Barry Knight, Webb Memorial Trust – The debate: What are current sentiments towards poverty in the UK?
Drawing on research conducted by YouGov, Director of the Webb Memorial Trust, Barry Knight, reflected on current sentiments towards poverty in the UK. He defined this as an area where ‘blame holds sway,’ suggesting an anti-poverty sector that enthusiastically identifies problems but offers few solutions bears some responsibility for the prevailing culture of blame and the notion that poverty is too big to deal with.
Research for the Webb Memorial Trust found that in the UK around a third of people identify the causes of poverty as structural, a third see poverty as a consequence of individual choices and a final third see it as something inevitable that will always exist. People then interpret whatever statistic or headline they receive through this pre-existing lense; a tendency known as confirmation bias.
Barry suggested that one way of challenging this is through “asset-based solutions rather than problem-based challenges.” This may sound suspiciously like something an estate agent might say but is actually a technique successfully used by race equality campaigners in the US to re-frame the issue in more constructive terms. Instead of using abstract terms like ‘combating poverty’, it is better to shed light on practical solutions, such as ‘helping someone to pay the bills.’
Similarly, it is security and other social qualities such as fairness and safety – above economic indicators – that dominate what people define as the qualities of a good society. Rather than suggesting that income is unimportant, this shows that the language of poverty is fickle and best communicated in terms people really care about, such as the desire to feel safe and secure.