Poverty and Inequality Never Went Away - We Just Stopped Looking for a Time, Compassion Became Unfashionable and All Discussion Was Rubbished by Mrs Thatcher
Smith, Andreas Whittam, The Independent (London, England)
IT WOULD be good if Professor Amartya Sen, the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics last week, could turn his scholarly attention to Britain. Professor Sen has made his reputation in welfare economics, challenging the view, for instance, that shortage of food is the main or only explanation of famine in India, Bangladesh and the Saharan countries. He has also created indices for measuring deprivation in all its aspects.
For we have been reminded in the past few days that substantial and dangerous poverty with horrible consequences still exists in this country. Sir Donald Acheson, a former government chief medical officer, has written a report showing that it is almost impossible for the poor in the United Kingdom to obtain cheap, varied food. Local shops have closed down because of the growth of out-of-town supermarkets, leading to the creation of food deserts in inner cities. If you live in the centre and lack a car, you simply cannot get to the supermarkets where the best bargains are to be found.
Sir Donald added that the food gap between the rich, who eat more fruit and vegetables, and the poor, who eat more salt and fat, parallels the health gap. Indeed, he said, actual hunger is prevalent in some groups today, particularly single mothers. This is famine, not of a region, but of certain groups, defined by their income, status and locality. The phenomenon has the same paradoxes that Professor Sen has analysed in Third World countries. The badly off in Britain pay more for their food in local shops than do those with higher incomes in supermarkets. The upshot is that the gap in life expectancy between those at the top and the bottom of the social scale has widened. Whereas one in five professional men aged 45 to 64 has a long-standing illness, the proportion for unskilled men is almost half. But inequality extends further than food and health. In the 1998 British Crime Survey released last week, there is a section which got little attention headed "Unequal Risks". I found it just as significant as the slight fall in the incidence of crime which was trumpeted in newspaper headlines. For it provided ample evidence and many examples of how the poor suffer more from crime than the rich. In England and Wales, one in 20 households experienced burglary in 1997. However, the following types of household ran an above-average risk of being broken into: where the head of the family was single, where the head of the family was unemployed, where the household income was less than pounds 5,000 a year, or where the property was rented from a council or housing association. On the other hand, if a family had an income of more than pounds 30,000 and was living in a detached house which it owned, its chances of suffering a break-in were very much less. In the case of vehicle crime, the picture is similar except in one respect - car thieves do like expensive cars. Nonetheless the categories most at risk of theft related to vehicles remain single parents, the unemployed and those living in council or housing association property. When we come to violent crime, a high percentage of the victims are found in exactly the same groups. The only special factor is the regularity of going out in the evening. As one would expect, the more often you go out, or the more often you visit a pub or wine bar, …
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Publication information: Article title: Poverty and Inequality Never Went Away - We Just Stopped Looking for a Time, Compassion Became Unfashionable and All Discussion Was Rubbished by Mrs Thatcher. Contributors: Smith, Andreas Whittam - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: October 19, 1998. Page number: 3. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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