Lies about poverty: shattering the myths

  • Read the full report here

13 million people - including 3.6 million children - livein poverty in the UK today. A major new report shows how evidenceand statistics have been misused, misrepresented and manipulated tocreate myths that blame and stigmatise the most vulnerable insociety.

The report, entitled The lies we tell ourselves: endingcomfortable myths about poverty, is published today by theBaptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of Scotland, Methodistand United Reformed Churches. It confronts the most common mythstold about people who are in poverty or in receipt of benefits, andhighlights some of the most abused statistics. 

The Churches, which together represent more than 1 millionpeople across Britain, say that statistics have been manipulatedand misused by politicians and the media to support a comfortablebut dangerous story: that the poor somehow deserve their poverty,and therefore deserve the cuts which they increasingly face. TheChurches hope that the report will empower Christians and others tochallenge myths and lies about poverty wherever they findthem. 

The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths aboutpoverty includes stories like that of Neil, who was along-distance lorry driver until ill health meant he had to give upwork. He's in danger of losing his home because of the Government'splanned benefit reforms. "I was a proud man, I always worked, but Ican no longer afford that luxury. Benefit changes reduce my abilityto eat properly. I can't afford to keep the fridge on all the time,and I can't afford to heat my home all the time," he said. "I feellike my children and my friends no longer look up to me because Ihave nothing. I feel like a failure. I don't feel like a personanymore."

The report is being sent to every UK MP and Member of the ScottishParliament in Britain and people are being encouraged to write totheir parliamentary representative asking how they will be usingthe information to better inform policy-making. 

"It would be comfortable for many if we lived in a society wherepoverty only visited families that were lazy or made baddecisions," said Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser andauthor of the report. "That is the story these myths lead us tobelieve; but that's not the Britain we live in today. It'sconvenient to believe that benefits are too generous. It'sconvenient to believe that claimants are on the fiddle or even moreabsurdly caused our economic troubles. But it's just nottrue. 

"The very least the most vulnerable in our society deserve is tobe spoken of truthfully and with respect, and that is what weshould demand from our politicians and newspapers. Anything less isto be complicit in a great injustice."

In their work the Churches have been inspired by the words of theBiblical prophet Isaiah:

"Justice is turned back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
for truth stumbles in the public square,
and uprightness cannot enter."
Isaiah 59:14 (NRSV)


  1. The Revd Sally Foster-Fulton, Convener of the Church andSociety Council, Church of Scotland, added: "This report exposesthe myths we use to excuse poverty in modern Britain. Jesus said'the poor you will always have with you'; but this is an indictmentof reality, not absolution for feeling guilty about being betteroff. We impoverish all of society when we swallow those lies whichare repeatedly used to blame the poor for their own predicament. Weall have a duty to act not only responsibly, but with generositytowards our fellow human beings." 
  2. Paul Morrison is available for interview. A hi-res image ofPaul is available here. 
  3. A response by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the MethodistChurch and the United Reformed Church to the Government'sconsultation on child poverty measures is available here. 
  4. The Church of Scotland's response to the same consultation canbe found online here.