We need a better understanding of poverty to change attitudes

A more collaborative approach would help bust the myths about poverty, says Jenny Rolison.

Clearly we need to break the cycle of dependency that traps people in poverty and prevent people falling through the gaps, but the question is how?

As a rule, there is a distinct lack of knowledge among those who are not in poverty. It is not a pleasant topic of conversation, nor one that as individuals we can do much about. Many people do not really want to know; they get caught up in common negative misconceptions which are simply not true. I believe that a change in attitude and a real understanding of the difficulties faced by those trapped in poverty could have a really positive impact. Education is important and has to bring us closer to solutions.

Knowledge gives people power, and if every working person in the UK was given an insight and understanding into the problems faced by people in poverty and the support that is in place, it would help tackle the problem. Firstly, the more understanding and discussion we have, the more likely we are to develop and refine an effective system.

Secondly, if everybody understands fully, then the negative misconceptions will no longer be a concern. Therefore people in poverty need not feel any guilt or shame for their situation, and those who want to do their bit will be empowered to make the most positive impact they can.

Living in London, you regularly see people who are so poor they are on the streets. Even those of us who stop to buy the Big Issue or offer a sandwich have no real idea of the situations these people are trapped in and the difficulties they face. From my own experience, finding out about these problems has not enabled me to come up with a solution but it has made me realise what some of the people I’ve met need most.

One man I know who sells the Big Issue needs £2,000 so he can get a home and out of the situation he is stuck in. He is trying desperately hard not to have to declare himself bankrupt. I now know that buying the Big Issue and giving extra change is much more helpful than adding to the rucksack of sandwiches he has from people coming out of Tesco.

Don't get me wrong, I am very aware that I have a lot to learn, and that donations alone are not likely to be the answer, but the more we all learn, the closer we get to more successful ideas.

So the question is how to implement this. If the government made it compulsory for every single company to run or attend an annual conference or presentation day about the difficulties faced by those in poverty, which enabled people in work to really understand the issues, then we could all work together to create a better solution.

Volunteers from various charities could be trained and lead these days. There would be opportunities to be more involved and society could face the problem in a meaningful and educated manner.

Jenny attended JRF Sessions – a workshop in which younger people shared ideas to help JRF and JRHT shape its 10-year vision – and attendees were asked to write a blog about one thing they would change to reduce poverty. Jenny’s is one of two winning entries.