Imagining an end to poverty

Last year, I was the Better Way Network Thought Leader on imagination. Moral Imaginations hosted an event on 18 November 2022 where we brought together a group of network members to imagine an end to poverty. This is a post written by Better Way co-convenor Caroline Slocock about the event.

Phoebe Tickell
Moral Imaginations
Published in
11 min readMar 24, 2023


Article written by Caroline Slocock about our workshop on Moral Imagining an end to poverty in November 2022.

“In November 2022, the Better Way Network brought together a group of civil society practitioners, anti-poverty advocates, funders and local council officers to explore the end of poverty and see if we would be able to envision such an end, and what it would look and feel like. The background to this as that during discussions in 2021 the network had concluded that:

  • Our humanity can build bridges and move us to change
  • Collective imagination can make a different future possible
  • We need to find ways to make a different kind of space to listen deeply to each other, share our stories and tell new ones.

In 2022, we’ve been exploring this further with Phoebe Tickell, who is our thought leader in imagination for 2022. We were exploring the power of moral imagination earlier in the year and, in this session, asking ourselves: what if we could eradicate poverty? If we could imagine a different future, how would we work differently today and what would we do?

Introducing the session, Phoebe Tickell said that she describes herself as an imagination activist and her organisation and collective, Moral Imaginations, trains people to become imagination activists. This is a new kind of activist who is powered by imagination and vision, and is equipped with the tools to make those visions become real, and who is building a new kind of capacity, the capacity to imagine how things could be different and also help others to exercise their own imagination — ‘to stretch a muscle’ that has been underused since childhood. She explained that her focus was on moral imagination, because imagination can be used for good and bad ends.

She said that problems are often framed as resource problems (not enough money or people), even when as a society we have too many resources, resulting in food waste and garbage, and this creates a kind of learnt helplessness. The real problem is an atrophy of imagination about how to use the resources we have.

The leader of Camden council, Georgia Gould, is striving for a ‘new era of municipal imagination’ and Phoebe and Moral Imaginations have been working with the council to build capacity and understanding of the importance of imagination in local government and civic infrastructure. They’ve been identifying the blocks to imagination in how they currently operate, working with central functions to change what is possible, training staff, managers and leaders in imagination activism and providing them with tools, frameworks and new practices to shift culture. The next stage is to embed imagination into policy and projects, working not just with the council but also with local residents.

‘What if’ is the key question in this and other imagination work, alongside the question imagination activism is asking which is ‘what would you do if you have the fearless confidence you would succeed’.

Phoebe then took the group through a couple of exercises designed to give just a taste of how imagination can help address the issue of poverty, explaining that in practice this is really deep work which requires much longer than we had available on this occasion.

What if we eradicated poverty by 2030?

The first exercise was a form of guided meditation in which each participant was helped to imagine themselves in a distant future where they were able to look back to a time when poverty had come to an end in 2030. They are asked what poverty was like, what led to its eradication and what it felt like afterwards. Participants were asked to ‘journal’ their response.

We collected pages of shared imaginations using the method of collective imagining, which we’ve brought together into a continuous narrative here — it’s very inspiring to read.

A narrative from 2030 about the end of poverty

‘We had charities and a welfare system but more and more people became poor’ and it was ‘hard to keep hope alive.’

Participants wrote about the causes of poverty and how it made them feel

We had charities and a welfare system but more and more people became poor….We lost our compass on health and thriving people and communities…We felt painful, deep despair and disappointment in what we have created….There were huge discrepancies between the haves and have nots.

“Othering.” Pitting people against each other….False beliefs. Sides, Disagreements…Individualism….It was restricting — no one understood what it meant to be one human race…Those experiencing pain, stigma and shame were unable to be heard.

It was painful and hard to keep hope alive. People working on the frontline were frightened and tired, trying to do what they could and feeling guilty that they had more than the people they were serving….People were scared and knew there needed to be change.

Then there was ‘The Great Realisation of 2029’, when ‘we recognised our interdependence’

How did participants imagine why the changes came about?

It started when we changed who we listened to…..People having realised the deep pain and gaps….We recognised our interdependence — including with the natural world…We realised that we and our interests were inextricably connected and interwoven…‘The coming together.’

It became what we now know as The Great Realisation of 2029. More people started to realise that things couldn’t continue as they were. It wasn’t right that certain people owned all the money and resources. It wasn’t right to have powerful people dominating the rest of us. They also realised that what was important are people and the planet, not money and things. And they also realised there was an abundance of resources on this planet, we just needed to work out how to share those resources while looking after the planet. So they simply stopped. They stopped participating in these domineering systems. Without people participating, these old systems could no longer exist. They were no longer viable. So new systems emerged. No two systems looked the same, but in all places they emerged in similar ways. They created their own new systems that were all in principle anti-authoritarian, inclusive, and environmentally conscious. It was proliferation rather than scale…The fundamental structures were called to change though new ideas and possibilities.

People realised that there was so much waste, we had so much but weren’t sharing it and if we did we’d all be stronger. It was fear about the planet that really triggered this — seeing people across the world starving and their animals dying because of the waste and pollution we caused. We realised that we needed to stop dumping our problems on other people at home and abroad. We saw ourselves as one country, not lots of diverse groups, and we made our politicians decide to do something about it. Making all basic services free, talking to the people who were suffering and asking what they needed, not simply money, but love and hope and we opened up a national debate which those people were leading (not simply commented on as if they were ‘other’ and not in the room). We asked rich people to contribute to a fund, rather like the Bill Gates fund, to make more resources available but also to help innovate. We asked politicians to apply a ‘how can we end poverty test’ to everything they did, health, education, housing, and we held them to account.

It started to change with action groups and peaceful protests — we stopped allowing the government to make decisions which worked well for those who already had enough. We asked people who were seeking asylum to come into the UK and to teach us how to live better — their experiences were so valuable and we came together as community. The Green party joined forces with Labour and started to ask residents for their ideas and help — we moved away from deceit and towards integrity, serving one another and sharing. People were caught up in a joy in the little things — much like during the pandemic — and remembered that smaller acts of connection are what we really valued.

It was SUCH AN EXCITING TIME! It was absolutely CRAZY that we realised that this was something we WOULD NOT STAND FOR and everyone joined together to rule out poverty once and for all. First we said poverty would be stamped out completely, and we set a time by which that would happen — 2030. Then we started working backwards and deciding how we would go about doing that. If the poor person was not to exist again, they had to be able to access resources, services, clothes, food — in short, everything they needed, to be able to live a life of dignity and well-being and joy without needing to rely on money. It was around about that time that a Universal Basic Income and Universal Basic Services came into being…. Universal basic income started in one place and was so successful. After that there was no stopping it coming into place everywhere….And we set the global minimum for a quality of life that all of us, billionaires included, would be happy to stand behind. We’d be happy for any of our family members to live that life, that quality of life.

‘People were all flourishing, like never before’, it was ‘a great awakening of love’

Here are some of the feelings and experiences that participants described after poverty ended in 2030:

A calm descended over the earth and people began to flourish rather than just survive, for the first time ever people were all flourishing, like never before….It was the strangest thing in the world. Everything had been the same for so long that nobody could imagine anything any different. Then suddenly everyone had a new idea and the world became a very different place.

Realising that connections between people and ideas and resources made us richer and helped us build systems that were kinder….People became kinder and empathetic, realising that we are not the only ones suffering, many people suffer way more than us and if we help each other, we can not only achieve goals — eliminate poverty, hunger, war and all these big, horrible things happening in the world — but also feel better for ourselves because we helped each other and because the people who we helped do now have a better life…And we felt as if a great burden of guilt had been lifted, and we found we were all so much richer.

Our minds became freer when we learnt how much they were shaped by messages that kept us focused on being apart from one another, and that others were enemies…Accepting that others have different needs, that some need more of some things than others because of their health, their family situation, etc, and that’s ok, made it easier to let go of resentments….Discovering that if we listened close enough, we could hear what places and the land wanted, was a shift.

People all got along and helped each other more than they ever did before…People were concerned for each other….People cared about the experiences of everyone — before people were blamed for their life disadvantages — like whether they were born into not having enough love or support or material needs and instead society stood together and took responsibility jointly. Everybody shared responsibility for their part and, when they started to see this working together, people were less afraid of not having enough and stopped stockpiling and instead would share together. Before individuals or organisations would take the blame for things that went wrong but blame was no longer a thing, instead ‘mistakes’ were seen as learning opportunities and people would join together to find solutions.

Living in a fairer society made everyone happier….People gathered in communities to celebrate what was best about each other and the world around them…There was music and dance in the streets….Culture was valued and everyone had access to the humanities, philosophy, music, arts etc.

Greed was rare….Not many people were greedy for more than what they already had….There was equality of access.

There was a great awakening of love for fellow human beings.

What if we all had good food, housing, low cost energy and access to green spaces?

Addressing ‘What if’ questions

We then went into breakout groups to brainstorm a number of ‘what if’ questions that might help address different dimensions of how to eradicate poverty. Here’s a selection of some of the points coming out of these:

  • What if our energy supply was low cost and locally generated? This break out group thought that we needed an energy policy, informed by more voices, eg children including under 10s, as well as over 70s. It was concerned that the media were pushing false narratives about the lack of energy supplies in the UK, creating a belief that the public don’t have the power to generate power and stifling imaginative solutions, and they wanted to see more positive reporting about green alternatives, the creation of a genuine public square forum and new ways of sharing information locally.
  • What if everyone had access to beautiful green and wild spaces? The group thought that there needed to be more cross-party agreement on action to tackle climate change, advocated changes to planning laws to require new buildings to have access to green spaces, thought there should be more challenge about who lives where, called for a focus on making places safe for women and, to improve access, wanted to see a commitment to subsidised public transport (and politicians should be required by law to use that transport so that they were aware of where changes were needed).
  • What if everyone had access to food abundance and low cost, nutritious food? This breakout group thought that the root causes of food poverty and lack of low cost good food included people not having enough money, an over-reliance on unregulated and profiteering markets, lack of knowledge about food preparation and lack of time and lack of access to affordable, local food in some ‘food deserts’. Their ideas for achieving the goal included a higher living wage and benefits, better education on food, local growing and sharing food schemes, universal free school meals and more supermarkets donating unused food to people who needed it.
  • What if everyone had access to low cost, good quality housing? This group reflected most on the root causes of a shortage of affordable housing, including the high cost of land, a market controlled by a small number of property developers, and housing being seen primarily as an investment, rather than accommodation. The result was that not enough houses were being built, and overseas investors were leaving some housing empty. At the same time, there was abuse of the private rental market. They wanted to see more common ownership.

Concluding thoughts

In conclusion, Phoebe said how inspiring the session had been and how it highlighted that collective imagination was not about fixing things as they are but changing them to how they should be, exercising the power of active hope for change (as opposed to hope which can act as a sedative to taking action).

Caroline Slocock, the co-convenor of a Better Way, said she had been struck by Phoebe’s point that lack of imagination, not lack of resources, was the reason why so many problems seem apparently intractable. She reflected that some of the big moments when the world had changed — from the abolition of slavery, to the building of sewers to create clean water, to the introduction of votes for women — had happened because people had had enough imagination to see that was possible and had the courage to make it so.

The exercise where we projected ourselves into the future really brought this home. She said that we hoped to continue with this strand of imagination work in 2023 and Phoebe added that if anyone was interested in the work with local councils or is interested in embedding imagination in their own council or organisation they should get in touch with her at Moral Imaginations.

With thanks to Caroline Slocock for this article!



Phoebe Tickell
Moral Imaginations

Cares about the common good. Building capacity for deep systems change. Complexity & ecosystems obsessive. Experiments for everything. 10 yrs #systemsthinking.