Billionaire and one time Labour Government adviser, Lord Sugar, has dismissed the notion of poverty in 21st century Britain, claiming the poor enjoy luxuries undreamt of by former generations. He said today’s less well-off families have far more material benefits than the poor of his childhood. "You’ve got some people up north and in places like that who are quite poor, but they all have mobile phones, being poor, and they’ve got microwave ovens, being poor, and they’ve got televisions, being poor. Compare that to 60 years ago…If you really want to know what poor is like go and live where I lived in Hackney, where you didn’t have a shilling for the meter.”
According to a report from the Debt Advisory Centre earlier this year, more than four million people say they often cannot afford to top up their gas meter and 4.7 million people regularly have their electricity cut off after failing to pay their bills.
Sugar frankly admits he does not bother looking at the price of most items he buys – “apart from planes and boats and things like that” – and confesses he does not know the price of a pint of milk or a loaf of bread. He said: “I never look at the price. I look at the product and if I like the shirt, I’m going to have it, and the price is whatever the price is.” Sugar said the last time he remembers having to wait for something because he did not have the money to pay for it was when he was a teenager and wanted a new lens for his camera.
We often hear from the defenders of capitalism that you aren’t poor because of your personal possessions such as fridges, TVs, and computers, etc. Sugar would like us all to equate poverty with destitution and the hunger marches of the Thirties. He doesn’t wish to liken todays “food banks” with yesterday's “soup kitchens”. He refuses to see that it is the local pay-day loan-shark businesses that have replaced the pawn shops of earlier eras.
As workers, we have always been patronised by those like Sugar who cannot quite grasp the idea that we might aspire to something slightly better than a life of relative poverty. For us, we face insecure lives with ever more pressing problems and threats: loss of livelihood, dignity, home and maybe even family and if we are lucky to have a job it is now usually part-time, low-paid work and for those of us unfortunately to not to be in employment, claiming benefits is becoming an increasingly humiliating experience. We do not have the luxury of paying our bills without casting a glance at the cost but are cutting down on basic food items to pay their rising rents. We accept second best just to save the pennies.