22 May 2010

The Department of work and pensions (DWP) has published its poverty report for 2008/2009, the penultimate full year of the Labour government, Households below average income.

This shows that since 1997 under Labour the number of children in poverty fell by 600 000 and the number of pensioners in poverty by 500 000 (both figures are before housing costs, BHC). However, childless working adults who were in poverty rose by 800 000 BHC. The full figures, including the after housing cost figures (AHC) and the definitions and time series, are at the linked DWP website.

Thus, after the Tory horrors of 1979-1997, real and solid progress among children and pensioners. There is much more to do to reach Labour’s disappearing target of halving child poverty. Very much more to do for working adults without dependent children: Labour’s emphasis was always on “hard working families” and not on all working people, a neglect which I think was a mistake.

I hope that the 2010 Tory-Libdem government ensures that we progress not retreat on poverty and wider deprivation. Let’s see what happens in next week’s cuts and next month’s budget.

This matters for people in Cornwall. As I have repeatedly said, we have plenty of information about the extent of income poverty and wider deprivation within Cornwall, the Index of multiple deprivation (IMD 2007) being the leading example. We can identify the subwards where it is most prevalent and crippling and blighting lives and limiting people’s freedom, and we can target help and encouragement there. We can do this and we robustly should; and since destructive deprivation does not begin or end at the Tamar we should have a countrywide approach.

The Tory-Libdem government proclaims in its full coalition agreement fairness and freedom and responsibility as its leading principles, which are not the simple concepts the agreement perhaps suggests – these people dream in black and white – and which are poor rewritings of revolutionary liberty, egality, and fraternity. Nevertheless, let me take them seriously and hope. The reduction of poverty is about fairness and poverty reduces freedom: “lack of money, poverty, carries with it lack of freedom” (Cohen, Freedom and money).

Behind the multiple deprivation data are people. Blake said we should do good in minute particulars and damned the “general good” and Nye Bevan gave us a measure by which we can judge our success in this sphere: the test for progress is “its impact upon the individual”. They remind us forcibly that people, individuals and families, not ideologies and generalities and abstractions are at the centre of our projects.


William BLAKE: “He that would do good must do it in minute particulars,” The marriage of heaven and hell

Aneurin BEVAN
“There is no test for progress other than its impact upon the individual,” his book In place of fear 1952

GA COHEN: Freedom and money: available here