The above wording is the start of a famous story about a teacher in a school in Beverly Hills who told her young charges all about the poor people in the world, and then asked the assembled kids to write a very short story about poverty.
Little Amy writes from real life as she knows it:-
There once was a poor family. Daddy was poor, Mommy was very poor, the kids were all really poor, and the Butler was poorest of all!
But I digress!!
As a rule, I tend to ignore the plethora of buzz-words emanating from the miasma of Labour Government policy wonks and press-officer babble, but listening to a news snippet this morning brought me wide awake and fully alert in next to no time at all. The word ‘poverty’ had somehow crept in to the broadcast conversation, and I thought I might examine this particular term in all its’ New Labour glory.
As I tend to think in engineering terms, let us examine the definition for that particular word; and the ‘accepted’ definition thus is ‘Persons, families and groups of persons whose resources (material, cultural and social) are so limited as to exclude them from the minimum acceptable way of life in the Member State to which they belong’. But accepted by who, and of course the answer is the European Union! One would accept that such an undemocratic institution as the E.U. would have to ram such a meandering collection of woolly terminology down our harmonised throats, but there it is.
The UK Government Definition:-
Absolute low income – to measure whether the very poorest families are seeing their incomes rise in real terms, we will monitor the number of children living in families with incomes below a particular threshold which is adjusted for inflation – set for a couple with one child at £210 a week in today’s terms.
Relative low income – to measure whether the poorest families are keeping pace with the growth of incomes in the economy as a whole, we will monitor the number of children living in households below 60 per cent of contemporary median equivalised household income.
Material deprivation and low income combined – to provide a wider measure of people’s living standards, we will monitor the number of children living in households that are both materially deprived and have an income below 70 per cent of contemporary median equivalised household income.
Using this measure, poverty is falling when all three indicators are moving in the right direction.
Poverty of course has many definitions, and as usual, you pays your money and you takes your choice! Poverty is being poor or deprived, not only in physical items which help to feed and clothe you, but also in things which help your way of thinking and well-being, such as the benefit of a caring family or a close-knit community. When I was a small boy, still at school, we noticed that one day, one of our classmates was not present. Our class teacher asked if anyone knew why he was absent. And one reply came that he had no shoes, and his mother was going to shop for replacements before he could return. That was reality, that was poverty; not to have a second pair of shoes to act as replacements whilst a new pair was bought. My best friend at school was a lad whose mother deliberately started her shopping at 5.45 p.m. in the local Co-Op, because she was almost guaranteed to be able to buy a sliced loaf at reduced price because it was regarded as ‘old’ stock, therefore allowing the simultaneous purchase of ‘fish-and-chips for four’ at the chippy’s next door for that day’s dinner! That is being poor, in Britain some fifty-five years ago; not being without a mobile phone, or a digital music-player with umpteen-gazillion bits of memory so the slack-jawed recipient of this largesse can listen to Beyonce singing ‘Halo’, or Lady Gaga warbling ‘Poker Face’.
I still remember waking up on Christmas morning 1944 to find that I had received a wooden toy from Santa Claus; and when I woke up one year later on Christmas Day 1945, it was there, but it had been repainted! We weren’t poor, but we had been at war for six years prior to that day, and our expectations were somewhat limited!
When one reads a small percentage of government publications on the enchanting subject of ‘child poverty’, one realises what a fertile field is being ploughed, sewn and reaped in the land of the ‘Spin Doctors’ who write the polished versions before publication; and of course you read of the words newly-coined such as ‘Equivalisation’ to help get ‘The Message’ across to the great unwashed who might accidentally read from such august publications as the DWP’s ‘Ending child poverty:‘Thinking 2020’ or even the even more adventurous ‘making governance work for the poor’ from the Blair era. The truth about poverty lies somewhere within the broad boundaries from the ‘spin’ of a Brown-led Labour Government to the bitter memories of the ‘Jarrow Marchers’ of the ‘Thirties’.
But the one Poverty Area which really strikes home with this writer is the news that the Commonwealth Development Corporation, now newly-named C.D.C., is employing one Richard Laing as the Chief Executive. Appointed as Chief Executive Officer in July 2004. He joined CDC in January 2000 as Finance Director and took up his role as Chief Executive following CDC’s restructure in 2004. He is a trustee of the Overseas Development Institute, the UK’s leading independent think tank on international development. Prior to this, he spent 15 years at De La Rue where he held a number of positions both in the UK and overseas, latterly as Group Finance Director. He was also a non-executive Director of Camelot plc. He previously worked in agribusiness in developing countries, and at PricewaterhouseCoopers. The purpose of the CDC is to help eliminate poverty in the Commonwealth and the Third World, which is good; but do you believe that Mr. Shields is giving value for money as he started out on a salary of £383,000 in 2003 and saw it increased to £970,000 in 2007!