Shame, Poverty and Health Seminar

Shame, Poverty and Health Seminar (Uni of Exeter) - 4th July 

A video of this seminar is now availble to watch here

Shame and poverty are intimately interlinked. Recent research has confirmed what people living in poverty have perhaps known all along: being poor is a source of shame. In fact, stigmatising societal attitudes about poverty add to the negative experience of lacking material resources, undermining individuals' wellbeing, confidence and dignity. Living with the chronic shame, stigma or status anxiety associated with poverty can have concrete implications for both physical and mental health, leading to depression, ill health and even suicide. This seminar will bring diverse perspectives together in order to reflect on some of the links between shame, poverty and health, both in the UK and internationally.

NB to participate in the seminar remotely, please register as an online attendee and a link will be sent to you in advance of the seminar.

Professor Robert Walker will discuss poverty and shame in an international context, citing the world’s largest social assistance system, the rural dibao, in China and how this avoids stigmatisation in a country where the broader public still believe that laziness is the main cause of poverty.

Dr Felicity Thomas will use findings from the DeStress project ( to examine how narratives of  self-responsibility become embodied within people’s daily lives when they intersect with systems of welfare support  and the current political drive to upscale treatment for common mental health conditions. Drawing on Bourdieu’s notion of symbolic violence, the presentation will examine how narratives of self-responsibility and associated welfare reform strategies impact on the mental health of people living in economic hardship.

Whilst these narratives inflict mental distress and suffering, they can also become naturalised and normalised by community members and by the health professionals that   seek to support them, in turn fuelling the medicalisation of poverty-related distress. However, rather than being resigned to, and bound by, their lot, some people actively repurpose or resist dominant narratives, in part as a protective mechanism, yet also as a means of creating a self-affirming identity.

Lucy Hodges will speak about her lived experience of debt, mental health and working with UK debt charity, Christians Against Poverty.

Please register for this event here.

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