Readers, viewers and listeners tell journalists how to report poverty

People angered and frustrated by media representations of those living in poverty have inspired a Guide for Journalists on reporting.

The experiences of men and women in receipt of benefits, both in and out of work, were gathered in interviews by the National Union of Journalists.

The Union had previously created new guidelines for all its members on reporting poverty to exist alongside its materials on issues such as reporting gender, race and suicide.

The new guidelines state that journalists can’t avoid a measure of responsibility in fighting stereotypes of the working poor and benefit recipients as expressed through the mass media.reportingpovertyguidelines2

It has now launched A Guide to Reporting Poverty in partnership with Christian social justice charity Church Action on Poverty.

The experts on poverty contributing to the campaign say stop using chavs, lazy and feckless in stories.

Rachel Broady, Equality Officer at Manchester and Salford Branch, who wrote the guidelines and conducted the interviews, said: “The language used to describe people living in poverty isn’t acceptable. We can’t allow it to become the norm.

“It’s important for journalism and for journalists that we regularly stop to think how what is written could potentially demonise sections of our society. People experiencing poverty are not our enemy and their stories should be reported fairly and accurately.”

Comments include:

  • Journalists need to realise that the majority of people suffering within poverty did not put themselves in that situation by choice.
  • See me as an individual, a person, a human being. Don’t think because I’m on benefits you can judge me or make your mind up about me without talking to me.
  • Don’t use labels like lazy, cheating, skiving, feckless (especially parents), anti-social (especially young people) – lumping all people in poverty under these labels, like we have no value. We do have value and this should be reported too.
  • People living in poverty have dignity. That humanity and dignity is taken away because of how the media portrays them.

Daily Mirror Real Britain columnist Ros Wynne-Jones joined the NUJ in launching the Guide for Journalists at its annual conference.

She said: “As the report says, poor people are actually the poverty experts. Viewing them as ‘case studies’ demeans people as human beings. They are living through welfare reform, through austerity, through poverty. They may be experiencing the bedroom tax, or be insecure work, they may have addictions or be homeless, or be in debt, or they may just be unlucky – something that can happen to any of us. In the course of writing around 150 columns, I have come to the conclusion bad luck is the most common denominator separating the lives of people in poverty from mine.

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“Unfair and inaccurate reporting doesn’t just damage lives, it damages all of us as journalists. That’s why these poverty reporting guidelines are in my view such a breakthrough for our industry. It’s why we need to take a stand.”

It is hoped the guidelines will be used by NUJ members and the Guide for Reporting Poverty will be adopted by journalists and publications across the country. Plans are in place to take the campaign to Scotland and Ireland.

Jackie, Poverty Media Programme Coordinator at Church Action on Poverty, said: “Church Action on Poverty is delighted to be working in partnership with the NUJ to promote the guidelines. They’re a great response to media reporting that stigmatises people living in poverty, in particular those in receipt of benefits, by using misleading information and negative stereotypes.

“We now need individual journalists, newspapers, broadcasters and online media companies to adopt the guidelines, and use them to report on poverty and related issues in a responsible and accurate way.”

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Which unemployed worker stereotype are you?

Are you a slob? Do you deserve nothing but contempt? Are you a so-called chav who should be humiliated at every chance? Well, here’s your chance to find out with this personality quiz asking: which unemployment stereotype are you? The answers are based on a scientific analysis of the Department for Work and Pension’s desired response to your situation no matter what the reality. Good luck.

1. What job did you do?

a: I’ve not worked yet. I’ve just left school/college/university and can’t find a job

b: I was an architect/journalist/middle manager but the company closed down.

c: I had a manual/professional job but struggled to find work at home so moved to the UK.

d: I’ve never worked and I never intend to. Working is for fools like you.

e: I was a qualified, experienced worker who enjoyed working but, sadly, I can’t work now because I’m unwell.

2. If you had to work what would you be willing to do?

a: I’d like to do something I’d enjoy or to use my qualifications because I’ve just graduated and I’m proud of my achievement. I’d do anything to start though.

b: Ideally I’d like to do something I enjoy, closely linked to my qualifications and experience.

c: I’m willing to do anything that’s available but would much prefer not to be here, if I’m honest.

d: I told you, I’m never going to work. My parents didn’t work, my siblings don’t work. No one in my family works, never has and never will.

e: I’d go back to what I like doing. I’d start tomorrow if my health improved.

3. How do you spend a typical day?

a: I look for jobs on in the internet and in papers then I watch David Dickinson or other afternoon television but with a great sense of irony. I’m often bored.

b: I search for jobs online, in newspapers, contact friends then I watch afternoon television with a great sense of dread. I’m often bored.

c: Looking for work: I go to employment agencies, check newspapers, try to make a call home if I’ve enough money. I’m often bored.

d: Hang about with the locals, sleep on the settee for a bit, then I might have something to eat before hanging about again. Take it easy, you know? I get into fights in my neighbourhood sometimes but, seriously, why stress out about stuff.

e: I have a routine around my medication and healthcare which can make doing anything else almost out of the question.

4. What do you spend your benefits on?

a: The essentials. It’s not enough for anything else.

b: The essentials. It’s not enough for anything else.

c: The essentials. It’s not enough for anything else.

d: I want decent food. No store brand rubbish and I can usually get it. If I can’t get it myself I know someone who will.  I also get the drugs I want, the bedding I like. I come and go as I please. I live a charmed life.

e: The essentials. It’s not enough for anything else.

5. How many people do you know who are unemployed?

a: A few people. Some have found bits of jobs others got lucky and have full-time work.

b: Quite a few. These are people who thought they had job security but are now like me.

c: A few, here and at home. We none of us like it.

d: Those I depend on are unemployed. Makes no difference to me. Why would it matter? What is this obsession you have with working? Chilling out is much better.

e: I know more and more people in my situation and many are now being forced to work despite still being really, really ill.

Mostly As: You’re lazy. You’ve just left college/university and not looking hard enough for work. You clearly find living on benefits a suitable alternative lifestyle because it keeps you in luxury accommodation, enjoying fine-dining and enough computer games to keep you awake all night so you can sleep all day. You’re still cheerful and proud of your educational achievements. Stopping your entitlement to benefits will sort you out.

Mostly Bs: You’re lazy. You lack motivation, ambition and the ability to start-up your own business. You’re dependent on the state when you should be out there finding something, anything and lying about your qualifications or experience just so long as you find work. Did you not see The Pursuit of Happyness? That man slept in a toilet while he looked for work and so should you. Workfare will sort you out.

Mostly Cs: You’re lazy. Worse still, you’re foreign. You’ve come over here thinking our benefit system is easy and you can live off the taxpayer. We’ll show you by making sure there’s no work here either. Being scapegoated and blamed for mass unemployment in the UK will sort you out.

Mostly Ds: You’re my cat, Chaplin. You sleep most of the day and think people should run around after you. You’ve no intention of working, can’t begin to understand what it even means. You’re a cat but sometimes your characteristics are forced onto people who are struggling to survive on the least amount of money it is possible to live on.

Mostly Es: You’re lazy. Just because you’re ill doesn’t mean the taxpayer should help you. It’s not our fault you got ill. You should’ve taken better care of yourself or kept on eye on your dodgy genes. If you can walk, you can work, now get up and get earning.