Changing the Wallpaper: six activists and researchers on how to challenge poverty | CPAG

Changing the Wallpaper: six activists and researchers on how to challenge poverty

Published on: 
20 October 2021
Written by: 

Léa Corban

Communications manager

In a 2018 social work paper, poverty was described as being the ‘wallpaper of practice’ because it was ‘too big to tackle and too familiar to notice.’ As part of Challenge Poverty Week in England and Wales last week, we held an online conference titled ‘Changing the Wallpaper.’ We aimed to change some of the conversations around poverty, and to get attendees to start noticing the wallpaper again in order to bring about change. 

The event focused on Wales, where almost a third of children are now living in poverty. The panel of six speakers was made up of people with expertise drawn from lived experience of poverty, alongside practitioners and researchers.

For Morag Treanor, the focus was on ending the stigma associated with poverty. A change of wallpaper can only take place if we train practitioners to challenge negative stereotypes and harmful, behaviour-based narratives around poverty. Her passionate plea to put dignity and respect at the core of service delivery was a clear call to action to attendees. 

Allison Hulmes drew on her own experience as a Welsh Romani activist and social worker. Exploring the structural disadvantages faced by Gypsy and Traveller families, and the harmful effects of the government’s proposed policing bill, she looked at social workers’ role in addressing poverty. She emphasised the importance of anti-poverty practice guidance, and of giving social workers the tools to tackle the wallpaper in their everyday work. 

Omar Mohamed talked about his own experience of poverty and the bias, judgement and discrimination that followed him as he was growing up in a working-class Asian British family. He talked about his work as a social work student and activist, and advocated for a move towards anti-poverty social work practice, where social workers can take meaningful steps to change and combat poverty.

Martin Elliott then spoke of his work researching child welfare inequalities. He carefully explained the value of looking at a family’s wider context and circumstances when they come into contact with social services. Though social workers may have a limited range of actions to take, it is crucial that they see and understand the wallpaper in order to achieve better outcomes for families. 

We then heard from Naomi Lea, who shared her personal experience of growing up in poverty to encourage the audience to reflect on and challenge their assumptions and beliefs about poverty. In a moving and powerful talk, she spoke about issues that affected her family including lack of childcare, disability, lack of money for electricity and phone bills, and the limitations of free school meals. She also talked about the stigma and shame she experienced, and finding a voice through social action and volunteering. She ended with a plea to talk more openly and compassionately about poverty. The outpouring of thank you messages from attendees following her talk was a testament to how much her words touched the audience and encouraged them to change their own thinking.   

Janet Goodall, our final speaker, argued that parental engagement in children’s learning could help children achieve, and lead to a more equitable society. She talked of the importance of challenging some of the pervasive stereotypes about parents from low-income backgrounds, as well as challenging the idea of ‘lost learning’ resulting from the pandemic. She advocated for targeted support for parental engagement with learning, designed collaboratively with families. 

The range of ideas and approaches that the speakers brought to the table showed that we are all in a position to change the wallpaper, challenge the stigma and be better allies to people in poverty.  

You can watch the full conference below.