In which I get quite het up about social mobility, and the lack thereof

So I’m 1 day (or 8 days depending when you’re counting from) late with the blogging. Apologies. I’ve been busy. There was work. And my dog ate my blog post, or it was stolen by pixies or vultures or something. There was a reason for my ineptitude I’m sure, and it almost certainly was not my fault.

I’m here now though. So that’s all right. And I’ve been thinking about poverty. Poverty is, when you put your detached academic hat on, a bit of a tricky concept. Do you measure it relative to a national or global average or do you maintain an absolute measure of poverty for a particular country or region? When and how do those measures change – if it’s in line with inflation, then who’s preferred measure of inflation should you use? Should it be one that places high emphasis on the cost of essentials (eg. utilities, rent, basic food) rather than “luxuries,” on the basis that a higher proportion of a poorer person’s weekly budget is spent on essentials than for a better off person? It all gets a tiny bit complicated.

There are some things we can say for definite about poverty in the UK though. Both Save the Children and Oxfam consider it UK poverty to require charitable intervention. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts an 300000 increase in children living in absolute poverty between 2010/11 and 2020/21. They also  predict an increase of 700000 working age adults living in absolute poverty over the same period. The Trussell Trust currently run over 250 foodbanks across the UK, providing essential food to people who can’t afford to buy it.  At that point it ceases to matter how you academically define poverty – when you’re relying on a charity to eat, you don’t need a nice man with a questionnaire to tell you if you’re poor.

And in a sense, so what? Some people are better off than others. This is hardly news. What makes me cross though, is the absolute breakdown in the ability to shift from “Have Not” to “Have”. In some, probably imagined, rose-tinted past, it’s reassuring to think that we believed that if you worked hard it was possible to better oneself. It’s getting harder and harder to believe that.

There is a gulf between the richest and poorest in our society. In 2009 the top 1% of UK earners earned a higher percentage of the total national income than at any point in the previous 50 years. In 2011 the OECD found that the link between parents’ income and child’s income was stronger in the UK than in France, Italy, the USA, Canada or Germany. Wealthy people have wealthy mummies and daddies.

It’s ok though. Our lack of social mobility is being taken in hand. Nick Clegg has a strategy. This is disheartening in itself. Deputy Prime Ministers develop strategies on things that aren’t quite important enough for the Actual PM to bother with them, or for there to be a government department and minister responsible for. Deputy Prime Ministers are places for parking issues where you sort of feel you should probably do something, but where actually doing something might be tricky or expensive, or tricky and expensive.

And in the meantime, we continue to talk about people living with the day to day problem of scrimping on food to feed the gas meter, or arguing with the Tax Credit Helpline about yet another mistake in their calculation, or trying to explain to the children why they can’t go to their classmate’s birthday party because you can’t afford the bus fare and the obligatory gift, as scroungers or shirkers. The language of many politicians is still steeped in the notion that if you’re poor, it’s your own fault, while never acknowledging that if you’re rich, there’s a pretty good chance that that was entirely down to daddy.

And that is my rant for today. I hope I’m wrong about the Deputy PM’s strategy. I mean, I’m not, but I hope I am.