Poverty is caused by poor people

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”.

Sure enough…


  1. shouldbeworking says

    Step 1 of problem-so,vying s to define the problem and if you’re good, the problem is defined away.

  2. Armored Scrum Object says

    @Pierce R. Butler #1:

    I think we already got it ~50 years ago in the Moynihan report, though I’m sure the mold could be recycled for the benefit of another catfood commission.

  3. unbound says

    Just goes to prove that corporations are much the same around the world, and their influence is growing in all countries…not just the US. Poverty in the 1st world countries are predominantly due to corporate profit-taking in lieu of paying their workers salaries that the corporations could afford if they weren’t busy jacking up their stock prices and paying their C-level executives insane levels of compensation.

  4. barrypearson says

    You won’t get an accurate analysis of what the current government is saying from the Guardian!

    One problem with the current measures is that it defines the poverty threshold as 60% of median income. Which has the bizarre consequence that if the top-10% earners disappeared or went broke, lots of children currently in poverty would be (statistically) raised out of poverty – without their circumstances changing in the slightest! It is more a measure of inequality than poverty, and something better is needed. (But that has been known for many years. When I was doing some analysis of the welfare state in the late 90s this sort of problem was obvious then).

    The intention is to continue to publish the figures according to the current formula, but supplement them with more comprehensive measures. That is where they are running into problems – agreeing what the new measures should be. In part there is a chicken-n-egg problem – do those other factors cause income inequality or vice versa? If the right triggers can be identified, something can be done about them instead of just using numbers to fling blame around.

    I personally think that using a different formula based on income (but not the current 60% of median income peculiarity) may be useful. But any attempt to improve the measures will get ideological objections from the Guardian.

  5. sailor1031 says

    It is well-known that poverty is the result of bad choices. Choosing parents who cannot give you those significant early advantages that children of rich parents enjoy. Poor choice of childhood friends who cannot grow up to be willing enablers and accomplices in your career of corporate piracy. Choice of the wrong schools – when did you hear of poor people going to those expensive private schools? They don’t choose to do it!! Choosing not to go to University because it is now prohibitively expensive and you can’t afford it. You should have gone when it was free or low-cost, like the rich people who are now redefining poverty for you (because after all, you’re not going to do it)! Choosing to work in badly paid jobs because that’s all the present economy offers to non-rich people. Choosing to have children so that this problem of poverty will continue to plague the wealthy through yet another generation, instead of just quietly fading away and leaving the rich to the quiet enjoyment of their spoils.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *