The myth of the undeservng poorLocal church leader and author Martin Charlesworth, with Natalie Williams, has written a new book, which we review (twice!) below).

‘The Myth of the Undeserving Poor’ is available from Illuminate at a special price of £7.

Most Christians probably do not need to be convinced that the poor in our society are worse off now than they have been for many years. The explosion of Food Banks bears testimony to this. Another change that has occurred relatively recently is an impression fostered by some parts of the media, and exemplified by programmes like Benefits Street, that many on benefits are quite happy with their situation and have no intention of being any different.  In a word, they are undeserving of the support and help they receive.

Martin Charlesworth has been an elder of Barnabas Community Church, Shrewsbury, for 20+ years and now also heads up Jubilee +, an organisation which seeks to empower churches to change their communities through social action, social justice and social enterprise. Natalie Williams has a journalistic background and is the communications directors of Jubilee +.  The book seeks to explode the ‘myth of the undeserving poor’ through a combination of research into social attitudes and media articles on the one hand, and biblical exposition on the other. 

I found it well written and challenging – I think there is something in all of us that feels that some poor people don’t deserve our help. What I came away with is that none of us deserves God’s grace and kindness, and the poor are no different.  Having determined that God calls us to help everybody, we then need to ask him what the most appropriate method of help may be.  I would have liked the book to discuss that in more detail, but perhaps it was better just to deal with one point at a time!

Andrew Pattison 

On the one hand, this might not seem the right book to review at Christmas time, but on the other, it probably JUST the right book to review.   At this time of overconsumption in all areas of our lives – this is an excellent reminder of one of the big issues facing our society even in the UK – the increase in poverty and growing inequality.   And it’s written by a well-known and respected Christian leader in Shropshire as well as more widely in the UK.

The key message of the book for me was the wake-up call to Christians to re-examine our position and attitudes towards the poor in the UK. There is a tendency for Christians to get sucked into the current way of thinking that demonizes the poor as “undeserving”. Martin and Natalie trace the development of the idea of the “undeserving poor”, hold it up to Biblical truth both from Old and new Testaments and find it severely wanting.   As well as encouraging Christians they tackle some of the difficult issues such as Paul’s instructions to the Church that people should work for a living. The book ends with encouragement for a changed way of thinking and changed action towards the poor. An uncomfortable read but worth it.

James Hindson