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Friday, 15 June 2012

IDS – Where He’s Coming From

[Update at end of post]

Unnoticed by many commentators, Work and Pensions Minister Iain Duncan Smith has begun the process of redefining poverty. He is doing this in the name of fairness, which, coupled with the presence of his special adviser (SpAd) Susie Squire, formerly of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), should be setting alarm bells ringing well beyond the Westminster Village.

Government policy now being made here

IDS has decided that the current definition of poverty – those with an income of less than 60% of the median – does not meet with his approval. In support of his contention, he cites a recent drop in this figure from £259 a week to £251. This, he tells, has lifted around 300,000 out of poverty, but their circumstances are in reality unchanged. That is his clinching argument.

He is therefore looking at “better measures” to help define poverty. What these might be is not yet known. But the mindset behind the advice coming his way is not difficult to discern, because the TPA very helpfully produced one of their more substantial “reports” into the business of welfare reform not long after Ms Squire had passed through the revolving door from TPA spinner to SpAd.

That “report”, titled Welfare Reform In Tough Times (see it HERE [.pdf]), recommended lowering the poverty line from 60% of median income to 50%, on the grounds that the country couldn’t afford it, they weren’t really poor anyway, it would “incentivise” more people back into work, it would “help” folks break out of the supposed dependency trap, and of course it was “fair”.

Much of the work for the “report” was done by the TPA’s so-called “Research Fellow” Mike Denham, whose own blog Burning Our Money gave a more forthright view. In a post titled “How The Poor Got Richer”, he bemoans “the wailing of the poverty lobby” and asserts “Poverty in Britain was conquered long ago”. He talks of “our grotesque level of welfare dependency”.

Denham also helpfully signposts his role in the TPA report, noting the idea of lowering the poverty line as outlined above, and further suggesting moving to the use of an absolute definition of poverty, because, well, they use that in the USA. IDS has shown his distrust of using a relative measure of poverty, and so that only leaves one alternative – and that is it.

Indeed, IDS has said that “it is increasingly clear that poverty is not about income alone”, and his own Centre For Social Justice “has also proposed a range of non-income measures”. That means a Cabinet Minister is taking his cue from people like Mike Denham, who is unhappy that the least well-off have access to refrigerators and washing machines, and doesn’t like them having a voice.

I called the TPA workPicking On The Poorest”. It’s becoming Government policy.

[UPDATE 16 June 1415 hours: this policy clearly meets with the approval of the Daily Mail's legendarily foul mouthed editor, as a magnificently dishonest comment piece by Steve Doughty confirms. Titled "Why we should dump new child poverty figures in the nearest black hole", he first errs by calling the current definition of poverty "child poverty figures" - it applies to anyone meeting the necessary criterion - and then gets the method of calculation wrong.

On several occasions, Doughty talks of "average" income, the "average" home, and the "average" person. But the definition of poverty uses the median income, and median and average, as anyone with a grasp of basic statistical techniques will know, are not the same thing. Then he compounds his error by asserting that, if society as a whole gets richer, this automatically produces more people in poverty. It doesn't.

The piece has clearly been written to order in support of Government moves to change the definition of poverty, this also being confirmed by references to Marxism, and like Mike Denham of the TPA, suggesting that in the 1960s, poverty had been ended anyway and we don't need to worry ourselves about it. All that is then needed is to invent a family with lots of consumer goods to their name, claim that they can still be called poor, and it's job done.

And, of course, Doughty can remember the odd anecdote from the time before there were sufficient web-based resources to show that he might be talking out of the back of his neck. No change there, then]

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