“Experiencing poverty”

I might have guessed that the dumbed down thrills seeking media would regard my casual remarks about unreality TV as far more newsworthy and important than my analysis and recommendations to stave off national bankruptcy. Thanks, though, to the Daily Express for taking a centre page on the banks this week.

However, there is a serious point beneath this debate which is worth visiting. Several respondents have made especially good points in their replies. No you cannot give someone on a good salary with a decent home to return to the feeling of poverty by making them live for a few days on a lower income in different surroundings. Nor I am pleased to confirm is the UK poverty poor by the standards of the poor in Africa, where poverty means insufficient money to buy a daily meal.

If I had to live for a week on a low income I would aim to end the week with some savings, as I would want to have a sense of progress from poverty. I could rely on tap water for my drinking, and feed myself well on seasonal vegetables and fruit, bread and rice or pasta to keep the food bill down. I would go to the local library to use the web and read books, so my lighting and heating would be free for me. I would be looking for gainful employment.

For as someone else wrote, if I were on a low income or on benefit and in a Council flat for real, I would be planning my escape route from Day One. I would be off to the local supermarkets to see if I could stock their shelves for some income, and maybe try and work my way up in retail. Or maybe I would use my spare time from a basic job to set up a service business that I could do in the early days with very little capital and no staff, to generate some cash. There are plenty of areas that could take another competitor who worked hard and gave people a good standard of service. Maybe I would just work flat out at building up my own business.

Poverty is not an absolute, nor a fixed condition from which you can never rise. The danger is it becomes an attitude of mind and instils a sense of helplessness. I do think we should be more generous as a community to those who are blind or deaf or have no use of their limbs. Those are severe handicaps, and we should willingly offer extra state support so they too can be more mobile and enjoy more of life. If you have all the use of your faculties, the way out of poverty is hard work and enterprise. The task for government is to find ways of helping people achieve without inventing traps that keep people poor and dependent on the state. The government needs to set the right tone. Then it’s up to people themselves to seize the opportunities that are out there.

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19 Comments

  1. John
    Posted August 9, 2009 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Well put : help, encourage and support people to move themselves up the wealth ladder, not sustain and trap them on the lowest rung.

    In the 90s I was running an SME. When advertising to fill vacancies, we found people invited for interview, first and second, often failed to show up and others offered jobs declined. More interestingly we had a number who accepted employment but having worked satisfactorily for a week or so decided not to continue as the job was “not what they wanted”, but in these cases they declined payment due to them on the grounds it would affect their benefits.

  2. Gareth Sutcliffe
    Posted August 9, 2009 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    I agree – well put. I t would be nice if the Tory Party leadership couched its view of poverty in these terms rather than speaking in the language of the Labour Party

  3. Paul Dean
    Posted August 9, 2009 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    “The way out of poverty is hard work and enterprise” … and, I need to add, economical living. In line with what you wrote earlier in the article, I think we agree that even with hard work and enterprise if a person can’t control their personal spending they will stay poor. The problem is that the system is conflicted about helping people live cheaply because spending stimulates the economy. For this reason I can’t imagine government initiatives aimed at helping people live cheaply.

  4. Jon
    Posted August 9, 2009 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    All I want are MPs to have private industry experience on this argument. The Labour cabinet know nothing of poverty but more importantly know nothing of what gets people out of it. If any, and few did, worked for a living then they were civil servants unaware of how the bills are paid. They are and seem to remain indignant of workers in the private sector who know it can all come crashing down around them at anytime.

    Poverty will always be there, we just need those who know the means to get out of it to be running policy. Having a bunch of social engineering types paid by others will never have any idea of that.

    We need a safety net yes but not to fund a chosen lifestyle. That creates poverty and the lame duck Labour social engineers don’t know that.

    The last people who have the right to talk about poverty and how to reduce or get out of it are these Labour cretins.

  5. Jon
    Posted August 9, 2009 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    And just to add the lack of credit around the world is down to the UK and the US policies of creating an unsustainable credit boom. That means the rest have a lack of it. A report earlier this year said it predicted 300,000 more will die in the 3rd world as a result. I want people who understand finance not a bunch of cretins that spend today regardless off tomorrow and the poverty that will bring. How can they lecture?

  6. StevenL
    Posted August 9, 2009 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    “I could rely on tap water for my drinking…” (JR)

    Supermarket value-brand squash and tea bags hardly break the bank. People are far more likely to be happy they do spend some of their money on doing the things they enjoy. You can’t take it with you.

  7. James Strachan
    Posted August 9, 2009 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    You said, when you were Secretary of State for Wales, that there were “estates where three generations had never worked”.

    The reason, of course, is that the benefits system is so complex, arbitrary and badly documented, that the effective tax rate for people on low incomes – combining tax, NI and benefit withdrawal – is about 100%.

    In these circumstances, not working is a rational response to the circumstances in which the Government has placed you.

    I know the problem but I don’t know the answer.

  8. Charlotte
    Posted August 9, 2009 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    You have to understand that it’s much harder for people in poverty to achieve anything than it has been for others. Poverty gives people such low expectations. Not everyone understands that there is an ‘escape route’. Are you aware that class is a more significant factor in determining how much someone will achieve than ability? You really ought to be…
    ANYWAY, why should children have to grow up in conditions like they do? My mother teaches in a school where children don’t necessarily get enough to eat. There was one boy who was unhappy about the prospect of the summer holidays, because he would have nothing to do- he liked drawing, but he didn’t even have any pens or paper….
    That can often result from the parents being drug addicts, depressed etc. but you need left wing solutions to deal with these issues. Even without issues such as these, it’s really not fair that some people have to grow up in poverty.
    Wouldn’t it be better to help these people rather than to send them to prison? Coercion isn’t nearly as effective.

    • Stuart Fairney
      Posted August 10, 2009 at 5:09 am | Permalink

      One hates to contradict a lady but I fear I must. My dad was a lorry driver but it wasn’t his social class that was a handicap to my education or aspiration, it was the hellish state comprehensive school.

      My parents were of course married. You will find this is a much better indicator of life outcome than social class so a benefit system that facilitates illegitimate children contributes to poverty and crime instead of addressing these issues.

      Parents being drug addicts? Surely you mean the singular.

      Who are you to decide what is fair for the rest of us? UK ‘poverty’ is a relative social contruct rather than an absolute lack of food. Witness all the estates with emaciated faces and distended stomachs in the UK. If we have such poverty how come the world’s poor want to come here instead of say Somalia?

      And puh-lease, when some kid in £100 trainers breaks into your house or steals your car, see if you still think he is living in poverty and deserves a hug.

    • Paul
      Posted August 10, 2009 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      “Not everyone understands that there is an ‘escape route’”

      There is some truth in this.

      However, it’s primarily because socialists have been telling them this sort of nonsense continually as a mantra and pandering to this belief financially.

      “you need left wing solutions to deal with these issues”

      Left wing solutions don’t deal with anything, they just throw public money at them, and they inevitably make the problem worse.

      “it’s really not fair that some people have to grow up in poverty”

      Life isn’t fair (and btw, we had little money when I was a child).

      Additionally, there is far worse poverty than the statistically-fabricated version Brown is always on about.

      “Wouldn’t it be better to help these people rather than to send them to prison? Coercion isn’t nearly as effective.”

      Putting people in prison is 100% effective at stopping them committing crimes when in prison.*

      Bribery (the ‘left wing solution’) doesn’t work because of the demands for more bribes which inevitably follow.

      * To save time, I’ve added the two left stock responses to this and explanations why they are wrong.

      “We lock up a greater percentage of our population than anyone else”

      True, but not a greater percentage of criminals than anyone else. We’re quite low down on this one.

      “Prison doesn’t solve the problem. Statistics show that community service is more effective”

      That’s because those statistics exclude the reduction in crime that occurs when the criminal is IN prison.

      • Bazman
        Posted August 10, 2009 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

        Would sensible policy on illegal drugs be a right or left wing policy.
        ‘They should just say no’ is retarded thinking.

  9. Mike Stallard
    Posted August 9, 2009 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Some simple points:
    1. “They” should not be a word we use when talking about poverty. “They” ought to do this, “they” ought to do that. “They” ought to try harder. It’s actually “us”. “We” Brits etc.
    2. Poverty is something which I know intimately. I was brought up as poor as George Orwell, I have seen Africa both before and after Africanisation. I have spent ten years on and off the dole. Poverty isn’t that bad: like life, it is what you make it. I reckon we are right on the button on this one: “On yer bike!”
    3. The major advantage which I had was, of course, a superb degree, a public school education and also a couple of loving, Christian parents who were accepted by people of every class. Today’s children do not always have even one of those advantages.
    4. The Welfare State is an unmitigated menace which ought to be scrapped today. For me personally, it did nothing but harm, making me into a cheat, a liar and, yes, a swindler. It also made me alternately shout and then cringe as I lied my way to my pittance. And, dear friends, it was you who paid for me to be there behaving so very, very badly.

  10. Marksany
    Posted August 9, 2009 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    John, if you were on benefits your efforts to better yourself would result in benefit withdrawal pound for pound. How long could you sustain long hours of hard work when the houly rate earned would be zero? This is the poverty trap and you would be in it. Without the ability to jump straight to a median paying job, you’d be trapped there too. Work has got to pay, right now it doesn’t. What is your party’s plan to address this?

    • alan jutson
      Posted August 9, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

      Agree with a number of your points.

      The system is so rotten and inefficient, that many claimants are not encouraged to seek short term work at all.
      Reason: because it takes many, many weeks, to get back into the system again, when such work ends.

      The result, many do not bother, unless they can get a perminent job.

      We need a system that will encourage people to seek to work (temporary or perminent), and not be financially disadvantaged by doing so.

  11. no one
    Posted August 9, 2009 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    yea and if you can scrape the money together for the fees for a full time course of education then your benefits will be stopped if you take it on

    the state would rather pay you to sit at home doing nothing than actually turning up at college doing a full time course

    this and other aspects of the system are mad

    the system should not incentivise people to do nothing

    Reply: No the state should not incentivise doing nothing. People can also have pride and the wish to earn more than the state pays them to drive them off benefits.

    • alan jutson
      Posted August 10, 2009 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      John

      I think you underestimate the chaos the system is in.

      Most people do have a pride in wanting to work and provide for themselves, but pride does not pay bills, and not all people have your self confidence and abilities.

      No I am not on any sort of benefits at all, but have recently seen people at first hand who are, its absolute chaos trying to make sense of the whole range of benefits, which very often work against each other, and take weeks, if not many months to get sorted.

      Yes, retraining is available for some, but not all who would want it.

      If you register yourself for retraining for perhaps a new career, additional qualifications, or trade, are over 25 years old, then all benefits are stopped, on the assumption that you are no longer looking or are available for work, even if you still are.

    • no one
      Posted August 10, 2009 at 9:38 pm | Permalink

      its not just pride, if literally every penny you can lay your hands on would just about pay for a course of education why shouldnt we allow people to keep their benefits while they do the course? pride will not put food on the table during the course.

      of course there is a risk of opening the flood gates to all students, but really we must be able to come up with a system which helps people get out of the benefits trap

  12. Marksany
    Posted August 10, 2009 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    The intersection of low pay, minimum wage, benefits and the tax system is the crux of our economic and social malaise.

    the system rewards many people for not working

    the system makes temporary or casual work impossible for many

    the system encourages family breakdown

    the system encourages children to have children as a career choice

    the system leaves low skill jobs unfilled, with only immigrants able to afford to take them

    the system makes illegal activity the only avenue open for many to improve their lot

    the system makes UK an uncompetetive place to do business and jobs are exported while the displaced workers become a permanent burden on the taxpayer

    the system will grow until the supported take out more than can be put in and it collapses.

  13. Number 6
    Posted August 10, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    When I was a mere lad and fond of wandering around with the Graniduad in my pocket to show everyone I was really clever and caring and generally right on, man I sneered at one Mr Tebbit saying get on your bike and look for a job. My old man (a child of WWII and no stranger to the factory floor and the odd visit to the labour exchange) told me old Norm was right. Oh, how I sneered at him. Naturally, as one grows older one realises that the old man was right more than he was wrong.

    I have been unemployed, underemployed and had a stint on the dole as well. In one particularly grim summer I took a job as a dustman, or sorry environmental sanitation consultant as I told my mates down the pub – The solution is as Norm and my old man stated. “on yer bike, son and get a job.”

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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