ATD Fourth World Conference- World Bank

People experiencing poverty across six countries have informed World Bank and International Monetary Fund on how to ensure inclusivity and epistemic justice when developing policy, with the support of lecturer Dr Rachel Broady.

Rachel, who teaches Media, Culture and Communication at Liverpool John Moores University, travelled to Washington DC, as a delegate for the UK, to attend the “Addressing Hidden Dimensions of Poverty in Knowledge and Policies” international conference held at World Bank HQ on February 14, 2024.

The conference was the result of three-years of participatory research between human rights based anti-poverty organisation ATD Fourth World and Oxford University for which Rachel was a co-researcher on the UK project called “Understanding Poverty in all its Forms: A participatory research study into poverty in the UK”. The research was undertaken in six countries – Bangladesh, Bolivia, France, Tanzania, UK and USA – using a Merging of Knowledge methodology which saw people with direct, lived experience of poverty working alongside academics and practitioners, such as those working in welfare services and thus breaking down unequal relationships that can be formed in research.

Rachel’s contribution to the research and conference offered a unique insight. She is an academic who focuses on epistemic injustice in the reporting of poverty arguing for people in poverty to be expert sources alongside politicians and economists in journalists’ contacts. Rachel is also a former journalist who leads a campaign in the National Union of Journalists to challenge how poverty is reported. Rachel also experienced poverty, including as a child squatting in derelict properties during a housing crisis and as an adult prior to gaining a bursary for her PhD at Liverpool John Moores. Her role at the conference was to encourage economists who focus on poverty to recognise the importance of including people in poverty when developing any policy related to the experience. Rachel told conference delegates: “People with lived experience of poverty are progressive thinkers but their contribution to public debate is disregarded or disbelieved, even about their own experience of economic disadvantage. This undermines the debate. It positions people in poverty as outside the discourse, rather than recognising they should be central. This is because there are assumptions that people in poverty lack intelligence, or aren’t educated, are inarticulate, or not to be trusted in their interpretations of the experience of poverty. Fighting epistemic injustice isn’t just about listening or not listening, or even about being inclusive or not – it’s about consciously, directly challenging, and ultimately eliminating, long-held, unfair and inaccurate ideas about people in poverty and, in so doing, seeking genuine solutions to the eradication of poverty.”

A major revelation of the international research was that it can be possible to view poverty in the global North and South as a broadly shared experience. This means opportunities for a wider evaluation of policies related to poverty, by international organisations like World Bank and IMF, and to include those experts – the people with direct, lived experience of poverty. Nine dimensions of poverty were unearthed by the research and found to be shared across the six countries, only three are commonly included in existing measures. These dimensions were: disempowerment; suffering in body, mind and heart; struggle and resistance; social maltreatment;, institutional maltreatment; unrecognised contribution; lack of decent work; insufficient income; and material and social deprivation. From this, five factors were determined to influence the manifestation of the dimensions, being: cultural beliefs; identity; location; environment and environmental policy and timing and duration.

Rachel contributed to two conference workshops, working with Thomas Mayes, ATD Fourth World anti-poverty activist, and Dann Kenningham, ATD Fourth World coordinator. The first was “Fighting injustice in the building of knowledge from the experience of the UK ATD Fourth World research team” This workshop was co-chaired by Robert Walker, of Oxford University and Beijing Normal University, and coordinator of the International Research Team, and Vincenzo Di Maro, a Senior Economist in Poverty & Equity Global Practice at World Bank. Together the UK team encouraged participants, including Oliver De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, on the significance of merging knowledge and the necessity to challenge epistemic injustice.

Rachel told delegates: “People with direct, lived experience of poverty are the experts. We understand the financial realities; the psychological impact; the navigation of the welfare system; the burden of stigma; the impact of negative discourse used by media, policymakers, politicians. We can recognise the threat of government talk of changing the welfare system and can interpret the disingenuous talk of welfare dependency. We see the individualising, sentimentalising, and masking of the broader experience and how this can, ultimately, only tweak rather than work to eradicate poverty. If treated as equals, as legitimate contributors, people with direct, lived experience can contribute in a non-official authentic way to discussion. That contribution is not additional but essential. Any examination of poverty is weaker without that input.”

The second workshop “Promoting meaningful participation of people in poverty in the development of anti-poverty strategies” provided opportunities for attendees to consider how they could take the research approach forward into their own roles – and work alongside people experiencing poverty to develop policy. Rachel, Thomas and Dann, worked with Donna Haig Friedman, senior Research Fellow University of Massachusetts Boston, with co-chairs Bruno Tardieu, of ATD Fourth World and Gabriela Cugat, an Economist in the Research Department at the IMF.

Thomas Mayes told the delegates: “At the beginning of the project, when decisions were being taken about how to approach the project as a whole and how to run things, I never knew if my thoughts were as important as an academic who had done research before. I didn’t know I had the right to speak out. It took time before I felt comfortable disagreeing with academics and putting forward my own thoughts. It was the building of trust amongst us all that allowed me to disagree and add my input. Do not underestimate the impact of hearing academics themselves disagree while making a point that you yourself are too afraid to say out loud! This is why it is important to be involved from the beginning. If you are simply dropped into a project along the way, you miss out on building trust and are not in a position to be strong enough to disagree with the voices in the room. It was a strange sensation being classed as a researcher. It meant a lot to me to be in the privileged position of hearing other people’s experiences, analysing those responses and working with data.”

The conference was opened by Donald Lee, ATD Fourth World President and former Adjunct Representative to the UN with additional welcoming remarks from Antonio Spilimbergo, Deputy Director of the Research Department at IMF and Luis Felipe Lopez-Calva, Global Director of Poverty and Equity Global Practice at World Bank. The keynote address was given by Esther Duflo, Nobel Prize Laureate in Economic Science, and Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It is hoped that ATD Fourth World can further develop relations with World Bank and IMF to ensure participatory research approaches when developing policies that impact on the lives of people experiencing poverty.

This article was written by Dr Rachel Broady.

Read here an article about the conference written by Dann Kenningham (National Co- ordinator ATD Ireland)

Click here to watch back the recorded live stream of the conference.