Viewpoint: Redefining poverty measures

Dr Stephanie Petrie, University of Liverpool’s School of Law and Social Justice

Iain Duncan Smith has proposed measuring poverty by including factors such as family breakdown, drug addiction, debt, joblessness and education results, rather than by income alone.

There are a number of worrying aspects to this proposal that must be addressed.

Family breakdown, drug addiction, debt, poor educational results, and idleness are social phenomena that occur among the affluent too. 

“Surely our own family histories and common sense tell us that poverty is fundamentally linked to income” 

The difference, of course, is that those with money have the means to buy solutions to these problems. 

As has emerged frequently during the last few years individuals with access to personal or institutional wealth and status have escaped the consequences of crimes, such as child abuse and fraud. 

They have the opportunity to purchase confidential treatment for drug addiction and family problems and buy educational privilege and advantage.

Surely our own family histories and common sense tell us that poverty is fundamentally linked to income.

In the words of Charles Dickens’ Mr Micawber: ‘Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.’ (David Copperfield, 1850)”

One thought on “Viewpoint: Redefining poverty measures

  1. Dave Neary

    Iain Duncan Smith is attempting to conflate poverty with a wider array of social measures in order to justify greater levels of inequality produced by the distribution of work, income levels and life opportunities.

    Poverty is linked with powerlessness and IDS is making a persistent attempt to define people in poverty as being morally and socially deficient compared to the hard working wage earner who gets out of bed to go to work. The reality is that people who are experiencing poverty are remarkably similar to those who are not in terms of their aspirations and values. Our problem is not so much the increasing size of the benefits bill but our porrly performing model of welfare capitalism that means more than half the children who are growing up in poverty are in households containing at least one working parent. These children are growing up in poverty because their parents are in jobs that don’t pay enough rather than because they are feckless and undeserving. Still, it is far easier to seek to stigmatise poor and powerless people than to tackle deeper seated problems in Britain’s political economy.

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