Eradicating child poverty
However, Chris Grayling, the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, asserts that ‘rhetoric and targets will never solve this problem’. Indeed they will not, but neither will a definition of poverty that is relative. Indeed, if poverty continues to be defined in relative terms, then Jesus was right to insist that the poor will always be with us. For when the average UK salary becomes £35,000, there will still be children being brought up in households where the income is a meagre £20,000, and thereby deemed to be living in poverty. Those children in Africa and other parts of a war-torn world who are truly living in absolute poverty would laugh - if they but knew how - at this assertion.
The widely accepted definition of poverty is having an income which is less than 60% of the national average, and on this measure the proportion of the UK population defined as living in poverty is roughly 20%, and there it has remained through many decades of both Conservative and Labour administrations. The most recently published figures on child poverty (2005-6), show that Britain has 2.8 million children living in poverty. When New Labour came to power, the figure was three million. For all the billions poured into the cause, just 200,000 have been ‘lifted out of poverty’. This is a national scandal.
However, the percentage of people in poverty has fallen by little over 10% since the first poverty surveys were carried out at the end of the nineteenth century. Yet it would be absurd to state that modern poverty is remotely of the same order as that endured by our Victorian ancestors. Since healthcare, education and welfare benefits are all provided by the state (ie the taxpayer), any talk of the re-emergence of Victorian levels of poverty is absurd.
If the Conservative Party were intent on eradicating child poverty, or any other kind of poverty, they would first need to confront UN/EU/UK definition of the term and reassess how it is measured, for the social(-ist) scientists have being very busy moving the goalposts.
When examining what Jesus said about the poor, consideration has to be given to context and audience, and the nuances of Greek vocabulary also need examining. For example, what does Luke mean by ‘the poor’ (6:20)? The peasants who possessed little material wealth were not called ‘poor’ (‘ptochos’) if they possessed what was sufficient (ie subsistence) - they were termed ‘penes’. Jesus was concerned with the literal, physical needs of men (ie not just the spiritual [cf Acts 10:38]). When Luke was addressing the ‘poor’, he meant those who had no money - the oppressed, miserable, dependent, humiliated - and this is translated by ‘ptochos’, indicating ‘poverty-stricken…to cower down or hide oneself for fear’ - the need to beg. The ‘penes’ has to work, but the ‘ptochos’ has to beg. Those addressed by Jesus are the destitute beggars, not ‘penes’ or the general peasant audience of few possessions. This is an important distinction for the modern politician and for the modern audience in a society where the threshold of poverty is defined by the non-possession of a television, a DVD player, and Nike trainers.
And yet Britain ‘has a higher proportion of its children being brought up in workless households than any other nation in Europe, including countries in Eastern Europe such as Romania and Estonia’.
This is manifestly unacceptable, but the solution is to induce and incentivise people to work, not perpetuate a benefits system which pays many of the more to stay at home. So when the Conservative Party pledges ‘to tackle the scourge of worklessness’, they are on the route of true social justice. And when they talk of ‘tough sanctions’ for those who refuse, they set a sure and moral foundation. And when they talk further of abolishing the ‘couple penalty’ from the tax credits system which leaves many couples better off if they live apart, they support the institution of marriage - the partnership of male and female - which has been proven to give children the best chance of success in life.
Mr Grayling concludes: ‘Britain today should not be a country where child poverty remains endemic. But it is. I have no doubt that Gordon Brown believed he would solve the problem, but he has failed, and now the problem is getting worse, not better. It will fall to the next Conservative government to take decisive steps towards eliminating child poverty. It is a challenge we intend to meet.’
And he must begin with the rigged definition of terms, or he will never eradicate it.
It is just a pity that we have to wait two more years for this awful government to expire before he may begin to do so.