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Book examines the ‘myths’ of poverty

07 November 2014

by a staff reporter


THE most influential factor in determining how people respond to others in need is not their faith but their political allegiance and their reading habits, a survey suggests.

The survey's findings were published in a new book, The Myth of the Undeserving Poor, by Martin Charlesworth and Natalie Williams, which sets out to shatter what the authors describe as "myths" about people on state benefits.

In a survey carried out for the book, they asked what British Christians thought about those in poverty, and what influenced these opinions.

They found that, although Christians tended broadly to be more sympathetic to people on benefits or on the poverty line, it was their political preferences and their regular newspaper that had the most significant effect on their views on poverty.

The survey suggested that readers of the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph were least likely to agree that a large income-gap between rich and poor was morally wrong, whereas readers of the Mirror or The Guardian were more likely to agree. And, while 36 per cent of Daily Mail readers agreed that the level of state help was not enough, causing hardship, that figure rose to 80 per cent of Daily Mirror readers.

Similarly, while only 41 per cent of those who identified themselves with the Conservative Party believed there was a "quite a lot" of poverty, 74 per cent of Green voters and 70 per cent of Labour voters backed the statement.

The authors wrote: "The results of our survey present us with a sobering challenge of why we believe what we believe. While we might expect broad consensus among Christians, we find that our responses to poverty and the poor are divided according to political preferences, media consumption and proximity to those in poverty."

The survey also asked whether British Christians felt that there was such a thing as the "undeserving poor", and whether they believed that they had used biblical principles to shape their attitudes to poverty.

"We mustn't slip into the temptation to ask people to change before we help them," the authors said. "That is a deeply unbiblical response. Helping the poor is our responsibility; how they respond is theirs. When we actively cultivate biblical attitudes of human dignity, mercy, kindness . . . our hearts have no place to label any person . . . as undeserving."

Mr Charlesworth, who is head of the charity Jubilee+, said: "We wrote this book to alert people to the dangers of the recent rise in stigmatisation of the poor. . . We also wanted to tell the story of the dramatic rise . . . of the many forms of church-based social action across the nation."

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