Stop telling lies about poverty, benefits and welfare, churches demand

By staff writers
March 1, 2013

Some 13 million people – including 3.6 million children – live in poverty in the United Kingdom today, a major new churches' report says.

It shows how evidence and statistics have been misused, misrepresented and manipulated to create untruths that blame and stigmatise the most vulnerable in society.

The report, entitled The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty, is being published on 1 March 2013 by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church, through their Joint Public Issues Team.

These Churches, which together claim to 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 Free Churches plus the Church of Scotland, which has state ties but is not established, hope that the report will empower Christians and others to challenge myths and lies about poverty wherever they find them.

Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, which has argued that public policy must be reformed around the concerns, experience, skills and insights of the most vulnerable in society, welcomed the report this morning.

"This is a solid and important piece of work, based on thorough research and first hand experience," he said. "It confronts the most common untruths told about people who are in poverty or in receipt of benefits, and it highlights some of the statistics most abused in public debate, in the media and by politicians seeking to justify a restructuring of welfare which is taking resources away from those who need them most."

The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty 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 every UK MP and Member of the Scottish Parliament in Britain and people are being encouraged to write to their parliamentary representative asking how they will be using the information to better inform policy-making.

“It would be comfortable for many if we lived in a society where poverty only visited families that were lazy or made bad decisions,” said Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser 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, they said this morning, 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).

* Read the full report here:

* Ekklesia comment - 'Stigmatising poor people':


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