Taking the politics out of poverty?

Posted On: 
3rd June 2019

The importance of statistics and how they can shape our perceptions.

Credit: 
PA Images

Current landscape

Poverty has always been a high-profile political issue, but the financial crash and austerity measures have made it a dominant one over the last few decades. Charities and thinktanks regularly publish reports into the issue, with the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, recently publishing his final report that found that one fifth of the population in the UK are currently living in poverty and stated that the “glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos.” The report has been leapt on by the opposition, but the Government have condemned it as politically motivated. The controversy triggered by Alston’s report is endemic when discussing the issue of poverty in politics, but a recent proposal by the Social Mobility Commission may help remove the politics from this issue and presenting MPs and legislators with an indisputable picture of poverty in the UK. 

 

Contradictory conclusions

Despite countless reports on poverty levels we often see a conflicting statistical story being told in Parliament. The subject is often banded around in the Commons, with the Opposition arguing the Government’s austerity measures have led to an increase in poverty, and the Government responding with rising employment figures. DWP minister Justin Tomlinson told MPs  on the 4th March 2019 that “There are 300,000 fewer children in absolute poverty and 200,000 fewer pensioners in absolute poverty.” However, Jeremy Corbyn later contradicted this in early April by stating that “Official figures show that since 2010 child poverty has increased by half a million, working age poverty has increased by 200,000 and pensioner poverty has increased by 400,000.”

What is clear from the above statistical analysis on this subject is that the UK politics has a big issue with consistency and neutrality when it comes to measuring poverty. The current dilemma with getting an accurate reading is that it is very much subject to the presiding governments political idea of poverty. Governments decide how to measure their own impact on the problem whether that be within an absolute or relative framework. This is why we often see a disparity between the statistics and perceptions quoted by the Conservatives, Labour and NGO’s at the moment. 

 

A potential new and independent measurement

At the start of the year the APPG on Poverty discussed these issues at length, its predominant focus being on the work done by the Social Mobility Commission. The Commission‘s purpose was to develop a metric of analysis with cross-party support so as to negate the problem of subjective measurement based on the political whims of those in power. It has succeeded in doing so with endorsements from organisations and members of parliament across the political spectrum including the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Sir Oliver Letwin MP and The Centre for Social Justice. The new measurement has also voluntarily complied with the UK Statistics Authority’s Code of Practice for Statistics which makes it one of the first non-governmental bodies to comply with this standard for analyses.

The new metric differs from previous attempts as it has introduced a handful of indicators which account for the first-time a range of inescapable costs that reduce peoples spending power. These include….

 

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