Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Poverty in the UK

This morning's report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation will come as no surprise to those of us who have repeatedly raised the issue of poverty and the damaging effects of free market economics on the population of the UK.

However, they are useful in isolating a few key points.

The first few things which leap from the page on reading the report are:

  • how the much-maligned 1970s saw a reduction in both the very poor and very rich
  • how little has changed since the 1980s to redress the damage done by Thatcherism
  • what Will Hutton called the 30-40-30 split is more accurately a 25-50-25 split between the poor, middle and wealthy.

One interesting point is how, since the 1990s, the number of very poor ("core poor") has declined but the number of breadline poor has increased. One persuasive explanation put forward for this is that the numbers of unemployed have fallen as the number of people working for a pittance has increased i.e. people are moved off unemployment benefit onto low-wage jobs.

This confirms what we have learned both anecdotally and statistically about the effects of the minimum wage. The Labour Government of the past few years ought to be congratulated on its introduction (and the lack of recession) but substituting "breadline poverty" for "core poverty" is hardly the great step forward which many of us might have expected from ten years of a Labour Government.

The urgency of the COFUP campaign has never seemed greater.

As a final aside, this report interested me particularly as, by coincidence, I started reading some of Charles Booth's reports on poverty in 19th century London this morning. The improvements to working people's lives made by the welfare state need hardly be remarked on again. What is so shameful is that which has not changed. Immigrant workers in particular are still overworked and underpaid.

Neither Charles Booth nor the Rowntree Foundation (both well intentioned middle-class reformers) offers much in the way of solutions. Those solutions must be presented and fought for by us in the Labour Party and the trade unions.

Any thoughts?


donpaskini said...

It's worth reading the Rowntree work on public attitudes to inequality alongside this piece of research. They are very interesting and show the scale of the challenge (assuming as I hope we would that gaining public support is important in tackling inequality).

A large majority think the gap between very rich and very poor is too large, but don't support redistribution. They don't think people on low incomes are particularly underpaid, but people on high incomes are overpaid. People think taxes are too high, particularly on the low paid. The strongest support for abolishing inheritance tax is found amongst manual workers and those in the lowest social classes.

58% think that inequality persists because it suits the rich and powerful, only 17% think that it is necessary for Britain's prosperity. There is no consensus about what constitutes low and high pay.

So lots of confused and contradictory attitudes, some positive and some negative.

I think that to tackle poverty involves a mix of new universal public services (starting with free childcare, a large council house building programme and free holiday activities for young people as well as more on schools and hospitals), higher benefits for those who can't find work and higher pay and better support for people looking for work or in low paid work.

Lastly, I think it is unfair writing off the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as 'middle-class reformers' - they provide a lot of the research that gives us the evidence for our campaigning for a fairer and more equal society.

Jackson Jeffrey Jackson said...

It was an observation, not a value judgement.

The point being that they are number crunchers and provide us with plenty of information but do not have any solutions nor pretend to.

Am still reading the other report (I thought my original blog was long enough already!) but it would seem to contain the usual contradictions i.e. people will answer yes to both "do you think taxes are too high?" and "would you be willing to pay higher taxes for better public services?"

Harry Barnes said...

Good Grief - you wait over a fortnight for a bus, then three come along all with different dates on them. But sorry, I have to rush off to give birth to a granddaughter!

Curlew said...

I've never followed the idea that the rich are good for the UKs prosperity. Once a certain amount of money is earned by an individual the rest isn't kept in circulation but in some sort of savings or on overseas properties etc. This is why full employment works so well, the less well off will spend their smaller amounts of money and thus keep the wheels of business turning.