Poverty talk: how people experiencing poverty deny their poverty and why they blame ‘the poor’

Robert MacDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

221 Citations (Scopus)


Drawing on life history interviews with sixty men and women in north‐east England who were caught up in ‘the low‐pay, no‐pay cycle’, this article describes how people living in poverty talk about poverty – in respect of themselves and others. Paradoxically, interviewees subscribed to a powerful set of ideas that denied poverty and morally condemned ‘the poor’. These findings are theorized in four ways: first, informants deployed close points of comparison that diminished a sense of relative poverty and deprivation; second, dissociation from ‘the poor’ reflects long‐running stigma and shame but is given extra force by current forms of ‘scroungerphobia’; third, discourses of the ‘undeserving poor’ articulate with a more general contemporary prejudice against the working class, which fuels the impetus to dissociate from ‘the poor’ (and to disidentify with the working class); and fourth, the hegemonic orthodoxy that blames ‘the poor’ for their poverty can more easily dominate in contexts where more solidaristic forms of working‐class life are in decline.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-303
JournalSociological Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


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