Poverty, shmoverty

THE CONVICTION that the elimination of poverty – child poverty, pensioner poverty, Third World poverty – is at the heart of the Labour movement. Every Labour activist I’ve ever met would agree that the fight against material poverty must be a priority for any Left-of-centre government.

I’ve commented here before about the Tories’ new-found – and utterly unconvincing – passion for fighting poverty. So why shouldn’t Cameron and co. be trusted on their claims that they are best placed to combat poverty? And why should Labour in government be trusted in this effort, particularly when recent figures show we’ll have difficulty meeting our child poverty targets?

You’ll forgive me if I, again, use the Tories’ record in government as evidence; after all, ‘Dave’ has hardly uttered a single word of criticism of the Thatcher/Major years, so we have to assume he thinks their example is one his party should follow.

Labour may be making less progress in the fight against poverty than we all would hope, but surely that will always be the case, however much progress any government makes? After all, no level of poverty is acceptable. But when a Labour government fails to hit its own targets on poverty reduction, that represents a disappointment for the whole government and party.

But let’s not allow our opponents to succeed in convincing the public that our policies have been ineffective; to the contrary, Labour policies have materially transformed hundreds of thousands of families’ lives for the better.

Because we do have targets. We do have ambition. And we do have priorities.

Look at the Tories in power: not a single measure aimed at reducing poverty; not a single target for poverty reduction. Even mass unemployment was considered “a price well worth paying”, according to the man who gave ‘Dave’ his first post in government (which is perhaps why he has not even repudiated this ridiculous statement). Poverty in every area soared under the Tories. Sometimes, that was a deliberate aim of policy; sometimes it was simply an irritating consequence of Thatcherite economic policy that demanded some warm words for the media and a nod and a wink to the activists at conference.

This is the key: the Tories in government don’t fail to meet their poverty reduction targets, because they don’t have such targets. They don’t believe poverty reduction is at all important. They believe that if poverty is to be reduced, the market alone will do it through “trickle-down” economics. Poverty, and the fight against it, isn’t important to the Tory Party. If it were, they would surely have come up with a policy during their time in government to fight it.

The same is true of the nationalists. Poverty, the health service, education, the economy – success in these areas is only important as a means to an end, the end being an independent Scotland. That’s all that’s important to nationalists; if they could achieve it without having to worry about actual policies, they wouldn’t lose any sleep over those areas.

The Liberals? Well, provided they get PR for the House of Commons, everything will be all right anyway.

But for Labour, poverty is an anathema, an unacceptable scab on the face of society. Yes, we can argue about the effectiveness of tax credits, the minimum wage, about whether absolute or relative poverty should be our benchmark, about whether we need to tax the very rich more. Different people and sections within the Labour movement will have different ideas about how we reach the common, agreed objective of defeating poverty once and for all.

When it comes to government action against poverty, the question Labour asks itself is “How?” For the Tories (and the nationalists), the question is more likely to be “Why?”



Filed under Conservative Party, David Cameron, Economy, Labour, LibDems, Politics

12 responses to “Poverty, shmoverty

  1. richard

    Except that under Labour the gap between the rich and the poor has actually grown wider.

  2. Stu

    You start off by making a false generalisation (“Conservatives don’t care about poverty”) and go on to extrapolate a series of incorrect arguments from it.

    I think there’s four main areas where you go wrong. First off, you seem to think in absolutes – either one is ‘against’ poverty or (bizarrely) ‘for’ poverty. In the real world, nobody is for poverty – such a stance would be ridiculous, disgraceful and belligerent. Anyone who cares about the country as a whole (and that is to say essentially everyone involved with politics) would like to see material poverty reduced, because it makes the country a nicer place to live in. Disagreements occur with how people believe the poor should be helped to become wealthier (with, as I see it, Labour preferring to help them with monetary contributions to aid their current financial status, and Conservatives hoping to build their employment prospects and provide greater incentives for working in the future).

    Next up, you fail to define ‘poverty’. If you’re talking about relative poverty, then you’ll be permanently disappointed – there will always be some people that are richer than others, because we don’t live in a magical pixie land where everybody has everything they desire. The Christians have a name for that make-believe land, I seem to recall, but it takes quite a lot of effort to get there. If you’re considering the ability of a person to house, clothe and feed themselves, I think you’ll find this country is well ahead of the vast majority of the world on that count. If you’re considering the ability to buy a flat-screen TV, I’m afraid most people will lose interest. Bottom line is, poverty is only something that can be mitigated if it is something you have clearly and sensibly defined in the first place.

    Thirdly, you seem to think that having a ‘target’ is the same as fulfilling it. Actions speak louder than words, and Thatcher put together the foundations on which our modern wealthy economy have been built. Whether or not the benefits of her reforms were seen during her time in power, they have undeniably formed the basis of our economy which (despite this last year’s bursting bubble) is hugely improved by all measures since she took over in 1979 (yes yes, 6 years before I was born). Real poverty cannot be tackled quickly with short term targets – it requires improvements in education (which Labour have failed to deliver, despite the investment) and a sense of aspiration among poor people to achieve their true potential – which isn’t coming from the Left at the moment. Such things also can’t be measured across a single term in government (with ‘targets’), the effects will take a generation to become obvious.

    Lastly, we’ve now had 11 years of Labour government. If poverty is “an unacceptable scab on the face of society” to a Labour supporter, why have your ‘targets’ not done enough yet? How come, after a longer term than Thatcher had, poverty is still all around us? If targets are so great, why aren’t you meeting them? (that was of course rhetorical: the answer is that targets aren’t so great after all). You say “Labour policies have materially transformed hundreds of thousands of families’ lives for the better”, but such a statement is meaningless -Thatcher’s policies also transformed hundreds of thousands of families’ lives for the better. Some get better some get worse. For instance: as a result of Labour’s policies, I now have a mountainous student loan to pay off – and I’m one of the lucky ones who got to university before tuition fees rose to £3000! There’s no monopoly on transforming lives for the better. There’s also no monopoly on helping poor people to achieve their ambitions. At times, Labour’s arrogance in ths regard is astonishing as it is unfounded.

    Apologies for the length of this comment. Quite a large topic, though. It’s too late for proofreading, too, so I hope I haven’t made too many misstakes.

  3. Stu – I don’t think I said the Tories were “for” poverty. My central point is that they have never displayed any enthusiasm for implementing policies aimed at reducing it – a rising tide lifts all boats and all that.

  4. Johnny Norfolk


    What world do you live in. Instead of talking about the Tories and lib/Dems. You and your party need to get their act together and deal with poverty. The country is crying out for help. for food prices, fuel, housing. Gas & elelectric. What are YOU going to do. You spent so long in opposition just blaming the Tories and you are continuing to do it. All you have done is spend/waste money and take too much tax. We now have the results.
    So come off it Tom. Tell us what Labour is going to do.But please please do not borrow any more.

  5. The Child Poverty Action Group says that if today’s child poverty measure was applied to the Thatcher and Major years of government, it would show that the number of people below the poverty line rose from 1 million in 1978 to 4.9 million in 1997 – a rise of nearly 500%.

    By contrast, the rise under the Labour government was about 20%. The 20% we’re working on, the Tories however still don’t have a clue.

  6. As you’ve mentioned boats, Tom, let’s think about the shipbuilding industry for a moment. Scotland has rightly got a great reputation for the skills and expertise of their workforce in that sector. Given that, why has it shrunk so drastically in the last few decades? Could it be something do with the Far Eastern economies that have been the dominant shipbuilders for the world? Should the taxpayer have poured billions into propping up an industry that was never going to survive? Thatcher did not create that situation. She just had to deal with it. Because she didn’t set targets didn’t mean that she (or the Conservative government) didn’t care.

    It’s all very well for you to keep spinning the Lamont “a price worth paying” line to try to smear Cameron by association but you ignore the global economic situation that was driving recession at the time. In fact, Lamont was proved to be right in the long run.

    Isn’t it ironic that Brown is saying: “Not me, guv! I’m not in control – it’s all the fault of America” just as his house of cards comes tumbling down around his ears and “No more boom and bust” echoes in hears in ears.

    In my 40 years plus of working life I have been made redundant from two government organisations and on both occasions I found another job by “getting on my bike”! (Calculated to annoy you, Tom!)

    Finally, I must say that your young correspondent, Stu, puts you to shame by his intelligent analysis and exposing the vacuousness of your thesis.

  7. Richard

    ‘Even mass unemployment was considered “a price well worth paying”, according to the man who gave ‘Dave’ his first post in government’

    It was a price worth paying. Large proportions of the people who became unemployed were working in nationalised / loss-making industries. Simply giving people money for government busy-work is hardly the solution for poverty but Maggie was the only one with the guts to actually admit it.

    A fitting indictment of the New Labour approach to poverty reduction is that the number of people on benefits has more than doubled in the past 10 years.

  8. Tom, simply decry or ignore the efforts and the achievements of the Thatcher government is to weaken your argument considerably and ensure that your views cannot considered to be measured or objective. Take Bill Clinton’s recent speach, he first recognised McCain’s strengths, but also highlighted some of his weaknesses.

    This government has talked a great deal about poverty, but as with most of the New Labour’s grand plans, has achieved very little. The reality is, this government may have talked it’s way through tree elections, but it will not succeed in a fourth, not will it be able to talk it’s way out of the mess we are in. Perhaps if the Labour government had saved a little money through the strong economy inherited as a result of Tory policies, as exampled by some other European countries, then our people would not be so hard pressed today. Instead, you can only help us if you borrow or hike taxes. Maybe you should measure poverty in 12 months time?

    I cannot add further to Stu’s reply to you, given I agree wholeheartedly with the comments and analysis he has made.

  9. Brian Hall

    Ditto with the loans Stu, as I posted on Scottish Unionist blog, I was sitting in a pub in Glasgow 4 months ago and between 6 students there was 50,000 quid worth of debt (me being the only one without thanks to working 30 hours a week on top of my studies for most of the degree!).

    Moreover, this is in Scotland where the fees are non-existant unlike England, Wales and NI. Now admittantly the degree was 5 years in length, but still its a hefty sum to start life of owing.

    Labour has been ramming home the point that it wants to lift people out of poverty. But as everyone knows education and skills are the true path to economic success.

    So why has Labours approach to supporting education been to create barriers to entry and penalties for anyone wishing to advance themselves when they are happy to inefficiently throw money around?

    I argue that most of the child credits have done nothing other than Subsidise poverty. They stop people aiming higher. Why work harder and gain new skills if I get everything I need from the government? Why go to work when I can earn more by having 6 kids?

    Its easy to see why there has been so little success in dealing with child poverty, despite the countless billions thrown at the problem.

    Thank god for that nationalists here scrapped the graduate endowment, thats 15,000 pounds less debt that 5 students owe.

  10. Madasafish

    Well I will give Tom the benefit of a little doubt.

    Leaving aside Stu’s accurate assessment of relative vs absolute poverty, let us take as a measure the start and end of the term of Government.
    Now in the Conservative’s time that was some 18 years.
    I Labour’s case – assuming they lose an election in 2010 – that will be 13 years.

    We have still 2 years to run: years of recession/minimal growth and tight economic conditions. (BOE forecasts)
    Years with higher food and energy prices. (Fact)

    Anyone seriously suggest the poor are going to get richer in the next two years?

    Judge it all in 2010.

    Personally I see a country where the tax base is starting to fall apart: unemployment is rising AND companies are relocating HOs from here to Ireland..

    Any suggestions that tax revenues are going to rise to enable the poor to become richer are risible in the next two years.

    But I may be wrong.
    The proof of the pudding will be in the next set of statistics.

    (and if all we see is a huge unfunded increase in benefits, that will be tranistory.)

    Long term the only solution for poverty is work and better paid jobs.. So far the Government has delivered that well.. mainly to immigrant workers.

  11. Zorro


    Your current arguments are sounding rather like a party in opposition.

    Oppositions CAN sit there and just slag off the government. That’s what they are FOR.

    In case you hadn’t noticed its YOUR LOT in power now. YOU are the government.

    What you need to do is stop acting like an opposition and start governing FFS.

    Spend the next 18 months slagging off Dave (and Maggie. Heck that shows your level of desperation!) – and you will go DOWN in the polls. See Crewe and Nantwich for evidence of what happens when you merely slag off the opposition.

    Furthermore, you obviously reject the ‘rising tide’ thing, even though it quite clearly is true. Presumably you don’t believe a real tide will lift all real boats either, I can only assume your lack of understanding continues into the basic physical sciences as well?

  12. John Doole

    If reducing poverty is such a priority then how come it’s still rife and has recently increased among children and pensioners?

    I think that talking about reducing poverty and making grand gestures and statements are your priorities; they certainly were for your oleaginous, inane, grinning and spinning fraud of an ex-leader. What this government has done to reduce poverty may be better than nothing at all, but it is still pitiful.

    There is not the political will to reduce poverty, at least not with this government. There is the political will to cosy up to obscenely rich city sorts and make sure that they’re not taxed too much so they don’t throw the dummy outof the pram and threaten to leave the country. There is the political will to squander billions of pounds and thousands of lives on an illegal war in order to carry favour with America and their moron of a president. Their is the political will to spend billions on the Olympic Games in order to foster a kind of pointless jingoism, as if a few people who can run or jump or swim or cycle well is truly indicative of what makes a great country.

    But there is not the political will to make sure that ordinary people are paid a decent wage and not taxed too heavily. There is not the political will to make sure that the NHS is sufficiently funded or to have a good, integrated and affordable public transport system (although there is the political will to try and price divers out of their cars without providing a decent alternative). So much of this government’s time is spent trying to keep its job that it has forgotten to do its job.

    I don’t believe you care about reducing poverty. I believe you want to be seen to care but, if you really did care, then you would have done considerably more than you have.

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