Happening on my watch

“Two years ago a woman from Dewsbury called Claire Skipper, suffering from toothache, went into her garden shed, clamped the offending tooth in a pair of pliers, and pulled. Her tooth broke. There had been no vacancies at her local NHS practice and she couldn’t afford private care or the journey to the nearest emergency clinic in Bradford.

A week later, in ‘indescribable’ pain, she went to the Real Tooth Project, a ‘pay as you feel’ dental clinic that had been set up in Dewsbury with the support of DentAid, an international NGO. DentAid’s UK operations began in 2015, providing a charitable alternative to what Stephen Armstrong calls ‘DIY Dentistry’.

In a chapter that’s almost impossible to read without flinching, Armstrong’s book ‘The New Poverty’ tells story after story of individuals forced by the scarcity of public services and the cost of private treatment into self-dentistry, sometimes aided by cheap off-the-shelf ‘kits’ for basic treatments up to and including replacing lost fillings.

Armstrong first came across the phenomenon in Paisley, where one woman, concerned about being fined for a missed dentist’s appointment and apprehensive about future treatment costs, ‘resorted to popping her own mouth abscess with a fork’.

...Poverty is not only thriving, but also taking increasingly sinister forms.” 

(London Review of Books: 22 February 2018) 

 

I would go one stage further. The ideology behind the Victorian Poor Law is still alive and feeding off the heart of society. It’s hard for me to get my head around how a way of thinking that Dickens so passionately wrote against is blatantly parading itself down the streets. 

The Poor Law had its roots in how people defined ‘moral’ work. The ability to purchase property, goods and security were all signs of a moral and worthy lifestyle. Work hard, and you will be rewarded. Slack off, accept the curse. This shift of thinking impacted the poor. The inability to provide for oneself was a sign of weak morals and questionable lifestyles. That way of thinking condoned the shift in how care services for ‘all’ morphed into services for those deemed ‘worthy enough.’

Today, we have different terms to describe ‘moral work’. But the way of thinking remains. Us. Them. Deserving. Undeserving. Poverty is thriving and taking increasingly sinister forms. 

And it’s happening on my watch.