It’s just a saying, isn’t it? People say it all the time. They look at a broken leg, and tell themselves they should be thankful they have a leg to break. They get the flu, and tell themselves they should be thankful it’s not pneumonia. Some, like me, get pneumonia in the middle of summer, and are thankful it’s not some fatal rapid-onset variety of lung cancer. We all do it. We see ourselves, and our friends in situations, and we say “It could be worse.”
But, and here’s the thing, saying that doesn’t help. It doesn’t make things better. It doesn’t change the dire situation someone is in, just because, somewhere, somehow, it could be worse.
The other night (just before payday, which happened and then, faster than I could appreciate it had happened, it had gone again) I was staring at the contents of my fridge and wondering what the bloody hell I could cook for dinner. As most of you will know, there’s only so many times you can feed kids pasta with a chopped onion and some tomatoes before they begin to riot like French Peasants prior to the revolution. They probably feel the same way about rice, near the end of the month.
You can jazz it up all you want, but it’s still pasta. And that gets bloody boring, right?
So there I was, staring into my fridge, wondering what I could do with some limp spring onions, half an aubergine, and a withering pepper which, to be fair, looked as terrible as I was feeling (I had a cold last week – my heart hates me getting colds and objects in terms I can’t ignore). There was enough to feed one adult, in my fridge. So I looked at my bank balance and decided to risk a small top-up shop. Up the road to Tesco I went, and began to choose the cheapest food my extortionate little corner-Tesco offers. Seriously…it’s a Tesco Metro. This means they can scrap their value range, replacing it with premium brands. It means tomatoes aren’t 32p. They’re, like, a million pounds (or 85p, whatever). Anyway, I was staring just as blankly at the shelves in Tesco as I had stared at my fridge. I debated walking the two miles to the bigger Tesco, but my energy was gone. I thought about walking the mile to Lidl, but honestly, walking to the end of the road was already pushing my hard limits that day.
Then, miracle of miracles, I saw the man with his mark-down gun. He marked down chicken, and potatoes, and vegetables. I tell you, I grabbed that food as though I was in a bread queue in the USSR circa 1986. I paid (it came to under £3.00, and I had two days food, plus lunches. RESULT!) and I went home. And I told myself ‘Well, it could be worse. I have food. Many don’t. There are starving people in the world. Homeless people. My husband has a job, many don’t. I’m not dead yet, so that’s something.”
And it sounded, for once, like what it was. A trite remark, which is meaningless. It’s something people in dire situations tell themselves, and others, in the hope that it will carry them through one more hour, one more day. The politicians, bludgeoning us all with figures to make it seem we’re better off than we are, love it when we look at each other and say ‘It could be worse!’
Maybe, instead of saying ‘It could be worse’, we should start saying, ‘It should be better’. Because when we realise it should be better, we will make other people hear the truth. The truth about rents of £1100: more than the total take home pay of an average earner each month. The truth of council tax that costs close to an entire week’s income, every month. The truth of shops who hike up prices to over double the cost, because they’ve not got competition and because they can. The truth of energy suppliers, who are given a license to steal our money and increase their prices, because no one will stop them. The truth of a government who would have their cronies believe a working family with Tax Credits is playing the system and deserves the same irrational contempt they give someone who isn’t, for whatever reason (and there are many) in work. The truth about media portrayal of the poor, victim shaming and blaming until everyone is too scared to admit the struggle they face, despite being nurses, or office workers, or managers, or shop assistants. The truth that poverty is real, but hidden, and shameful.
So yes, it could be worse. But, for crying out loud, it should be so much better.