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Poor-Bashing: The Politics of Exclusion Paperback – Mar 13 2001
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From the Author
in conversation with Joanna Fine, March 2001
JOANNA FINE: How would you define poor-bashing for those who may not be familiar with the term?
JEAN SWANSON: Poor-bashing is when people who are poor are stereotyped, ignored, blamed, patronized, pitied, falsely accused of being drunk and having large families and not looking for work. Other ways are institutional, for example, low welfare rates is a type of poor-bashing. Having poverty in a world where it is possible to eliminate it is a type of poor-bashing.
JF: What do you say to people who argue that Canada is a rich country and people who are poor choose to live that way?
JS: There is a section in the book in which I ask that question to a single mother that I interviewed. She said 'I didn't choose to be on welfare. Harris made choices that put me where I am.' The latest wealth stats have just come out. They show the poorest half of Canada's population to have 6 per cent of the wealth, and the richest half to have 94 per cent. There is a general opinion that the way to get some of that 94 per cent is to get an education and a job but it's not because there are laws that prevent people without money from getting into that 94 per cent. There are laws that help the rich that don't help the poor. You have different choices available to you if you are rich than if you are poor.
JF: Is poor-bashing new or has it changed with increasing globalization?
JS: Poor-bashing has always existed-I trace it back 500 years in European society. With globalization, corporations are wanting the cheapest labour. They traditionally exploited women and people of colour (and especially women of colour), now the drive for globalization is very intense and they are wanting to expand the number of people they can legitimately exploit. This is where poor-bashing comes in-it is now applied to men and women of European background. Poor-bashing is a way of concealing who has the real power.
JF: Why hasn't there been much progress made against poverty?
JS: In the mid-1970s, corporations got together to push their agenda of privatization, deregulation, free trade, and cuts to social programs to increase profits. As this agenda was implemented by the federal and provincial governments, poverty increased. The corporations used their think tanks (for example the Fraser Institute and C.D. Howe) to push poor-bashing which blamed the poor for the poverty that the policies of the corporations and think tanks were creating. This was pushed by the media and politicians and had a big effect in increasing poor-bashing in the minds of people who weren't in power. Poor-bashing made the cuts to welfare and unemployment insurance seem legitimate.
JF: In Poor-Bashing, you devote an entire chapter to the language of poor-bashing. Why is language so important?
JS: Some words and phrases are inculcated in to our consciousness and you can't use them without poor-bashing, without blaming the poor for poverty. For example, the word incentive. Incentive is a big one. When you talk about the incentive to work you stop talking about poverty and start talking about cheap labour and people don't realize this because we have been programmed. Another one is dependency, that people on employment insurance or welfare are dependent on the system. Dependency implies that people use welfare or unemployment insurance because they are lazy or childlike or personally flawed in some way. Why aren't corporations considered dependent on sweat shop labour?
JF: Who did you write Poor-Bashing for?
JS: For poor people who I hope will take the blame off themselves for poverty. And also for working people. There is such a great need for working people to unite with poor people, not blame them. Poverty and poor-bashing undermine the working conditions of working people. And also for people with a social conscious who are often taken in by language and the media-I hope it opens their eyes to become allies of the poor. I tried to write the book in plain language and I hope it will be a tool for people who want to end poor-bashing and who want to live in a fair and just society.
About the Author
Jean Swanson lives in Vancouver and works with End Legislative Poverty. She was the national chair of the National Anti-Poverty Organization (NAPO).
Top Customer Reviews
Poor-bashing, or classism, as I usually think of it is one of the last forms of prejudice that people do not acknowledge or even speak about. It's a taboo topic. A lot of people still seem to assume that there's the deserving poor and the deserving rich. Nothing is further from the truth.
This book is quite good and has a lot of good facts. It would be an excellent source for someone writing a paper on the topic of poverty in Canada. I particularly liked how Swanson talks about the failings of all levels of government and all the political parties in Canada. None of them have done enough to solve the problem of poverty.
She outs Mike Harcourt as a poor-basher when he was premier of B.C. She also outs Bob Rae.
Most importantly, Swanson talks about how even people on the left bash the poor without even thinking about it. They give food and donations at Christmas and no other time, demean the poor by treating them as lesser human beings. She also examines the history of welfare and poverty in Western Europe to its evolution in Canada.
A must read for poverty activists as well as anyone who is interested in the topic of poverty in Canada or the failings of our governments during the past two decades.
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