The Government’s sins of omission over poverty

by
12 August 2009

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From the Revd Paul Nicolson
Sir, — It is good to read Canon Giles Fraser (Comment, 7 August) making the connection between the financial crisis we are going through and its consequences for impoverished households. However, that it has been “brought upon” us by bankers is not the complete story.

Blaming bankers working within the very loose regulatory framework since the 1980s is like blaming a thief for stealing when the Government has passed laws allowing it. It is immoral, but it is not illegal. Also, reckless borrowing to get on the housing ladder stimulated by lax regulation has added substantially to our present woes. There were political decisions in the ’80s to allow a flood of money to exacerbate the increase in the price of housing, which was, and still is, in short supply. The flood was allowed to become a torrent when the Government changed in 1997.

If there are political sins of commission, there are devastating sins of omission from the point of view of the poorest citizens. No comprehensive housing policy has included ending overcrowding as a priority. Shelter reported in July that more than one million children are now trapped in overcrowded housing, a rise of 54,000 in the past two years. Coupled with inadequate incomes, and inevitable debt, the stress in those families creates mental and physical illness.

There is no measure of adequacy used by government when the levels of welfare incomes are set. Minimum incomes should be set at a level that will enable families to avoid mental and physical ill-health, and provide them with the minimum security needed to enable children to take full advantage of the education system.

The London Living Wage, supported by the Mayor, is the only adequacy-based minimum income in the UK, and it is a success. It is now paid to more than 5500 cleaners and hotel workers. This campaign has been led by the faiths in membership of London Citizens.

Continual changes in the delivery of welfare have led Lord Justice Wall to comment in the Court of Appeal: “In my view it remains an apparently non-eradicable blemish on our op­era­tion of the rule of law that the poorest and most disadvantaged in our society remain subject to regu­lations which are complex, obscure and, to many, simply incompre­hensible.” We also have regressive local and national systems of taxation.

We can’t afford poverty that fills the health and education services, free at the point of delivery, with its expensive consequences in ill-health and educational under-achievement. There are four million children living in households below the poverty line in the UK, some a long way below. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has estimated that ending child poverty will save the tax payer £25 billion a year. That takes no account of the savings from ending the poverty of 7.5 million adults and two million pensioners.
PAUL NICOLSON
Chairman
Zacchaeus 2000 Trust
38 Ebury Street
London SW1W 0LU

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