The lies and myths we tell ourselves

The three great lies. They used to be “The cheque is in the post; of course I will still love you in the morning; and I am from Head Office and here to help you”. What are today’s lies and myths?

Last year, the Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Churches published a joint report exposing the lies we tell ourselves about poverty and the poorest in society. They identified six myths about the poor which enable the majority to live with the comfortable assumption that poverty is deserved:

1. ‘They’ are lazy and don’t want to work

The most commonly cited cause of child poverty by churchgoers and the general public alike is that “their parents don’t want to work”. Yet the majority of children in poverty are from working households. In work poverty is now more common than out of work poverty. It is readily believed that across the country there are families in which three generations have never worked, and this is used as the argument behind welfare policies. However the report shows that examples of such families have not been found, and the evidence suggests it is unlikely they ever will be.

2. ‘They’ are addicted to drink and drugs

Churchgoers and the wider public cite addiction as the second most common cause of child poverty. While addiction is devastating for the families and communities touched by it, fewer than 4% of benefit claimants report any form of addiction.

3. ‘They’ are not really poor – they just don’t manage their money properly

Nearly 60% of the UK population agrees that the poor could cope if only they handled their money properly. The experience of living on a low income is one of constant struggle to manage limited resources, with small events having serious consequences. Statistics show that the poorest spend their money carefully, limiting themselves to the essentials.

4. They are 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 can only dream of. Less than 0.9% of the welfare budget is lost to fraud. In fact if everyone claimed and was paid correctly, the welfare system would cost around £18 billion more than it presently does.

5. ‘They’ have an easy life

Over half the British public believes benefits are too high and churchgoers tend to agree. Government ministers speak of families opting for benefits as a lifestyle choice. Yet we know that benefits do not meet minimum income standards. They have halved in value relative to average incomes over the last 30 years. We know the ill and the unemployed are the people least satisfied and happy with life.

6. ‘They’ caused the deficit

The proportion of our tax bills spent on welfare has remained stable for the last 20 years. It is ridiculous to argue, as some have, that increasing welfare spending is responsible for the current deficit. Public debt is a problem but why is it being laid at the feet of the poorest?

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