November 23, 2006


If Cameron can climb on my caravan, anything is possible: For the Tories to admit that ignoring relative poverty was a terrible mistake represents a real breakthrough (Polly Toynbee, November 23, 2006, The Guardian0

When David Cameron, the Tory leader, speaks on poverty tomorrow, he will, according to his advisers, accept much of Clark's analysis of Margaret Thatcher's policies: "Ignoring the reality of relative poverty was a terrible mistake." The Churchillian idea that all the state need do is provide a basic safety net to stop the poor starving is over. Poverty is measured internationally in relative terms, because that is how people feel it. To be poor is to fall too far behind what most ordinary people have in your own society.

Clark cites an analogy from my book, Hard Work: Life in Low Pay Britain, in which I described society as a caravan moving across a desert. All may move forward, but how far behind do the poor at the back have to fall before they cease to be part of the same caravan at all? Political parties will differ on how far that stretch can be - but at least now they agree all must travel at the same speed to stay within the same society.

Relative poverty has been a hard message to get across, so will the Tories now do some of the heavy lifting in engaging voters? Asked cold, the public tend to make a number of contradictory responses. They think the out-of-control greed at the top is obscene, and they think the gap between rich and poor is far too great. But the focus group of middling waverers used by the Fabian commission on life chances suggests that, at first, most people don't think real poverty exists. Then they think it is the fault of the poor themselves - feckless addicts or scroungers; if they have a phone and a TV, is that really poor?

But presented with facts about poor children having so much less than ordinary children like their own, focus group members changed their minds. When they considered the quarter of children who never go on a summer holiday and have no money to go swimming, have a birthday party or a sleepover or take school trips, let alone own a computer or a mobile phone, they thought it unjust.

What kind of heartless bastards would deny the right of every child to a cell phone?

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 23, 2006 10:17 AM

Newspeak alert!

So-called "relative poverty" is per se not reality as the world understands the word. Rather it is a sinful condition of the spirit, wherein the sinner imagines that he is "poor" because he covets his neighbor's goods.

The consequences of this sin may be real--theft, say--but the condition is purely spiritual.

Posted by: Lou Gots at November 23, 2006 12:24 PM