What is poverty? Why are some people ‘poor’ and how do you even begin to define poverty in western societies when much of the world lives in squalor and disease?
Poverty has an arbitary definition in the west. Relative poverty measures are used as official poverty rates by the European Union, UNICEF, and the OEDC. The main poverty line used in the OECD and the European Union is based on “economic distance”, a level of income set at 60% of the median household income.
“Poverty is being actively swept under the carpet in the hard right western societies so as not to twing the consience of the middle mass of voters. “
This definition damns though a lower proportion of society to the definition, whether or not they can afford to feed and clothe themselves, given that most European societies offer medical assistance and at least assisted housing to the poorest in society.
David Cameron took a swipe from his Eatonian Ivory tower, in following up Gordon Browns disasterous economic policies of helping people in work with tax relief and paid benefits. Cameron’s government firstly wanted to deny that those in work are in poverty, because of Brownist neo liberal policy in appeasing the part time, temporary nature of work in many service industries. The Cameron government then went on to remove the policy of erradicating child poverty from the UK.
“In the UK, more people are on government benefits and tax deductions who are in work than unemployed, sick or disabled”
Fundamental to conservative, neo liberal and new hard right thinking , is the notion that poverty is a choice people make in not working or progressing themselves, an outcome people deserve for their lack of economic initiative. Many prominent Conservatives and Republicans came from very poor, troubled families and see themselves as of course the self made example that capitalist society has opportunity for those prepared to advance themselves. Poverty is then a natural result and punishment for not working hard enough. It is a state of discomfort to be worked out of.
“ (to neo liberalists and the new nationalist right )….Poverty is then a natural result and punishment for not working hard enough. It is a state of discomfort to be worked out of.”
A state of discomfort to be worked out of. Yes that is a very good starting point from any political stand point in fact. Discomfort. Not being able to feed you and your family enough calories, protein and other nutritions to grow normally and healthily. That would be the very base line. Discomfort and hunger , to be fought out of in social unrest and revolution. Discomfort has different levels. Not being able to work because there are no job opportunities where you live, and you cannot afford transportation, and if you moved you could not break even in the places there are work because rents and mortgages are too high. Metropolisation. Discomfort in not being able to keep up with the Jones’- not affording foreign holidays, the latest iPhone , designer label clothes for our kids?
“We need to steer clear of the concept of total social equality as a policy goal in order to actually tackle poverty by means which are acceptable in common sense grounds to the voting populace of the middle ground.”
The uberliberal would like the state to provide the social equalising material goods however, that is bound to feed the furnaces of the new, hard right wing in being able to show money from hard working, struggeling families is going via tax to those who have given up, and worse, immigrants and refugees. We need to steer clear of the concept of total social equality as a policy goal in order to actually tackle poverty by means which are acceptable in common sense grounds to the voting populace of the middle ground.
Poverty can be defined by statistics, and I have blogged earlier about this in ‘ a new definition of poverty’. Here we looked at some ucomfortable truths for politicians. Net incomes less than 60% of the average, for example, That the poverty line is a net function of the cost of living and mean incomes over time. The ‘proletariat’ and insecure nature of employment means that more people dip in and out of poverty. Some can take on debt or down size, while others find themselves locked into longer periods of income not covering the basics of living.
We have a simple break even, where housing and energy are the two key variables (they may seem like fixed cost overheads, but are variable). Will the free market provide? Well the simple answer to that is before Social Democratic policy and social engineering, capitalism did not provide because it does not need to plan for poverty. In itself, capital invests in housing and gains a return on that from sale and rent, it only acts to uphold profit. Yes it can and does act restrictively so that less housing is built, such that profits are kept high and risk is reduced. That is the nature of capital. It will never solve problems of income not covering out goings for the lower element of society because it does not seek to.
Capital will campaign and lobby to be free of legislation which alters this affair. Extra taxation of undeveloped land, rent tribunals and fair rents, the building of social housing. However when welfare (benefits) payments can be converted via rent into private equity then they are keen not to interfere, or actually promote policies which flow tax payer’s money into this.
Will the utopian, free neo liberal society free people from poverty by there being boundless economic opportunity, and ample charitable acts to cover those unable to participate? Like lennist marxism, the Neo Liberal utopia is becoming a dystopia in the lands it is most fervently followed, while the rise of globalisation of advanced industries once the preserve of the west, has lead to less economic opportunity for many workers locked into the ‘proletariat’ of low skill, low income, temporary work. Social Democratic policy for its failings, has delivered an over educated society with a glutt of graduates, where accordingly necessary practical skills are locked into a self serving educational system with access denied for those without any qualifications or too poor grades to enter. The neo liberalist utopia is essentially what we had in the 19th and early 20th century. A chaotic free market, with nationalism re emerging as a potent power to offer hope to disaffected workers, and create conflict over resources and empire. It should be no surprise that history is repeating itself at the end of a decade of economic chaos, as in the 1927 to 1939 period.
The failings of both Capitalism and Social Democracy meet in the poverty line, where it does not pay to work, but rather to be sustained by benefits. This is the arch evil of Neo Liberalism, and also of socialism in fact. Work not putting food on the table. Capital argues for more capitalism to solve this, socialism argues for more socialism. THe compromise was Brownism – ” Making work pay”, while in effect this was making uneconomic service industry business models pay, and feeding more money into rental investments because higher rents could be extracted from this set up. Brownism was petrol on the flames of the laisez faire, anarchy which capital is. It lead to a removal of the term ‘uemployed’ in the UK today, from anyone employed for more than one day per fortnight.
What of econmic opporunity then? The dynamic that people can and will work themselves out of poverty? The goal of Neo Liberalists was to remove the notion of safety net, and let all be free existential beings rewarded fairly by the free market for their labours, and picked up in their invalidity by ample private initiative and charity. Cameronites have argued that poverty figures reflect a transience, like unemployment, that by the time you have measured it, people have exited poverty and new people have fallen temporarily into it. In itself this is not a terrible outset for policy making. Accepting that there is a churn, that the economy will create more jobs and net wealth for all if it is free to employ on a temporary and part time basis, which then allows people to interact economically and progress themselves. This has however not be borne out in the reality of Brownism or ten years of austerity. Poverty is being actively swept under the carpet in the hard right western societies so as not to twing the consience of the middle mass of voters.
Poverty requires the definition within this picture, because in defining it correctly and understanding the cause of the inequity between income and outgoings, between basic need and ability to work and between planning and controlling legislation and freedom for economic activity to flourish.