A record number of workers are living in poverty, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation announced last week, no less than one in every eight workers in the UK. That was not all: a grand total of 7.4 million people, including 2.6 million children, are ‘in poverty’ despite being in a ‘working family’, the BBC told us.
Listening to the loaded language, which is routinely used whenever poverty is discussed, I wondered when we started referring to people as ‘in poverty’ rather than being poor? When did the ‘in work’ phrase take over from ‘working’ or at work? My memory is that all these clever linguistic changes accompanied Tony Blair and the advent of New Labour’s new consensus, Exclusion Unit ‘newspeak’, that extended the State’s tentacles into our lives and thoughts.
Poverty – whether officially defined as living at below than 60 per cent of median income or, as in JRF’s inspired inclusive new definition, as ‘living at a standard of living that fellow citizens think is not acceptable’ – is framed as someone else’s responsibility (or fault). Primarily, the government’s, since being ‘in work’ implies you should not be in poverty. But what counts as ‘in work’? An hour? well 15 hours actually.
Well, who could get by on that? But being ‘in work’, however part time, excuses all else as it has turned you in Government speak into an unimpeachable ‘working family’. Thus being ‘in work’ is sufficient and it can only be harsh and uncaring government (or bad business) that causes you still to be ‘in poverty’. Language elides thought. And so we find Kamal Ahmed, the BBC’s Economics Editor, agreeing with the great Mark Carney, who jumped on the ‘divided society’ bandwagon (how else do you explain Brexit?) with his ‘lost decade’ speech last week, in arguing this means that capitalism is not working.
According to this spurious logic it is not their lack of hours but ‘economic growth’ that is not benefiting people fairly. Oh, and in case of any doubt, universal credit top up cuts are harsh and cruel.
To illustrate all this inequity, the Today programme produced one Amelia Gray, a single mother of two in part time (30 hours) employment and on various tax credits or benefits, who is struggling to make ends meet. John Humphrys duly expressed shock to find there was no further recourse for her than food banks. Oliver Twist came to mind – the State of course as Bumble the Beadle.
Her story raised more questions than it answered. Hitting me between the eyes was the one you are not allowed to ask – why did she think hers was ever an economically viable or responsible lifestyle choice – to have and bring up two children on her own, that working part time could ever be enough to support them, or that it should be the government’s responsibility to finance her choice. She would have been shocked to be asked.
Yet was this a choice that either John Humphrys or Kamal Ahmed would recommend to their own children? One they’d think responsible?
Well, of course, Amelia may not have set out that way. Her boyfriend, partner or husband may have left her struggling with her kids on her own, in which case what about his responsibility? Why is he not contributing to his children’s support? Why is there an assumption he need not? In Germany child support would be docked off his welfare payments. In Germany the father has to be named.
Here where the lax State has taken families’ responsibility to provide for their own children away from them, it is no longer acceptable to pose such questions let alone assert the common sense and moral proposition that it takes two to rear a family – a man and a woman. The State no longer expects that.
But for this, Amelia and the other 1.8 million single parents in the UK might not find themselves in the plight they are. But for successive governments endorsing – even promoting – their destructive lifestyle choice (much in the name of women’s independence) we might have better funded social security for the genuinely disabled and desperate.
When, I keep wondering, will it finally dawn on the establishment the price of ‘cultural casualness’ about child rearing is too high and not affordable? that the government is already spending 43 per cent of national income and that a third of all public spending is on welfare and pensions. The coffers are empty.
When will the penny drop that in taking over those functions that naturally rest with the family or civil society, the State continues to weaken both, making ever greater demands on government in turn – in a vicious downwards spiral.
Not any time soon it seems. Instead, the finger of blame in true Orwellian style is now pointed at capitalism itself – the charge being that it is ‘no longer working’. How inverted can thinking get?
Mark Carney would do better to shed himself of his virtue-signalling mantle and ponder on what does makes capitalism work.
Where families are strong and independent I would venture – where the culture is one of vigorous virtues which our culture, most particularly in its promotion of single parenthood, lacks.
Margaret Thatcher warned way back that: “It is far from clear that a capitalist economy and a free society can continue to function if substantial minorities flout the moral, legal and administrative rules and conventions under which everyone else operates.”
Nor was she just referring to crony capitalism, but to standards and values across the board, noting that:
“Company executives are unwilling to move to areas of high crime and delinquent schools. The explosion of spending on one-parent families forces social security budgets – and ultimately taxes – inexorably upwards. Above all, there are fears that the growing welfare dependency will demotivate and demoralise young men and women on whose contributions in the workforce industrial expansion and advance depend.”
And hasn’t she been proved right? Well, how about starting right here Mrs May and instead of talking about ‘just about managing families’ really talk about British values – why the state can’t for ever encourage millions of people to make poor choices – for themselves, their children and society.
(Image: Hamed Parham)