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
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
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
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."