Challenging lies about poverty in Wales

Posted by Julian Rosser Campaigns and Communications Co-ordinator, Oxfam Cymru

10th Dec 2013

As poverty in Wales rises, Oxfam Cymru and the Church in Wales join forces to challenge the myths about poverty. Julian Rosser, head of Oxfam Cymru, discusses some of the myths perpetuated by the media and public debate.

In 1952 that great Welshman and founder of the NHS Aneurin Bevan said, "if freedom is to be saved and enlarged, poverty must be ended. There is no other solution".

One third of children in Wales are affected by poverty - going without essentials like winter coats or living in homes which are cold.

Over sixty years on and poverty in Bevan's homeland has not been ended. In fact, poverty in Wales is on the increase. Today, 23% of people in Wales live on less than 60% of the average wage - one percentage point up since last year. That is about 700,000 of our fellow citizens. One third of children in Wales are affected by poverty - going without essentials like winter coats or living in homes which are cold or damp.

In addition to all the privations the poor have to tolerate, those in poverty are often stigmatised as idle, workshy, feckless, scroungers, shirkers and cheats. These slanders don't just fill the pages of the gutter press and fall from the lips of TV pundits. They have become, by accident or design, a mainstream part of public debate around the causes of, and solutions to, poverty in the UK.

That's why Oxfam Cymru worked with the Church in Wales to produce a Welsh language version of the report The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty. The report, originally published earlier this year by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church, sets out to tackle, head-on, the most common myths about UK Poverty.

[T]here are just not enough jobs out there; benefits are under siege from sanctioning; and even being in work is no defence against poverty.

If you relied on Government ministers and certain tabloids for information, you'd think that if people just pulled their socks up and worked hard, there would be no such thing as poverty. But the reality, as set out in the report, is that there are just not enough jobs out there; benefits are under siege from sanctioning; and even being in work is no defence against poverty as wages lag behind inflation and zero-hours and short term contracts are on the increase.

But still, the lies circulate, and people believe them. Truth and Lies about Poverty nails six particularly pernicious lies that we tell ourselves and others:

1. 'They' are lazy and don't want to work: In fact, most children in poverty live in working households. Indeed, we learnt from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation this week that a majority of families in poverty in the UK are families in which one or more member is working.

2. 'They' are addicted to drink and drugs: In fact, fewer than 4% of claimants are claiming because of drink or drug abuse. Research has failed to show any correlation between alcohol dependence and income levels.

3. 'They' are not really poor - just don't manage money properly: In fact, research shows that the poorest spend their money very carefully.

4. 'They' are on the fiddle: In fact, less than 0.9% of the welfare budget is lost in fraud. Whereas it is clear that tax fraud, undertaken by some big corporations and wealthy individuals, is reducing tax receipts by 4-6%.

5. 'They' have an easy life: In fact, the ill and the unemployed are the least satisfied with life. Time spent on benefits, unable to plan for the future, unable to provide things your family wants or needs, frequently now in danger of having your income removed by the job centre through unfair sanctions can be a disempowering and depressing experience.

6. 'They' caused the deficit: In fact, the proportion of tax bills spent on welfare has remained stable for 20 years. The current economic gloom is the product of many things, including an inherently unsustainable financial model which trashes the planet and keeps people in poverty. Scapegoating those in poverty does not help us understand its causes or deal with its consequences.

Now more than ever it is important that we join this debate in defence of those who are rarely heard or cannot speak out. Oxfam Cymru will continue working with the Church in Wales and partners in Cuts Watch Cymru - a coalition of over thirty groups combating poverty in Wales - to tackle the lies, the stigma and the propaganda which conspire to dehumanise and humiliate those of our communities who live in poverty in Wales, and in the UK.

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Find out more about these myths and stats by reading Truth and Lies about Poverty

Photo credit: Dewi Glyn Jones/Oxfam

Blogs on UK poverty

Blog post written by Julian Rosser

Campaigns and Communications Co-ordinator, Oxfam Cymru

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