To end poverty we need to re-politicise the economy – Liberal Article
In 2001, Blair pledged to end child poverty by 2020. In 2015, Cameron promised to tackle the root causes of poverty. Similarly, Johnson’s New Deal approach aims to improve the lives of the 14 million people living in poverty. However, there remains no sign of progress.
Child poverty rates remain at 30%, down only 4% from 1998. Foodbank usage has increased by 78% in the last five years. In 2010 we had 56 foodbanks, we now have over 1,500. Furthermore, we face a homelessness crisis. Every eight minutes a child loses their home. Poverty is getting worse and consequently, human rights for UK citizens are not being met.
Poverty in the UK doesn’t always mean sleeping on the streets. What it does mean is being two to three times more vulnerable to mental health problems, dying nearly ten years earlier than richer counterparts and parents taking turns to skip dinner. It’s the experience of not being able to attain the basic necessities to take part or live safely, in society
Whilst the experience of poverty is by no means restricted to lack of income, income is the solution. Where do we get income? Work. However, a third of universal credit claimants are in work. That’s 1.9 million people working full time only to not be able to afford basic necessities to subsist. Wages are not enough.
So if income is not provided by the labour market, where is the state’s safety net?
Over the last ten years, the public has voted in a party whose core ideology is the replacement of the ‘nanny state’ with the ‘free market’. This has materialised in cuts to social spending and policies pursuing an environment suited to business interests. Consequently, privatisation has increased and we have the lowest welfare payments in history.
The blueprint for the welfare state was not provided out of philanthropy but to ensure an efficient labour force. A strong welfare state is both socially and economically beneficial. The increasing number of children growing up in poverty don’t have the opportunities to maximise their potential. Around 70% of children facing food insecurity fail to meet educational expectations; not only a waste in human capital but also morally disturbing. Poverty is a structural problem, not a personal flaw.
The worst part is that the UK can afford to get rid of poverty. In the last ten years alone the richest 1,000 people in the UK have increased their wealth by £724 billion. In that time there has been a 165% increase in homelessness. Scarcity is only a problem for the poor.
Economics is treated as a natural science. Something that just is; but it isn’t. There is no true free market, our economy is and always has been structured by rules and regulations imposed by political institutions. Tax cuts have the same effect on the government’s budget as social welfare spending. Furthermore, money put into welfare payments is more likely to circulate the economy as recipients typically can’t hide it away in a savings account. The decision over who benefits from the economy is a political choice. Poverty is a political choice.
Despite key indicators of the economy showing recovery from the financial crash the labour share of GDP has been going down. Workers are getting a smaller reward for their labour. This is due to factors such as liberalisation of the labour market (e.g. the gig economy), technologization and industrialisation (both a product of globalisation). It is not the fact the economy is not working, but it is not working for – dare I say it – the working class.
We can, and should be, looking at who benefits from our economic system. Who is benefiting from economic crises? Who is benefiting from evicting tenants for higher rents? Who is benefiting from cheap labour?
The answers to these questions prompt a class reductionist approach. There is a conflict of interests between owners of property and production, and those who have to work longer and harder to maintain basic living standards. This conflict will always exist in the context of a profit-driven market where labour is a cost of production. Costs must be minimised to increase profit, meaning owners of production benefit from squeezing labour costs and consequently lower wages.
This process of inequality is a reinforcing cycle. Economic power not only enables monopoly over the ideas fed through the media but, let’s face it, transcends directly into political power. We should not accept politicians such as Priti Patel who justify poverty as just ‘part of society and its structures’. Would she really agree if she was the one queuing up outside a food bank? Poverty is the consequence of such a mindset, one that hinders change.
Our economy is a political design, not a natural fact. A fairer society is not an impossibility however it is certainly not a trend within the status quo.
Poverty becoming the new normal in Britain is a concern for us all. Social mobility is becoming more rigid meaning for most of us we won’t be able to maintain our parents’ living standards. Millennials marked a reversal in the 136-year trend of generation growth. We should be realistic, not optimistic, about our personal economic future. Inequality is inherent in our economic system but poverty does not have to be.
This ever-intensifying inequality calls for a rethink of the way we structure society. To do so everything has to be politicised. The economic and political system are both processes to be practised. For democracy to exist it requires meaningful participation. We can not sit back as passive observers. Things that appear as natural, the persistence of poverty and the growth in billionaires wealth, need to be democratically debated. We need to re-politicise the economy in order to denaturalise poverty. What are the benefits of economic growth if it’s not enhancing the well being of society?
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Abby Milnes
Point of Information
Utopian beliefs will not make the UK a better place – A Conservative Response
It is first worth noting that there is no single accepted definition of poverty within the UK. This is important as it means Abby is the one choosing how poverty is defined in her article. Therefore, her definitions should be evaluated. She is also the one deciding where to attribute poverty within her writing. In fact, I believe Abby is conflating the ideas of wealth disparity and poverty.
Fundamentally, I disagree with the definitions of poverty Abby has put forward, especially with the tone that they are the ONLY definitions, and not addressing the fact there is no ONE given definition which is universally accepted. This is important for readers to understand.
I believe Abby is using the term ‘poverty’ instead of wealth disparity and obfuscating the issue. Abby gives examples of relative poverty within the UK rather than true poverty as seen in other parts of the world. Ending wealth disparity itself is not necessarily a good thing as the key historical examples, such as Communist Russia, ended such disparity by making everyone equally poor.
By examining the social side of Abby’s definition of poverty with regards to mental health, the link she offers only shows correlation rather than causation. Solely examining the mental health of parts of the UK is not enough to attribute things like depression to being in poverty.
For example, the mental wellbeing of university students has drastically declined, especially over the last decade. Student mental health is significantly lower than their age equivalent counterparts who have gone straight into employment and are economically worse off. University students are most commonly the offspring of the middle and upper classes, not the working class. Economic wealth and poor mental health can correlate, but poor mental health is not exclusively caused by being in poverty as Abby says.
A cross-cultural example being Costa Rica, a relatively poor country when compared on a global scale, but also deemed the ‘happiest nation’ by many academics. In fact, many academics argue increasing economic growth leads to greater unhappiness with many examples.
Overall, Abby’s point seems to be utopian with no practical approaches on how to address her perceptions of ‘poverty’ (wealth disparity). How can one ‘re-politicise’ something which is inherently political?
The premise seems paradoxical. I do not think poverty has been normalised into society, and the quote Abby uses from Priti Patel is taken (maybe deliberately) out of context. Patel is saying the government is not solely responsible for what Abby deems as ‘poverty’, thankfully you can watch the interview for yourself. Priti Patel starts the interview describing poverty as “appalling” (which you can watch for yourself by following the link), she does not justify it at all.
I think Abby’s arguments are just a convoluted way of saying ‘eat the rich’, which in itself is an entirely different debate to be had, and the use of the term ‘poverty’ is misplaced, misused, and misunderstood here. The links between the economy and ‘poverty’ are weak, and what Abby desires is utopian.
Written by Guest Conservative Writer, Peter Pearce
Lifestyle defines poverty – A Labour Response
It is strange to read how Abby is describing the poverty situation, particularly in the UK. This issue is universal and, while Abby is correctly describing a certain group in the UK to be poor, there are whole nations that are entitled as poor. And the standards of their poverty are way lower than that of the UK.
Where some parents in the UK take turns skipping meals, people in some parts of the world are uncertain if they will get anything to eat in the coming days.
Abby is concerned about the mental health effect of poverty, but in actual poor countries, mental health is least of their concerns. They have more basic things like water to worry about – and not necessarily clean water. All they look for is water, any water. However, it isn’t fair to neglect the suffering of people be it in any country.
But, just being from a developed country isn’t enough reason to deprive poor people of having their voices heard. They too are worthy of attention from the government to adhere to their suffering.
There is one more issue that plays a great role in defining poverty. That is a lifestyle. Lifestyle in the UK is so expensive that it becomes difficult for the lower class to afford even the basic needs. Leaving aside the issue of poverty, the normal rent, bills, education and health expenses and just basic groceries costs so much that an ordinary family of four will have to work in double shifts to pay off these expenses.
There is a lot of room for the government to solve this issue. Compared to poor countries, the issue is not too big for the government. This would not require any special charity work. But just some lifestyle changing reforms. Instead of high taxation on the middle class, it would be better to impose a proper tax on big brands and companies.
When the gap between poor and rich class widens, it automatically leads to unrest in society. Poverty does affect mental and psychological health. To be honest, the real culprit in such a scenario would be the government. So, before the government can go elsewhere in the world to solve others’ problems, there’s an immediate need for the government to begin to solve the slow, but dangerously rising, problem within our homes.
Written by Guest Labour Writer, Shamamah Dogar
I am going into my second year at the University of Exeter studying a flexible combined honour in Geography and Politics. My interest in politics and geography stems from an interest in current events and the wider world, with geography being the study of all world processes.