Poverty, Inequality? So What …?

CSPP Chair Professor Richard Kerley addresses the debate over poverty and inequality in the General Election campaign and beyond.


For those of you who watched typically grouchy Jack Dee on TV recently, the tag to this blog is not meant as a 'who cares?' ...or 'I don’t care'.

I actually think about poverty & inequality and care about both a great deal; I just don’t know what we might do about them.

And before you snarl and dismiss what I write: you think hard ... and think long about this question.

‘Poverty and Inequality; so what would you do about it?’

The reason I ask you – if you have read this far – is that I have asked quite a few other people recently and in not one instance have a I got an unequivocal clear answer that would offer what I consider a satisfactory answer.

It seems to me that clearly poverty and inequality are different – indeed I always assumed this underpinned the last Labour government passing laws on [child] poverty, but not inequality. I suspect most of us would put up with Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerburg [because after all, in some filtered way we are all contributing to their wealth] if poorer families weren’t living in poor accommodation, with limited assets and children disadvantaged by the material poverty of their parents. After all Porsches are sold in Sweden; there are families in Norway where men wear red trousers; in both of these and Finland lots of people have second homes – albeit often modest. So inequality is less in many other countries than it is in the UK [and in Scotland, so don’t preen] but even in those more equal countries there are poor people.

Sometimes it is actually hard to understand or even correctly classify the multiple and complex dimensions of poverty and disadvantage.  I suspect a lot of people here are unaware of the range of incomes that different categories of household have.

Some time ago, in a discussion with an MSP and a ‘would have been‘ MSP I pointed out to them that from what I [publicly] knew of their circumstances, they were in the top 10% of household income groups. One of them was surprised and quizzical, the other flatly denied it was possible. More recently I asked one of them the ‘what would you do ...’ question. Result: some …umming and then the answer ‘Education‘. Well that might be a longish term solution, but it doesn’t address the food banks in Edinburgh or the Scottish Borders today – or tonight.

I honestly can’t say that I have found any solutions in GE manifestos [of any party], despite the FT claiming that ‘Ed Miliband has obsessed about inequality‘ [and since both the IMF and the World Bank have expressed concern about inequality, maybe the FT missed the shot here]. There is the slightly tattered promise of a Citizen Income that doesn’t seem quite as good a solution as the Greens first thought. Parties such as Plaid and the SNP who claim to really be opposed to austerity seem to focus on a reversal of benefit cuts, one assumes to the previous levels prior to cuts, that were themselves not exactly very generous.

So one of the people I spoke to talked about increasing benefits, and I offered the options of 3x or 4x increases in the £67 pw of Jobseekers Allowance. The response was that this would be ‘...more than some people earn – so a bit difficult.’ Quite.

So here’s for you to answer: and given that most Manifestos will be shredded in the event of a non-majority parliament maybe we can fire any good answers into the inter-party negotiations.

‘Poverty and Inequality; so what would you do about it?’

And maybe we could also ask those we elect to Westminster. The same question might be addressed to Holyrood where there does not even appear to be a cross-party group on poverty, thought there is room for such CPGs on Turkey; the Scottish Showmen’s Guild;  and Recreational Boating!

Centre for Scottish Public Policy
c/o Digby Brown LLP
160 Causewayside
Causewayside House
Edinburgh EH9 1PR
Follow us