Category Archives: Child poverty

Coalition: Arbeit macht frei and the Deserving Poor


It is sometimes necessary to shock to reveal an underlying truth. The title of this post is a well-known slogan above the entrance to the Auschwwitz concentration camp which in English means ‘labour makes you free’. In England next week the Coalition government is to give us, in the form of changes to the welfare system, an English version of an underlying truth. To draw the parallel closer I should really use the slogan about the Buchenwald concentration camp: Jadem das Seine( idomatically, everyone gets what they deserve).

Next week several hundreds of the poorest and most vulnerable families in England are to be faced with reductions in their welfare benefits. The Labour Party (admittedly a partisan source) has calculated that these families will lose some £800 over a year. At the same time anumber of members of the Cioalition Government will receice tax cuts worth £100,OOO a year.I am reliably infromed that these unknown members of our government deserve every penny of their tax cut. No dodgers there then.

It is sometimes supposed that the use of the term ‘deserving poor’ was invented in Germany. Not so, it was invented here and brought into law by several Poor Laws in Elizabethan times. I have had the opportunity to study the implementation of these Acts in Colchester, Essex (now represented by a Lib Dem MP.) The poor laws were administered by the local parish churches. Abandoned children and the unemployed on the street corners were brought under the direction of the Parish. Here they were expected to work and at 14 aid ceased although some Parishes provided apprenticeships (ring any bells now?). In some of these parishes the beneficiaries were made to carry a large red letter P on their outer garments to denote that they were recipients of care. Naturally like the Jews in Berlin in the 1930’s with their yellow labels these children were fair game for any spare abuse going on at the time. A sort of badge of shame.

It is said to us by the Coalition that only the deserving poor are worth helping and that there are a lot of scroungers, the undeserving poor, who don’t deserve to receive any benefits whatsoever. For them it is Jadem das Seine or idiomatically, ‘get a job you lousy scrounger). I wonder does the Coalition have any ideas for the introduction of a badge. Let me know dear readers if you know something.

Now of course there are many recipients of welfare who are working but they too are thought undeserving. They will continue to suffer a cut in their wages in real terms because of high inflation and many millions of people are not being paid a living wage but in some mysterious way they remain undeserving. Tough luck, I hear you say plenty of good jobs in the City of London and anyway some of them are Romanian immigrants taking advantage of our low wages.

If you think I am exagerating? I suggest you direct your letter of protest to George Osborne or Nick Clegg. But if as I suspect you are a member of the undeserving poor be careful in the language you use. These public school boys know how to defend each other.

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Filed under BBC, Benefits, Cabinet, Cameron, Child poverty, Coalition Government, Disabled, Germany, Ian Duncan Smith, Labour Blogs, Lib Dem blogs, Liberal Voice, New Stateman, Nick Clegg, Politics, Poverty, Social justice, Unemployment

Welfare Compassion


The pathway to universal social benefits for those who need them has never appealed to the Right in politics. Their message has alway been, ‘very nice but the nation cannot afford it’. In their time the country could not afford a state pension, or the NHS, unemployment benefit, a minimum wage, or a guaranteed income for the disabled and the destitute. This conviction runs  in parallel with a value judgement: these benefits should only go to the deserving poor, and to its associate idea, that not many are deserving. It was once the case that poverty was considered not to be a sin but a misfortune. It was  the Victorians who branded it otherwise.

Social democrats have always considered welfare as a safety net through which the unfortunate should not fall. Human nature being infaillable it was accepted that there would always be some who abused the system but that no device of man could prevent some abuse. Taxpayers were the fortunate: after all they had income and their taxes helped the unfortunate.

Is it possible to select the deserving and weed out the spongers? One can try, it is right to attempt it, but the pathway leads to poverty, discrimination and, yes, a lack of compassion. There are a thousand reasons for some not working: mental or physical problems, looking after children or incapacitated adults – and a lack of work. Now all these people and they run to hundreds of thousands are for the high jump. If they try and fail to get a job any payment being made to them and their families will stop.  ‘Work will make you free’. Hold on, are they not the words above the entrance to the Auchwitz concentration camp? Some of these people, staring at the tellie with instant coffee to hand, know at the start they will fail. And what about the children? We shall look after them say the Coalition at the same time denying this family financial help. How will this be done? If they are shunted to a boarding house in Hastings, homeless, penniless, away from school and friends, are they being helped? Surely it is better and more compassionate to help keep this family together in its own home. It is usually better to have a home than not.

Well it is objected, I exagerate. It will not come to that. But it will for some family near to you, perhaps many near to you. What about your neighbour or your neighbour’s friend?  Let us consider the 8,500 London families whose  Housing Benefit is to be cut, some of these will lose their home and fail to find another. Not all of them you mutter, and serve them right, they, this family, should get on their bikes, assuming that they have them, and find something else. Some will, but some cannot. Perhaps no more than half, you retort, will lose out.  Oh that’s good not more than a  half, being 5,000 families in southern coast boarding houses. No problem. One would be too many, ten a mishap, but thousands of avoidable family disasters? Surely,  a shame on us all!

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Pain and No Gain


The success of George Osborne’s spending review, or otherwise, is a question of judgement. Is George right to conclude that after four years the budget deficit will be eliminated and the UK economy and total employment will have risen. If he is right we might shrug and say, as many commentators do say, that many of us may have driven to desperation but that the economic problem will have been solved. Good old George we might say. He is our saviour.

I am distressed that the discussion is so loose. It is true that earl;ier in the year the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) believed that George might be right but that the Goverment’s statistical chance of being right was 40 in a 100. In other words, if he was a horse  at that time the odds were 2 to 1 on. A gamble? Not really but many a horse loses at these odds. What might the odds be now? The OBR has another go in November. Since then many economic signs indicate the odds have worsened. Whether the OBR alters the odds (and I think they well might) is an unknown. Perhaps the odds then may be 3,4,or 5 to one. You pay your money and takes your choice. Do you want George to gamble people’s jobs,  welfare and family prospects at odds of say, 4 to 1 ? Well, not my job George, if you don’t mind, would be the likely response. To put my job and house at risk for those odds would in my mind be an unjustifiable gamble.

What do I mean? I think that George is wrong on a number of matters. First, I follow the IFS in suggesting that George’s spending review will not eliminate the budget deficit. He is relying on substantial efficiency savings in Government Departments. Come off it George it is far more difficult that you realise. We have all been there before. The worldwide economy is recovering slowly with many months of slow growth ahead of us all. What will George do  if the numbers do not work out? He tells us that he has no Plan B. I do not believe him. Rather than admit that they were wrong the Coalition will plunge on with further cuts.

Politically what will the Lib Dems do? Whatever they do, it might be argued that they are doomed. They may split with the Lib Dem ministers clinging on to the Tory coat  tails and the rest abandoned to the political wilderness. This might be very obvious by next May.

Can the Opposition in all its forms bring this Coalition experiment to an end? Not now. Next June, when we are all examining the damage? Why not?

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Filed under Alan Budd, BBC, Benefits, Big society, Cabinet, Cameron, Child poverty

Pupil Premium: the road to hell


Nick Clegg in a thoughtful and well-organised speech has released some details about the  intoduction of the long-covetted Lib Dem Pupil Premium. As stated the aim is to help disadvantaged pupils by providing 15 hours of teaching from the age of two and at various stages of their education. It is a worthy aim in itself but as we know the road to hell is paved with good intentions. As stated the policy might be expected to assist 20 percent of the 1.1 milion children who at the present time enjoy free school meals.

In his analysis Clegg makes a startling and misconceived identification of disadvantage with poverty. Is it true that all children whose families are poor are disadvantaged? Are all the disadvantaged poor? Do all poor children take free school meals? And would special teaching of the poor, as so defined, tackle the problem.

Clegg does not pose and answer these questions. So I will step in  and help him. No not all poor children are disadvantaged. We can all think of good homes and successful children from homes with limited income. I come from just such a home. But my parents were aspirational and willing to work at the difficult art of encouraging children. Not all homes are like this and many with greater resources succeed in making a mess of family life and their children’s progress. Not all poor children take school meals. Many parents prefer to us their imagination and the money they have available to provide lunches for their children. Disadvantaged children come from any family breakdown you care to mention.

The evidence on the usefulness of pre-school education is mixed. I am inclined to think it a good thing or rather to give it the benefit of the doubt BUT it is easy to quote many studies that show the opposite. Again everything depends on the kind of family they come from and what they might be learning and experiencing if they were not at school.

Of course, limited resources makes things difficult for many families. If we accept that this is a deadweight on the shoulders of the poor the solution is to ensure that ALL these families have more resources after tax. If you believe that children should have nursery education from the age of two THEN the state  should provide it for them. If you believe that disadvantaged children should be spotted early and helped then nurseries and schools should have the resources to teach in small classes and provide a high-quality pastoral care that reaches back to work with families in their homes.

If then you agree with the analysis what is needed? No cuts in educational provision, no scaling back on Sure Start, smaller classes, good teachers and organised pastoral care. What you do not want is Coaltion cuts in the education budget. Crocodile tears evoke no sympathy with me. Move over Cleggie and let the the misadventure of the Coalition grind to an end.

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Austerity Without Impoverishment?


The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Few doubt the sincerity of Lib Dem members of the Government: they do genuinely wish to be fair and to reduce  poverty, especially among children but outcomes depend on the implementation of the right policies not Conference resolutions. These thoughts are prompted by a report of the Institute For Fiscal Studies (IFS) which concludes that as a result of fiscal measures take by the Coalition todate the poorest families will lose five times as much as richer childless families, as a percentage of their annual income,  over the next four years.

The debate about this  will need to address a central dilemma, The question is:  when real incomes fall, as they will over the next four years, can you protect the poor and vulnerable? No, you can’t. The popular ditty is right: ‘the poor get poorer and the rich get richer.’ But you can alleviate the impact of fiscal constriction. The burden of cuts cannot all be borne by the public sector for poor people are more dependant on them and the incidence of tax increases must not fall unfairly on the poor. The case against the VAT increase, despite the increasingly sophisticated reasoning in its favour, is a case in point.

The Lib Dems cannot prevent unfairness by talking the talk. The truth is that they have sold out. They are committed to support Tory policies to eliminate the budget deficit in four years and mainly by swinging cuts in public services. You can’t help the poor by contracting the economy, reducing their chances of a job, and  slowing the growth of national income. Chickens will come home to roost. If you are patient and wait a short time you will see them return.

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