I have been reading stories about the French detective over Christmas. I have also been thinking about poverty. Last week, I said to a churchman that 2018 should be the year that we convert the ‘handout into a hand up’. He was emphatic. “What about the person out there at the moment, out there in the cold? What are we going to do about that?”
The thing about Monsieur Jules Maigret is that he solves problems. The problem is that someone is murdered, or that someone is robbed. It’s never easy and it takes a book-length struggle to ascertain the solution, the completion, the villain.
Maigret never goes into motivation and circumstance, except as the basis of the investigation. He doesn’t pass comment on lifestyle, justice or goodness. He wants to solve the problem.
As the old year turns to new, everyone is coming up with their solutions to poverty. But it’s always the poverty of the outdoors-of-Christmas. The poverty of the here and now. Of the sharp end of street living. And because of that, we get nowhere
Imagine if you commissioned Maigret, or Holmes, or Marple or some other worthy detective to solve the crime called ‘poverty’. How would they go about it? First, they would have to strip from their mind all manner of useless data and red herrings, in order to get their hands around the throat of the problem, wrestle it to the ground, or point a gun to its head.
Stupidity. You would never send a detective out to chase ‘poverty’ to the ground, dash its brains out, or bring it before the courts. Why? Because we know that poverty is more than a mere ‘whodunit’. Why do we always seek to treat poverty as though it’s a page-turning ‘whodunit’? And why does the churchman above say such things as “But what about the person on the street who needs help now?”
They are, by this, saying that poverty is a ‘thing in itself’, much like a crime. Something that can be dealt with as a thing in itself, in the same way that as a murder can only be resolved by getting the murderer. And that poverty can only be resolved by giving the person a handout.