We’re not serious about poverty

Last week saw various surveys across the UK on “poverty” (at least, they were headlined as such). One claimed that 7% of households in NI could not afford adequate food (i.e. two nutritious meals plus fruit’n’veg); another suggested 33% (up from 14% in 1983) of households in the UK suffer from “multiple deprivation”.

Although I have often challenged the lazy use of the term “poverty”, my own research indicates that these figures are probably about right (I would suggest that the 7% figure applies right across the UK and the 33% figure applies in Northern Ireland – there is increasing convergence in levels of poverty across the British Isles, but sadly it is convergence upwards).

So in this case yes, this is “poverty” in the real sense – essentially, it is experienced by 7% and a further 26% could soon end up experiencing it without intervention.

Here is the problem: no one is going to do anything about it. There are three main reasons.

First, as soon as anyone tries to do anything about it – say, through welfare reform – they get castigated for harming “vulnerable people” (who are never defined). No, those who are first to highlight “poverty” are too often also the first to demand maintenance of the status quo in preference to doing anything about it. Change is difficult, after all, so best not to do it! So, as a political or civic leader, why bother doing anything about it, if it is just going to get you attacked?

As I have written before, another reason no one is going to do anything is that there is still the inherent suspicion among the rest of us that poor people are feckless and somehow “deserving”. I researched the issue intently for a year and never came across any “deserving poor” – there was always a story, always a ball that had genuinely bounced the wrong way, always a start in life which made poverty predictable but was outside the individual’s control. 50% in fuel poverty? Bunkum. Third-generation unemployment? Nonsense. But 7% unable properly to nourish themselves – I can believe that, and trust me, they don’t deserve it.

Then there’s the final reason no one is going to do anything about it – it’s hard. If a third of the population suffer “multiple deprivation”, that means there are multiple issues which need resolved. In leftie la-la-land “poverty” can be solved simply by taking more money from the rich and giving it to the poor. Gordon Brown tried that for a decade. Poverty levels rose, no matter how you measure them. No, multiple deprivation requires multiple interventions – in education, employment policy, addiction services, health promotion, budget advice, community regeneration and so on. It’s hard. Much easier to get votes by blaming some bogeyman (“foreigners taking all our jobs”, “rich people living in mansions”, “themmuns” or whatever) than actually do multiple hard things to solve multiple problems.

No, no one cares about poverty. That’s why nothing will be done about it. In 30 years time we’ll all be moaning about 10% unable to nourish themselves and 45% experiencing multiple deprivation. But still we’ll reject change, still we’ll suspect the poor are deservedly so, and still we’ll shirk the hard multiple policy interventions really required in favour of a few easy votes.

Please, someone, prove me wrong?

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3 thoughts on “We’re not serious about poverty

  1. David a says:

    Is there a typo re deserving/undeserving poor?
    Thoughtful and provocative article
    Regards
    D

    • Thanks David.

      I don’t think there is (though you are right to query) – I do believe, instinctively, that many of us do believe the poor are all idle scroungers who deserve it!

  2. harryaswell says:

    I fear that much of what you say is perfectly true. However, I am equally certain that these figures are hoplessly inaccurate. If living beyond one’s means means you are in poverty, then “I” have been in poverty all my life! In a State such as ours, with substantial Benefits schemes, it is surely right to suppose that there should be absolutely NO poverty?

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