may at first seem unfair, but I’d start with a radical reform of consumer advertising. Objectors may shriek ‘economic harm’ and ‘liberty’, but the short-term collateral damage — the ‘nasty medicine’ and fractious ferment — could turn out to be massively educative. Real/severe sector regulation guided by strong moral imperatives can foster a debate that’s long overdue. This may seem quite a distance from the pressing and pervasive inequalities of our Poverty Pandemic, but, in the context of a series of such reforms, the messages would gather strength and might even become guiding lights for our peaceable survival.
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For more on UK poverty read the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report: ‘The Essential Guide to Understanding Poverty in the UK’.

* David Brunnen is media liaison officer for Fareham Liberal Democrats. He writes on Municipal Autonomy, Intelligent Communities, Sustainability & Digital Challenges.

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4 Comments

  • Jenny Barnes 5th Dec '23 - 9:27am

    “a radical reform of consumer advertising”
    We could start by banning ads for 3tonne cars driving down empty roads to pristine beaches and countryside, when the reality is sitting in a traffic jam on the way to struggling to get the giant machine into a parking spot at the supermarket that would be big enough for a more sensible car.

  • Peter Davies 5th Dec '23 - 10:16am

    It doesn’t help that we now depend for our information entirely on a Web funded through advertising. On average, that advertising is even less honest than that in the traditional media.

  • As an outsider and a seen-as ‘right wing’ person I would welcome this message.
    I have seen my beautiful, laid back, easy-going, green city become an overcrowded, congested monster on the back of successive economic growth models.
    When Keir Starmer speaks of being “the fastest growing economy in the G7” I shudder with horror.
    But there are hard decisions to make – especially on immigration, training, and our obsession with cheap imported tat.

  • The answer to poverty is to make sure that everyone has enough money to live on. Our present systems are based on having a society that allows some people to live by different rules than the rest.
    We have a lot of talk about the problems of our educational system. We know that the children registered for free school meals have a substantially lower result at 16 than the rest. I say we know because these figures are collected and published by local authorities. We need to consider the implications of this.

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