The farmer Moraene ‘Mo’ Roberts who fought against poverty dies at 66

In the beautiful tree-lined park of the Frimhurst Family House in Surrey last weekend, mourners gathered to paint rocks for a mound of stones and to weave ribbons in memory of Moraene “Mo” Roberts.

You will most likely never have heard of Mo, who was born in trouble and spent most of his life living with it.

But this sweetly-spoken Liverpool-Irish woman who died at the age of 66 helped change the way people think about poverty.

Poet, researcher and human rights activist, Mo was one of the first voices to break through the old Victorian idea of ​​poverty reduction.

Mo requested something different. She requested a seat at the table as an expert in poverty: the hard-won experience of a single mother of three, a daughter of Irish immigrants and a disabled woman who also fought several chronic diseases.

Mo Roberts fought against poverty
Mo Roberts fought against poverty

And he framed poverty as an act of violence.

As she said: “I’m telling people with power that I too have power.”

Realizing that he was not a victim but part of the solution, he in turn lifted a heavy burden from his shoulders. “It’s like I could go with a silk banner, while before I had one made of heavy wood,” he said.

Baroness Ruth Lister, an emeritus professor of social policy at Loughborough University, says that Mo has helped change the way she thought. In his book Poverty, he quotes his saying: “The worst blow of all is the contempt of your fellow citizens.

“Me and many families live in that contempt. Nobody asks for our opinions. But we are the true experts of our hopes and aspirations. We can contribute if you are willing to give up some power to allow us to participate as a partner in our future and in the future of our country. “

For generations, the definitions of poverty have been shaped by those who have food on the table. It was too much for people with power who do good to the impotent. These methods don’t work.

The Social Metrics Commission reports that seven million people are in persistent poverty in our rich country. And seven out of 10 children in poverty are now part of a working family, says the annual report of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Ribbons created by mourners to remember Mo
Ribbons created by mourners to remember Mo

But in recent years, the sands have started to shift. The United Nations approach to human rights-based poverty requires policy makers to involve people with experience in decision making.

Poverty truth boards have sprung up across the UK and elsewhere. “Participatory decision making” is becoming increasingly used.

“Nothing about us, without us” is a central principle of the movement for the rights of people with disabilities in the UK.

Mo, leader of the ATD Fourth World charity to combat poverty, was instrumental in the development of the inter-party parliamentary group on poverty in 1997, which radically broke the tradition by allowing “real people” to speak before MPs.

He helped pioneer a tradition at Royal Holloway, University of London, where parents who live in poverty contribute to training social work. And most recently, it has been part of the international research of ATD Fourth World and Oxford University.

“To tell you that you can take the same voice, the same knowledge, the same emotion and use it to speak for peace, it must receive a power that I don’t think I’ve ever had the same way before,” said Mo.

“Instead of having to fight against a government, against” them “, what I can actually do is go to them peacefully and say,” I’m bringing you something you need to know to be able to provide for people like me in a human and fair way, a decent way ‘”.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said that Mo was “on the front line” for a new movement. Executive director Claire Ainsley said, “At the JRF, we are committed to continuing Mo’s legacy.”

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Her friends and colleagues Patricia Bailey, 62, and Amanda Button, 49, saw Mo shortly before they died. “She was more on fire than ever,” said Patricia, “but kinder than ever.” Amanda says Mo “has had a knack for putting people at ease and making you feel” I can do it “even if you’re normally a shy person.”

On Saturday, Mo’s friends and family gathered to commit themselves to continuing the fight against the violence of poverty.

Mo’s friend Shaeda Croft paid tribute: “It made me want to be a better person. From the earth to the sun, around the moon and among the stars, her soul cascades her
sparkling light in all of us. ”

In Paris, in May, Baroness Lister mentioned an anonymous poem, Out of the Shadows, on the occasion of the launch of the ATD Fourth World / University of Oxford report. “I have recited this poem several times at the end of a speech on poverty because it makes the request to be seen as human much more powerful than I have ever been able to do,” he said. “It often brings me closer to tears because I find it so moving.”

He did not know who wrote it, but later the author approached her in tears: Moraene Roberts.

The poem ends: “I will not be a prisoner, I will not be broken by you, I will come with pride and be by your side, because I too am human”.


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