Don't Look Back: Tackle the Causes Not the Symptoms of Poverty

By Brown, Gordon | New Statesman (1996), September 20, 1996 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Don't Look Back: Tackle the Causes Not the Symptoms of Poverty

Brown, Gordon, New Statesman (1996)

Peter Townsend's work, describing the conditions of poverty in Britain today, has been path-breaking and invaluable. But he is wrong when he argues that modernisation of the welfare state means abandoning the poor.

He asks whether Labour means business when it comes to tackling rising poverty and inequality in Britain. My answer is an emphatic Yes. If we do not, then we will condemn ourselves to more decades of growing social injustice and economic failure. And we will fail to honour our central commitment to social justice, a fair society and employment and educational opportunity for all.

But the war on poverty cannot be fought on the old terrain. That Peter Townsend's article does not even mention the word "skill" and barely consider education is a striking indication of his failure to come to terms with the real causes of poverty in Britain today. Labour does. Modernisation is the only way that we can attack poverty and help the poor. Our solutions to poverty and rising inequality are grounded on a proper analysis of the new causes of poverty - low skills, unemployment and low wages in work and their impact on the ability to save for retirement.

The last two decades have seen dramatic changes in the labour market. Slow growth has stunted job creation. Unskilled workers today command increasingly low wages. Our welfare state, without the support of a minimum wage, too often traps people out of work. And our education system fails far too many of our young people who leave school at 16 without skills or prospects.

When Peter Lilley argues that poverty in Britain does not exist, he is ignoring the reality of Britain's increasingly divided labour market and the failure of his government to deliver genuine equality of opportunity. The most dramatic indication of the problem is that one in five working-age households has no one with a job, up from one in 12 in 1979, while 60 per cent of the long-term unemployed have no qualifications, compared to 17 per cent for the whole workforce. Wages are now more unequal than at any time since the 19th century; with many poorly skilled people stuck in a vicious cycle of low pay and spells of unemployment, as his own Department's survey of National Insurance records reveals.

The result is that working-age families now make up 74 per cent of poor households, up from 63 per cent in 1979, and the number of children living in poverty has risen from one in 10 to one in three.

The absence of workplace opportunities and workplace earnings is the main reason why there is insufficient provision for sickness, disability, unemployment or retirement.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Don't Look Back: Tackle the Causes Not the Symptoms of Poverty


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?