Human rights should be a tool of peace for everyone

Understanding poverty in all its forms

Moraene Roberts

PHOTO: ATD Fourth World UK

Social policy | Australia, The World

24 October 2019

On October 14, ATD Fourth World launched Understanding Poverty in All its Forms, the report of its collaborative research project with Oxford University. The research is being undertaken to build a consensus around defining and measuring poverty – with the aim of eradicating it. The research is a genuine participatory partnership between researchers, academics, and people with firsthand experiences of poverty. Moraene Roberts is a member of the National Coordinating Team of ATD Fourth World UK. Here, Moraene writes powerfully about the experience of poverty.

Poverty is an act of violence against the poor and a denial of human rights. Many people just don’t understand that. But people in poverty are treated as less than human, which fuels a cycle of fury, anger, and rejection. When I was growing up, we understood that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was necessary for building peace between communities and nations.

But this is not taught by our education system, and so younger generations hear human rights maligned as a tool used by terrorists to assert their personal rights over those of others. Today, we have a new opportunity to build the human connections that are so necessary for our society to defend human rights and to overcome the violence of poverty.

More on this: Poverty's many dimensions

I have lived with disability and poverty my whole life. When I was younger, I thought that poverty was ‘normal’ because so much was completely out of my control. I was so battered down by the situation that I was resigned to it.

Since the 1990s, I have been working with other people in poverty. Getting to know so many other people stuck in the same situations I was helped me to recognise the fact that poverty is created.

Certain aspects of my situation were my own responsibility because of the choices I’d made, but other aspects came from what had been imposed on me.

Seeing others suffer made me indignant about what’s been done to them. I began looking for people to support. It really was a fight; it felt like a struggle for years and years. More than a fight, it was a rage: how dare they impose this on us, and then blame us for it? Eventually, you can get over the rage — but you can’t do that alone. Realising that you’re with others gives you courage.

More on this: Homelessness and poverty

These realisations showed me that our society really has to decide what we want to build in place of poverty. This is why I have been working with researchers from Oxford University for the past three years on a study about poverty in all its forms in Britain.

In our research team, academics and those of us with lived experience of poverty collaborated at every step of the way.

Together, we designed the research, carried it out, analysed the findings, and wrote it up. We will release our final report on 14 October 2019 at Amnesty International. Our findings clearly define where poverty violates people’s rights. This is not accidental; certain policies concerning health care, housing, and benefits actively harm people, even to the point of causing their death.

It is a human right for each and every person to really live, not just to scrape by in misery. These new research findings, which come from the lived experience of many people in poverty, can help our society change things so that human rights will once again become a tool for peace that belongs to everyone.

The report that Moraene refers to is available at https://atd-uk.org/projects-campaigns/understanding-poverty/

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