Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Relative Poverty - Disappointment Or Disgrace?

I have always found the concept that poverty is "relative" difficult to grasp. Today's announcement that the number of children living in poverty has risen for the second year in a row is deeply depressing, even if it isn't surprising.

For our Labour government, who set themselves the goal of halving child poverty over a generation, to be presiding over such a steady increase in the number of young people growing up in poverty, leaving so many of them living in a Britain without hope, is not "disappointing", as the government described it today, it is a "disgrace"!

The Member of Parliament for East Renfrewshire, one Mr Jim Murphy, shoulders a great deal of responsibility for today's figures having served as Minister of State for Employment and Welfare Reform at the Department of Work & Pensions at the very time when the number of young people living in poverty increased so startlingly.

I am not a statistician, so I look to professionals like Professor John Hills, the head of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, to guide me as to whether government policy will work. As he describes the latest figures as "disappointing if unsurprising" it appears to me there is little prospect of any improvement in the number of people living in poverty as long as we pursue policies that lack vision for our future.

Possibly most telling is the increase over the past year in the number of pensioners living in poverty. Despite all Labour's interference in our tax and benefits system since 1997, at 2.5 million there has essentially been no reduction in the number of pensioners living in poverty in the UK over the past 11 years.

So our Prime Minister should be hanging his head today in more than "relative" shame. It was his stewardship of the UK economy as Chancellor that delivered the unfair British society in which so many young people and pensioners grow up in poverty despite the highest level of taxation in generations and it is on his watch as Prime Minister that even more people seem destined to live in poverty in the future.

The day of reckoning for Labour, Mr Brown and Mr Murphy will come at the next General Election. Those living in poverty, and those of us living with the privilege of living above its "relative" measure, all want to see a fairer more inclusive society and it will be at the ballot box that we get our chance to hold them to account!

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