Poverty is not inevitable, says Common Cause director Karen Snow. Either we remain indifferent, or we do something to help those below the line help themselves
Much is said about poverty and equality in election cycles, with promises of reform and a better life for those living below the poverty line. The social welfare state is arguably the greatest poverty alleviator of all time, but right now it’s not enough and regardless of who wins today’s election, we all need to play a part in poverty reduction.
Here is a common scenario for downward mobility: In 2013 a father of three lost his job. He became one of the 2.5 million people looking for work but unable to find a job. He was unable to pay his mortgage and support his family so was left with no alternative other than to seek Jobseeker’s Allowance. This barely covered his outgoings so he was forced to take on further debt to bridge the gap.
Who is responsible for giving this person a livelihood?
“We can accomplish great things together when we pool our skills, money and resources to help people to help themselves.”
We assume it’s up to the social welfare state. “It is quite shocking that so few people feel there is an obligation to give,” Dan Corry, chief executive of New Philanthropy Capital, told the Guardian. “We have gone through a phase where we have a welfare state, we pay our taxes and we feel we don’t need to give any more.”.
However, what history has shown is that the state alone cannot solve poverty. Some forces are out of the government’s control: industries shrink, consumer tastes move on and stock markets crash. A government bureau is small in comparison to the size of its population. On numbers alone, it’s the people who are more powerful.
But there are misheld beliefs which are preventing people helping those in need. In 2011, 37 percent of people thought that most people on benefits were taking advantage, and 56 percent believed that most unemployed people could find a job if they wanted one, according to a NatCen report.
We lack awareness of our power as a collective. We can accomplish great things together when we pool our skills, money and resources to help people to help themselves. Common Cause has proved this by connecting people on benefits with the support they need to build their own livelihoods and gain financial independence.
Take Jamilia for example. She has two degrees in history but struggled to find work related to her education. She applied for retail jobs in order to earn enough to support her family, but was disregarded due to her age. She was left sleeping rough in north London. Determined to find a way of supporting her family, she attended a training course with the Aspire Foundation. She was encouraged to build a business from one of her passions, and given the skills and training to do so.
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Jamilia started knitting garments from British wool, but lacked the resources and funding to develop her business. Common Cause has connected her to people who have offered her the support she needed to succeed. She now sells her goods on fashion websites and at markets in London, and is mentoring other people on benefits about how they can build their own livelihoods.
What is the benefit to us? As individuals, research has shown that it feels good to give – volunteering is a long-lasting source of happiness. If we act, we can live in more secure, enjoyable societies where people are more connected and generous with each other.
We need to place the faith in ourselves and come together to take action. Poverty is not inevitable. We can remain indifferent, or we can do something. We can volunteer our skills, we can make use of old equipment, and we can donate money to help people build better lives for themselves and for all of us.