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Making Poverty Visible

On June 7 2018, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation released their latest Destitution in the UK report with a conference in Central London. In April 2016 the foundation released a report that showed 1.25 million people in the UK lived in destitution at that time. Over half of the UK’s major newspapers failed to report this, just as they continually fail to report ‘news’ affecting the one third of the country that lives in poverty. This huge mass is unrepresented in the media, and when lives are reported on or examined it is often in a hostile fashion. 

Les Monaghan began the project that became Relative Poverty the day after reading the 2016 report, its coverage in The Guardian, and the trolling that it received in the Comment is Free section. For those who dismiss empirical research Relative Poverty bears witness to lives lived in poverty in 2016-17. Working with families in destitution in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, his attempt to redress the imbalance of power is aimed at public display and tours public libraries and churches, avoiding the reframing of the mainstream media, until now. It has been shown across Doncaster Libraries, at Sheffield Central Library, at Doncaster Minster, at the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers’ conference, at the Doncaster Research festival, at The Art House Derby, in schools, photography talks and universities and will shown at the Welfare Conditionality conference at the University of York in June 2018, Barnsley Libraries in the Summer of 2018, and Sheffield Cathedral in October 2018.

Photographer's statement:

“The story of the UK’s destitute does not fit Philip Jones Griffiths' media enforced ‘standard view’ of the world. I believe that the media invisibility enables the government to continue its neglect. I chose to photograph those who are not street homeless (who are at least visible) and sought families behind closed doors. These are people who are all around us (1.25 million is more than the population of Birmingham), but you won’t see them on the bus (they walk), they do the unseen jobs, or are housebound. I wanted to use photography to lift the cloak of systemic and wilful invisibility. As I worked with the families I learnt that they were all in destitution as a result of government policy. Alongside the photographs I highlight which of these policies affects each family. Ariella Azoulay believes it is our obligation to act when we see photographs of others in pain. And these families are enduring what John Berger once called the pain of the world – that of living with no money. Once you have seen the photographs you can act by seeking to remove the policies this government utilises in its war on the poor.”

Amount of money ‘Dave’ had on 28 November 2016, Balby, Doncaster

Relative Poverty will be at the Welfare Conditionality conference at the University of York on 26-28 June.

Relative Poverty is funded by public donation, Healthwatch Doncaster and union donations. 

The project can be viewed at http://www.relativepoverty.org

Les Monaghan can be contacted at lesmonaghanphoto@gmail.com on Twitter @LesMonaghan and mobile: 07817 526178