“Poverty is just too good for the poor,” says twenty eight year old City stockbroker Tim Fillet, as he sits in the mildewed living room of his recently purchased Tower Hamlets hovel. “I mean, just look at all the advantages it brings: the lack of responsibility, the excessive alcohol consumption, the profligate sex, the lack of adherence to rules. All completely wasted on the poor who just don’t appreciate them!” Fillet is one of a growing number of well off middle class professionals choosing to ‘down shift’ their lives and live in poverty conditions. Unkempt and unshaven, clad only in a soiled vest and boxer shorts, Fillet sat on a sagging, filthy sofa, wall paper peeling from the wall behind him, as he spoke exclusively to The Sleaze about this new lifestyle movement. “This isn’t about ‘slumming it’ for a couple of weeks as some kind of passing whim,” he assures us, pausing only to sip from a can of Carlsberg Strong Brew, before belching loudly. “This is about having the full immersive experience of being poor – smoking forty a day, eating nothing but fast food and stuff out of tins. Never shaving or washing, wearing the same underwear for a week. You know the sort of thing.” Fillet emphasised that this immersion was also social, encompassing a concerted effort to adopt the culture of the poor. “I spent eight hours watching daytime TV yesterday,” he proudly boasts, as he vigourously scratches his genitals. “That’s eight hours of terrestrial daytime TV – the really cruddy stuff that will destroy your will to live! When I’m not doing that, I like to go out with the lads for some mindless vandalism and session on the booze – that’s supermarket booze drunk round the back of the bus station. We can’t afford pub prices – we only go into pubs to start bar room brawls!”
Critics of this ‘nouveau poor’ fad point out that when Fillet speaks of going out with ‘the lads’, he is referring to his fellow middle class poverty-seekers, rather than actual working class locals. “The fact is that there are whole colonies of them springing up in the poorest parts of Britain, buying the shabbiest flats and houses they can find to live in,” claims Professor Jerry Mire, Chair of Sociology at the West Drayton Bargain Basement Educational Facility. “It’s been putting up property prices, forcing even more poor people out of the areas they have traditionally lived in. They find themselves replaced by these middle class imposters, living what they think are ‘working class’ lives.” Mire also points out that none of these ‘nouveau poor’ have actually given up their lucrative jobs and luxury apartments in places like Docklands, instead opting to be poor only on a part time basis. “Unlike those they have usurped, they have effectively retained a ‘safety net’,” he says. “This is in stark contrast to the real poor who have seen the welfare state, which has traditionally protected them from absolute destitution, systematically dismantled by the Tories in the name austerity.” This, of course, means that Fillet and his friends inevitably miss out on one essential feature of the ‘poor experience’: benefits culture.
“It’s true that we can’t actually receive benefits, but that doesn’t stop us claiming them,” chuckles Fillet. “It really screws up the system – you should see the faces of those DWP bastards when we declare our incomes! They couldn’t earn that much in a lifetime in their shitty public sector jobs!” He defends the fact that he and his fellow poverty seekers still retain well paid jobs while living their lives of apparent destitution. “Well look, if we didn’t retain an income, we really would have to claim benefits – which would put a terrible strain on the economy,” he contends. “It also means that we can retain our private healthcare – thereby saving the Health Service money and allowing it to focus on treating poor people.” Fillet also points out that he and his friends now only work part-time, allowing them to spend part of the week being poor. “Trust me, when you work in the high powered stressful environments of the City and the finance sector, it is incredibly relaxing to be able to leave it all behind for a few days of slovenly, low rent living every week,” he explains. “Besides, it isn’t as if we aren’t taking a cut in pay – we might still be earning what some people would consider a healthy income, but to us it feels like poverty, We’ve all had to cut back our spending and make sacrifices. I just say thank God for food banks. Free food – you see these poor people just don’t know how good they’ve got it!”
But what is driving this new ‘poverty tourism’? Professor Mire has no doubt that, in part, it is the same motivation which lies behind the ‘poverty porn’ of TV programmes which focus on the lives of benefits claimants. “Those shows thrive on the vicarious thrill of experiencing second hand the misery of life at the bottom,” he opines. “The ‘nouveau poor’ business is taking it a stage further, allowing those wealthy enough to directly experience the ‘thrill’ of living on the breadline.” Mire contends that living in poverty really does constitute a ‘thrill’ of sorts for those who normally never want for anything, who never experience hunger, who can always afford to heat their homes and don’t have to worry about paying their bills. “It provides an antidote to the ennui of their comfortable lives,” muses Mire. “Probably they’ll next be looking to get an additional kick by contracting mild and completely treatable doses of the commonest diseases of poverty, like TB and heart disease.”
The ‘nouveau poor’, however, already seem to shifting strategy, with reports emerging of purpose built ‘slums’ being created as gated communities. “A lot of the guys have been beginning to feel unsafe,” says Fillet. “There has been some conflict with the local real poor people who seem to resent our presence – windows have been broken and there has even been a firebomb attack. “ Consequently, developers have hit upon the idea of specially created ‘hovels’ located in a safe environment for the ‘nouveau poor’ to pursue their poverty role play. “It’s surprising how expensive these new slums are,” ponders Fillet. “For one thing, they have to be built ‘new’, then ‘distressed’ to make them appear authentically shabby. Designers come in to apply all those ‘stains’ and artificially wear the carpets down and grind dirt into them. Then you have to furnish them with actual tat.” Indeed, a whole new industry supplying such items has appeared, with shops specialising in ‘genuine’ poverty furniture and fittings springing up in Chelsea. “Some of them are asking over five hundred quid for a piss-stained sofa with sagging springs,” says Fillet. “Some of them offer to fill your whole house with crap – empty tin cans for the bins, broken furniture, he lot. They’ll even ad a veneer of grease and filth to the whole house.” Fillet believes that it is details of this kind which really make the poverty experience. “A friend of mine has just moved into one of these places – he even had the toilet specially broken and filled to the brim with shit,” he says. “It just makes the place seem so authentic. Of course, he has someone in once a week to change the shit, so as to keep it fresh.”