It is entirely possible that Iain Duncan Smith has a point when he said income-based measures of poverty skew political policies towards making people £1 richer than the current measure of poverty.
But poverty is a measure of income. Changing the indicators won’t change a fact of life.
And it is a relative measure, too. This means that the number of people in poverty now – if measured by the standards of 2010 – would be far greater than the current figures suggest, due to a drop in median income.
So the reason Iain Duncan Smith wants to change the poverty indicators in the UK, away from established OECD rules, is not likely to be for purposes of boosting social mobility (this has never been a Conservative policy; they like to keep the plebs down).
It is far more likely that he simply wants to hide the number of children in working families who are in poverty. Standing at more than half the total, the current number is clear proof that Tory economic policies have nothing at all to do with the stated aim of “making work pay”.
The Conservatives’ welfare cuts will come under attack on a new front this week when the House of Lords considers plans to change the way child poverty is measured, just as benefits cuts hit low-income households.
Labour and Liberal Democrat peers, emboldened by their success in forcing the chancellor, George Osborne, to rethink his tax credit changes, will use the debate on the welfare reform and work bill on Tuesday to warn that child poverty is set to surge.
The End Child Poverty campaign, a coalition of more than 100 charities and NGOs, is urging the government to drop plans – already passed by the House of Commons – to replace the well-established measures of child poverty, based on household income, with a disparate series of indicators including educational outcomes and unemployment.
Analysis of official figures carried out by the campaign shows that the number of children in working families living in poverty – defined as being below 60% of UK median income – has surged by 300,000 since 2010, to 2.4 million, once housing costs are taken into account. More than half of the children in poverty on this measure now live in working households.
The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, is a long-standing sceptic of income-based measures of poverty, believing that they skew policy towards achieving “poverty plus £1”. He prefers instead to focus on boosting social mobility.
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