London: A major international study will
be conducted in eight countries, including India, to examine
whether shame is a key part of the experience of being poor.
The half-a-million-pound study, led by Professor
Robert Walker from Oxford University, will look at whether
being poor necessarily results in low self esteem or feelings
of shame and whether welfare policies are counterproductive
when claimants are stigmatised.
The research, spanning eight countries, aims to
improve our understanding of the impact of poverty to
establish whether anti-poverty measures could be applied more
A team of a dozen researchers will conduct-depth
interviews with children and their parents about how being
poor affects the way they feel about themselves and the way
they are regarded by their own community.
They will interview families in UK, Norway, China,
India, Pakistan, Uganda, South Korea and Germany.
As well as comparing experiences across countries, the
study will include differences between rural areas, cities and
Professor Walker, from the Department of Social Policy
and Social Work at the University of Oxford, said: "Very
little is known about the way people in different countries
experience and regard poverty. (It) has been suggested that,
in China, for example, it might be more important for adults,
even in poor families, to maintain `face` and to uphold their
own sense of dignity.
"In parts of India and Pakistan it is possible that
loss of `family honour` adds to any sense of personal shame".
"This is the first time an academic study has been set
up to analyse the importance of shame in understanding the
experience of poverty in very different cultures," Walker
The research team will analyse whether there is a link
between poverty and shame: through its portrayal in literature
and film; in-depth interviews with low-income households; and
focus groups with middle-class people on their view of
The researchers will carry out a statistical analysis
of existing data on poverty in the World Values Survey.
They will also explore the language and practices used
by the agencies responsible for implementing social assistance
and anti poverty programmes to see whether they are more or
less likely to make people ashamed of asking for help.
Professor Walker said: "Language is loaded with all
sorts of nuances and subtleties: phrases like `sink estates`,
`hand-outs`, `deserving` and `undeserving`, even `rights and
responsibilities`, make judgements on the poor".
"We hope this study helps to inform policy
development, both in the UK and abroad. Our objective is to
use this research to work together with policymakers and
agencies to deliver policies that tackle poverty effectively
while simultaneously recognising the importance of promoting
dignity and a sense of self-respect," he added.