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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Has New Labour Stapled Its Own Arse To The Floor Over Child Poverty?

Let's face it, we made a mistake. It was the bloody communists who caused all the trouble. Before they stuck their noses in, we had a nice, simple measure of poverty. Got some money - wealthy. Got no money - poor. Not difficult. As society became generally more wealthy after the war, the working class gained in parallel with the upper and middle classes (even if at times it was only crumbs from the table) so it was clear that poverty overall was reducing.

Applying those same measures of absolute poverty made sense of the world. Villagers in India were poor, we were rich. Aboriginal children in Australia were so poor on this measure that it made sense to take them away from their native families and place them in white households where they could become richer. Life couldn't be simpler.

Then some smart-arse decided that all this needed changing. After all, it was argued, an Indian child only feels poor if he or she has less mud to play with than the child in the next door hut. What we needed was a measure of relative poverty. Henceforth, according to these liberal do-gooders, being rich meant having as much as everyone else. Of course the communists were quick to seize on this new idea.

Under the relative poverty scheme, the more egalitarian the society, the less poverty. So all of a sudden Britain had more poverty than North Korea or Cuba. Fidel Castro started to look like a jolly good chap. The UNICEF ranking for child poverty based on the % of children in households with income less than 50% of the median looked like this:

1. United States
2. United Kingdom
3. Italy
4. Ireland
5. Spain
6. Portugal
7. New Zealand
8. Poland
9. Japan
10. Canada
11. Austria
12. Hungary
13. Greece
14. Australia
15. Germany
16. Netherlands
17. France
18. Czech Republic
19. Switzerland
20. Belgium
21. Sweden
22. Norway
23. Finland
24. Denmark

What the table shows, of course, is that a relative poverty measure simply highlights wealthy countries with a significant disparity of income between the top and bottom, i.e. countries where the kind of freedom, aspiration and opportunity cherished by us in the Labour Party of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown flourish most. Below the really free countries - America and Britain - we have the countries where the state interferes so a limited degree - Italy, France, Spain and the like - and below them of course the Scandinavian social democratic Protestant states where extreme wealth is taxed out of existence and excess income disparity is considered unhealthy and ungodly.

What a stupid idea! Adopting relative poverty measures meant that the richer we became, the worse our poverty figures looked. And with parents less able to find high paid permanent jobs than non-parents, the child poverty figures started to look even worse. It left us in a state where today, according to End Child Poverty:
  • 3.8 million children are living in poverty in the UK (after housing costs).
  • The proportion of children living in poverty grew from 1 in 10 in 1979 to 1 in 3 in 1998. Today, 30% of children in Britain are living in poverty.
  • Since 1999, when the current Government pledged to end child poverty, 600,000 children have been lifted out of poverty.
  • The UK has one of the worst rates of child poverty in the industrialised world.
  • The majority (54%) of poor children live in a household where at least one adult works.
  • 43% of poor children live in a household headed by a lone parent. The majority of poor children (57 per cent) live in a household headed by a couple.
  • 42% of children in poverty are from families with 3 or more children.
As we've become richer, Britain has become a more unequal society over the last 20-25 years and a report in 2001 found, unsurprisingly, that inequality had continued to grow during the first four years of the Labour Government, with as many as one children in six in Britain living in poverty. So we had to do something about all this. And what we did was to throw vast quantities of cash at the problem through the tax credit system, disproportionately subsidising those with children in order to reduce child poverty at the expense of poverty amongst the childless unemployed and pensioners. A smart move, but at the end of the day a bit like squeezing a balloon. Whatever you do, it pops out between two of your fingers. Now child poverty has stopped increasing as rapidly as before, but pensioners are going to prison in protest against their Council Tax.

So, what will the Tories do about all this? I could, of course, just take the old Labour spin doctor line and try to convince you that things would get much worse under a Conservative government because, let's face it, they'd send kids back up chimneys if they had half a chance. But I wouldn't expect you to believe that. Especially if you've seen Chris Grayling arguing intelligently with James Purnell. I don't have a clip of that debate, but here's Grayling vs Flint to give you a taste of what I'm talking about. In the clip, the (then) Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform showed that she was the really tough one, making the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions look like a pussy cat:


No - the truth is that we've stapled our own arses firmly to the floor. If we continue to subsidise low-paid families we make the child poverty figures look good but create a massive poverty trap and if we withdraw the tax credits we look like heartless bastards.

So we've come up with a much smarter idea. And that is to change the measure of poverty from relative poverty to social exclusion. This one is so clever I wish I'd invented it myself. Poverty will henceforth be measured in terms of whether or not you have access to essential services and facilities. Take access to a private bathroom, for example. Virtually all poor families (with the exception of some in hostel accommodation) have a private bathroom. And so does David Beckham. The fact that they have one and he has twenty-seven makes no difference. They are both as "rich" as each other. The same is true of other criteria - most poor people have an oven, a fridge and a TV, plus access to local community schools, libraries and decent swimming pools. So do Becks and Posh. QED - they are just as rich. What a great wheeze! As soon as we get this accepted as the universal measure of poverty, the figures in this country will look stunning again and we will have extracted the staple.

Mind you, I wouldn't want to be a child in an Indian village, an Australian aboriginal or a Cuban under this new measure. They will immediately sink back into poverty. But then, who cares about Johnny Foreigner? Our prime concern is for ourselves, in the modern patriotic Britain that we are building under Gordon Brown.

2 comments:

Haggerston Harry said...

Yes, but we don't have access to decent swimming pools, do we?

Dom @ Google said...

Hi, thanks for linking my Caroline Flint upload :)

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