So, Aditya wants us all to know that poverty is a big and serious problem in Britain. I certainly think it would be somewhere between cool and really good if more people had higher living standards. However, there’s a mistake in here:
How ingenious are the British! Like the legendary Inuit people who coined 57 words for snow, we have devised a long list of clever aliases for the stuff that dominates everyday life. Know the ones I mean? Try food poverty. Fuel poverty. Child poverty. Clothing poverty. Transport poverty. Period poverty.
These are phrases mouthed in Westminster and plastered across newspapers (which, this week, are discussing “digital poverty”). They help shape the UK in the 21st century. But this ever-growing jungle of subcategories obscures the one true problem they have in common. It is poverty: the condition of not having enough money to live your life.
Well, yes, but haranguing us about it is a bit off. Because it’s not us on this free market right that have been claiming all these different forms of poverty. This is all the lefty campaign groups trying to find something to whine about.
And they do have to. As Barbara Castle pointed out back in 1959, that destitution had already gone by then. Economic growth and the modest welfare state of those days had in fact conquered poverty. Which left an awful lot of people with nothing to complain about so things were invented.
Take fuel poverty. First, invent some standard (being able to heat the whole house to 18oC on less than 10% of your income, something that no middle class person could do before perhaps 1980, no rich one before perhaps 1930) then second, point out that some people can’t meet this. Period poverty is the insistence that adult women in this country do not have £24 a year. It’s toss in other words but how are the upper middle classes to play Lady Bountiful with other peoples’ money unless lies are constructed?
But then we come to the actual error:
Because anything is better than admitting that this all stems from one deep structural problem: that, going into the pandemic, more than 14 million Britons – more than one in five of us – did not have enough money to live on.
No, that’s not true. The measurement being used is, as the linked report makes clear, being on less than 60% of median household income. That’s a measure of inequality, not sufficiency.
Sure, we might even think – I don’t – that we should be more equal as a nation. But that’s still a very different argument from people not having enough. And it is at that point that Chakrabortty’s insistences break down. For if median household income is £25,000 (about right, -ish) and you’re on £15,000 with 2 adults and 2 kids in the household then you still have – adjusted for differences in prices across geography – an income higher than 75% of humanity.
Whaddayamean you’ve not got enough? Less than many of those around you, yes, but that’s not the same as not enough.
It’s a mistake which makes the rest of his maunderings entire toss, isn’t it?