Cut Down Poverty: breaking the link between poverty and shame

Nigel Cohen
4 min readNov 11, 2022
PhotoArt: Nigel Cohen on

For millennia, the stigma of poverty has been a source of shame for those living in destitution. But is there a tangible link between poverty and shame? If so, this could open up a new avenue for reducing poverty by addressing the shame felt by those in need.

The Engines of Wealth

Contrary to popular belief, the success of a society is not solely dependent on the accomplishments of the wealthy few. Rather, it is the collective effort of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions of people working together in a structured way that drives economic growth. This is why social cohesion is so important; without it, we cannot expect people to contribute to our collective wellbeing.

I recently conducted an analysis to quantify the benefit of a cohesive economy. My findings revealed that when we work together, our output is at least 16 times greater than if everyone were to be entirely self-sufficient. This phenomenon, which I refer to as the ‘specialisation multiplier’, is the primary reason for a society’s economic success.

The Nature of Shame

Shame is a complex emotion that involves feelings of humiliation, exclusion, and unworthiness. Those living in poverty often feel that they cannot ask for help, as they fear that any assistance they receive will be taken away if they are seen to be ‘rocking the boat’.

When it comes to helping those in need, we tend to focus on providing material aid such as food and clothing. While some people are motivated to help, others are more reluctant, often due to the fear of an endless demand for assistance. Unfortunately, this can lead to the creation of barriers that prevent people in poverty from seeking help.

Shame can have counterintuitive outcomes, which are particularly evident in the UK at the moment. It has been six years since the Brexit referendum, which was largely driven by the fear of foreigners “taking our jobs”. However, economic output is actually dependent on the number of people in society. If we reduce the number of people, the specialisation multiplier works in reverse, resulting in a collective economic loss that is far greater than the direct contribution of the excluded people. This is why we are currently facing economic hardship with shortages of workers in various sectors, from healthcare to education.

The exclusion of people who are ashamed within society has the same impact as Brexit’s exclusion of foreigners. When people are in poverty, they are often unable to access the same training, jobs, or opportunities as those who are more privileged. This keeps them in poverty, and society as a whole becomes poorer as a result.

The opposite of shame is community. Community is about making people feel like they belong, that they are valued members of the community, and that they are just as important as anyone else. In strong communities, there is more help available to those who are disadvantaged, both in terms of material and social support. People are more willing to offer advice, jobs, and chances, and as people become more engaged in the community, they become more productive, more willing to help others, and more empowered to help themselves. Community is about giving people a hand-up, to help them rise from their poverty, and to ensure they have the same opportunities in life as anyone else.

At its core, community is about inclusivity and acceptance.

Measuring Economic Success

It is essential to measure economic success not only by the increase in national income, but also by the aggregate quality of life. This includes our sense of security, our relationships, and our ability to enjoy positive stimulation. Research has shown that the most socially cohesive nations have the least poverty and the greatest aggregate wealth, the best relationships, the highest sense of self-worth and the most fun.

There is a strong correlation between shame and exclusion, and between acceptance and inclusion. If we can cut down the amount of shame in our society, we will make a significant step forward in our bid to cut down poverty.

Further Reading

If you enjoyed this article, you may enjoy my website which brings to life a vision of the people we live with and the world we live in. And to see more of my Photo Art, check out the Photo Art gallery on

And if you are an artist seeking to influence the world, you may want to explore whether to incorporate the emerging genre of Morally-Explicit Art as part of your artistic expression