Against the “live below the line” campaign

Published

Tesco food donation box. Credit: geograph.org

Tesco food donation box. Credit: geograph.org

Megan Holly Burns
Writer

Last week, the Glasgow Tab referred to the involvement of the four student bodies in the Live Below the Line Campaign as “brave”. Living on £1 a day across the course of a week, numerous students have been raising money in order to donate to Glasgow North West food bank.

Whenever fundraising like this is criticised, the retort is always the same: at least it raised money. The charity is hugely worthwhile, necessary, and deserving of every penny that reaches it through all fundraising, but we still need to ask: why is it necessary to introduce self-commendation in order to raise money effectively? Believe it or not, there are working-class students at Glasgow University (myself included); perhaps the student bodies could have worked with the people who already have first-hand experience of this kind of poverty, rather than feeling the need to self-righteously partake in it themselves.

Their actions are not brave. Instead, they trivialise the hardship endured by many suffering through poverty not just for a week, but for years – often for their entire lives. Why do we award the term “brave” to students who willingly dip into poverty and then return to comfortable lives, but not to the people and communities for whom £5 a week is an inescapable reality? Why do we commend the individuals who can treat £5 a week as a novel experience, but not the families who are forced to use that money to feed several mouths?

The Tab article stresses that “they’ll experience what it’s like to live in poverty”. They won’t. Poverty keeps you up at night; poverty means choosing between food, electricity and heating; poverty is a seemingly endless cycle that doesn’t stop just a week after it starts. This is why the actions of the four student bodies seem patronising – whilst their intentions may be good, ultimately, they trivialise a struggle that many of my community endure daily. Dipping in and out of “poverty” is insulting to the people whose lives these students are trying to emulate. Why can’t we feel sympathy for those in poverty and offer help without trying to be them? All this does is reinforce the fact that society doesn’t listen to the working-class voice: we only want to hear about the struggle of poverty when its voiced by a certain type of person.

In the wake of Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, we can raise a question that also resonates with the involvement of the student bodies in this campaign. Why is society only moved by the real-life stories of working-class men and women when they get transferred to screen, beautifully put together in a Palm D’Or winning film and viewed from the comfort of a cosy cinema? These are the very same stories told by working-class individuals every day, but to them, society refuses to listen. Similarly, why do working-class students at Glasgow University have no voice, and yet the students who willingly choose to partake in an idea of “poverty” are not only listened to, but lauded?

The money raised for Glasgow North West food bank is invaluable, and the cause is hugely important and always will be. Future fundraising could perhaps be a little more sensitive and thoughtful, invested less in Facebook likes and more in the lives of the people who urgently need help.