Its time to stand up to those who seek to sow social division by blaming the poorest for their predicament.
Join us in Poverty & Homelessness Action Week 2013, and call for an end to this blame game.
Some blame the last government for the high levels of public debt. Some blame the present government for austerity budgets and welfare benefit cuts. Some blame the bankers, or the Euro, or the global crisis of capitalism.
But what is increasingly worrying is the trend towards blaming the victims.
As Julia Unwin, director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has written, we face the prospect of a decade of destitution, with food banks opening across the country, teachers report children coming to school hungry; advice services and local authorities prepare for the risks attached to welfare reform. There is evidence of a rising number of people sleeping rough, and destitution is reported with increasing frequency.
At such times, there is surely an imperative to pull together. Yet worryingly, some politicians and sections of the media are seeking to create division and lay the blame for the nation’s ills at the doors of the very poorest.
An increasingly virulent political rhetoric divides poor people against very poor people, and increasingly repeats the false notion that people who are poor can readily be divided into the mirage of ‘strivers’ and ‘shirkers’. This same rhetoric pits working families against those unable to find work, the hard pressed against the very poor.
At the same time, the media is never slow to exploit an opportunity to lash out at ‘benefit cheats’, feckless or workshy ‘malingerers.’ Even the BBC’s flagship documentary programme, Panorama, broadcast a programme in September on the Shadsworth estate in Blackburn which repeated the oft used clichés that council estates are full of drugs, alcohol, kids hanging around and ‘dysfunctional’ families. As long-term resident Alison Critchley wrote at the time, ‘Yes, we have problems. Life can be tough, but we are a pretty resilient bunch. Local volunteers run popular community groups at the health and well being centre. Most residents felt a sense of betrayal, outrage and disappointment towards ‘Trouble on the Estate’, which they considered to be blatantly prejudiced.”
This is not to say that people in poverty never do bad things. Homeless people can often be their own harshest critics when they look back on the wrong choices in their lives. But a blame culture is not the way to make things better. We can pretend that poverty is somehow a consequence of the moral failings of individuals and families, but that won’t help – and it doesn’t square with the evidence to the contrary.
Counter to all the myths and stereotypes, new research by Tearfund suggests that unemployed people are more likely to be honest and scrupulous than those in work.
A national survey asked 1,200 people if they would keep quiet when given too much change. 54% of those not working said they wouldn’t keep quiet, compared with 41% of those in work. The poll also asked whether people would report an error in a bank account, crediting a refund twice. Again, more people out of work (56%) say they would report it, than those in work (39%).
Earlier in the autumn, the Evangelical Alliance found overwhelming support (92%) for the belief that it is every Christian’s duty to help those in poverty. A survey of over 3,000 evangelical Christians revealed strong agreement for the belief that ‘some top people are paid too much (92%)’; that ‘there is an unacceptable level of income inequality in the UK (82%)’ and even that ‘the Government should make sure the at the riches people in the country pay the highest level of tax (77%).’ Almost 4 in 10 attended a church that supports or runs a foodbank – although only 7% are in churches that offer help to unemployed people.
Jesus was being tested by the Pharisees when they brought him the woman ‘taken in adultery’. Jesus never said she was blameless. He simply showed that condemnation will not change her ways. We won’t tackle poverty and homelessness by blaming those who are poor and homeless.
Please join us in Poverty & Homelessness Action Week 2013, and call for an end to this blame game. Click here to download the flyer and order form for Poverty & Homelessness Action Week 2013.