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15 June 2012

Stop blaming the poor for poverty, say church groups

The Methodist Church, Baptist Union of Great Britain and United Reformed Church are accusing the government of continuing a trend of blaming the poor as new proposals to redefine poverty are announced.

On Thursday (14 June), Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, announced plans to redefine the way poverty is measured, arguing that factors such as drug addiction, debt and family breakdown needed to be taken into account rather than just income.

Church Action on Poverty welcomed plans for a simplified benefit system, but raised concerns that the proposed reforms are based on inaccurate assumptions about the poor.

Mr Duncan Smith said: "Getting a family into work, supporting strong relationships, getting parents off drugs and out of debt, all this can do more for a child's well-being than any amount of money in out-of-work benefits."

But the proposals have been criticised by church denominations who claim this will do more harm than good.

"These proposals risk further stigmatising the poor in the eyes of voters and the media," said Paul Morrison, public issues adviser for the Methodist Church. "It is universally acknowledged that poverty is a relative concept. These proposals seek to undermine the idea that relative poverty matters, by focusing on other issues. At its worst it will seek to measure the 'faults' of the poor, further blaming them for poverty. 

"We are called to stand alongside the poorest and most vulnerable in society. By focusing on issues like addiction, which only affects a tiny minority of people who are poor, the government is blaming the poor for poverty and detracting from the real issues. Recession, low pay and decreasing benefits are driving poverty and none of these are the fault of the poor."

In 2006, prime minister David Cameron promised to measure poverty in relative terms, which take account of what people need to live on. But announcements made today signal a definitive shift away from this focus, with plans to measure poverty in terms of drug addiction, homelessness and unemployment, rather than income levels.

"These new measures relate more to the government's perception of poor people than to the real scale of poverty," added Mr Morrison. "Factors like addiction are important, but they are not a measure of poverty."

The churches support the Living Wage Campaign, which calls for every worker in the country to be able to earn enough to provide their family with the essentials of life.