Everything the Daily Mail Tells You is Wrong. 6 Myths about Poverty
Saturday, 24 May 2014
Everything. Even the date. Always check with a more reliable source. Labour leader, Ed Milliband, has broken the UK section of the Internet by getting the price of his weekly shop wrong. He guessed £80. This is £10 over the UK average for a family of four, but a little out.
Whoever actually does the shopping may be telling him it's £80 so they don't have to constantly explain that's how much it costs for what they eat. And to avoid listening to another wisecrack about Wagyu beef and Foie Gras.
Food is expensive. However careful and organised you are with meal planning, there's only so far a £1 will stretch.
At time, there was an unintentionally hilarious Daily Mail article where the writer, Rose Price, complains that Milliband is "out of touch", sneers at value ranges and admits to spending £200 a week on food. (No link. I have standards!)
For many families, £80 a week to spend just on food is a fortune. £200 wealth beyond their imagination. To be honest, it's beyond mine! Some families have very little money for the weekly food shop due to price increases, low wages, IDS' 'improvements' to the benefit system and the government's War On The Poor And Needy.
Everyone in the village knows where the Minister's house is. Next door to the Baptist Church. Occassionally we get callers who need help with various issues. The vast majority of them are genuine. You get the odd one, but ... You can't not help people because of the one bad apple. We had one the other day, calling to find out where the local food is.
There isn't one in the village at the moment. Not for want of trying, but a food bank needs resources and they're not in place yet. All the local churches collect for the nearest one. (Whether food banks should exist at all in one of the richest countries in the world is another rant entirely).
As any Daily Mail reader knows, food banks are places where con artists can tell some gullible volunteer a sob story and get some free food. (Yes, they really did send a journalist to investigate). Daily Mail readers are wrong. People are referred to food banks because if they didn't get some free food, they'd starve. They can't buy food as they have no money. Usually they have no money because of low wages, benefit changes, no work etc.
The lady who called had been made redundant from one job but wasn't due to start one for a few weeks. Her husband was too ill to work as he's recovering from cancer, but wasn't entitled to benefits. There was no money for a supermarket shop. There was no food in the house for them or their teenager.
The local food bank wasn't open until Monday. 5 days wait.
Fortunately, there was some food in the church waiting to be taken to the local food bank. He gave her some items to tide her over until the food bank was open. And followed up a few days later to make sure they were all okay.
A coalition of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church issued a report challenging the stereotypes used about the poor in the UK - "The Lies We Tell Ourselves: Ending Comfortable Myths about Poverty". It's a reminder of the church's role as carer for the poor and caller on society's bulls*t.
I've read the executive summary so you don't have too:
Myth 1 - They're lazy and don't want to work. The most commonly cited cause of child poverty is that "their parents don't want to work". The majority of children in poverty are from working households. In work poverty is more common than out of work poverty. It is commonly believed that there are families in which three generations have never worked. Examples of such families have never been found. Evidence suggests that it's unlikely it ever will.
Myth 2 - They're addicted to drink and drugs. The second most commonly cited cause. Whilst addiction is devastating for families and communities touched by it, fewer than 4% of benefit claimants report any form of addiction.
Myth 3 - They're not really poor - they just don't manage their money properly. Nearly 60% of the UK's population agrees the poor could cope if they managed their money properly. Living on a low income means constantly struggling to manage limited resources, with small events having serious consequences. Statistics show that the poorest spend their money carefully, limiting themselves to the essentials. Myth 4 - They're on the fiddle. Over 80% of the UK population believe that "large numbers falsely claim benefits". Benefit fraud has decreased to historically low levels. The kind of levels that the tax system only dreams of. Less than 0.9% of the welfare budget is lost to fraud. And, if everyone claimed what they were entitled to, it would cost £18bn more.
Just in case you ever it, the fraud figure comes from a HMRC report, "Measuring Tax Gaps 2012". The tax gap of £33bn contains many sub-divisions and the range of figures varies. It's a matter of judgement whether or not some categories are "fraud". (I love a well sourced and footnoted document!)
Myth 5 - They have an easy life. Over half the British public believes that benefits are too high. Government ministers speak of families opting for benefits as a lifestyle choice - benefits culture. But we know that benefits do not meet minimum income standards. They've halved in value relative to average incomes over the last 30 years. The ill and unemployed are the least satisfied and happy with life.
Myth 6 - They caused the deficit. The proportion of the UK's tax bills spent on welfare has remained stable for the last 20 years. Increased welfare spending is not responsible for the current deficit. Public debt is a problem, but the poorest aren't responsible for it.
Next time you read a newspaper article, or watch a news story about benefits or the poor, you can play a weird game of Bingo. Tick off the number of myths each opinion piece or story includes. Maybe donate an item to your local foodbank for each one!
"As a coalition of British churches, we want to create a new story: one grounded in truth, compassion and hope. Part of our calling as Christians is to seek after truth and that means facing up to our own blindness as well as calling others to account.
Collectively, we have come to believe things about poverty in the UK that are not grounded in fact. We need to develop an understanding of the depth and breathe of UK poverty that is compatiable with the evidence available.
Just as importantly, we need to match the language of public debate with the reality of people's lives. It is a task we must approach with humility; one which puts the lived experience of poverty at its heart, and one which is committed to truthfulness - no matter how uncomfortable we find those truths to be. Please join with us in this challenge".