Comment on the Riots Communities and Victims Panel report

The following letter was published in the Guardian last week:

The Riots Communities and Victims Panel calls poverty a key factor that can lead to a person’s involvement in crime. The panel recommends that efforts are made to improve young people’s resistance to the peer pressure that leads them astray. That does not get to the bottom of the problem. Nowhere in the report is there any mention of the actual level of weekly income at which young people live in poverty.

A single unemployed parent has to live on a shrinking jobseeker’s allowance of £67.50 a week, or £53.45 for those aged 18-25, or on the national minimum wage, a poverty wage in London that is also shrinking. The word “debt”, and its debilitating effects on parents and children in poverty, never appears in the report. It damages nutrition, an essential ingredient of healthy babies and a good education, which is likewise ignored. Blaming the schools misses the target. Parliament needs to wake up to the fact that the current system of social security is not fit for purpose.

There will continue to be impoverished young people who, because survival and inequality are massive issues in this very expensive economy, will turn to crime.
Rev Paul Nicolson

Marmot: new data on the link between wealth and health inequalities

This morning Sir Michael Marmot published data showing how unequal health outcomes are between the richest and poorest parts of the country. Life expectancy and time spent in good health are shown to be heavily linked to social standing.

Some key point picked out by Randeep Ramesh in today’s Guardian are:

  1. 60% of five-year-olds in some of Britain’s poorest areas do not reach a “good level” of behaviour and understanding – double that found in wealthier suburban parts of England.
  2. Marmot, a public health specialist and author of Fair Society, Healthy Lives, said: “Education and child development are key for health. It is the educated who stop smoking … we know the key driver of teenage pregnancy is not getting early child development. You are not going to get pregnant as a teenager if you develop as a child.”
  3. There was also an alarming health gap opening up within areas. Marmot pointed out that in [Z2K’s home borough of] Westminster the average life expectancy of male residents was 83, five years longer than the English norm, but this masked wide disparities. The poorest in the London borough could expect to live 17 years less than the richest.

This evidence futher supports the need to support a minimum income standard across the UK so that people can afford to feed them selves and thier children a healthy diet, heat thier homes and while staying out of debt. The to the UK of failing to do this are currently  unpriced but likely to be large. The government already predicts that mental health (which is strongly linked to debt) costs the economy £105 Billion a year.

We must hope that the Welfare Reform Bill, due for publication next week, recognises the negative implications for everyone of imposing poverty incomes on the poorest.

The poor can’t avoid Micawber’s principle

Tom Clark is right to express concern about the seven flimsy pages issued by the government on 21 December (Poverty made permanent, 5 January). The problem for the coalition is that the Child Poverty Act 2010 requires the government to publish a strategy outlining its plans to work towards specific income targets and demonstrate how it will tackle socioeconomic disadvantage.

The deputy prime minister says poverty plus a pound does not represent fairness and suggests we need to look at people’s experiences of poverty in all its dimensions and not just in narrow statistical terms. So they have conducted an initial survey of the evidence and had discussions with experts about the meaning of “socioeconomic disadvantage”.

This is an attempt to wriggle out of the requirements of the act by redefining “socioeconomic disadvantage” while throwing doubt on the importance of measuring income poverty. No amount of political obfuscation can undo the logic of Micawber’s principle – “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery” – when 25 cuts are reducing the already inadequate incomes of the poorest citizens while the prices paid for essentials are increasing.

Paul Nicolson
Chairman, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust

How can the poor fund their own salvation?

Letters The Observer 5 September 2010
From the Rev Paul Nicolson

Two major facts have been missed in suggesting the poor should fund their own salvation. First, the lowest levels of income in unemployment or in work are already creating high levels of misery and debt, which lead to household mental and physical ill-health which, in turn, create massive costs to the taxpayer.

Second, there is no affordable rented accommodation in the private sector in which the highest housing benefits are paid; the Labour government, with the local housing allowance, and now the coalition, with housing benefit caps, have created more debt by forcing the poorest households to pay rent out of already inadequate income.

Meanwhile, confidence in welfare reformers is undermined by the immediate evictions in the county courts of powerless households unable to find legal aid due to the same obsession with cuts, rather than justice, which created their unpayable rent arrears.

Income Inequality

There is an issue glossed over by Wilkinson and Pickett which is denied by their rightwing enemies, and another about which the enemies have a strong pragmatic point. The first is the need to increase statutory minimum incomes in the UK that are at a level which costs all taxpayers billions in poverty-related ill health, educational underachievement and crime. Lessening inequality in Britain is more about increasing the lowest incomes than decreasing the highest; the lowest incomes are now being decreased by the coalition.

The second is the impossibility of one nation curbing the highest incomes in an international labour market. Nevertheless politicians of left and right should consider the ethics of inequality. Michael Northcott, professor of ethics at Edinburgh university, offering a Christian ethical perspective, writes that all people have a right of agency as the children of God made in the divine image. Inequality’s damage is when people have no power to order their lives. Distribution in excess to the rich is a desecration of the divine image, a spiritual disease, hence the deep and manifold problems that flow from it.

Rev Paul Nicolson
Chairman, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust

The Guardian
16 August 2010