The Tories are at it again.
They’ve already changed the reporting of waiting times at A&E so next winter’s NHS crisis won’t look so bad. Now they are trying to change the definition of poverty to make us feel better off.
The internationally recognised definition of poverty is a relative one. That is, if a person’s income falls below 60% of the average income they are classed as being in poverty. It is therefore a measure of whether someone can afford the basics that the majority of the population take for granted.
It does mean that in a wealthy western country like Great Britain we should expect people on the very lowest incomes to have a better standard of living than people on the very lowest incomes in a much poorer country.
This didn’t use to be particularly controversial.
Adam Smith wrote in “The Wealth of Nations” - the bible of capitalism that Margaret Thatcher was fond of quoting (though not this bit) - that poverty is the inability to afford "not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without.”
There were always some Tories who weren’t happy with this definition. To them absolute poverty was what mattered. They looked back to the good old days of Victorian poverty.
So if you have enough money to ensure that your children aren’t dressed in rags, suffering from rickets and forced to go up chimneys then you probably aren’t poor and basically you should stop whinging about having so little money.
Before becoming Prime Minister, David Cameron used to give this view short shrift. In 2006 he said: “.. the Conservative party recognises, will measure and will act on relative poverty. Poverty is relative – and those who pretend otherwise are wrong.”
Now he’s changed his mind.
The one thing that the two definitions of poverty did agree on was the rather obvious one that poverty involves a lack of money.
Not any more.
Under David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith’s new measure of poverty, how little money you have is irrelevant. Now it will be measured by such things as worklessness, family breakdown, drug addiction, debt and educational success.
So, under this new measure, if you are working in a minimum wage, zero hours contract job, happily married, not addicted to heroin and your kids are doing well at school then they can’t possibly be living in poverty even if you have so little money you need to use a food bank and they never get to go on school trips because of the cost.
Why are the Tories doing this?
The suspicion is that this week’s “emergency” budget is going to hammer people on low incomes. The Government has promised £12billion of welfare cuts and it isn’t millionaires who claim benefits or tax credits.
It is inevitable that more children will end up in poverty as a result. The Government has a legal duty to abolish child poverty by 2020. These cuts will make it impossible.
However, if the definition is changed then the number of children living in poverty magically reduces.
But, there will still be the same number of Ipswich families who are struggling to pay their bills at the end of every week.