This is a sentiment I hear often. Yet whenever one suggests that "stupid" might apply to more than just the lottery and might even be a cause of "poor", one is treated as an evil and unsympathetic person. It's a dichotomy I can't wrap my head around.
A question: do the poor actually live in a precarious situation in the UK? I was under the impression that the UK has extremely generous handouts which made working more or less optional for many people. (This is a genuine question, I don't know how the welfare state works in the UK beyond vague American stereotypes.)
The main benefit you can receive indefinitely if you're poor is a housing allowance, which is equivalent to your full rent (if you have low enough income/assets), capped at the 30th-percentile rate for rents in your area, for an accomodation suitable for your family size. For a single person, that maxes out at $400-600/mo, depending on what part of the UK you live in.
For cash benefits, there is a jobseeker's allowance, which you can receive if you show you're actively seeking work, participate in some mandatory programs to do so, and have a mandatory progress meeting every two weeks (and meet some other miscellaneous requirements that keep getting added). That has a max of about $100/wk for a single person.
Are you serious? Welfare + healthcare + pensions = 7.6 * defence in 2012. People say cut Trident, well Trident is a rounding error. You could pay for it out of the NHS IT budget alone!
Any politician truly interested in transparent government will pay this guy a salary (job description: "same thing you always did, but more"), and maybe even give him a few hacker underlings and a web designer. His sites are ugly but awesome.
From your description, it sounds as if motters' description of "one highly precarious situation to the next" was incorrect.
Also, some parts of the UK are significantly cheaper than others -- i'd argue that you might be successful keeping yourself stable in the north or middle of england, but you'd struggle in london or it's outer reaches.
One more thing- people don't 'opt' to be in this situation usually, so they are quite likely to enter into it with a reasonable chunk of unsecured loans and such that'll suck up the money.
So, sure. You can be a college grad who's not yet got anything but student loans, and happily enter in to benefits to support you whilst you build something interesting... But as soon as you need to go anywhere or spend any money to further your goals, you might find yourself pretty stuck.
Of course there are many areas of the UK which are not poor and have a very high standard of living by international standards, so it's certainly not true that everyone lives like this.
Ok, I think I understand what you mean by "precarious". It sounds as if the poor have a stable level of consumption (or at least a stable minimum level of consumption), but the specific manner in which that consumption is paid for can vary significantly - one week benefits, the next week employment. Also a high risk of crime, due to inadequate police protection. Is that a fair assessment of what you mean by "precarious"?
Now for some reason, the weekly variability of income and the risk of crime causes the poor to value an infinitesimal chance at large sums of money a more strongly than immediate and certain consumption. Assuming the poor are being rational here (rather than simply innumerate), this suggests that the poor assign a very low value to additional consumption, or perhaps a very high value to purely psychological benefits.
I have a suggestion for improving the lot of the poor in the UK: your government should sell more lottery tickets and use the profits to pay for additional policing. Perhaps you should also try to encourage microfinance - in the US, nonviolent microfinance outfits offering "payday loans" have pretty much pushed loansharks out of the market.
The government were given the chance to have the lottery run for free by a group headed by Richard Branson - they chose instead to maintain the current incumbent who take 5% of gross takings ... that could have paid off some tax bills ...
The idea of a "tax on the stupid" comes from the point of view of people living comfortably. If most of your basic needs are met then gambling money on the lottery seems like irrational behavior (throwing your money away when you only have a small income to begin with).
From _delirium's comment, it sounds as the poor do have most/all of their basic needs met, though he doesn't address policing. Piecing together your comment and his, it sounds as if the only basic need the poor have which is not met is adequate police protection. Is this correct?
Your sentence ending in "comes from the point of view of people living comfortably" implies that from the point of view of someone else (presumably a person living in a crime-ridden neighborhood), the lottery is not irrational. Could you explain why, if that is indeed what you meant?
(Note: I actually do live in a crime-ridden neighborhood. But I'm also a 6'6" man who looks like he has nothing worth stealing, and I've only been the victim of a single, unsuccessful, attempt at robbery. So my point of view might be atypical.)
Most people are not "precarious" unless they have a lot of debt or a small debt with a loanshark. Crime makes things bad, not money as such. By the standards of the 50's or even the 70's, basics and luxuries are affordable as long as you don't waste it.
It's all relative. Coming from Ireland (and the Euro) the UK seems cheap. That's mostly the sterling/euro conversion rates in my favour. For example a pint of drink costs about €5 (about £4.50). The difference is so noticable that many people drive to Northern Ireland to do large shopping trips to get cheaper goods.
Ummm yes. If you have no money or no job, you will not be living well. The steryotype is that you'll be living in a grimey 1960s style concrete block of flats with not a lot of money.
Compared the USA, "free healthcare" would be seen as generous, however not in the EU.
No-one in the UK is actually poor.
I go to a petrol station, to buy petrol. Then have to wait in line for 10 minutes while some idiots buy scratch cards and lottery tickets.