Five doodles that help to make sense of UK poverty

It’s all very well having robust, reliable evidence of what causes poverty in the UK – but facts and figures alone aren’t enough to build support for solving it, says Paul Brook.

The story of poverty in the UK is a complicated one:

  • There are many overlapping causes and consequences.
  • Debate on the issues and measures is stuck in a stalemate situation.
  • We need a combination of different solutions to meet different needs.

But we know that poverty is a problem that can be solved, if we all work together and build support for action and change. Again, though, that’s not straightforward. As research by the FrameWorks Institute has demonstrated, deeply held beliefs and divisive cultural and political narratives mean that messages about poverty can get lost in translation. We can’t just publish some stats or reports and assume everyone views them in the same way.

A communications challenge

We want to inspire action and change to solve UK poverty, but we know there’s a lot of work to do if more people are to understand it and call more loudly for solutions – and we’ll have to try out some different ways of communicating.

One thing I’m trying out is doodling – drawing some quick pictures with felt-tip pens to help visualise aspects of UK poverty that are often difficult to describe or grasp. The following five doodles each capture a message about UK poverty that has been tested with members of the British public by the FrameWorks Institute for JRF.

How poverty works

We use ‘currents’ as a metaphor for how poverty works. It helps to explain how poverty reduces options and makes it extremely hard for people to simply change their situations.

This doodle highlights that redesigning the social security system is one way of helping people to stay afloat when they’re struggling.

Poverty works like a current. Circumstances like losing a job or a relationship break-up can pull people into poverty, but redesigning our social security system could help them stay afloat when they're struggling.

Locked in poverty

The idea of people being ‘locked in’ poverty by circumstances outside of their control is another powerful metaphor. This doodle shows some of the main factors that combine to restrict and restrain people, locking them in poverty.

Low-paid, insecure work, housing costs, the benefits freeze and the rising cost of living combine to lock people in poverty.

Loosening poverty's grip

As shown in the first doodle, a social security system that’s functioning well can support people when they hit hard times. In this image, benefits are shown as a key that can unlock poverty’s constraints.

Benefits can help unlock poverty's constraints

Benefits are part of the solution

When we talk about benefits, it’s common to start thinking about who is deserving or undeserving. Benefits can then be seen as a problem – not part of the solution to solving poverty.

Benefits are part of a wider system of public services that we all rely on, to ensure that everyone in our country has a decent standard of living.

We all rely on publicly funded services, like education, the NHS, police and railways. Benefits are a vital public service when we're struggling.

The economy can be redesigned

Poverty can seem like a huge, unsolvable problem. Similarly, the economy is seen as big, unmovable, inevitable and complicated.

As a society, we believe in compassion and justice, but the way the economy has been designed is not benefiting everyone.

The idea of this final doodle is to help show that systems like the economy can be changed – they can be redesigned to work for everyone.

The economy we have today was designed - and it can be redesigned to work for everyone.

What do you think?

Have these doodles helped you to understand UK poverty? How would you describe your own experiences? Let me know.