Government must ‘act with urgency’ to tackle ‘national crisis of poverty

25 January 2019

Bishop of Portsmouth speaks in Lords debate on measuring rates of poverty

ISTOCK

THE Government must “act with urgency” in “tackling the national crisis of poverty”, the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, said this week.

Speaking in a House of Lords debate on measuring rates of poverty in the UK on Monday, Bishop Foster told peers that “a single person living in poverty is a tragedy; that millions do so is an affront to our values, our common decency, and how we think of ourselves as a nation.”

The debate took place after the publication of the Social Metrics Commission’s (SMC’s) first report on poverty in the UK, which was published in September (News, 21 September 2018).

It said that more than 14 million people, including 4.5 million children, live in poverty in the UK. More than half that number — 58.2 per cent — live in what the analysis calls “persistent poverty”, in which people are in poverty now and have been for at least two out of the past three years.

The chair and founder of SMC and the CEO of the Legatum Institute, Baroness Stroud, led the Lords debate. She said: “Why was it so important to create new, agreed measures of poverty? The lack of an agreed measure has meant that governments of any party have been left unaccountable for their policy actions to reduce poverty. . .

“We created a measure that will assess the depth of poverty, to understand how far below the poverty line a particular family is; and a measure that captures the persistence of poverty, to show how long people have been in poverty.”

Lady Stroud also argued: “We need to move from a debate about measurement to one that drives better outcomes for people. It is too easy for those in this Chamber and in the other place to debate the 200,000 people who moved from one side of the poverty line to the other, rather than develop a strategy to deliver improved outcomes for the 7.7 million who are in persistent poverty.”

Bishop Foster said: “If we are to tackle poverty, we must agree on how to measure it. We therefore owe the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, and her team a huge debt of gratitude — not just for taking into account the inescapable costs many families face, such as childcare and disability, nor just for the welcome focus on the lived experience of poverty, such things as mental health, literacy, and family stability, nor even for the suggestion of measuring poverty against a threshold smoothed over three years, but for bringing together a diverse, authoritative group of experts, for their careful dialogue and analysis, and for arriving at a measure of poverty on which we can all agree, wherever we sit in this House.

“That is no mean feat, and it is one on which we can all, I trust, coalesce. It provides the foundations on which we can — indeed, must — build, given the shocking rising figures, particularly on persistent and child poverty, on which there is no time to elaborate tonight.”

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