Outdoors and Poor
1 in 4 or 5 people is in poverty and this number has increased over the pandemic. About 9 kids in of an average class of 30 are in poverty.
The negative consequences of poverty pretty much mirror the benefits of getting outdoors. The media and research tells us that the outdoors can improve health, mood, confidence, social connections and educational outcomes (I won't reference it, there is too much to cover, just google it!), poverty research tells us that all of these factors are lower for people in poverty.
This looks like a “no brainer”, on the surface there is what seems like a simple answer for the consequences of poverty-get outdoors, improve your mental and physical health, increase your educational chances, make friends and so on. Despite the fact that much research undertaken about the outdoors is with people who already participate (not poor people) we need to understand that the experience of being in poverty, dealing with insecurity and scarcity of resources directly affects your ability to access the outdoors.
There are many general barriers, some now being identified by outdoor practitioners, researchers and academics, such as cost or lack of transport links, distance to places of natural beauty, lack of equipment and clothing, are a few examples. Studies like MENE demonstrate that fewer people on low incomes visit national parks and most people visit by car, there is a pretty clear physical and geographical barrier here but that’s not where it ends, it’s barely where it starts.
We know that children from families on low incomes are less likely to participate in extracurricular activity, join teams and clubs. There is the obvious cost barrier but there are enormous social and cultural barriers to get over.
Lets just cut the BS, poor kids know when something is for them and when it isn’t. They know because of how the other kids look, speak, behave and socialise and crucially what the adults model about what the requirements for entry are. It’s vital that we see others who look like ourselves to feel like we can belong, we have to see it to be it. By the way this doesn’t end when you stop being a poor kid and become a poor adult. The outdoors is just a club that isn’t for poor people and people who are poor know this because of how everyone already in that outdoor club looks, speaks, behaves and socialises and what significant outdoor adults model about what the requirements for entry are.
As a family we have been skidding and skating around the poverty line for years, pretty much half of all single parent families live in poverty and about 90% of single parents are women. As readers of my work will know I also grew up with free school meals throughout my whole school life. The stigma of poverty is as crippling as the poverty itself and many adults, young people and children from low-income families work incredibly hard and make careful and deliberate choices and sacrifices to help mask their social and economic situation. Making the outdoors my my income has done an amazing job at masking our financial situation as let’s face it being in the outdoors is a huge a symbol of wealth.
I write this to make a commitment in 2022 to creating outdoor output that is as accessible as possible to people on a diversity of incomes. I don’t expect to get this right for everyone as the resources that people on lower incomes have are so varied and precarious and we know that the tiniest of changes in finances or circumstances can make or break, but still, we make a promise to be more mindful of what we present outdoors and to work harder to campaign and promote inclusion outdoors for those on low incomes.