We all agree we want to abolish poverty. The arguments about how to tackle poverty and low incomes in UK politics are not about the aim. All political parties and all sensible politicians want to wipe out poverty, want more jobs and better pay. Our arguments are about how you make that happen.
This week the government has ventured into the difficult territory of trying to define poverty. The World Bank says you are poor if you have less than $2 a day to spend, as that means you cannot afford the basics of food and shelter. They go for an absolute standard of poverty, where to be poor you go hungry or have no suitable home. In the UK most of the organisations who talk about poverty prefer to use a relative measure, so our definition of poverty is of a much higher basic required income so that people can assume a standard of food, clothing and housing related to the average that people in a rich country like the UK enjoy.
As one of the leading anti poverty charities puts it ” When we talk about poverty in the UK today we rarely mean malnutrition or the levels of squalor of previous centuries or even the hardships of the 1930s before the advent of the Welfare state. It is a relative concept”
Labour in office defined child poverty as living in a household with an income less than 60% of the UK average. This means in a recession as in 2007-9 when average incomes fall you can have the paradoxical effect that child poverty falls, though children in low income households are not themselves better off. Similarly, if we enter a period of faster income growth then children in lower income households can be better off but there could be more in poverty as defined if inequality rises as incomes rise.
The government is looking at a range of measures including poor educational attainment, long term worklessness in the household, drug and drink dependency and family breakdown to get to the bottom of which children are at risk or getting a bad deal. Do you agree with this approach?