A poverty safari? Sounds awfully jolly

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In a new series, made by the same production company behind the controversial ‘Benefits Street’ series on Channel 4, people of privilege will see what it is like to live in extreme food poverty for a week.

It’s kind of like The Secret Millionaire without the happy ending of the rich folk actually helping those in need at the end. Instead they will get to return to their lovely houses, with their heating on full pelt and their cupboards filled with niche organic yummies from Waitrose or the Harrods Food Hall.

And, if they are anything like Rachel Johnson, sister of Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, you could also spend time talking to your friends about your “poverty safari”.

Speaking about her experience of food poverty as part of the ‘Famous, Rich and Hungry’, Ms Johnson said some of her friends considered her to have been lucky to have gone on a “poverty safari” - likening the week of extreme belt tightening to a money-can’t-buy experience.

I felt sick reading the comments. It smacked of a “let them eat cake” attitude. The notion that those living in poverty - whom Ms Johnson compares to battery hens who “live like animals”- are a lesser breed of human is disturbing.

There was no “there but for the grace of God go I” sense of compassion or humility from her words. There was, instead, the sense of a ‘poverty safari’ being a jolly good jape which allows those living comfortably to gawp at those in need - struggling to make ends meet on low wages or benefits. And then of course, they get to return home and talk about their week of horror - of trying to live on a £1 a day (how much fois gras does a pound pay for?) while comforting themselves with a glass of Moet & Chandon after showering away the stench of commoners under a power shower with a lathering of Jo Malone shower gel.

It’s not the same as really knowing what its like though, is it? I mean my washing machine died one weekend and I had to wait close to a week for a replacement but I don’t think it really gave me a true feel of what it is like to actually live without a washing machine with no money or notion of when I could get a replacement. It’s easy enough to endure a temporary hardship knowing that the light at the end of the tunnel is a few days away. As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer television programmes like this are at an increasing risk of becoming voyeuristic rather than informative. And Rachel Johnson with her smug attitude does little to address that risk.