Myth of Choice

Ending poverty in London has been a hot topic lately. An important topic. 

And I know that deep down it’s possible to end poverty in one generation, I’m just not sure how I can help. 

I talked to my friends and family, but I kept hearing the same thing over and over. “No one ever gave me a handout. No one got me out of bed in the morning, got me to school, got me a job. I did it all myself. If they’d just make better choices, they’d get out of poverty.” 

I’ve heard that living in poverty is a choice. But I know that this is too simple of an excuse – an excuse almost exclusively made by us, the middle class, without really knowing the reality of the working poor. 

Mother and son

When I dig deeper, I learn that living in poverty is not the result of making bad choices. This is a powerful myth that we’ve heard so many times we take it as the truth.

I’ve made more than a few bad choices in my life, and I am sure you have too. But they haven’t landed me at the food bank, or homeless…or worse. I’ve kept my life together because I’ve navigated through a million choices; some difficult, some easy. The vital point is that I’ve had the opportunity to make choices that ensure future success, choices that are a product of a fairly privileged life.

When I compare the choices I’ve had to make to those that many living in poverty have to make, there is a dramatic difference. 

I’ve learned that living in poverty is a series of encounters with choices that are all about the present and immediate moment. A choice where feelings, impulses and desires are determined exclusively by survival, by the most basic of needs, food, warmth, clothing. In poverty, choices are extraordinarily important because there is no room for error. One micro decision, often made to ensure daily survival, comes at the expense of another equally life altering decision.

Get a job, some say, that’s the answer. Well 11,000 people in London (that’s enough people to more than fill Budweiser Gardens, by the way) do have jobs but they still live below the poverty line.
— The Voice of Knowing


It’s worse for single mothers, no surprise. It might come as a shock to learn that 6 out of 10 single mothers in London live in poverty – 60 per cent. This isn’t a choice. Far from it. This is a systemic, societal breakdown.

I believe that living in poverty dramatically limits the scope of choice. It limits the potential of choice. It limits access to choice. Living in poverty is not a choice.

You can help change the conversation by sharing what you've learned with others.