The Language of Poverty

The Language of Poverty

While mining the old North East Child Poverty Blog, I came across this fascinating post by Steve Crossley.  Slightly over my head, as most things are these days, but basically Steve is making the point that much of the language around poverty is written by the rich, in ways that are critical of the poor and absolve the wealthy.  He suggests adopting new phrases to turn the arguments on their head, such as:

  • 'Wealth' becomes 'Illth' - the poisonous concentration of resources in the hands of the few
  • 'Handouts to the poor' and 'Bailouts of the banks' become 'Bailouts for those failed by society' and 'Handouts to the banks' who got something not even for nothing, but for messing up
  • 'Housing benefit' becomes 'Landlord Subsidy' and 'Tax Credits' become 'Low Pay Employer Subsidy' to reflect who really beneifts from these parts of the tax and benefit system

Steve also suggests that some lazy tags applied to the poor, could equally apply to the rich - the Old School network stuck in a 'cycle of privilege', the 'lifestyle choice of the tax avoider' and so on.  Church Action on Poverty's report on stigma - 'The Blame Game Must Stop' makes similar points.  I cannot add much to this list other than suggesting that people on benefits who don't claim all they are due are not 'ill informed', they have been 'let down by the system' that is overly complex and bureaucratic.

At risk of sounding old school PC, I think the language we use reflects the beliefs we hold, and challenging the language is a way to uncover and challenge the beliefs that - often unwittingly - punish the poor and absolve the illthy.

Employers

Work has to be a better route out of poverty. Most poor children have a working parent.

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Schools

Poverty leads to poor attainment.  Poor attainment leads to poverty.

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Local Authorities

Councils have a duty to address child poverty through their services, jobs and contracts.

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Everyone

Everyone can help to tackle child poverty. Every contribution matters.

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