Posted by: aboutalbion | March 18, 2013

The lies we tell ourselves

The state of the UK public finances will be reviewed this week because Wednesday (20 March) is ‘Budget Day’.

With the government likely to want to make further ‘savings’ in its planned expenditure, many will be trying to assess the impact of any proposals on ‘the poor’.  It is one thing to subscribe to the view that the poor are always with us, but it quite another to explain poverty in ways that have no basis in reality

A week or two ago now, I glanced at a carefully entitled report: “The Lies We Tell Ourselves”.  This was an independent study of some of the myths about poverty in the UK.  The conclusion was that the government was associated with misrepresenting the statistical evidence and with drawing unwarranted conclusions about ‘the poor’, which were then repeated by the UK mass media.  These myths then became the backdrop for the terms in which political debate about ‘the poor’ took place.

The study examined the evidence base for the following six propositions about ‘the poor’, found it lacking, and concluded that it would be more accurate to report these propositions as myths.

1  ‘They’ are lazy and just don’t want to work.
2  ‘They’ are addicted to drink and drugs.
3  ‘They’ are not really poor – they just don’t manage their money properly.
4  ‘They’ are on the fiddle.
5  ‘They’ have an easy life on benefits.
6  ‘They’ caused the deficit.

The concern of the authors is that myths (such as these) “hide the complexity of the true nature of poverty in the UK … [and enable] the poor to be blamed for their poverty, and the rest of society to avoid taking any of the responsibility”. (p4)

The suggestion that poverty is correlated with ‘bad’ behaviour reminds me of the powerful religious dogma that ‘bad things’ happen to ‘bad people’.

[The Baptist Union of Great Britain, et al (2013) The Lies We Tell Ourselves.]

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