As a society we have some hard choices to make: do we tolerate, and therefore fund through taxation, social security benefits to ensure a decent minimum standard of living for all; or do we tolerate hunger, homelessness and poor health amongst the poor?
Few would actively promote hunger and homelessness as desirable for any society, but our individual perspectives on the role of the state, communities, families, charities and the individual to alleviate and prevent poverty leads to stark differences of opinion as to the causes and consequences of poverty - and what we should do about it. Just as in the nineteenth century, there are some who blame the poor for their own poverty. Others take a different view, and may argue that a safety net that provides a reasonable standard of living with access to social housing, education and health care is a long-term approach to not only alleviating the symptoms of poverty but ensuring that poverty isn't perpetuated,
The Workhouse Network is politically neutral, but we are committed to promoting the public understanding of contemporary poverty. The More Than Oliver Twist research project will seek to draw comparisons between poverty in the past and poverty today. The results will be communicated through the online resources that we develop, and through our exhibitions.
The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty
- A report from the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church.
This report was commissioned and published by a collective of Christian denominations in the UK. It is worth reading for the evidenced-based approach to understanding poverty in the UK in the 21st century. The report identified 6 key myths about poverty today. To read the full report click here
Myth 1 ‘They’ are lazy and don’t want to work The most commonly cited cause of child poverty by churchgoers and the general public alike is that “their parents don’t want to work”. Yet the majority of children in poverty are from working households. Inwork poverty is now more common than out of work poverty. It is readily accepted that across the country there are families in which three generations have never worked. Examples of such families have not been found, and the evidence suggests it is unlikely we ever will. How did we come to believe these things?
Myth 2 ‘They’ are addicted to drink and drugs Churchgoers and the wider public cite addiction as the second most common cause of child poverty. While addiction is devastating for the families and communities touched by it, fewer than 4% of benefit claimants report any form of addiction. How did we come to believe this is such a big factor in the lives of the 13 million people who live in poverty in the UK today?
Myth 3 ‘They’ are not really poor – they just don’t manage their money properly Nearly 60% of the UK population agrees that the poor could cope if only they handled their money properly. The experience of living on a low income is one of constant struggle to manage limited resources, with small events having serious consequences. Statistics show that the poorest spend their money carefully, limiting themselves to the essentials. How did we come to believe that poverty was caused by profligacy?
Myth 4 ‘They’ are on the fiddle Over 80% of the UK population believe that “large numbers falsely claim benefits”. Benefit fraud has decreased to historically low levels - the kind of levels that the tax system can only dream of. Less than 0.9% of the welfare budget is lost to fraud. The fact is that if everyone claimed and was paid correctly, the welfare system would cost around £18 billion more. So how did we come to see welfare claimants as fraudulent scroungers?
Myth 5 ‘They’ have an easy life Over half the British public believes benefits are too high and churchgoers tend to agree. Government ministers speak of families opting for benefits as a lifestyle choice. Yet we know that benefits do not meet minimum income standards. They have halved in value relative to average incomes over the last 30 years. We know the ill and the unemployed are the people least satisfied and happy with life. Why have we come to believe that large numbers of families would choose this as a lifestyle?
Myth 6 ‘They’ caused the deficit The proportion of our tax bills spent on welfare has remained stable for the last 20 years. It is ridiculous to argue, as some have, that increasing welfare spending is responsible for the current deficit. Public debt is a problem but why is it being laid at the feet of the poorest?