Attitudes towards domestic poverty

There is a recognisable trend that the general public is becoming less supportive of those living in domestic poverty. People tend to be more concerned about inequality (gaps between rich and poor) than about poverty (see poverty and inequality). In fact, the middle classes are predominantly focused on their economic standing relative to people wealthier than them.

The Coalition Government holds 'responsibility' as a key value and has initiated policies which encourage individuals to be proactive in addressing their problems. This resonates with public attitudes, which tend to regard people on low incomes as having neglected to grab opportunities to better themselves. There is a common preconception that people living in poverty who receive benefits lack the drive to improve themselves and are unlikely to contribute back to society through income tax. Despite this, there is still support for a progressive tax and benefits system (see attitudes towards the welfare state). When middle class people receive explanations for why others end up trapped in poverty, and words like "redistribution" are avoided, they become willing to support initiatives that improve poorer people's life chances.

The middle classes are more willing to support the poor in the developing world. Public communications around international development and overseas natural disasters add further legitimacy to the cause of the poor overseas. Communications around the UK's domestic poor are weaker by comparison.

What are the implications?

  • Challenges for gaining public support to address poverty, particularly in the light of constrained public spending.
  • A need for media case studies of people living in poverty who are contributing back to society.
  • Greater need to educate the public on the reasons for people becoming trapped in poverty.
  • Reduction in public support for campaigns against benefits cuts.
  • Reduction in willingness of people from middle income backgrounds to volunteer their time on projects to help the least well off.

Moving Forward

People are likely to be initially resistant to campaigns to support people living in domestic poverty. Their resistance can be overcome once they understand the reasons for people ending up in poverty.

  • How can your organisation explain this to current and perspective supporters?
  • Do you have the creative skills and resources to convey this message persuasively?
  • If you currently use or plan to tell people's stories, fictional or factual, how will you ensure that your communication is effective rather than seen as making an excuse?

The preconception that the poor will never contribute back to society needs to be tackled.

  • Do you have case studies of poor people who have received benefits and then contributed back to society through employment, volunteering, entrepreneurship or social entrepreneurship?
  • Do you have the communications experience and/or resources to disseminate a news story or campaign highlighting positive examples of what people have done after having received benefits for a phase of their lives?

The VCS has a role in creating a fair and just society.

  • Does your organisation have a role to play in addressing inequality and giving a voice to marginalised communities and groups?
  • Can you provide activities that contribute to a cohesive and inclusive society?
  • How can your organisation communicate differently about poverty in accordance with people's shifting attitudes?

Want to know more?

Poverty in the media

Published by: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Date: 2009

Format: PDF

What is it: This study examines how people with direct experience of poverty in the UK can have a more effective voice in the media. Presentation of their views and experiences through media channels can help to shape and develop public opinion and build support for action to combat poverty.

How useful it this: The report contains practical steps which can be taken when seeking media coverage of this type of story.

Understanding attitudes to tackling inequality

Published by: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Date: 2009

Format: PDF (2.2MB)

What is it: Research into what motivates social attitudes towards the poor and the wealthy

How useful is it? Gives a good breakdown of different people’s attitudes towards a variety of topics under the economic inequality banner

Understanding attitudes to poverty - Getting the public's attention

Published by: Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Date: 2007

Format: PDF (0.2MB)

What is it? An examination of the barriers to public acceptance of poverty and inequality problems in the UK.

How useful is it? The report summarises the findings from qualitative research conducted across 12 research groups to understand the messaging required to change people’s attitudes about supporting campaigns to counter domestic poverty.

Last updated at 15:59 Thu 03/Feb/11.


How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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