Truth and Lies about Poverty

This morning many of us will have read or heard news reports of Mick and Mairead Philpott being found guilty of starting a fire which killed their six children in May last year.

The tragedy was the result of a plot in which Mick aimed to frame his ex mistress for arson, and gain custody of four of his other children whom she had removed from what had been the family home.

It brought tears to my eyes to see the cheeky little faces of those innocent children. They remind me of the hundreds, maybe thousands of children I have met as I have worked in schools, churches and communities.

One report I read was in the Daily Mail. The front page:


 


It seems to me to be both unfair and completely disrespectful to use this story to take shots at the welfare system. To describe innocent children as being ‘bred’ as ‘cash cows’ dehumanizes them and detracts from the true horror of this story. The true horror of this story is not that this family took home £60,000 per year in benefits. The true horror of this story is not that they had 17 children. The true horror of this story is not that this man appeared on the Jeremy Kyle show asking for a bigger house for his huge and convoluted family.

The true horror of this story is that six innocent children, human children with personalities and friends and tempers and favourite subjects and toys and toothbrushes, died because of the actions of the people who should have loved them and protected them from harm.

I do not think that the welfare system caused Mick Philpott to turn mystically into the selfish, controlling, deceitful man that he seems to be. This is what the Daily Mail seems intent on implying. What makes a person who they are? What makes someone risk the lives of their children, for any reason? To blame the welfare system is a pretty big and unsubstantiated leap. There are thousands of people who need to claim benefits and are honest people and loving parents. At the other end of the scale there are those who are rolling in money yet cheat on their taxes, exploit others and have unhealthy relationships. A recent headline story of a man who killed his parents for their £230,000 inheritance shows us what we actually already know; rich, poor or somewhere in the middle, people can choose to be selfish, or malicious, or deceitful.

The danger of running a headline such as the one in the Daily Mail is that it twists the emphasis of a tragic story to create a rhetoric that demonises those in our society who are living in poverty and relying on the welfare system. This is an abuse of the memory of those children.

Our society is being encouraged to believe a number of lies about people living in poverty. We are told that ‘they’ are lazy, that ‘they’ are cheating the system, and that ‘they’ have an easy comfortable life raking it in on benefits. Cases like this are out there, but they are the absolute minority. Yes, there are people who take advantage of our welfare system, but not many, and we need to know that despite what our government and the media sometimes tell us. According to the Truth and Lies about Poverty Report recently published by the Joint Public Issues Team, benefit fraud is about 0.9% of payments, about £1.9 million. On the other hand tax avoidance is about 6% of revenues due, about £30 billion. Only 3% of families on benefits receive more than £10,000 in housing benefit a year – many struggle to make ends meet on a daily basis. Only 8% of families claiming benefits have three or more children.

People living in poverty need to be helped, not hated – even those abusing the welfare system. As Christians we are called to love people. In my opinion the story of the Philpott family shows the disastrous consequences of selfishness and greed, not the disastrous consequences of the welfare system. And I think that the lies about poverty that we hear – and ultimately the idea that some people deserve good and healthy lives and some don’t – boost the selfishness and greed in our society.

The story of the Philpott family didn’t make me angry that they took home whatever in benefits. It made me sad most of all; sad because of the suffering of those children, and sad because it showed me that the claims of the Truth and Lies about Poverty report are correct. We are being tricked. We are allowing ourselves to be tricked. Stories of individuals behaving in awful ways are being used to turn us against those living in poverty. As Christians we must speak out against this.

‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Defend the rights of those who have nothing. Speak up and judge fairly, and defend the rights of the poor and needy’.
Proverbs 31.9

27 comments:

  1. well said Hayley. Thank you

    Alison

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  2. Hayley - what a great piece of writing. You have really struck a chord and stirred up a whole host of emotions. Thank God young people like you are speaking up.

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  3. Yes, yes, yes.

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  4. Very wise words! Excellent article.

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  5. Hayley you have spoken very true words. I myself brought up 3 children on "benefits" for part of the 1980's when my husbands duty ended after The Falklands War and he was "no longer needed" We never even heard in those dark days of Mrs Thatcher some of the evil being spouted by government and media now! I myself sent an email today to the Mail very much along the lines of what you have said. I also put the link in to The Truth and Lies Report and asked thier "journalists" to read it before they spout any more lies about those "on Welfare"

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  6. I thank the Lord every day for people like yourself. Because of the twisted words of the few, I have been made to feel like the lowest of the low, just because I am unable to work and have to rely on benefits at this moment in time, even though I have worked all my life (I'm 56 now). Once again I thank the Lord and you.

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  7. Thanks all, and to those who shared it. It has already become the most viewed page on the Youth President blog. I am touched by the response it has had and so pleased that it has made a difference to people like the commenter above. Just shows even more what a key issue this is and how much good we can do by speaking out. Thanks to the Joint Public Issues Team for providing us with the tools to do something.

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  8. Hayley thank you for your blog. Thank you for your insight.

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  9. Hayley I've just read your latest - blog - well written, well done good and faithful servant.

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  10. Keeping up the campaign against the government and their campaign of misinformation is a must. I do not claim benefits, but I have retired early on ill health so can empathise with those who do. Being unemployed or ill does not make you a lesser person and the campaign of the "undeserving poor" should stop. Where are all these jobs people should get? Nice one Pat re Mail

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  11. Nicola Morrison3 April 2013 at 23:00

    Thank you Hayley - insightful, eloquent, passionate and faithful

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  12. Very well articulated, thank you. A very good starting point for a sermon or two!!!!

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  13. Very well said! This government scares me more than Thatcher's lot did and the Daily Mail should be ashamed of itself using childrens' deaths to spin their lies.

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  14. I am not opposed to the welfare system, I thank God for it. As a post war baby, I did not grow up in a wealthy family. None of us knows in the future when we might be in dire need, and require welfare assistance. However, if you read all the articles, Mick Philpott actually did appear to treat his own dear children as 'cash cows.' This is horrendous! This was an appalling abuse of what we are told is a system already struggling to meet the many demands placed upon it! We need to be real, where ever possible, surely we all have a responsibility to ensure that this sort of abuse is addressed, so that we can continue to maintain a world renowned welfare system, that unfailingly meets the needs of its' people.

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  15. Thank you Hayley for being brave enough to stand up and comment.

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  16. Thank you Hayley for pointing out that the welfare system is vital to many people. Today I am in Mumbai, where of course there is no such thing and conditions for many are hand to mouth. I do however know of many in my home town in Hertfordshire who pretend to be disabled and who walk to the shops with one crutch in case they are photographed, but never lean on the crutch at all. Also I am aware of families who smoke and have all gadgets possible who get extra welfare money for shoes and such-when others manage their money with caution and live within their means. These examples make hard-workers cross and it would be naive of you to dismiss such cases because they do show a need for caution in the operation of the system.

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  17. Brilliant piece of work and very challanging.
    I agree we are loosing site that six inocent children have lost thier lives.

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  18. Rachel Borgars4 April 2013 at 15:42

    Thank you, Hayley - the world needs thinking, articulate young people such as yourself to try to fight against the inequalities that my generation (I'm 50) have failed to challenge successfully - may the Holy Spirit continue to guide and strengthen you.

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  19. Well said, although I think this poor excuse for a man needs to be exposed for what he has done and for the unhealthy lifestyle he was leading. I dont think anyone considers these poor babies to be 'cash cows', they are clearly innocent victims of a very dangerous man and his brainwashed wife.
    It is a fact that Mick Philpott forced both women to hand over their benefits so he was in control of the money and therefore the lives of both women and their children. This was tax payers money, which didnt always go toward looking after the children and their needs. Philpott bragged about his lifestyle on national tv and the authorities did absolutely nothing about it. Welfare isnt just about financial hand outs. Who was looking out for these children? Where were social services following Philpotts television debut? The situation should have been assessed. When one family on benefit has that many children, questions need to be asked.
    I was blessed with a beautiful daughter and was grateful to receive help as a single parent. I didnt go on to have more children, because I knew I couldnt afford to. When my daugheter started school, I got a job and have worked ever since.
    Why is it socialy acceptable for families on benefit to have so many children? I think it is wrong for people to keep having kids and expect more and more hand outs provided by tax payers who work and are sensible and tow the line. The handouts must be capped after so many children.

    Philpott and others like him think the world owes them a living. He plays the big man because he thinks that his fertility and controlling nature make him a man. I cant forgive him, but I will say a prayer for the babies he murdered and thank God that they are now safe and in a much better place.

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  20. An excellent blog, Hayley. Earlier today, a friend told me that you'd written very well on this story and I'm very glad I looked it up as soon as possible. Congratulations on offering this strong response to a very sad story and an outrageous headline.

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  21. It's very interesting to read Zoe Williams' article in today's Guardian after reading your blog, Hayley, and the comments above. It would have been good for her to quote you as well as referring to the Baptist, Methodist, URC, and Church of Scotland statements last weekend.

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  22. Well done, Hayley, for a well thought-out and well written blog. You have the courage to stand up for what is right and not be intimidated by the Daily Mail. I pray that you will continue to serve the Lord well as Youth President. Ian Bowley

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  23. Congratulations Hayley, on a well-argued piece of writing. Be assured that lots of us are cheering you on as you speak out for us all on issues like this.

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    1. Christians are also called to tell the truth and, unfortunately, the Churches' report is as honest about what is really going on as some of the more extreme Government statements. Welfare reform is desperately needed, as even the Labour Party now belatedly acknowledge, in order to make work pay for those who can work whilst supporting those who cannot. I'm afraid, Hayley, that you've swallowed 'The Guardian' line on poverty hook, line and sinker, rather than actually considering the facts.

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  24. Hayley,

    Excellent. Bless you for speaking out to the truth of the situation about how people on benefits are portrayed. Thank you for doing this.
    God bless, Kevin.

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