Wednesday, 7 November 2012

It's time to talk about poverty

In the first US Presidential debate, Mitt Romney mentioned “poor kids” and then corrected himself to say “lower-income kids, rather”. That was the nearest the candidates or the moderator got to using the word “poverty”. The job in hand was to get the votes of the “the middle class” and presumably it was assumed that not enough of them had any interest in poverty. Indeed, they might react badly to any candidate who did. 

We seem to have a similar problem on this side of the pond. With all the talk of austerity, and despite increasing inequality, poverty doesn’t get much of a look in. And prospects for the future, on present policy, are truly grim.
Last month, a new report by the Resolution Foundation – based on work by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Institute for Economic Growth – estimated that, even without further cuts in public expenditure and with steady growth, poverty will increase further during the present decade.[1] Indeed, even a household on the middle income of £22,900 will be worse off, while one on £50,000 (which some disingenuously describe as “middle class”) will be better off. You can guess for yourself what the prospects are for those over £50,000.

However, since the publication of this report, further substantial cuts in public spending have been announced and the latest IMF figures show that, as a percentage of GDP, by 2017 public expenditure in the UK will be even less than that in the US. It doesn’t get much worse than that in my book: it puts the UK at the bottom of the list for major developed nations in terms of public spending.

And if all this isn’t bad enough, surveys suggest that, despite rising poverty, many people want less spent on social security benefits (or “welfare”, to use the more pejorative term imported from the US). The notion of the “undeserving poor” is back with a vengeance. And it’s not difficult to understand why. Sadly, too many people believe that if statements are in a government press release or published in a newspaper, then they must be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This is how misleading, not to say completely untrue, statements about disability benefits have led people to believe that fraud is most rampant in that part of the benefit system where fraud (presumably committed by non-disabled people) is in fact virtually non-existent. 

What is true is that poverty is a result of political choice, as demonstrated so clearly in David Brady’s recent book, Rich Democracies, Poor People. Poverty isn’t simply the result of “choices people make”, as some would have us believe. It is the direct result of public policy.

Poverty, as an issue, matters to disabled people for many reasons, which of course is why “an adequate income” is one of the 12 pillars of independent living. Official statistics suggest that 30% – more than 3 million – disabled people in this country live in poverty and that disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people. Yet, on very conservative estimates, a disabled person’s cost of living is at least 25% higher than that of a non-disabled person. This means that not 30%, but 60%, of disabled people live in poverty. Not 3 million, but 6 million.

The further assault on public services and social security benefits will drive even more disabled people into poverty. It’s clear why those in charge of public policy don’t want to talk about it. But the rest of us have to.

Roger Berry
Trustee, Disability Rights UK (in a personal capacity)       
                                     
                  
               


[1] The most common definition, adopted in the Child Poverty Act, is that a family is living in poverty if its income is less than 60% of median household income, currently around £14,000.

1 comment:

stairliftsdoctor said...

Here we are ten months on and we don't seem to be any further forward with what the government are doing.

I think that policy makers don't understand that household expenses are simply higher in a disabled persons household because of buying in services for support, or because of adaptions, and that puts people at a financial disadvantage straight away, before you start to consider benefit levels or income.

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