The Tories want to re-describe poverty as being not to do with a lack of money. Next project: re-describe hypothermia as being not to do with lack of heat.
The government’s desire to alter the official definition of child poverty risks deliberately downplaying the importance of money just as a series of government policies will reduce the incomes of poor families, a group of senior academics warn in a letter to the Guardian.
Let’s define it as a lack of initiative, shall we? A shortage of grit and determination and ambition? A refusal to get up at 5 a.m.? A habit of eating three pieces of pie every evening?
A consultation on how to measure child poverty more accurately that was launched last November, seeking input from charities and experts into “better measures of child poverty”, comes to an end on Friday. The government believes that a wider definition of what constitutes poverty will give a better picture of what it means to “grow up experiencing deep disadvantage“.
A better picture, eh? So that they can hang it next to the Van Dyke in the library?
Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, the lead consultant on the UK’s contribution to Unicef’s Child Well-Being report, said he believed that the government was “trying to move the goalposts” at a time when child poverty was increasing rapidly.
He described the consultation document as the worst paper setting down government policy direction he had ever read, questioned whether it was written by civil servants and said it read more like it had been “plagiarised from a right-wing thinktank tract”.
He said civil servants had been working for the past 40 years on developing accurate poverty measures, but the document had ignored previous work by the department on the subject as well as ignoring work by academics in the field. The new approach would not work because it attempted to “combine all sorts of things that are the consequence of poverty or may be even be the causes of poverty, but are not a measure of child poverty”.
That’s the best wheeze of all: treating the consequences of poverty as the causes of poverty. That way you get to stop spending money on it, and you get to sneer and judge at the same time. Look at you, you dirty peasant, you never went to school; no wonder you’re poor!
In a speech to launch the consultation, Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, outlined his theory that other factors aside from money caused poverty, highlighting his concern about children growing up in “dysfunctional families”.
He argued: “It cannot be right that experiences so vital to childhood, like seeing a parent go out to work or growing up in a stable family, are not reflected in our understanding of child poverty.” He was critical of the Labour government’s focus on “income as the significant cause and solution”.