Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Fattigfällan by Charlotta von Zweigbergk

"The trap of becoming poor quickly", as I would translate it with some liberty, is an important book. The main character, a lady that actually lives at a nice address, and stays there throughout all the difficulties, falls ill. Movies don't show that bills pay by themselves when someone is hospitalized - bills are barely spoken of at all. Love is discussed, hot doctors are in and out the frame, but what happens to the patient when she goes home and realizes she cannot work? Turmoil of bureaucracy, debts, fighting to survive and some absurdities that are difficult to understand become the character's daily fight. 

For one, if one does qualify for financial aid, it is very time-consuming to show the authorities exactly every penny spent. Every coin will be questioned. Forms have to be filled in, with follow-up interviews that make dignity go instinct. And friends don't realize: they can invite you for dinner, sure, but if you have not had proper food for the past six months, it is nothing you can properly enjoy. Nor does the fancy restaurant make you happy or comfortable. Those money spent on this compensating dish (or a three course meal) serves better as a contribution for the groceries needed for your friend to survive the rest of the week. Also not funny: if you catch your poor friend laughing, you might question him or her for being so happy. A poor person is somehow not expected to experience any kind of joy but to have a worried, puzzled look (our preconceptions tell us). Nor is a poor person expected to carry any expensive garments - even if they are donated to them. The quick adjudicating eye doesn't reflect upon that sometimes, the poor people have no choice but to reject an actually warm jacket, because if it looks too expensive, others might reject them help and even question if they speak the truth when they ask for help - just by looking at the jacket.

An interesting read, with a remarkably positive pen - with suggestions for change of current bureaucratic flaws at the far end. This goes well with the news in Finland, where a citizen salary has been tried out as a project - and it worked very well. The major difference is that you can choose to do whatever you want with the money, not account for how it as spent, and not the least, you are allowed to work part-time or study as much as you like. This gives you a way out of the vicious cycle.

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