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Published on June 25th, 2014 | by Laura Collings
Image © Akudinobi 2013


The Politics of Poverty: Oxfam poster campaign

The Charities Commission will investigate an Oxfam poster campaign attacking the Government’s austerity drive after complaints from Conservative MP’s.

A mocked up film poster carrying the tag line “A perfect storm…starring zero hours contracts, high prices, benefit cuts, unemployment, childcare costs” was posted recently by the charities twitter account.

Beneath the image reads: “Lifting the lid on austerity Britain reveals a perfect storm – and it’s forcing more and more people into poverty.” It is this line, which appears to have worked the Conservative’s into a palpable state of moral outrage.

Tory critics complained that the poster represented a “highly political campaign”, a campaign, which was unacceptable from a charitable organisation. Objections to the poster hinge upon a view that charitable organisations should not use its prominence, or donor money to advance political agendas. Conor Burns Conservative back bencher and MP for Bournemouth West noted:

“Most of us operated under the illusion that Oxfam’s focus was on the relief of poverty and famine overseas. I cannot see how using funds donated to charity to campaign politically can be in accord with Oxfam’s charitable status.”

Aside from any concern about the spending of donor money, is a growing anxiety from the Conservatives that charitable organisations are turning their attention to growing UK poverty. Recent critique of the governments role in UK poverty does not make for pleasant reading, especially for a government that insists things are getting better.

There is a theme emerging around the Conservative parties reaction to third sector organisations that choose to raise issue with the current level of poverty in the UK. The Oxfam saga comes in the wake of accusations made by the Trussel Trust – the UK’s leading food bank – that a senior aid to Iain Duncan Smith threatened to ‘shut down’ the organisation, again amidst claims of a ‘politicisation of poverty’.

I am inclined to agree with the opinion of the Conservatives that poverty should not be made party political, although I fear we agree for vastly different reasons. Ideally, poverty would not be the folly of political finger pointing but an issue capable of unifying our political elite under a desire to improve not only the lives of those effected but also to raise standards of living for the entire country. However, this is not the case. In reality poverty is far from being a unifying concept, with political parties spending more energy on absolving themselves of any blame for the issue than offering any real solutions.

As we stand, despite numerous claims from the government that tackling UK poverty is at the forefront of their agenda, their recent attempts to silence any widespread concern from charitable organisations points to an entirely different direction. It is not simply that the Conservatives would rather we refrain from assigning political blame for the ever rising levels of poverty, but that they would rather poverty was not on the political agenda at all.

Oxfam are right to highlight not only the symptoms of UK poverty but to offer a perspective upon its causes as well.  At some point we must go and look more carefully at the root of poverty in the UK. It is concerning that any government would attempt to silence those who seek to offer an insight into those root causes. When the Conservatives talk about ensuring poverty does not become political it is not to place the issue on a higher ground free from political point scoring, but another attempt from our political elite to distance themselves from blame.

Political parties will always hold differing opinions regarding how best to remedy UK poverty, largely rooted in differing ideology. It is this breath of diverse ideas on how to solve our most prominent issues which makes for a positive democratic process. At the same time however, political parties must be willing to be held accountable for their policies. Attempting to place certain topics such as poverty off limits and free from criticism is a subversion of every individuals right to question the actions of those leading us.



Please note that all blog posts do not represent the views of Catch21 but only of the individual writers. We also aim to be factually accurate and balanced across all content taken as a whole.

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