Hidden Dimensions of Poverty – Irish Report Launch

On the 23rd October, people gathered to attend the Irish launch of the participatory research study “The Hidden Dimensions of Poverty”, an international collaboration between ATD Fourth World International and Oxford University involving research activity in six countries in the Global North and the Global South.

Hosted by ATD Ireland this conference brought people with lived experience of poverty together with professionals and researchers working to address poverty. As co-researchers, people in poverty, academics and professionals, shared their journey on researching the hidden dimensions of poverty.

Guest speakers were:

  • Sr. Bernadette McMahon, Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice Ireland
  • Dr. Bernadette Browne Ed.D Doctor of Education
  • Dr. Rachel Bray, social anthropologist, Department of Social Policy and Intervention, Oxford University
  • Ms Moraene Roberts UK co-researcher and member of the ATD Fourth World UK national coordination team
  • Ms Amanda Button UK co-researcher and member of ATD Fourth World UK
  • Dann Kenningham research coordination and currently member of ATD Ireland
  • MC Robbie Gilligan, Professor of Social Work and Social Policy at Trinity College Dublin and associate director of the Children’s research centre

As Sr Bernadette Mc Mahon of the Vincentian Partnership for Justice said “it’s good to have facts such as for example we know that in Ireland over 773 thousand people in Ireland are at risk of poverty today but we very rarely ask the question of people – what would you like me to understand about living in poverty? […] Many times we may ask what would you like me to do? Instead of what would you like me to understand?” Given the growing awareness that poverty is multidimensional, it is crucial to ask the most affected people what that means.

The goal of this report is thus to find a more comprehensive definition of poverty, based on a process of “the merging of knowledge”. Rachel Bray explained this process, discussing how: It is based on this idea that we all bring our distinct knowledge from both our experience and possibly our professional training. It is very different to consulting, extracting, and bringing in. Because it’s about those three groups coming together and debating those understandings. Coming to common understandings.This method has been widely appreciated by the audience who welcomes this absolute grounding of co-governance in the research.

By clicking here, you can find the movie displayed at this event illustrating the report.

Moraene Roberts UK co-researcher chose to focus on three key areas of the research/ three dimensions of poverty:

  • Damaged health and well-being. Here Moraene spoke about the fact that poverty (can) limit joy, dreams and aspirations. […] Poverty has a corrosive effect on people’s sense of control over their lives.”
  • Disempowering systems, structures and policies. She explained that the overall view was that those in positions of power make decisions with scant regard for the people affected by them.
  • Stigma blame and judgment. Some quotes were read showing that there is a tendency to blame people in poverty saying “you don’t need to be poor”; that “poverty means being subject to scrutiny” and that “poverty means being bulldozed, being bullied, pushed away, and not wanted.”

To know more about these 3 dimensions, you can download the report here.

Then, Amanda Button spoke about her experience as a co-researcher. Her speech resonated with the crowd. She explained that being a co-researcher is a challenging experience implying to talk to an audience, to express her views, to deal with so much data and technical jargon but she explained how much the rewards are worth it. She has grown in confidence but also she has found a voice to represent not only herself but other people experiencing poverty. “I represent others that are in poverty who might not be ready to speak out. I learnt to give voice to other people’s struggles and suffering and also share from my own experience”

Bernadette Brown gave her response to the study in an Irish context. Although the research is from different countries the lived experience of poverty is quite similar in Ireland. She reminded the audience of what Michael D. Higgins, President of the Republic of Ireland, said when he went to the Dublin’s Poverty Stone in 2016 in how he was ashamed “that systems add to peoples’ pain instead of what they were designed to do which is help, through welfare assistance.”Bernadette Browne finished her intervention by this quote by Wayne Dyer: “When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change “, adding how hopefully by learning about poverty  firsthand it has changed the way we see it and the way we structure policies.”

Then the crowd was invited to reflect on two points:

  • What are your reactions to the research study and its findings/messages?
  • How does this research study resonate in an Irish context through your experience?

The following are the main points that emerged.

  • A speaker argued that “poverty is a symptom and not a root cause.”
  • Sarah Franklin from Coalition 2030 applauded the “obvious bottom up approach” and said that “there must a new narrative that empowers all in poverty.”
  • Another speaker raised the issue that there are lots of reports on poverty but as of yet we have no solution, asking “who listens?”
  • Why don’t we celebrate the resourcefulness, resilience, courage and dreams of those kept poor?”, asked Martin Byrne, volunteer and member of the Board of ATD Ireland.
  • Finally, someone questioned “are we all responsible for the persistence of poverty?”

What we noticed through these remarks from the floor is that there was a lot of interest from the audience to take this work forward and to build on these findings. Finally, Bernadette concluded the event with Friedrich Nietzsche’s words: “If you have a why then you can find the how”.