How to… talk about poverty

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Frameworks Institute have released the results of a two year investigation into public attitudes to poverty in the UK.

In a report released this week, it sets out a number of strategies to help communicators speak to the general public about poverty in a way that builds a deeper understanding of its causes and the systemic changes needed to address it.

The Frameworks Institute undertook research with over 20,000 members of the British public and uncovered a number of common beliefs about poverty that prevent people from fully understanding it.

One of the most common beliefs in the UK is that poverty is something that happens in other countries, the idea that the UK is in a ‘post-poverty’ situation.

Many people who took part in the research expressed the view that people living in poverty are there through the choices they have made throughout their lives, rather than because of systemic social or economic problems.

Interviewees also referred to our economic system as ‘a game that is rigged’ and unchangeable, that we are all at the mercy of elites who manipulate the system.

For those working and campaigning on poverty issues, gaining an understanding of these general assumptions about poverty – that it is either non-existent, inherent to the human condition or impossible to change – show the ways in which people disengage from the issue and which mean that many anti-poverty campaigns backfire.

The Frameworks Institute instead offers a ‘re-framing’ of the poverty narrative for a broad audience that makes a moral case for poverty and taps into people’s sense of justice and compassion.

When testing new strategies for talking about poverty with the UK public they found that campaigns that emphasise our society’s moral compassion work well for people across the political spectrum. It found that messengers and spokespeople who align with these values can help bring them to life and build public will for change.

It calls for poverty campaigners not to dwell on the politics of the issue but instead to focus on the systemic – and changeable – economic issues that create it.

To avoid the fatalism that many people feel about the economy, it is important to instead instil a ‘powerful sense of pragmatism’ and talk about our economic system as one that is designed, the report says.

The report sets out nine ways in which poverty can be re-framed for the general British public, including connecting the stories of poverty with poverty’s wider causes and solutions, and using shared values and metaphors to frame facts and statistics.

  • Read the report here:


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