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Reform Magazine | June 13, 2024

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Niall Cooper: Looking forward - Reform Magazine

Niall Cooper: Looking forward

Niall Cooper reflects on 20 years of tackling poverty

niall_cooperDignity, truth and agency: these are the enduring themes which have cropped up time and time again throughout my 20 years as Director of Church Action on Poverty. As we enter what can feel like dark times – Brexit, Trump et al, challenges for the Church – the need for individual Christians to witness to these values have never been greater.

Firstly, dignity. All people are of intrinsic worth. All people are of equal value in the sight of God. The Bible puts this even more strongly: all people are made in the image and likeness of God. Yet, we are constantly bombarded with messages which deny this. In the public sphere, people are increasingly only valued for their wealth, skills, employability, and overall economic value. Workers are economic units, to whom employers owe no loyalty, and whose dignity is secondary to their economic efficiency. Rather than affirming our interdependency, society is divided into those who are hardworking and those who are ‘dependent’; the former is encouraged to revile the latter.

Poverty robs people of dignity, but not half as much as the way society stigmatises and embeds shame in the hearts of those people in poverty, blaming them not just for their plight but for being a ‘drain’ on the rest of society.

An approach based on affirming the human dignity of all people demands something else. It demands that people are treated with decency and respect whether they are the chief executive, the office cleaner or the homeless person sleeping in the office doorway.Second, truth. Who are the real experts? Whose voices can and should we trust? To whom should we look for solutions? The UK suffers from centuries of paternalistic approaches to poverty, in which ‘the poor’ have been viewed as a social problem to be solved by the ‘non poor’. …

Niall Cooper has been Director of Church Action on Poverty since 1997. To read about the Salford Poverty Truth Commission visit


This is an extract from the February 2017 edition of Reform.

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