You can't eat GCSEs, Iain Duncan Smith, and they won't keep you warm

Thu, 02/07/2015 - 14:34 -- nick

The child poverty figure was out this week, and it surprised many people by showing no overall rise.

This wasn't the success the Conservatives tried to present it as; there is a target in place that commits the government to eradicating child poverty by 2020, the end of the current parliament, and this needs the figure to fall significantly every year with 2.3 million still below the breadline.

The Tories know they aren't going to get anywhere near this, and are more likely to increase poverty than reduce it with their programme of benefit cuts and caps hurting the poorest the most in the last parliament.

There is worse to come. Next week will see £12 billion more welfare cuts, with working people likely to bear the brunt of this as the unemployed have seen their income hollowed out over years of coalition attacks. There is little left that can be taken from the workless, beyond the already-announced reduction in the benefit cap to £23,000 per year.

The advance buzz suggests that tax credits will see big reductions, and these are primarily paid to those in jobs. The main rise in poverty over the last years has been among workers - more than half of all those living below the poverty line now earn wages.

This gives the lie to Iain Duncan Smith's moralising and pretence that work is the route out of poverty, but this nonsense is about to prompt an even greater change in government policy.

In the full knowledge that their plans for cuts mean there is no chance of hitting the target, which is measured using a base of a minimum of 60% of the UK's average income, the famed 'nasty party' has no intention of rowing back.

Instead it will redefine child poverty, taking advantage of the week between releasing those figures and the benefit cuts announcement, which will undoubtedly prompt a big rise in the number living in penury.

Smith has announced he will change the terms of the question because he doesn't like the answer the original one gives him.

Most people understand poverty to be a financial issue, and understand that families living below the poverty line experience consequences in terms of nutrition, schooling, homes, debt, and a huge range of other issues that make their lives difficult every day.

Smith wants to pretend that this isn't the case, and will instead start to measure other things like educational achievement, addiction, and of course his old favourite, worklessness.

He has been listening to himself for so long that he has started to believe his own hype, and to believe that unemployment is in itself a poverty issue (it isn't in other advanced European economies which provide liveable incomes).

No-one sensible believes this is anything other than a back-covering exercise. As The Children's Society put it:

"Income is at the heart of child poverty. Ignoring it will only mean more ineffective policies that continue to fail. This will condemn increasing numbers of children to live below the breadline which is a national disgrace."

The other measures of poverty being discussed are of some importance to childrens' lives, but you can't eat your parent's job, and whether they went to Eton or Gasworks Secondary Modern, you can't heat your home with their education.

Unless Smith is suggesting these children huddle round the fire burning their Mum's GCSE certificates?