Truth and lies about poverty

On the eve of the budget four denominational bodies, including the Methodist Church, have repeated their call for the Government to stop using divisive language that labels the poor as idle and work shy. This follows on from the Joint Public Issues Team report Truth and Lies about Poverty which was published earlier this month.

Government must acknowledge the hardship faced by the 13 million people living in poverty

Last autumn Chancellor George Osborne claimed that he was introducing fairness to the welfare system. He said that it wasn’t “fair” on hard-working people to see their neighbours’ blinds down, sleeping away a life on benefits, when they were leaving for work in the morning. This “fairness” is now working its way through the House of Lords in the form of the controversial Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill which will push 200,000 additional children into poverty, according to figures from The Children’s Society.

Paul Morrison, Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church in Britain, said that the Chancellor’s Budget this week must put right previous unjust rhetoric about people in poverty. “He has the opportunity to acknowledge the real hardship of the 13 million people in poverty in the UK,” Paul said. “Only when the truth is recognised can just and fair policies be made.”

A recent report by the Methodist Church in Britain, the United Reformed Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the Church of Scotland highlights a number of myths surrounding poverty in the UK today. One of the most destructive myths – fuelled by the image of the benefit claimant with the blinds down or the “shirker and striver” rhetoric – is that people who live in poverty are lazy and work shy.

“The truth that needs to be acknowledged is that the majority of children who grow up in poverty are in working households,” said Marie Trubic, the United Reformed Church Spokesperson for Public Issues. “The truth that needs acknowledging is that the majority of the long-term workless are sick and disabled. The fact is that time spent on benefits is not an easy choice for the lazy, but a lifeline; even for families in paid work.”

In defending the Welfare Benefits Up-Rating Bill, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, described the creation of a welfare system that was “fair to the taxpayer” by contrasting those who work hard and paid taxes with those who receive benefits.

Stephen Keyworth, Faith and Society Team Leader of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, said: “The truth is people in poverty often work. People on benefits often work. The poorest pay a higher rate of tax. In fact, the poorest pay the largest proportion of their income in tax than any other income group (38.2% for the bottom fifth of earners as opposed to 33.6% for the top fifth). Fairness to the taxpayer is fairness to the poorest.”

Sally Foster-Fulton, Convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, said: “The creation of a false divide between those receiving benefits and those who paying into the system, encourages a destructive culture of “them and us”. For the sake of the trusting, understanding and just society we all wish to live in, this has to stop.  We hope the Chancellor will use the Budget to end myths about poverty.”

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About Holloway Rev

Paul Weary is a Methodist minister living and working in Holloway, North London.
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