A recent report by a coalition of religious institutions sought to dispel a number of myths relating to poverty. Kate Pickett, co-author of The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always do Better, writes about the unforgivable role played by politicians and the media in creating these misconceptions.
The most shocking aspect of the churches’ report on poverty is the extent to which politicians and the media peddle outright lies and misinformed opinions about the nature of poverty in the UK and the receipt of social security and other benefits – promoting a completely fabricated version of reality and creating harmful divisions in our society.
Whether this comes from laziness or outright mendacious nastiness is unclear, but it’s shocking that we have a media so disinterested in the truthful facts and so keen on promulgating such a harsh and condemnatory view of the poor.
The report painstakingly dismisses the ‘facts’, ‘statistics’ and unrepresentative anecdotes that politicians and the media are using to divide us from one another.
It is a very sad fact that public attitudes towards the poor and towards those receiving any kind of benefits over the past few decades have hardened. This is a direct, if perhaps unforeseen, consequence of rising income inequality over the same period.
Inequality destroys social cohesion, increases the social distances between people, and increases individualism, self-interest and materialism.
It’s no wonder that, experiencing this inequality, many people develop downward prejudices about those who have, or achieve, less, and are more likely to believe the ‘myths’ about poverty that this report lays bare.
The response of politicians, the media and, indeed, faith groups of all kind, should not be to accept these harsher public attitudes and use them as justification for cuts and draconian policies, but instead to try to tackle those attitudes head on.
We all benefit from living in a caring, neighbourly, supportive social environment, and we never know when we will need support ourselves. Those who have the power to influence public opinion should take responsibility for changing those attitudes, based on the real facts and evidence.
This is a vitally important moral issue. Whether one’s morality is informed by faith or basic human instincts of social justice, fairness and compassion, we need strong leadership to counteract the prevailing opinions and incorrect information being peddled by those who should know better.
If this report can help to start that shift, we will all be better off.