Photo: Gizmodo

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Don't blame the poor for our countries' woes

A politician in France, the country of the "droits de l'homme", is questioning the rights afforded to people living in poverty. Europe Minister, Laurent Wauquiez, is proposing to cut benefits to social security claimants, wrongly claiming (and since rebuked by his own party) that it was possible for couples where neither is working can receive more in benefits than a household where there is a person in work. He has also decried the "assistance" culture created through social security benefits as a "cancer on French society".

How easy it is to attack those who are among society's most vulnerable when things get tough. And France is by no means alone in doing this. Take David Cameron's headline grabbing statement last month about disability benfit claimants that led to the Daily Mirror stating,"People who are too fat to work are biting a huge hole in the country's finances." Closer inspection of the Government's own figures of the number of people claiming disability benefits due to obesity puts the figure at a whopping 1800 people, just over 0.001% of total government spending.

It made me think of a new joint publication between ATD Fourth World and the Forum for a New World Governance, entitled "Extreme Poverty and World Governance". One of the most interesting points in it for me is how it is so easily to manipulate opinion and turn it against the poor. "Fear is at the root of the processes operating to make evil and social injustice acceptable. This means that the violence, sometimes in its extreme form, imposed on certain categories of people ends up being seen as normal." (...) "Long-standing prejudices distinguishing the "deserving poor", who have to be helped, from the "undeserving poor", who have to be punished, and encouraging the belief that all societies have a scrapheap, help to legitimize the violence meted out to the groups of people disqualified in this way."

To combat this, the book suggest that this vision of people living in poverty can be turned around when there is "an inner recognition of the suffering, fragility and hopes of the people who endure extreme poverty" (...) "an alliance with those people, a commitment to take action on their behalf."

The fact that 5000 people marched in London today to protest against benefit cuts, added to the hundreds of thousands who marched in March, demonstrates that an alliance does exist which refuses to accept that people living in poverty should be made scapegoats by politicians looking for easy soundbites for front-page headlines.


  1. Thank you Matt for this article. In times of economic crisis and uncertainty for the future, it is all too easy to find a scapegoat to put the blame on, and so deal with one's legitimate fears. And some politicians hope they can go forward in their career on such themes. The book "Extreme Poverty and World Governance" give clues for other ways to deal with today's uncertainties, which do not imply for non poors to put away fundamental rights and liberties. Xavier

  2. niek tweehuijsenMay 25, 2011 at 8:04 AM

    We could add some very rough messures making life of people living in poverty more difficult in the Netherlands as well. An international approach is absolutely essential.Thanks for the article and happy birthday.