Talking Points: June 2018
Plight of poor people worsening …
June has produced plenty of bad news on this front. Analysis by the Centre for Social Justice, a right-wing think-tank, shows that the wages of 10 million low-paid workers in the UK have stalled for two decades and will face pressure for a decade to come from global economic competition, automation, the shift to the gig economy and a widening regional divide.
The National Audit Office has found that Universal Credit ‘has been too slow to roll out, causes hardship, and is not delivering value for money’. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, the programme is ‘demonstrably failing’.
Destitution, meaning that people ‘cannot afford to buy the essentials to eat, stay warm and dry, and keep clean’, isn’t something one associates with the UK. Yet Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s new report on destitution in the UK finds that about 1,252,000 people in the UK, including 312,000 children, were destitute at some point during 2015. While some migrant groups face disproportionate risks of destitution, the great majority (79 per cent) of those destitute were born in the UK.
… and inequality is deepening
Inequality in earnings is getting worse and social mobility is so frozen that it would take five generations for a poorer family in the UK to reach the average income, according to a new OECD report. One reason for rising inequality is declining union membership, according to a report by the centre-left Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). Between 1979 and 2014, membership of unions fell by almost half in the UK, while the share of wealth going to the richest 1% more than doubled. Kate Wilson and Richard Pickett write in the Guardian about the psychological effects of inequality: ‘Understanding inequality means recognising that it increases school shootings, bullying, anxiety levels, mental illness and consumerism because it threatens feelings of self-worth.’
Importance of treating poor people with dignity
The US’s principal strategy for dealing with extreme poverty is to criminalise and stigmatise those in need of assistance, according to a new report by the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. It is a strategy that ‘seems driven primarily by contempt, and sometimes even by hatred for the poor’ – fuelled by ‘the narrative that the poor are scammers living high on welfare’.
All this highlights the importance of Children North East’s work (stemming from a conference supported by the Webb Memorial Trust) on how to stop children in schools from feeling singled out for the crime of being poor – 28 per cent of the region’s children live in poverty, reports Guardian columnist Dawn Foster.
Why are there no ideas ‘lying around’?
The dearth of ideas for addressing poverty and inequality is a theme Talking Points has touched on before. ‘The right sees opportunity in a crisis,’ says economist Larry Elliott. ‘Why can’t the left?’ He quotes Milton Friedman’s view that only a crisis – real or perceived – produces real change: ‘When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.’ That is why we need to develop alternatives to existing policies, ‘to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable’, says Elliott.
In Guardian columnist John Harris’s view, the reason why the Labour Party seems to lack ‘a clear, confident, consistent Labour narrative’ is that ‘beyond the union-funded Centre for Labour and Social Studies (aka Class), the Corbynites have no supportive thinktanks’.
Hilary Cottam agrees that ‘more money will not fix our broken welfare state. We need to reinvent it.’ How can funders help develop the kind of civil society that will provide ‘a creative response to everything from inequality to racism to technology, to prevent an “us and them” future, connect us better and humanise the world we live in?’ she asks.
Finally, some good news …
The renewal of town and city centres across the US is accelerating, according to a new book called New Localism. ‘City leaders are discovering that problem-solving from the bottom up – in partnerships with others from the worlds of business, technology and education – is more democratic and effective.’ While Steven Pinker offers nuggets of good news such as ‘Since yesterday 180,000 people globally have escaped extreme poverty’. ‘Think progress is a myth? Then measure it,’ he says.
‘Talking Points’ is collated by Caroline Hartnell, who convenes the Rethinking Poverty blog.
Past ‘Talking Points’: