A major new report shows how evidence and statistics have been misused, misrepresented and manipulated to create myths that blame and stigmatise the most vulnerable in society – the 13 million people – including 3.6 million children – live in poverty in the UK today.
The report, entitled ‘The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty’, is published today by the Church of Scotland, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Methodist and United Reformed Churches. It confronts the most common myths told about people who are in poverty or in receipt of benefits, and highlights some of the most abused statistics.
The Churches, which together represent more than 1 million people across Britain, say that statistics have been manipulated and misused by politicians and the media to support a comfortable but dangerous story: that the poor somehow deserve their poverty, and therefore deserve the cuts which they increasingly face. The Churches hope that the report will empower Christians and others to challenge myths and lies about poverty wherever they find them.
The report includes stories like that of Neil, who was a long-distance lorry driver until ill health meant he had to give up work. He’s in danger of losing his home because of the Government’s planned benefit reforms. “I was a proud man, I always worked, but I can no longer afford that luxury. Benefit changes reduce my ability to eat properly. I can’t afford to keep the fridge on all the time, and I can’t afford to heat my home all the time,” he said. “I feel like my children and my friends no longer look up to me because I have nothing. I feel like a failure. I don’t feel like a person anymore.”
The report is being sent to all MPs and MSPs and people are being encouraged to write to their parliamentary representative asking how they will be using the information to better inform policy-making.
Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, Convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, said: “This report that exposes the myths we use to excuse poverty in modern Britain. Jesus said ‘the poor you will always have with you’; but this is an indictment of reality, not absolution for feeling guilty about being better off. We impoverish all of society when we swallow those lies which are repeatedly used to blame the poor for their own predicament. We all have a duty to act not only responsibly, but with generosity towards our fellow human beings.”
“It would be comfortable for many if we lived in a society where poverty only visited families that were lazy or made bad decisions,” added Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church and author of the report. “That is the story these myths lead us to believe; but that’s not the Britain we live in today. It’s convenient to believe that benefits are too generous. It’s convenient to believe that claimants are on the fiddle or even more absurdly caused our economic troubles. But it’s just not true.
“The very least the most vulnerable in our society deserve is to be spoken of truthfully and with respect, and that is what we should demand from our politicians and newspapers. Anything less is to be complicit in a great injustice.”
In their work the Churches have been inspired by the words of the Biblical prophet Isaiah:
“Justice is turned back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
for truth stumbles in the public square,
and uprightness cannot enter.”
Isaiah 59:14 (NRSV)