Tuesday, 10 June 2014

It's poverty and inequality we need to address


Andrew Fisher explains why he doesn't like Alan Milburn, child poverty or social mobility

Everything about it makes my skin crawl. Strangely, Alan Milburn, the New Labour privatiser now at home working for the Tory government, in between his corporate duties, is the least of them.

The conclusion of Milburn's commission is depressing too - that far from only 5% of UK children living in poverty by 2020, the most likely scenario will be 24% of children in  poverty at that point. This equates to 3.5 million children in poverty, before housing costs (though Oxfam says it could be as high as 5 million, after housing costs).

It's the title of it - 'The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission' - that irritates me. Both terms reflect the descent of political discourse into the sentimental, marketable and individualistic.

Let's start with 'child poverty'. No one wants children in poverty, but no one wants adults in poverty either - and given children's incomes depend on those of their parents, you won't end child poverty without tackling adult poverty either.

But there's a sentimentality about children - understandably so - but there is a danger in the political context of this drifting into the divisive narrative of the deserving vs undeserving poor, i.e. children are blameless innocents and therefore 'deserving', but adult poverty is something to which labels canbe attached like 'shirker', 'scrounger', 'skiver', 'feckless', and 'lazy' - all of which pepper the political discourse around welfare and poverty.

So let's be honest with ourselves and say unashamedly that anyone living in poverty in the UK should be a source of shame and ruins lives whether child or adult. If we lift adults out of poverty, we lift their children out of poverty too.

Whether it's low wages, poverty benefits, or rip-off rents we should campaign against these things because everyone should have the right not to live in poverty.

... And then there's 'social mobility', the individualistic perversion of 'inequality'. Social mobility is the concern about the movement of individuals or groups of people in social position.

Research in 2010 found that:
"social mobility in Britain - the way in which someone's adult outcomes are related to their circumstances as a child - is lower than in Canada, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. And while the gap in opportunities between the rich and poor is similar in Britain and the US, in the US it is at least static, while in Britain it is getting wider"
But this ignores that it is widening inequality that has made people socially immobile - and you won't solve social mobility without tackling inequality.

So let's talk about inequality - if Pickett & Wilkinson and now Piketty haven't made it safe to talk about inequality then a lot of trees have died in vain.

So let Alan Milburn go back to his corporate boardrooms, put Wilkinson & Pickett in charge, and rename it the 'Poverty and Inequality Commission'.

Here endeth the rant.

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