In praise of absolute poverty

It strikes me that we may need to rewind the clock and recapture something a bit simpler. It might help some members of the political elite talk more sense.

There is a continuing academic debate over how to measure poverty. Broadly speaking, thinking on poverty has moved away from using absolute poverty measures – such as the $/day that has been frequently used to assess the extent of global poverty. Emphasis is now much more on the use of relative poverty measures, such as those who fall below 60% of median income, or consensual measures, which, crudely speaking, identify what constitutes an acceptable standard of living within a particular society and work backwards to the level of resources needed to achieve it. Relative and consensual measures of poverty get at an important additional dimension to the problem of poverty – it is not only that lack of income leaves people hungry or cold but the absence of income also frustrates meaningful social participation.

Those on the political Right tend to favour a return to absolute measures of poverty. It is only when using an absolute measure that it is possible to declare poverty to have been banished or to deny the existence of poverty, as it was so publicly attempted by the Thatcher government.

While that move was criticised as statistical shenanigans, there may be a need to reintegrate a concern with absolute poverty into the debate. For two reasons. [Read more…]

Could the riots be the beginning of the end for the Coalition?

Today I was idly wondering whether the way in which the Government responds to last week’s riots could turn out to be pivotal for the Coalition. Possibly the beginning of the end. Why might that be? I was pondering what makes Liberal Democrats distinctive.

If you think about Liberal Democrats on a left-right political axis then the Party’s identity is perhaps rather indistinct. It encompasses a broad range of opinion. It stretches from the left of the Social Liberal Forum, which would appear to share common ground with the remnants of the left wing of the Labour party or the Green party, to Liberal Vision and beyond which occupy parts of the political spectrum where it is hard to tell a Liberal from a Libertarian at twenty paces.

But if you look at the Liberal Democrats on the authoritarian-liberal axis then they are hugely distinctive from the other major parties, which share a strong authoritarian streak (although Labour is perhaps less clear what it thinks on this point than it might appear, as discussed here on Liberal Conspiracy today). The only party that comes close to the Liberal Democrats on questions of human rights and civil liberties is the Green party. The only comparable area of divergence between the Liberal Democrats and the other major parties might be constitutional reform.

This is, I think, why things might start to unravel. [Read more…]

The riots and the return to the big picture

Last week’s riots were shocking. The effect upon the many communities, families and individuals affected was undoubtedly profound. They have prompted plenty of soul searching and a wide range of diagnoses. If we are optimistic we should hope that they act as a catalyst for addressing problems of urban Britain that have been developing over many years.

The riots have not shown the political classes in a great light. There was the slow response from the Government – was this really a situation sufficiently serious to justify curtailing our vacations? There was the muddle over who has shaped policing strategy, leading to a potentially damaging war of words between the Government and senior police officers. And there is the extraordinary range of illiberal and disproportionate measures that David Cameron has seen fit to propose in response to the crisis. He seemed intent on manufacturing a full blown moral panic in order to take a worryingly authoritarian turn. Liberal Democrat MPs are clearly very uneasy at the way in which Mr Cameron has changed his tune from those far off days of compassionate Conservatism.

The riots have pushed just about everything else to the back of the news agenda for the last week. That is deeply unfortunate for at least two  reasons associated with this period of momentous – indeed unprecedented – economic turmoil. [Read more…]