Only the poor know the real truth about poverty, says think-tank

EDINBURGH AND LONDON - 16 April 2011: Government attempts to tackle poverty that exclude the poor themselves are a recipe for ineffectiveness and injustice, says the Christian think-tank Ekklesia. [1]

The comments coincide with the publication on 16 April 2011 of the pioneering process and findings of Scotland’s Poverty Truth Commission, bringing together two years of work involving those with direct experience of poverty. The Commission is backed by churches and other civic organisations.[2]

“When it comes to the reality of economic, social, political and cultural marginalisation facing millions of people in Britain today, the Westminster government’s claim that ‘We’re all in this together’ is simply untrue and misleading,” said Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow.

“The current trajectory of government policy is actually making those with fewest resources pay most for a deficit and financial crisis they did not create,” he added. “A punitive approach to welfare is being masked with a rhetoric of concern that has little traction in policy terms. Society is not ‘big’ if you cannot afford to participate in it, if you are having resources clawed away from you, or if you are excluded from vital decisions about how that society is run.”

Ekklesia, which cooperates with anti-poverty NGOs such as Church Action on Poverty, points out that the latest measurements indicate 13½ million people in the UK living in households below the accepted low-income threshold. This is around a fifth of the population. [3]

“The watchword of grassroots people and communities involved with the Poverty Truth Commission has been, ‘Nothing about us, without us, is for us’,” said Simon Barrow. “The Commission itself has also commendably sought to model a way of operating that puts those living at the sharp end of society centre-stage.” [4]

“Regrettably, however, Chancellor George Osborne, while directly and indirectly lopping billions from civic initiatives vital to the least well-off, refused the PTC’s invitation to meet directly with them. But the notion that a Cabinet full of millionaires is best equipped to tackle poverty without properly engaging the knowledge and experience of people living directly with it – not just ‘consulting for convenience’ – is morally, politically and pragmatically unsustainable.”

To coincide with the launch of the Poverty Truth Commission’s report, Ekklesia has published a short summary of recent research entitled ‘Engaging the poor in anti-poverty policy making’. [5]

It is also backing Church Action on Poverty’s ‘Close the Gap’ campaign to challenge directly the damaging gulf between rich and poor in society. [6]

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. Founded in 2001, Ekklesia examines politics, values and beliefs in a changing world, from an engaged Christian perspective. It has been listed by The Independent newspaper among 20 influential UK think-tanks. According to Alexa/Amazon, it has one of the most-visited religion and politics / current affairs websites in Britain. More: http://ekklesia.co.uk/content/about/about.shtml

2. The Poverty Truth Commission has been a two-year project bringing together some of Scotland’s civic leaders with people at the sharp end of poverty. They have worked together to discover the truths about poverty, and to explore real solutions to it. More on the PTC, including the full reports: http://www.povertytruthcommission.org/

3. Ekklesia is assisting PTC’s media legacy group, but has not been involved in its operation or research. More from Ekklesia on the Poverty Truth Commission here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/povertytruthcommission

4. For key factors and indicators, see The Poverty Site: http://www.poverty.org.uk/ The site monitors what is happening to poverty and social exclusion in the UK. The material is organised around 100 statistical indicators covering all aspects of the subject, from income and work to health and education.

5. ‘Engaging the poor in anti-poverty policy making’, Ekklesia, April 2011 - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/anti-poverty

6. Church Action on Poverty and the ‘Close the gap’ initiative: http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/

7. For interviews and comment, please contact Ekklesia associate director Simon Barrow (simonDOTbarrowATekklesiaDOTcoDOTuk)