Speaker’s Corner: One Muslim charity explains why it works to alleviate poverty in the UK

By Myriam Francois|February 9, 2016|Speaker's Corner|0 comments

Is there really poverty in the UK? One Muslim Charity explains its decision to focus on poverty alleviation at home

By Ali Khimji

For many people, whenever they think of people on benefits in the UK, their minds are probably drawn to those who are lazy and unmotivated; skivers who cannot be bothered to work and prefer to drink and take drugs; scroungers who choose to live a life of leisure at the expense of the taxpayer; and immigrant families who cannot stop having babies for more child benefit payments.


And who can blame them for thinking that way, especially when the media constantly push the strivers vs skivers false dichotomy by broadcasting poverty porn, such as Benefits Street, and politicians talk about how “we’re all in this together”, whilst passing bills on cutting essential benefits and letting companies choose how much tax they can pay?


The reality is that 13 million people live in poverty in the UK, which is a fifth of the population. That’s a lot of families who have to make difficult financial decisions day in day out; a lot of children for whom the school lunch is the only hot meal they have all day; and a lot of people who are stuck in low-paid jobs and cannot afford rising food and fuel costs.


Every one of those 13 million people has their own story of why they are struggling. And whilst we can talk about some of the wider societal causes of poverty, this does not mean that we should fall back onto lazy stereotypes about poor people.


The statistics disprove every single one of our preconceptions about poverty in the UK:


Myth: Poor people are benefit fraudsters.

Reality: Less than 1% of the welfare budget is lost to fraud.


Myth: Poor people are addicted to drink and drugs.

Reality: Fewer than 4% of benefit claimants report any form of addiction.


Myth: Child benefit encourages people to have more children.

Reality: In 2010, child benefit paid for 26% of a first child’s essentials, but in 2020, it will cover just 19% of these costs. Furthermore, only 8% of benefit claimants have three or more children, a similar proportion to the general population.


Myth: Poor people are lazy and don’t want to work.

Reality: In-work poverty is more common than out-of-work poverty. Evidence suggests that we will never find those households where three generations have never worked, which politicians love to reference.


Myth: People are stuck in low-paid jobs because they don’t try hard enough to get better jobs.

Reality: There has been a permanent shift to a low-wage economy in this country. Britain has more low-paid jobs proportionately than most advanced countries.


At Al-Mizan Charitable Trust, we support people living in poverty across the UK with small grants that contribute to the costs of education and training, employment and enterprise, household items, medical and mobility, and subsistence. We also distribute winter packs to homeless people, maternity kits to new mothers who cannot afford essential baby items, food parcels to low-income families during Ramadan, and backpacks with school uniform vouchers and essential stationery supplies to children living in poverty.


We recognise that everyone has their own story of why they are struggling, so we operate a flexible grants policy, which is designed to cater for a person’s individual needs. There is no typical beneficiary of our work – it can range from the ex-offender who has skills and qualifications, but cannot get a job and has no money to purchase tools or equipment for self-employment, to the single mother who has fled domestic violence and has been given an unfurnished council flat, so has to sleep on the cold hard floor with her two young children.


As Muslims, we have a duty and responsibility to help our neighbours when they fall on hard times. Our support is non-discriminatory – we help people regardless of their faith or cultural background. Through the generosity of our majority Muslim donors and supporters, we have been able to help over 3,000 families with grants, winter packs, maternity kits, food parcels, and school backpacks, where most of our beneficiaries are non-Muslim.


Our work has been generally well received in the Muslim community, but we do often get people telling us that others have much it worse in developing countries, which we cannot argue against. We have no right to tell them that poor people in the UK are more deserving of our support than poor people in developing countries. However, we cannot ignore those who are suffering on our doorstep, and whilst we are fortunate to have a welfare system in this country, it is not perfect and is not an excuse not to help those trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty.


Poverty in the UK is harder for us to see: it is the mother waiting around in the supermarket for the reduced items to go on sale, so her children can have dinner that evening; it is the father who works three jobs on minimum wage to put clothes on his children’s backs, so they don’t have to go through what he does in later life; and it is the teenager living on a council estate, who is constantly told by the media and politicians that he is a scrounger and will never amount to anything in life.


So to those who ask if there is really poverty in the UK – we say poverty knows no geographical boundaries.


Ali Khimji is the Director of Al-Mizan Charitable Trust. To find out more about their work, please visit http://www.almizantrust.org.uk

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About Myriam Francois

This is the official blog for the SOAS-CIS. It aims to encourage scholars to debate and engage with the wider public on the basis of their research and will foster discussions about mainly UK and also European Integration discourse as relates to Islam and British Muslims. We tweet @SoasCis

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