Ross Kemp’s Extreme World documentaries have confirmed much of what we already knew.
The shocking tour of Glasgow’s ‘parallel worlds’ of comfortable living and intolerable hardship could have been conducted in any city in Britain. In many respects, there is a much uglier side to this country than most of us would like to face up to.
Of course, for the majority of us it is difficult to imagine what it must be like to endure the extreme hardships faced by other people, even if we tried hard. We are too consumed by our own lives. We are too busy working, socialising, going on holiday, resting, saving, over indulging, arguing, complaining, doing this, doing that, getting into debt, making ends meet; whilst others are simply existing.
Sadly, their situation is often made much worse by the debilitating effects of alcohol and drug dependency, and sometimes by the psychological effects of earlier traumatic experiences that have left permanently damaging marks on their lives. And it seems to be extremely difficult to get back out of this type of downward spiral once in it.
In harsher moments we may make unsubstantiated judgements that people in this situation have worked their way into it through choices they have freely made and therefore only have themselves to blame. In some cases this is subconsciously driven by government policy makers and the media. We learn to tag individuals with the type of labels that cast them off as workshy wasters, subsidy junkies or benefits tourists.
In some cases, though definitely not all, this may well be true. The decision to start dealing drugs, for example, because it paid substantially more than anywhere else – plus ‘extras’ – is one which we would consider to be a voluntary decision that ultimately defined the next few years, or possibly the remaining years, of their lives, even if they were unable to see the long term consequences at the time.
In other cases there are desperately sad stories of individuals who had suffered earlier traumatic experiences, leaving deep emotional and psychological wounds that were simply left to bleed, the crippling effect of which very few of us could ever imagine. The subsequent inability to function according to the accepted norms of society should never be underestimated, nor should it be vilified.
The sheer extent of the poverty and sickness among many individuals across sections of our society should make us think longer and harder about what has gone wrong in this country. Why has it come to this? It is a truly depressing and disgusting state of affairs, for which very few people would be willing to accept any form of responsibility, nor offer any real help to remedy it.
It is a state of affairs that has been made possible in the first place by our current economic framework and the firmly entrenched patterns of political thinking that support it. It has deteriorated to this extent as a consequence of our sociocultural attitudes.
It is a badly built structure that we do not understand how to dismantle without impacting too much on our comfortable lives. It is a ticking time bomb that we do not understand how to defuse without having to give up everything that we have worked hard for.
There appear to be no permanent solutions available within our current thinking. And the biggest problem is this: whilst some of us would be willing to challenge that way of thinking, and put pressure on politicians and economists to fix this mess, there are very few indeed who would actually be willing to make the wholesale changes required to eradicate it. It’s not our fault, after all.
That’s why it is always easier for politicians to tinker around the edges with another new sympathetic initiative and another new hard line policy. It makes it look as if they are trying.
That’s why it is always easier for the rest of us to make unsubstantiated judgements, or even feel temporarily shocked when we witness it, only to return swiftly to what we were doing before we were interrupted.
It makes it easier for us to live with the knowledge of it.