We have a report out that insists that hundreds of thousands have been made destitute by the coronavirus. This is not actually true for several reasons. One being that it’s not the virus but the reaction to it that has caused the poverty. Even then it could be true of certain places in the world – being thrown out of a Bangladeshi clothing factory could lead to destitution – but not in the UK.
The real reason though is that this is a report from the usual fools who don’t actually understand what poverty is.
The number of British households plunged into destitution more than doubled last year, according to alarming new research on the devastating fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Amid growing concerns over the unequal impact the crisis has had on the poor and low-paid, it has emerged that there were 220,000 more households living in destitution by the end of last year, potentially more than half a million people.
No, this isn’t true. It just ain’t so in the UK. The reason is this:
Destitution is defined as a two-adult household living on less than £100 a week and a single-adult household on less than £70 a week after housing costs.
That’s not destitution. Sure, it’s not, for this country, all that high a standard of living but it ain’t destitution. The reason being this:
£100 a week for two adults puts you above median global income. Which ain’t destitution. That’s actually, by that global standard, solidly middle class.
Yes, that adjusts for price differences across geography. And it also vastly underestimates that UK income too. Because the UK income is measured after housing costs – that global one is before them.
Talking about poverty, low income, even destitution, is all very well. We might even think it’s important to discuss them and hope for their abolition. But if we are going to discuss these matters we need to grasp what they all actually mean.
There is no one at all in the United Kingdom in either absolute poverty or destitution. We’ve solved those through having an industrial revolution, economic growth and the merest glimmerings of a welfare state. Because both absolute poverty and destitution mean the $1.90 (about, among friends, £1.50) a day per person measured before housing costs. And that’s consumption as well, not income. This simply does not exist here. Homeless folks consume more than that value each day.
Only if we all understand this can we even start to have a useful conversation about whatever problems do remain.