Hello my name is Abigail Scott Paul and I work in the communications team at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is an independent organisation working to inspire social change through research, policy and practice. We want to see a prosperous UK where everyone can play their part. We work in partnership with individuals, communities and a range of organisations to achieve our goals. We use evidence and experience, and we search for the underlying causes of social issues so we can demonstrate practical solutions that bring about lasting change.
This year, sometime between June and September depending on the EU Referendum, JRF will be publishing the first evidence based and costed comprehensive strategy to reduce poverty across all age groups in the Uk. Culmination of 4 years of research – both academic and evidence from people with lived experience, modelling and policy development. £2m programme. A BIG DEAL!
In order for it to get noticed and more importantly get picked up by those with the power and influence to help deliver on the recommendations, we need to be able to communicate and engage with stakeholders effectively.
By stakeholders, we don’t just mean Government. Business, employers, city leaders, the markets, the general pulic and individuals themselves all have a role to play in reducing poverty. So we need to talk about poverty in a way that does resonate with them.
JRF over the past 8 years has done research on public attitudes towards people in poverty. We found that for many the term and concept of ‘poverty in the UK’ is a barrier to engaging with people on the need to tackle it. There are conversational challenges:
Real poverty does not exist in the UK
Poverty is inevitable in any society
Negative public attitudes toward people in poverty/on benefits. Distorted media representation + confusing media reporting ‘Poverty’ does not resonate for those with experience
Politically divisive debate: structural vs individual causes; relative vs absolute etc.
So the term ‘poverty’ itself can be a real barrier in any attempts to build public support and political consensus for the need to reduce it. Attempts to move people to think the way we want them to have failed. So we have to take a leap and think about where the public/business/politicians are and talk in a way that aligns with their values/attitudes. A leap into the unknown!
So if we are not winning the game, then we need to change the rules!
We need to tell a new story about poverty in the UK. We need to make a compelling case for the need to reduce poverty in the UK that resonates with the public, employers and those other poverty deniers, so that it remains high on the political and public agenda.
Quite simply, we need to find a new way of describing: What poverty is What causes it And what the solution is.
We need to tell it in a way that moves the conversation on, builds public and political support and leads to positive action and lasting social change for people in poverty. So it may be a leap into the unknown to communicate in a new way, but we typically as a research organisation, want to do it based on what the evidence says works.
JRF is working with US-based FrameWorks Institute to develop a new way of communicating more effectively and consistently about poverty in the UK– its causes, consequences and solutions.
This is unique because it focuses on how members of the public think about poverty, and not just what they say . It is informed by theory and methods from psychological anthropology and cognitive linguistics and builds on existing work on public opinion on poverty.
This approach has been effective in the US in changing the way campaigners talk about, and the public and politicians think about, early childhood development, education and other issues. In this country, they have been working with the NSPCC on a new narrative about the causes, consequences and solutions to child abuse.
The National Children’s Bureau is helping project manage the work. Unfortunately Enver Soloman, Director of Evidence and Impact couldn’t be with us but is hoping to join this afternoon.
We are gathering the expert story on the causes, consequences and solutions to poverty in the UK - the ‘story’ we want the public to understand.
We are conducting interviews with the public to gain insight into how the public think about poverty .
We will then identify and explain the gaps between the expert story and how the public think identifying the productive ways of thinking that we can tap into and traps to avoid. 4. Produce communications tools and training. – a set of values, metaphors and other tools that bridge the gap between the expert story and how the public think. We will empirically test the strategy to ensure it expands public understanding of poverty and enables the public to think in new ways(causes, consequences and solutions)
It will be disseminated widely among those people/organisations/groups who are in some way working to tackle poverty in the UK.
We want to develop an overarching new narrative about poverty in the UK which enables those working to tackle poverty to communicate more effectively, and consistently, about poverty. And this means having a narrative that can be used by organisations and individuals speaking from a variety of perspectives or in relation to specific groups of the population – those working in child poverty as well as those working to raise awareness of poverty among older people, or disabled people for example. .
If all of us start to change the way we communicate, the ambition is that we can then change the public discourse and public understanding of the issue. With changes in public understanding and improvement of public attitudes, there is more space, demand, pressure and support to make a concerted effort to improve the lives of children, families and communities who experience poverty.
The aim is: The evidence-informed communications strategy changes the ways that organisations concerned with tackling poverty communicate Changes in communication, in turn, lead to changes in the public discourse on poverty and related issues Following such changes in discourse, public understanding of the issue changes With changes in public understanding, there is more space, demand and pressure for evidence-based anti-poverty policies to be adopted, improving outcomes for children, families, communities and society Communications strategy for Harvard University focused on ‘toxic stress’ Changes in communication – ‘toxic stress’ used in NGO and children’s service communications Changes in discourse – ‘toxic stress’ appears in print and broadcast media Changes in public understanding – ‘infants can communicate before they learn to speak’ 42% in 2002 → 96% in 2011 Changes in policy – California senate passes resolution asking government to make policies to alleviate ‘toxic stress’ in children David Cameron talks about ‘Toxic Stress’ in his Life Chances speech in 2016.
There is a window of opportunity: David Cameron’s ‘all-out assault’, focus on Life Chances strategy; introduction of the National Living Wage, the reversal of the proposed cuts to tax credits – the in-work poverty/working poor narrative has gained traction. News that David Cameron and a select group of Tory MPS are focusing on the social justice agenda. We need to make sure that this important domestic issue remains high on the public agenda – so that we do indeed make lasting social change for people living in poverty.
We are holding a Stakeholder Forum on Thursday 11 February where Frameworks will there to explain the project so you are welcome to attend. Please just let me know.
I’d just like to end with JRF’s vision of a poverty free UK – I think it is quite hard for anyone to argue against that ambition!
Abigail Scott Paul, JRF - Understanding and developing a new language around poverty in the UK
Talking about Poverty
Understanding and developing a new language around
poverty in the UK
Abigail Scott Paul
Head of Engagement