Coffee House

The war on poverty opens a second front

5 June 2010

10:54 AM

5 June 2010

10:54 AM

I detest the use of the word ‘Czar’. Everything has a Czar – potato
regulation, multi-story car parks and Twitter being my favourite three. But the war on poverty needs to be fought by free-thinking absolutists. The appointment of Frank Field to conduct an
independent review into poverty and life chances confirms David Cameron’s, and the coalition’s, non-partisan commitment to social mobility and betterment.
 
Field presents his analysis in a succinct piece in the Telegraph.  He writes:

‘Over recent decades, the Left and centre-Left’s answer to poverty and inequality has been to spend more money, to redistribute from richer to poorer. Yet this central social
democratic ideal is being tested to the point of destruction. Over the past 13 years, the government doubled all its key budgets; in real terms, overall public expenditure rose by more than 50
per cent. Few people would argue that the solution to the complex social and economic problems Britain faces is even higher spending.

This is why we need to change the terms of debate – and why, as a Labour MP, I have agreed to lead the Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances announced by the Prime Minister
yesterday. Labour, just as much as the Coalition, needs to rethink its position. The aim is to ensure that a debate that has been largely obsessed with how much money is being spent, gives way to
one that concentrates on the consequences of each tranche of taxpayers’ investment?’

A radical re-definition of both the responses to and understanding of poverty is a driving principle that Field shares with IDS, one that escapes the tyranny of targets and delivers workable solutions to specific problems.

There is a faint but perceptible sense of optimism across the media this morning. With IDS on the frontline at the DWP and Field directing the insurgency, the monumental task of winning the battle
of ideas with the centre-left and breaking the benefits trap has begun.

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Show comments
  • Derek Rowntree

    Denis Cooper: “If you’re a political party seeking the votes of those living in poverty then you have a vested interest in the continued existence of poverty. If you’re employed in some part of the public sector to combat poverty then you have a vested interest in the continued existence of poverty. Similarly if you’re employed by a charity or think tank or pressure group ostensibly committed to that purpose.’

    That is all only too plausible, Denis — just as doctors need ill-health and the justice system needs criminality and drug-dealers need addicts; but just because some specialists make their living from a distressing aspect of society is no reason why we should not at least try to reduce its prevalence — and encourage a refreshing change of career for many of the specialists. employment.

  • Derek Rowntree

    Strapworld: “Could the answer to your question Mr Rowntree, be The Church? Bankers? Politicians? the list is endless and I am amazed that someone from the Rowntree family tree has not grasped that.”

    Don’t worry, Strapworld, even this distant twig of the family tree has some kind of grasp of the realpolitik. But I ask in order to see what other kinds of perceptions might be flushed out.

  • Derek Rowntree

    Verity: (“Frank Field) chose to remain with the communist/socialist/leftist/Gramsci/Marxist scum.

    Is this meant to be a description of the whole Labour Party or just various sub-sections within it? Either way, does “scum” seem to you like a term that belongs in civilised debate? It is certainly one that makes the unbiased reader doubt the sagacity of its seemingly hate-fuelled user.

  • Ridcully

    gary: I can’t speak on behalf of other Speccie readers, but I can assure you that in a 27 (and counting) career in nursing I get to “engage poor people” on a fairly regular basis. Many of them are thoroughly decent; others are, to put it bluntly, just scumbags. These tend to be the ones who, although they have never paid a penny into the healthcare system, walk into the hospital acting as though they own the place, of give me a mouthful; of abuse if I suggest to them that perhaps disconnecting themselves from their cardiac monitor and intravenous infusions to go off the ward for a cigarette perhaps isn’t in their best interests.
    Additionally, I don’t cheat the taxman, drink heavily, drive a 4×4 (although I don’t have any particular envy of those who do)or take drugs (except for my diabetes).
    As for having a cleaner I leave that to the champagne socialists (I believe that the reason the Left are so pro-immigration is because the only contact they have with immigrants is with the ones they employ to cle3an their houses).

  • denis cooper

    cityboozer –

    Yes, in a simple thought experiment it would be possible to pick up all those in the 0% – 60% band and put them in the 60% – 100% band. As in other cases the question is whether what could be done in theory could ever be achieved in practice, and Field’s conclusion appears to be that it’s inherently unachievable.

    Derek Rowntree –

    If you’re a political party seeking the votes of those living in poverty then you have a vested interest in the continued existence of poverty. If you’re employed in some part of the public sector to combat poverty then you have a vested interest in the continued existence of poverty. Similarly if you’re employed by a charity or think tank or pressure group ostensibly committed to that purpose.

    In all those cases it’s in the interests of those engaged in the “war” against “poverty” to re-define it in relative rather than absolute terms, and if necessary adjust that definition, and even support the importation of poverty as fresh grist for their mill.

  • gary

    Of course there are people who have a vested interest in the poor remaining poor – Spectator readers for example, who have the perfect excuse to vent their uninformed and ignorant bile about people who they never engage with except through the sealed windows of their 4×4’s.

    If I categorised all Spectator readers as tax-cheating, philandering, drug-using alcoholics, I think I would be accused of sweeping generalisations – although statistically, it would be valid (there are higher rates of drug use amongst middle and upper class students than working class ones; rates of alcoholism are highest amongst professional classes such as doctors or lawyers; divorce rates are higher in the top social classes, and tax-cheating is obviously endemic when you consider HMRC estimates of unpaid tax compared to DWP estimates of overpaid benefits).

    Of course there are faults with the benefits system – but JSA is £64.30 a week for a single person, so PLEASE explain how its possible to lead a life of luxury on a sum that is probably just a few pounds a week more than you pay your cleaner (cash in hand of course, lets not bother the taxman or pay national insurance) for a days cleaning.

  • strapworld

    I note that joining Mr Perfect (andy in Brum) we now have Derek Rowntree adopting the moral high ground! Perhaps Mr Rowntree should take a keener interest in the observations of Vulture and denis cooper. One has a wicked sense of humour and the other writes intelligently.

    Could the answer to your question Mr Rowntree, be The Church? Bankers? Politicians? the list is endless and I am amazed that someone from the Rowntree family tree has not grasped that.

    There again!!!!!

  • Verity

    Derek Rowntree … Field is in the Labour camp because he wants to be there.

    He isn’t stupid. He could have switched sides and gained advancement within the Conservatives years ago.

    But he chose to remain with the communist/socialist/leftist/Gramsci/Marxist scum.

    This man had choices all along.

    I have never been able to understand why so many of you admire him. Do you think he’s an idiot savant and doesn’t really grasp the end-game of socialism/communism?

    Drop Field from your dream team. He’s one of them but with a more acceptable face.

    He hung on.

    He never changed sides to the Tories.

    He hung on.

  • Derek Rowntree

    denis cooper: “there are powerful vested interests who require that the poor must always be with us,”

    Well, you learn something new every day. But can you please explain it? In whose vested interest is it that the poor are always with us? And how do they benefit?

  • Derek Rowntree

    Vulture: “The only mystery about Frank Field that needs to be cleared up is why he remains in the Labour party.
    He is clearly a decent man of integrity and some intelligence, so his presence in that festering pit of toxic waste is incomprehensible.”
    I guess he stays in the Labour Party because he is not only a “decent man of integrity and some intelligence” but is also capable of conceiving worthwhile qualities there that would not be perceptible to someone who refers to people as “a festering pit of toxic waste”. I doubt if any of our current parliamentarians (politicians though they be) would deserve that description.

  • cityboozer

    Denis Cooper

    It might be important but it’s also wrong.

    If the median income is 25 thousand a year, the 60% poverty line is 15 thousand. If you move a family from 13 thousand to 16 you do not move the median. You can only move the median by crossing from the lower to the upper half (or vice-versa).

    Cb.

  • strapworld

    pete is spot on. We need social housing be it council or housing associations. There are many timber framed houses which can be erected with all utilities attached for less than £65K. If Government were to do a Macmillan (strange that it was a conservative prime minister that created the greatest building of council houses, wasn’t it!) and commence a massive country wide building of social housing it would have the dramatic effect outlined by Pete.

    Think of the massive employment opportunities.

    By the way Pete, our resident spellcheck (andy in Brum) will be onto you shortly!!
    He is Mr Perfect you know! But bores aside, well said!

  • pete

    Actually the single most important factors HISTORICALLY have been and always will be are
    1/ Clean water supply
    2/ Housing (Affordable)

    Most wars are fought or will be fought over these two things.
    The Vikings were given area’s of land to settle so they could live and work, people today need housing, housing, housing.
    It’s not rocket science, the economic mess we are in is a result of a housing bubble that.
    1/ increased debt beyond sensible levels.
    2/ the above caused massive house price inflation.
    3/ Both of the above twinned with no cheap housing stock (Read Massive council housing program) led to MASSIVE housing problems.
    I earn about 80,000 a year I can’t afford to buy in London for my family, what the hell does someone on less than me do ??? Is it any wonder poor people dispair ? they are socially and economically excluded.
    We must build massive amounts of social housing.
    It will destroy the housing market as it is but that would in the long term be a very very good thing.

  • strapworld

    Andy in brum, my spellen suffers frum poor eyesoight I yam afraid an’ a dinky keyboard. but ‘un doy I wull be as perfect as yaouw. what is it loike ter be so bloody perfect?

  • Dimoto

    “Labour, just as much as the Coalition, needs to rethink its position”.

    Eh ? And I thought that Labour were in power during the past 13 years.

    What is this “position” that the coalition needs to “rethink” ?
    That throwing money at the problem is futile ? or that IDS’s ideas are all wrong ?

    Is Frank actually saying that Labour needs to make a few “adjustments”, whilst the Tories are at first base ?

    Incoherant Frank.

  • AndyLeeds

    I’ve just returned from the Gym – the cleaners were in. Polish to a man, everyone of ’em. The area is hardly thick with jobs but no natives do this work. As another lesson in what is wrong with our society a woman had been taken ill in her car almost directly outside. The Police closed the entire road (it is a main road) which caused no end of chaos when all that needed to be done was for the car to be roped off and two police wave the traffic around. I counted at least ten police stood about doing sweet f*** all. Yet another case for reform.

  • Craig Strachan

    Don’t much care for “tsar” either.

  • Naomi Muse

    Frank Field’s acceptance of the appointment shows more optimism that could have been hoped for, in the consensus government.

    If a number of issues can be taken out of party politics as being in the national interest and therefore cross party, things like the mass spending by the last government for no good reason can be avoided.

    @Nick “How can you trust a politician who doesn’t know the difference between deficit and debt?” – he was just quoting Gordon Brown, who said precisely the same in his ‘bigot’ moment. That does not excuse the error.

    It is notable that FF has appeared in parliament and is doing his duty by his constituents, whereas Gordon Brown is not seen and was rude enough not to appear at the State Opening of Parliament, when he should have been setting an example to new MPs.

  • Olaf Rye

    Oh Fred, proper spelling is so bourgeois ! Labour is fashionably illiterate (and malevolently innumerate). Those of us that still esteem good spelling and grammar are obviously the obdurate conservative types that probably favour grammar schools and other right-wing policies.

  • Robert Taggart

    Wishing Frankie well.
    Still, if he fails, he can always go to Hollywood !

  • Fred Blogs

    The Labour “Twitter Czar” is female. Surely she should be the Twitter Czarina.

  • denis cooper

    The most important paragraph in Field’s article is this:

    “Had I been asked, I would have argued for a target that was achievable. The 2020 goal isn’t. Any candidate sitting GCSE maths should be able to explain that raising everybody above a set percentage of median income is rather like asking a cat to catch its own tail. As families are raised above the target level of income, the median point itself rises. Not surprisingly, therefore, no country in the free world has managed to achieve this objective, not even in those Scandinavian countries whose social models many of us admire.”

    But of course the whole point is that the cat should NEVER be able catch its own tail; there are powerful vested interests who require that the poor must always be with us, for whom it would be a nghtmare situation if the government was ever able to announce that the so-called “war on poverty” had finally been won.

    And to make absolutely sure that will never happen, if we start to run out of own native poor then we can and will import more from abroad.

  • AndyinBrum

    Strapworld “Strict standeards” like spelling? 😉

  • Vulture

    The only mystery about Frank Field that needs to be cleared up is why he remains in the Labour party.

    He is clearly a decent man of integrity and some intelligence, so his presence in that festering pit of toxic waste is incomprehensible.

  • Paul Holmes

    Yep, that’s all fine and dandy Frank but tell us how, in the midst of the Great recession, you’ll create the jobs to reverse the *culture*?…er…you’ll get back to us on that eh?

    According to the ONS there are 400,000 jobs available today, now bear in mind those stats. are lifted from the Job Centre database, which routinely gets abused by recruitment spivs in order to market non jobs/lost leaders for free, so in reality there’s probably 250,000 jobs most of which are low paid, low skill, poverty line ‘milk the recent immigrant for all he or she is worth’ menial positions.

    We have 5.2 million adults receiving out of work benefits and cicra 250,000 jobs, that is were any argument/discussion on this brave new ‘work for dole’ argument falls flat on its face. Even if those positions were filled overnight 95% of the embedded unemployment problem remains.

    The UK has close on 30% of its adult workforce declared as economically inactive, that’s nearly one in three adults. Since the onset of the Great Recession an extra 1.5mil adults have been added to the stats, now bear in mind these were previous gainfully employed adults not fitting into the “watch Jeremy Kyle drink cheap cider all day” stereotype that the Daily Hate would have the muddled class believe actually exists. Are you really suggesting these folk should work voluntarily for 60 quid a week after their savings are spunked?

    The *problem* Frank is insoluble using your’s and IDS’s tub thumping rhetoric, you know it and the current incumbants in power know it. Unless you create 5million jobs, at median level wages, you’re going to have to think outside the convenient box of blame that all politicians paint the unemployed into the corner of, each time the system breaks. The problem is worsening daily due to the fall out from Unis were a fresh batch of bunnies are realising there are nada jobs. Given the intense competition from the BRIC nations and the inevitable equilibrium wage pressure that brings just to reamin competitve it’s clear to see that we (as a nation) need a game changer and to play by different rules even if it’s deemed isolationist by other nations.

    So, here’s a couple of big ideas for you Frank, firstly house building. The UK requires in the region of 3 million more dwellings, let’s create a mass building programme were folk can build and then occupy their own dwellings. No pfi, no complications, no fingers in pies.. the govt. directly employ 2 million folk to build 3 million homes over a ten year period.

    Second, let’s open up the railways (properly) and create a truly carbon efficient world class intergrated transport system. Start from the premis that every town/village/city with a population over 1,500 will have a guaranteed tram or railway port. There’s another ten year project that’ll keep another 2 million in gainful worthwhile employment with which you (as a govt) can genuinely engender civic and national pride. Net cost to the govt? Well considering the 5 mill unemployment problem I’ve just solved for you will have 5 million folk paying back nearly all of their salary into the *system* it’s probably a revenue break even situation..Politicians? I 5hit them..

  • DAVID VINTER

    The question today should be–‘Why are they poor’? I was raised by non smoking, non drinking parents on both sides. One grandfather was a farm labourer, the other a docker on Grimsby commercial dock. I was schooled through WW2, every fortnight we ate rabbit pie. My father had been self employed from age 19, but worked for the air ministry in WW2,so for a time my brother and I were a one parent family. From age 6 Iwalked a mile and a half to school on my own every day, we all did, there were no cars.
    As a country lad, on winters’ nights we would sit by the kitchen fire making toast, and reading books FREE from our small library. I don’t recall feeling deprived at school, there were no ‘fashions’ clothes were to keep you warm. But much of school life was quite fun, and very well taught at our council primary school, Istill remember all the teachers well.

  • strapworld

    I applaud the decision to ask Frank Field to head this Independent Review on poverty and life chanes. I agree with the Prime Minister when he states that this must have cross party support.

    Rhoda Klapp, as normal, asks some very pertinent questions. We should hope that Field will look at why good housing stock becomes ‘a crap housing estate’. I look at the many former council owned tower blocks taken over by private companies and turned from sink estates into desirable apartments. It cannot be just the name can it?

    Perhaps the answer is RESPONSIBILITY. If one is a council tenant, presumably they sign an agreement. Surely that agreement must state they keep the house and garden in good condition? That they are responsible for the actions of their children and any unsocial activity could result in them being removed? If I am correct then the answer is in the management of these properties. Perhaps the answer is to hand them over to bodies that will ENFORCE the regulations and conditions of tenancy.

    Bad schools. Why are they bad? If they are sack the head and teachers. Bring in staff that want to raise standards, including a mandatory uniform (Asda are selling ‘uniforms’ for a tenner today!)and no makeup, no short skirts and no expensive sports shoes. Enforce strict standeards. yes bring back discipline. Actually youngsters will benefit from it and learn far more. Ensure that troublemakers are removed from the school and their parents taken to court. Make parents responsible for the conduct of their off-spring! Bring back pride in estates and schools and maybe, just maybe, it may bring a more responsible mindset in many people.

    At the end of the day, though, there will always be those that will not want to work will want to shirk and ponce off the state. They should be placed in a modern equivalent of the Workhouse.

  • Simon Stephenson

    “The aim is to ensure that a debate that has been largely obsessed with how much money is being spent, gives way to one that concentrates on the consequences of each tranche of taxpayers’ investment?’”

    Consequences – plural. Yes, yes, yes, Mr Field.

    Let’s throw onto the rubbish heap the process-driven thinking that puts in place policy because it produces a desired consequence, while the undesired consequences can be ignored, or dealt with as a separate exercise.

    Let’s have a bit of, sometimes, cruel reality. Sometimes, good things are not ready to be made to happen, because in the present circumstances it’s impossible to untangle them from other inevitable consequences that are bad, and the total of the bad, unfortunately, outweighs the good. This doesn’t mean that the good consequence can never be achieved – just that it can’t be done honestly along the lines that are currently being proposed.

    This, of course, used to be what politics was all about – not cherry-picking the good outcomes, but seeking to achieve progress with the totality of the consequences. This is not for children, of course, nor also, it seems, for adults who are treated as children.

    If we can re-install this concept into our national thinking, it won’t be long before we regain our position on the world stage as a nation that matters.

  • Nick

    Frank Field is an idiot. Frank posted on his blog prior to the election that labour was going to halve the government debt in 4 years.

    How can you trust a politician who doesn’t know the difference between deficit and debt?

    Nick

  • Austin Barry

    I doubt whether with welfare benefits there is any real poverty in Britain today.

    We mistake self-imposed squalor for ‘poverty’. Check out a litter-strewn sink estate: its walls bristle with Sky dishes, the residents splutter on ciggies and booze and the parking places are full.

    Perhaps we should create some new Aid for Africa scheme whereby, in lieu of sending cash to the Armani-suited kleptocracy, we ‘invite’ welfare dependents to re-colonise some wretched sub-Saharan basket-case where they can build a glorious new world.

    Jeeps, it worked with Australia.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Well, if there is behaviour that is so bad it needs the deployment of vast amounts of public money, one might consider looking at whether to sanction that behaviour in some way. Punish the poor, and reward the rich. Make it hard for them to live a miserable life in a crap housing estate. Don’t let them send their kids to bad schools.

    Now, a regular reader may send a ‘modest proposal’ here, but think about it. Our current practice is the opposite of what is suggested above, and it DOESN’T WORK.

  • denis cooper

    You may detest the use of the word ‘Czar’, but I detest even more the misuse of the words ‘war’ and ‘poverty’.

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