Dan Jarvis is getting a lot of media play ahead of his Westminster Hall debate this afternoon highlighting the government’s shrinking of the cross-departmental civil service Child Poverty Unit from 23 staff down to 10. Jarvis argues that
“We are living through the biggest increase in relative child poverty in a generation. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predict that without changing course we will see a 50% rise by 2020.”
Sounds horrific, child poverty is going to rise by 50% in 3 years! Stop. Look around. Infant mortality has fallen, most health indicators are improving, even childhood obesity has peaked. How can child poverty be set to increase by 50%?
It is a ratio, not reality. As the economy strengthens middle and upper incomes recover at a faster rate than lower incomes – in part because of an unlimited supply of cheap labour from the EU – the ratio between the two rises, so the child poverty ratio rises. Even as household incomes rise for the less well off as well…
The creation of the Child Poverty Act (2010) was one of the last ideological acts of a Labour government that knew it was likely to lose the general election held two months later. It attempted to legislate against inequality, against people getting richer. The numbers show that absolute poverty, real poverty, where you can’t afford necessities, is falling as worklessness falls. Relative poverty, where you can’t afford as much as richer people, is not really falling – this is not a problem. Child poverty is not about ratios. Abolishing the Whitehall bean counters and focusing on work-based paths out of poverty is the way forward.
Labour talk a good game on poverty – it remains a fact that the unemployment rate always increases under Labour governments, this can have the effect of flattering the ratios. The best real child poverty counter-measure is working to support your family. No amount of redistribution, no ratios, no welfare measure can surpass the effectiveness of bringing home a wage to support your family.