IDS was at it again yesterday. The Tories really excel at the Big Lie. First it was Cameron saying the crash was the fault of Labour over-spending, though after 8 years of Labour government the budget deficit was a very low 3% of GDP in 2007 and only hit 11.6% after the banking bailout. Then Osborne siad the post-crash slump was all the fault of the eurozone, even though the recession in Britain began at least a year before the eurozone troubles began, as though his own massive cuts had nothing to do with it. Now in his speech yesterday IDS has told us that it wasn’t the bankers who crashed the economy, it was the poor because of the amount spend on tax credits. Specifically he said: “We wonder why we got in such a problem over debt and deficit and it’s because actually in chasing the poverty targets, more and more had to be spent”. Just plain silly.
IDS is seeking to take this country back to the Victorian Poor Law days: the poor are in poverty not because of a lack of money, but because of their own actions. The source of child poverty, he says, is “worklessness and welfare dependency, addiction, educational failure, debt or family breakdown”. Thus the Coalition’s agenda is to end the modest redistribution through working tax credits, let the market rip and inequality rise further, drop the definition of poverty as relative (i.e. below 60% of median income), and instead “find a way of properly measuring changes to children’s life chances”.
There are a few questions that IDS needs to answer before he tries to bury the anti-poverty agenda. How can the jobless get into work when there are 2.7 million unemployed and only 0.4 million vacancies – nearly 7 people chasing every job? If jobs per se are the answer, how does he explain that the proportion of children in poverty in working households has actually risen since 2000 from 52% to 60%, i.e. poverty wages are the problem? Does he not see that the conditions he lists are not the causes of poverty, but how an underlying poverty manifests itself? And what exactly are these life-changing chances for children he refers to and where is the evidence that they, in the absence of at least minimum income, can transform children’s lives?
The truth is the opposite to what IDS is preaching. A relative definition of poverty is the only sensible one since all people judge their situation by comparison with others. Jobs are certainly needed, not the squeeze on jobs that Osborne is about. Childcare in the UK is the most expensive in Europe which keeps too many women out of the jobs market, and government should fund local authorities to provide good quality care at lower cost. The minimum wage should be raised to around £7.50 an hour, above the current £6.08. And when DCLG has just revealed that over 50,000 households have been accepted as homeless and in priority need, including tw0-thirds with dependent children, the government should at last kickstart a proper house-building programme.