These days it seems we’re more likely to hear politicians talk about a “cost-of-living crisis” or, possibly, allude to problems of housing affordability than we are to find them discussing “poverty”. Indeed, we’re back in an era where the whole concept of poverty, and whether there are any households in genuine poverty, is being questioned. The translation of the banking crisis into a crisis of welfare has seen benefits cut and uprating mechanisms pared back. The prevailing policy narrative of over-generous welfare provision has caused the discussion to loose its moorings. The political elite fail to show any great appreciation of when or whether their cuts might be at risk of reducing citizens to an unacceptably low standard of living.
Yet, in recent weeks the term “destitution” seems to have made an unwelcome return to the political lexicon following the intervention by Archbishop – now Cardinal – Nichols to raise the issue of overzealous benefit sanctions. And there’s been some discussion of quite how far the UK will miss its child poverty targets by, largely as a consequence of the Coalition’s welfare “reform” agenda.
Into this fog of political euphemism and misdirection comes Julia Unwin’s Why fight poverty? This brief book was published towards the end of last year, but I’ve only just got to reading it.
The book is a timely reminder of what is at stake. Unwin provides a restatement of why poverty is a major social problem – not just for those who find themselves poor at a particular point in time but for everyone. Poverty is risky, costly and wasteful. [Read more...]