For life among the white working class of Dewsbury looks like a foreign country. And because we don’t live there, and are never likely to, we have no concept of the reality in which hundreds of thousands of British children, just like Shannon, grow up.
Since 1997 the middle classes have heard Gordon Brown chunter on about his goals for ending child poverty in Britain, but they have done so with a profound lack of engagement. Poverty? In modern Britain? Yeah, yeah, we all know what that’s really about, don’t we? Feckless parents who waste all their money on widescreen TVs and booze and don’t have enough left for the children. We know the type. But the truth is, we don’t have a clue what modern social deprivation means.
Poverty has a new face now, and it’s called Shannon Matthews. What her sad little story has destroyed, possibly for ever, is the convenient middle-class myth of coherent, material poverty. Instead, it has revealed that what devastates the lives of modern children is something altogether much worse ”“ inner poverty; poverty of the soul.