05 July 2007

From Breakdown To Breakthrough

Broken windows - broken livesThe BBC reports that "the Conservatives will put the battle against poverty and deprivation at the heart of their campaign to win the next general election."

Social breakdown is clearly a problem that has got worse under Labour, just as economic breakdown was so clearly the problem in the 1970s. The Difference therefore looks forward to next week's report from the Conservatives' Social Justice Policy Group, Breakthrough Britain, which will offer a wealth of proposals how we might rectify the issues identified in their other recent report Breakdown Britain.

There is a risk, however, that media coverage will once again be hijacked by a debate on the definition of poverty. You may recall that it was revealed earlier this year that the number of children living in relative poverty in the UK rose by 200,000 last year, that the number of people living on less than 40% of average income had increased under Labour, and that even using the Government's standard of relative poverty — people living in homes on less than 60% of average income net of housing costs — Labour was likely to miss its target of halving child poverty by 2010. At that time, the press was more interested in Greg Clark's suggestion that Guardian commentator Polly Toynbee rather than Winston Churchill ought to frame the terms of the Conservative Party's social agenda:

"The traditional Conservative vision of welfare as a safety net encompasses another outdated Tory nostrum - that poverty is absolute, not relative. Churchill's safety net is at the bottom: holding people at subsistence level, just above the abyss of hunger and homelessness. It is the social commentator Polly Toynbee who supplies imagery that is more appropriate for Conservative social policy in the twenty first century."
Save the Children: Severe Poverty in the UKThe truth, as revealed a couple of weeks ago in a report from Save the Children, is that one out of every ten children (that's 1,300,000 children) in the UK is living in severe poverty, lacking basic necessities that most people in the UK take for granted — a horrifying, even unbelievable statistic that the government currently does not even attempt to measure.

If we are to heal our broken society, the public debate must move beyond simply describing thresholds of poverty or counting the cost of social breakdown. There must be a commitment to discuss practical recommendations that will genuinely empower those who have been left behind.