it’s so weird that harry potter took place in the 90’s
space jam was being filmed while voldemort was taking over the wizarding world
come on and slam and welcome to azkaban
It actually makes a lot of sense - JK Rowling was a single mother on benefits around the time when I was the child of a single mother on benefits.
In the late eighties and early nineties in the UK, the narratives of ‘the underclass’ and ‘the undeserving poor’ started to gain traction and become culturally dominant. In part this was because of the rising number of long-term unemployed people after the loss of industry, coupled with a rise in the number of one parent families and the recession of the early nineties and the accompanying trend towards social conservatism.
All of these gave way to a culturally dominant narrative about ‘scroungers’ (although that word has only come into wider use more recently) ‘costing the taxpayer money’, who are by definition lazy, feckless cheats who are ‘worthless’ by dint of the fact that they do not ‘contribute to society’ by paying [income] tax.
As a child in that situation, we could barely afford to eat or heat our home but I knew from a very young age to never admit to that - it was shameful. Sometimes, my mothers benefit would be stopped or be paid late (or our house would get broken into, or my mum would lose her wallet or any number of minor costs or inconveniences that would be complete calamities because we didn’t have any cushion to fallback on) and we would go through periods of intense poverty.
These periods usually coincided with visits to the DHSS (Department of Health and Social Security - which was what the Department of Work and Pensions was called before they changed the name to sound more middle-class) which would sometimes entail days on end spent in a grey-carpeted waiting room while my mother waited for an appointment with an assessor for a crisis loan or to find out why her claim had been inexplicably closed or why she hadn’t received her Giro (a kind of cheque that can only be cashed at a Post Office, which was how all benefit claimants were paid at the time).
The early nineties were a really dark time in Muggle Britain - you might have been revelling in Space Jam and Toy Story 1, but me and JK Rowlings’ kids were being made fun of because we couldn’t afford real school uniforms or being tutted at the school gate because our mums’ were ‘unwed mothers’.
It’s not surprising to see this darkness translate into the Potterverse - JK Rowling was struggling to make ends meet and experiencing the stigma that went with claiming benefits when she began writing it. It’s arguable that the reason food features so heavily in the first two books is because JK Rowling wrote them when she didn’t have enough to eat.
In fact, there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between Muggle Britain and Magical Britain, from the recession that has the Weasley’s struggling to afford floo powder, the oft-abounding insults about the size of their families (a key feature in class-hatred), the childrens’ second-hand clothes and their reluctance to talk about money.
There are implications in the first book that while the Weasley’s have enough to eat, but not enough to eat well or to cater to specific tastes and preferences, and their homemade Christmas presents (which the children are embarrassed by) further allude to class, money and the stigma of not having them.
The Dursley’s make references to Harry’s parents being ‘on the dole’ (i.e. receiving government benefits) and this is clearly intended pejoratively (even though it is ultimately untrue) which serves to highlight how unpleasant but average middle-class muggles view benefit claimants.
At the height of Voldemorts’ power in the books (The Order of The Phoenix), Diagon Alley is clearly in deep recession - Ollivanders Wand Shop, Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour and Scribbulus Writing Instruments are all described as having closed down and several other shops are described as being boarded up. This is a direct allegory to the social conservatism of the wizarding and muggle worlds which causes middle and working class people to become worse off while profiting the historically rich (or ‘pureblood’).
Similarly, the way that the Ministry of Magic is described could be seen as a clear reference to government buildings which JK Rowling would have been forced to visit to access benefits before she began writing Harry Potter. Harry is summoned to a hearing with no notice, then the time and location are changed with no notice in an attempt to avoid having Harry or Dumbledore testify at the hearing. These are well-known tactics of the DHSS at the time (and something that my mother certainly experienced), done to avoid reopening claims for benefits that had been wrongly closed.
As magic is easily seen as an allegory for money - magic means prestige, social capital, access to an entire *literal* world, as well as transport, enjoyment, learning - the use of the the same room in the Ministry of Magic as the setting for muggle-born hearings in OoTP clearly correlates to the hearings and judgments and approvals for benefits (the receipt of which often made the difference between ones’ ability to continue to be a part of society) in Muggle Britain.
TL;DR - Voldemorts’ rise, and the accompanying social conservatism in the wizarding world - class hatred, allusions to racism, recession, a small but powerful government - actually tallies really well with what actually happened in Muggle Britain in the nineties.