CASE STUDY: 'I would tell Major that the system stinks'

Poverty trap: Notion of underclass living off the state is misguided, claims research highlighting pressures of a low income
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The Independent Online
Fifteen years ago, Kevin Hogan was a proud supporter of what he calls "the system". He was a member of the British Army's parachute regiment, and served in both Northern Ireland and the Falkland Islands, writes Glenda Cooper.

"When I went out to the Falklands it was all, 'off you go chaps, you'll never want for anything'. When I used to hear Land of Hope and Glory, the hairs would stand on the back of my neck. I don't get that feeling now."

Hogan left the army in 1989 and has since been diagnosed as suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. He and his wife Jane and their two children, Hannah, 6, and Luke, 3 now live on his incapacity benefit, which comes to pounds 128 a week, and his admiration for Margaret Thatcher and her free marketeconomy has disappeared.

"While we were off fighting, all the Government was thinking about was winning the next election. Margaret Thatcher was smiling, patting us on the back and robbing us blind.

"Poverty deprives you of yourself, of pleasures, leisure and security," he continues. "I see my wife going without good food so she can give it to the children. There is a constant pressure to pay bills. You're forever robbing Peter to pay Paul. Most of our money goes on fuel bills, as it is really difficult to heat our house."

When the family home was repossessed last year, the thing that hurt him most was the fear and bewilderment of his children. They could not understand where or why it had gone.

"Poverty is seen as a failure," he explains.

"Poverty destroys your self esteem, and the media give you these verbal beatings, leading everyone to believe it is their fault if they're poor. We exist in a system full of selfishness. It's like we're told that poverty doesn't exist. Then I ask myself: why is everyone terrified of getting sacked? It's because they know where they'll end up - where we are. You can only make it these days by standing on your fellow man."

But he believes that such an individualistic society cannot survive for long.

"I'm not asking for pity. I'm sure if we all got together and talked about it, we'd realise that the current system isn't working. At the moment there's no room for human emotions - things such as compassion towards your fellow man."

He berates politicians for their inaction. "I wonder what Mr Major thinks when he lies his head on his pillow at night. If I met him I would say, 'Can't we just take a look at the system, because the one we've got now stinks'."