Access to Resources Is the Key to Ending Child Poverty; If Wales Is Serious about Tackling Poverty It Must Fight Inequality and Put the Struggle Back on the Political Agenda, Insists John Dixon

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 27, 2010 | Go to article overview

Access to Resources Is the Key to Ending Child Poverty; If Wales Is Serious about Tackling Poverty It Must Fight Inequality and Put the Struggle Back on the Political Agenda, Insists John Dixon


Byline: John Dixon

ELIMINATING child poverty has rightly been a central aim of the Welsh Government from the outset, and the consultation on the latest strategy has recently ended.

It's a worthy aim, but in many ways the strategy deals more with symptoms than with underlying causes.

That's not suggesting that the initiatives aren't worthwhile, nor that they shouldn't be funded. But breaking the link between deprivation and the problems it causes doesn't end deprivation.

There are initiatives to break the links between poverty and poor health, educational underachievement and poor housing. All of these help people to overcome the poor start that life has given them at an individual level.

Such help is vital for those individuals - but will it end the cycle? Will it stop the next generation being trapped in the same cycle? If it doesn't, then similar programmes will need to continue indefinitely.

Reducing inequalities of outcome is something worth achieving in itself, but it isn't the same as reducing inequality.

The definition of poverty is based on relative criteria; poverty is a level of income less than 60% of the median.

The median is the level of household income which divides the population in half; 50% have an income higher than the median, and 50% have an income lower than the median.

There is no mathematical necessity which requires a particular spread of household income among the lower 50% (or among the higher 50% either, come to that), so the eradication of poverty (as opposed to the mitigation of its effects) is achievable - if we have the collective will.

Relative poverty and inequality of income are flip sides of the same coin; eliminating the first depends directly on reducing the second. Yet in reality, income inequality over recent decades has increased rather than reduced - and that's been as true under Labour governments as it has been under Conservative governments.

Strictly speaking, eliminating poverty only depends on greater equality among the households whose income is in the lowest 50%; no level of inequality among the other 50% makes any difference. That may be true in purely mathematical terms, but any serious strategy to reduce inequality has to look at the top as well as the bottom of the scale; excessive rewards at the top are as big a cause of social problems as inadequate rewards at the bottom.

The statutory minimum wage introduced by Labour was a well-intentioned move, but the level at which it has been set was, and remains, inadequate. The Government's draft strategy on child poverty states that the current weekly level of household income below which a family is regarded as being in poverty is pounds 322 for a couple with two children (pounds 239 for a single parent with two children) - after deducting housing costs; but that is higher than the level of income which the minimum wage provides.

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Access to Resources Is the Key to Ending Child Poverty; If Wales Is Serious about Tackling Poverty It Must Fight Inequality and Put the Struggle Back on the Political Agenda, Insists John Dixon
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