Falling for the toxic myth afresh

Chris Mould

Today Martin Charlesworth and Natalie Williams launch a new book, “The Myth of the Undeserving Poor”, which includes new research that shows far more people than we would imagine have their reaction to poverty in Britain today shaped and moulded unthinkingly by the media and politicians. The process is surprisingly strong. Longstanding exposure to faith-based teaching about the essential, intrinsic value of every individual regardless of their current circumstances; strong values-based attitudes to life more generally; profound convictions about the desirability of a less socially divided society; knowledge of the science about the positive impact of social equity; none of these inoculates us sufficiently against the toxic myth of the undeserving poor.

Public perceptions tend to drift where the dominant narrative played out by the media and politicians draws them. Britain has recently witnessed the increasing stigmatisation of the poor as benefit cheats, as a feckless underclass of chavs and scroungers and the fact the evidence does not support the picture being painted has seemed entirely irrelevant.

That’s why I welcome Martin Charlesworth and Natalie Williams new book. Underpinned by fresh research, grounded in a well-balanced historical overview, Martin and Natalie’s writing challenges us to face the question, “have we too fallen for the myth afresh”? As Lord David Alton says, “their repudiation of the stigmatisation of the poor…. is as welcome as their practical suggestions about how we can turn Food Bank Britain into a fairer and less socially divided society”. This publication is an important and timely corrective. In fact it’s vital reading for anyone thinking deeply about poverty and what we do to tackle it.

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