Monday, February 25, 2008

Eradicating child poverty

According to The Sunday Telegraph, the Conservative Party 'can end culture of benefit dependency' in the UK. This is, of course, manifestly possible, but ‘can’ is a world apart from ‘will’, and in an age where a manifesto pledge appears to have no more significance than the Beano, even a ‘will’ is no longer an assurance of anything.

However, Chris Grayling, the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, asserts that ‘rhetoric and targets will never solve this problem’. Indeed they will not, but neither will a definition of poverty that is relative. Indeed, if poverty continues to be defined in relative terms, then Jesus was right to insist that the poor will always be with us. For when the average UK salary becomes £35,000, there will still be children being brought up in households where the income is a meagre £20,000, and thereby deemed to be living in poverty. Those children in Africa and other parts of a war-torn world who are truly living in absolute poverty would laugh - if they but knew how - at this assertion.

The widely accepted definition of poverty is having an income which is less than 60% of the national average, and on this measure the proportion of the UK population defined as living in poverty is roughly 20%, and there it has remained through many decades of both Conservative and Labour administrations. The most recently published figures on child poverty (2005-6), show that Britain has 2.8 million children living in poverty. When New Labour came to power, the figure was three million. For all the billions poured into the cause, just 200,000 have been ‘lifted out of poverty’. This is a national scandal.

However, the percentage of people in poverty has fallen by little over 10% since the first poverty surveys were carried out at the end of the nineteenth century. Yet it would be absurd to state that modern poverty is remotely of the same order as that endured by our Victorian ancestors. Since healthcare, education and welfare benefits are all provided by the state (ie the taxpayer), any talk of the re-emergence of Victorian levels of poverty is absurd.

If the Conservative Party were intent on eradicating child poverty, or any other kind of poverty, they would first need to confront UN/EU/UK definition of the term and reassess how it is measured, for the social(-ist) scientists have being very busy moving the goalposts.

When examining what Jesus said about the poor, consideration has to be given to context and audience, and the nuances of Greek vocabulary also need examining. For example, what does Luke mean by ‘the poor’ (6:20)? The peasants who possessed little material wealth were not called ‘poor’ (‘ptochos’) if they possessed what was sufficient (ie subsistence) - they were termed ‘penes’. Jesus was concerned with the literal, physical needs of men (ie not just the spiritual [cf Acts 10:38]). When Luke was addressing the ‘poor’, he meant those who had no money - the oppressed, miserable, dependent, humiliated - and this is translated by ‘ptochos’, indicating ‘poverty-stricken…to cower down or hide oneself for fear’ - the need to beg. The ‘penes’ has to work, but the ‘ptochos’ has to beg. Those addressed by Jesus are the destitute beggars, not ‘penes’ or the general peasant audience of few possessions. This is an important distinction for the modern politician and for the modern audience in a society where the threshold of poverty is defined by the non-possession of a television, a DVD player, and Nike trainers.

And yet Britain ‘has a higher proportion of its children being brought up in workless households than any other nation in Europe, including countries in Eastern Europe such as Romania and Estonia’.

This is manifestly unacceptable, but the solution is to induce and incentivise people to work, not perpetuate a benefits system which pays many of the more to stay at home. So when the Conservative Party pledges ‘to tackle the scourge of worklessness’, they are on the route of true social justice. And when they talk of ‘tough sanctions’ for those who refuse, they set a sure and moral foundation. And when they talk further of abolishing the ‘couple penalty’ from the tax credits system which leaves many couples better off if they live apart, they support the institution of marriage - the partnership of male and female - which has been proven to give children the best chance of success in life.

Mr Grayling concludes: ‘Britain today should not be a country where child poverty remains endemic. But it is. I have no doubt that Gordon Brown believed he would solve the problem, but he has failed, and now the problem is getting worse, not better. It will fall to the next Conservative government to take decisive steps towards eliminating child poverty. It is a challenge we intend to meet.’

And he must begin with the rigged definition of terms, or he will never eradicate it.

It is just a pity that we have to wait two more years for this awful government to expire before he may begin to do so.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would his Grace be so kind as to indicate his metric of preference?

25 February 2008 at 08:44  
Blogger paul ilc said...

Indeed, Your Grace, the relative poor will always be with us, no matter how rich we become. What the poverty lobby wants is not less poverty but more equality. They'd be very happy for us all to be poorer if we were all more equal as well.

25 February 2008 at 08:58  
Blogger Unsworth said...

Poverty remains a relative term. Government attempts to make it into an absolute will inevitably fail - or, worse - render it subject to constant political meddling.

25 February 2008 at 09:39  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The widely accepted definition of poverty is having an income which is less than 60% of the national average," Why ??? By that definition more people are poor here than in North Korea ?

25 February 2008 at 10:20  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Iowahawk has quit blogging because you have ripped off his work and not addressed his concerns.

25 February 2008 at 10:43  
Blogger Cranmer said...

His Grace does not respond to anonymice.

And he has not 'ripped off' anyone's work. Iowahawk (whoever he be) appears to have an issue that one of His Grace's communicants has posted something on a discussion thread, which was apparently his copyrighted material, so he has cut off his nose to spite his face.

Very strange behaviour indeed.

25 February 2008 at 11:16  
Blogger Manfarang said...

Aren't the Conservatives the party of worklessness? 3 million unemployed during the 1980s and millions in the years between the world wars.On yer bike!

25 February 2008 at 12:51  
Blogger Surreptitious Evil said...

While agreeing, of course, your Grace, with your point, can I suggest that you severely chastise your arithmetical peon? 3 million subtract 2.8 million is 200, not 20, thousand.

25 February 2008 at 14:31  
Blogger mongoose said...

And similarly, YG, on quiet news days, the beeb likes to tell us that the gap between rich and poor is getting wider. Indeed it is. For it is the same distribution of incomes and the same argument applies.

And the rich getting richer is a good thing, isn't it? A "rising tide" and all that.

Argh! I am become Ronald Reagan.

25 February 2008 at 17:00  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Surreptitious Evil,

His Grace had a momentary lapse, and the figure is duly amended.

Blessings upon you.

25 February 2008 at 17:00  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Manfarang said...

Aren't the Conservatives the party of worklessness? 3 million unemployed during the 1980s and millions in the years between the world wars.On yer bike!

At least their numbers were somewhat credible, not like 7 million economically inactive and not disguised by having 7 million in the Public Sector, oh I see one public sector "attendee" for every "jobless" person..perfect sense really.

25 February 2008 at 17:35  
Anonymous hear o israel said...

your grace
i think the end of socialism shows that they prefer to use force where a failiure is highlighted by an embarassing figure .

i think they have failed the poor perhaps not directly financially , but more of a case of turning them over to there feral desires , by mearly offering them money .

the problem that the christ poses is more on what help the poor need , it is unfortunate that the poor that do not listen then go on to suffer more .

a pledge to tackle poverty is of little use if morally there is no vessel for them to fill , other than cheap booze and the fashions of the rich and famous.

some diets your grace are the very opposites of health , and i think that what new labour have done is create a position where poverty is inescapeable other than by money via a sucessful gamble , indeed they plan to open up more casinos to create social mobility , via 3 lemons , no16 on the black , pontoon or 6 lottery numbers.

one has to ask how poverty is caused , idleness or idolatory.

a question missing on all too many blogs , i shall need to think a little more , as both my labour christian sensibilites and my conservative beliefs are in conflict .

25 February 2008 at 18:09  
Blogger nate said...

I appreciate your exegesis and agree with your rendering of the Greek. I too have studied those (and a few other) mentionings of Jesus's social concern and see a difference between "underpriviledged" and "destitute."

Thus, taking my cue from the gospel, I have rejected U.S. issued food stamps. My salary is lower than many. That coupled with the fact that I have four children allows me to receive a healthy sum each month towards food from the government, which I reject because in employing God-given wisdom and frugality I get by just fine; in fact, confortably without social handouts.

25 February 2008 at 20:54  
Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

Your Grace
I am confused by this post. You cannot both suggest (perhaps rightly) that to 'be poor' is not to be in a family which earns 20 thousand and also claim that the current government's efforts to reduce the number of poor people is scandalous.

If the former is true (which I believe it is), then the latter does not matter because we are not judging 'real' stats on poor people in this country. And it is most certainly not a national scandal.

Most people in this country know nothing of poverty. And it is an insult to truly poor people to insist that 20% of our population is poor. That, is the true crime of this Government, not the fact that they haven't reduced figures that mean nothing anyway.

25 February 2008 at 21:12  
Anonymous Sir Henry Morgan said...

Well snuffle, I believe I know something of poverty. I was born and grew up in rural Wales, Welsh for uncounted generations in the same small area. Our house had no gas supply, electricity, running water or mains drainage. As a child of primary school age one of my daily chores was to fetch two buckets of drinking water from the well - some distance away. Another regular chore was to help my father bury the contents of the (outdoor of course) toilet once a week. Other things I could say, but you get the drift.

Today I live on about £82/week incapacity benefit (I'm ill - enough so that my GP says I should get disability benefit. However, even though that would give me a higher income, I don't wish to engage further with the system because that's a nightmare in which the system takes over your life. Now THAT is real poverty - lack of even the slightest independence). I have no central heating, no double-glazing, no television. I haven't had a holiday since 1991 - except short visits to my sister's house, (from where I've been in direct interaction with all my old childhood friends). So by any objective standard, I'm poor in the UK. But am I in poverty? I don't believe so. One, I have electricity and gas, running water and mains drainage - so I tend to compare against my childhood. Two, I don't WANT a lobotomy box. Three, I'm able to communicate via the internet and by phone. I'm able to access all the books I wish (currently have two on the go). Four, I'm highly educated (I was late getting it, but got there eventually) so have an active mind. So no, I don't believe I'm in poverty. Poverty is about far far more than money and material comfort. I see plenty of people with far more money than me, have far more material goods and comfort than me - but who I consider to be in a state of deeper poverty than me. And finally, I have time to enjoy what IS available to me materially.

Poverty is, once the real basics are met, something inside the self. Some people will be in poverty no matter how much money and comfort they have. And some people will never be in poverty no matter how little of those things they have.

Yes, too many people in this country are in poverty, but apart from a very few, it's nothing to do with money.

25 February 2008 at 23:53  
Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

Sir Henry Morgan
I have found a new respect for you. I agree entirely. And I take my hat off to you. I wish you could come and speak to my children at school.

26 February 2008 at 07:26  
Blogger Jeremy Jacobs said...

"Mr Grayling concludes: ‘Britain today should not be a country where child poverty remains endemic"

Agreed but is it really? I was in Africa last year - sickening poverty there.

26 February 2008 at 18:36  
Blogger Hazel said...

Coming rather late to this discussion my husband and I have chosen to continue to live together because we believe that "for better for worse" actually means what we vowed in the sight of God. BUT -- when we tried to claim Council Tax Benefit we were told that £92 a week was sufficient for a couple to live on and that since our income was greater than that we would have to pay the £85 a month Council Tax. It is injustices like these that make me so mad. Why are the really poor in that position? Because the really rich have put them there!

8 March 2008 at 09:52  

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