The rich vs poverty

I love my country I’m like the many who are angry at the coalition government whose only concerns are for the few chums who fills the Tory coffers and in return they get various contracts whilst the many faces hardships ranging from cost of living, which includes child care cost, lack of social housing, bedroom tax, rail and bus fares increases coupled by caps on housing, council tax and pensions.

It is said that average living standards in UK have fallen since the recession and will not reach pre-crisis levels by 2015 according economists.

It’s calculated a so called mid-range household’s income in 2013-14 was 6% below its pre-crisis peak. But those on low incomes could feel the squeeze more in the coming years.

This coalition is really out of touch with the many. I’m happy that we have some growth in the economy but more can be done by improving the lives of the many one way is by building the jobs sectors in both public and private sectors and helping out small business.

The Minimum Income Standard (MIS) shows how much households need for an acceptable standard of living according to members of the public. The latest household income data show trends in the numbers living below this threshold up to early 2012.

Key points

Overall there has been a deterioration in living standards, with the proportion of people living in households below MIS increasing by a fifth between 2008/9 and 2011/12. Most of the increase came in the final year of this period.

The most severe increase has been among single people of working age, where the percentage unable to afford this minimum acceptable standard of living rose from 29 per cent to 36 per cent.

Among single people aged under 35 it rose even faster, from 29 to 42 per cent. This group also had an even greater increase in risk of having extremely low incomes, of less than half the minimum required: this risk rose from 9 per cent to 25 per cent.

This dramatic deterioration in young people’s fortunes is associated with growing unemployment, declining benefit levels and a sharp increase in private renting, where disposable income can be severely affected by high rent levels.

While the incomes of families with children held up in the first part of the recession, from 2011/12 they became more likely to fall below MIS, as previous increases in benefits and tax credits started to reverse. Two in three people in lone parent families are now below MIS.

Pensioners and couples without children remain the most likely to have an adequate income. However, more working-age couples are finding themselves on a just-adequate income rather than being well above the minimum.

Since 2009, household incomes have tended to fall in real terms. This has made it harder for many low-income households to make ends meet. The official poverty line of 60 per cent median income does not measure this phenomenon well, since if all incomes fall evenly, relative poverty will not change. An alternative indicator is the change in numbers falling below the Minimum Income Standard (MIS), based on detailed research showing what things members of the public think households need for an acceptable living standard.

Based on annual data from the Family Resources Survey, it is possible to monitor how many people fall below the MIS benchmark, and how this has changed since it was launched in 2008. The report, the second in the “households below MIS” series, uses the latest available data, which is for 2011/12 (ending April 2012).

Figure shows the overall picture of changes in the percentage of people below MIS over the three years following the economic downturn. Overall, the numbers falling below the standard rose by about one fifth, with most of the increase coming in at the end of the period, between 2010/11 and 2011/12. However, this measure only covers two thirds of households, excluding those comprising more than one adult other than partners. Thus, the breakdowns by household type shown in Figure 1 are more meaningful than the overall figure.

Single person households saw a particularly sharp increase in the risk of low income and of very low income during this period; they have been hit by unemployment and rising rents. Over a third now live below MIS. Families with children had not seen any increase in the risk of being below MIS up to 2010/11; in the early part of recession, relatively few such families were workless, and their tax credits were still rising. However, in 2011/12, the proportion of families below the standard rose sharply, as benefit and tax credit cuts started to kick in. Pensioners remain the least likely to live below this standard.

Young adults are the most likely group to have incomes below MIS, with over a third of under-35s below the threshold and over one in ten below half of MIS. This risk has increased, and young singles have seen a particularly dramatic increase in their risk of having less than half of what they need: from nine to 25 per cent for under-35s living alone. The meagre resources that many young people have when living on their own helps explain why many feel that they cannot afford this choice, and live in shared accommodation or with their parents. A parallel trend has been a growing proportion of low income and very low income households who live in the private rented sector. This is both because more are living in this sector and because it has become more expensive. Moreover, there are now more households below half of MIS renting privately than in social housing, showing that the stereotype of the poorest people in the country living in council houses is out of date.

Trends in the numbers below MIS also vary by region. In London and Northern Ireland, the proportion has risen from about a quarter to about a third, while in the South West, the East Midlands, the West Midlands and the North East it rose from one in five or less to above one in four.

The data in this study also shows a general downward shift in living standards across the distribution. Not only are more people below MIS, but more are living not far above that threshold. The greatest disparities are among single people, with over a third living below MIS, but nearly half having incomes over 50 per cent above this level. In contrast, fewer than one in ten lone parents live this far above the minimum.

Overall, these findings confirm that young people, single people and people in private housing have done particularly badly relative to their minimum needs in recent years, in particular in terms of the numbers having to live on very low incomes. These are the groups for which the recession has most consistently created additional hardship. However, this year’s figures also show that from 2011, families with children were being hit by cuts in benefits and tax credits, and their risk of falling short of the MIS standard was starting to rise. This change was most clear-cut for lone parents, who saw a fall in their (still high) risk of having inadequate income up to 2010, but a sharp reversal of that trend in 2011.

Subsequent policies are likely to have caused this deterioration to continue. The Minimum Income Standard, which gives an up-to-date benchmark of what the public consider to be an acceptable living standard, will continue to produce an annual monitor of how these trends unfold, and whether things improve during an economic recovery.

Real wages calculate earnings when the rising cost of living, or inflation, is taken into account.

The Office for National Statistics said real wages had fallen by 2.2% annually since the first three months of 2010.

Shorter working hours and reduced output were factors behind falling wages, it added.

There has been a considerable amount of political debate regarding the level of wages that people are paid, and the cost of living.

On Thursday, the Institute for Fiscal Studies produced a report that suggested that a mid-range household’s income between 2013 and 2014 was 6% below its pre-crisis peak.

It also said that although falling incomes had come to an end, the average household would not see its income recover before the next election.

Now, the ONS has published its own report, specifically on wages, that draws on all the data it has available.

It concluded that the drop in wages from 2010, following the financial crisis, was the longest period of falls since 1964.

During the financial crisis, many employers asked staff to work shorter hours or on reduced output, rather than making them redundant.

The ONS said that the response to the fall in productivity in 2008 and 2009 was the main reason behind the fall in real wages.

Different inflation rates between what is produced and what is consumed were also highlighted.

It also said that wages were still falling in the third quarter of 2013 – the latest figures available for all measures – with a drop of 1.5% compared with the same period a year earlier.

“[This makes] it difficult to conclude that there has yet been a break from the trend of falling real wage growth,” it said.

The figures showed that wage growth was highest in the 1970s and 1980s, when it went up by an average of 2.9% a year.

This annual wage growth slowed to 1.5% in the 1990s, then to 1.2% in the 2000s, before the most recent falls.

“Over the last four years British workers have suffered an unprecedented real wage squeeze,” said TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady.

“Even more worryingly, average pay rises have got weaker in every decade since the 1980s, despite increases in productivity, growth and profits. Unless things change, the 2010s could be the first ever decade of falling wages.

“A return to business as usual may only bring modest pay growth. We need radical economic reform to give hard-working people the pay rises they deserve.”

Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman said: “Should we deplore the fact that Britain has been made poorer as a result of the great recession of 2008-09 and as a result of the financial crisis?

“The Prime Minister has been very clear about the mistakes that were made at the time and the long-term economic plan which the government has had to put in place to address it.”

Chris Leslie, Labour’s shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “The Tories are so out of touch they deny there is a cost-of-living crisis. But these figures show the biggest fall in real wages since records began 50 years ago.

“Labour will act to ensure we earn our way to higher living standards for all.”

 So when public attitudes are hardening towards people in poverty and when life is getting worse for people at the lowest end of the income scale, is it really right that broadcasters commission shows that compound stereotypes by pitting deserving against undeserving poor? 

According to Emma Cooper, Documentaries Commissioner at Channel 4, it is a ‘really exciting time’ for people wanting to make programmes on how hard life is for many people in Britain today. I doubt those at the sharp end of service cuts, unemployment, high housing costs, rising costs of living and benefit changes will find it exciting… But still, I was told that the new recession/poverty genre was the equivalent to the ubiquitous ‘Changing Rooms’ genre of the Noughties. Let’s be grateful.

To be honest, I was left quite depressed by the panel discussion of ‘poverty porn’ atThe Guardian Edinburgh International Televison Festival yesterday. Hearing the TV executives responsible for shows such as Skint and Nick and MargaretWe all pay your benefits discuss the people featured in their programmes only served to reinforce how people in poverty are objectified on TV for the gratification of others. The absence on the panel (and in the audience) of any of the people they were talking about was conspicuous. 

Skint was a huge ratings winner for Channel 4. Four million people tuned in. According to Emma Cooper, it was fantastic that this number of people could see how awful it was that there were no jobs in Scunthorpe. I did suggest that a lot more than four million people in this country know what it is like not to have a job…  

What depressed me most was how far removed the people with the power in the media to set and shape the debate are from the realities of life on a low income. The debate felt a bit like a middle-class dinner party discussing those poor people over there.

So what is the role of a documentary? Is it to inform, educate or to entertain?  Listening in to the discussion, it became apparent to me that the agenda of the commissioners seems to be totally driven by the lowest common denominator to win ratings. It is interesting that the festival’s keynote speaker Kevin Spacey also challenged broadcasters on this in his MacTaggart Lecture last night.  

I wanted to know what the panel thought about the impact these shows left on the individuals and communities  I’m sure the many would want to know why they don’t get the answer to the question from politicians.

From the alleged research on the portrayal of poverty issues in the media, we know that the media is partial, and that people in poverty themselves feel victimised, stigmatised and objectified. There *are* good filmmakers out there who understand the complexities of poverty and are willing to bust myths – we have worked with a range of them and the films have been received well.

There is a real challenge for the anti-poverty lobby. How can campaigners attempt to shift public attitudes, when the media is dominated by such programmes? Just as Kevin Spacey has challenged the TV industry to adapt, perhaps campaigners will have to too, bypassing traditional media to make themselves heard.  

 Yet the coalition just don’t get it they have been accused of a “selective” use of official figures after ministers claimed take-home pay for most workers rose faster than inflation last year.

An analysis circulated by No 10 sought to counter Labour claims of a “cost-of-living crisis” by showing that all but the top 10% of earners saw a real terms increase in 2012/13.

Business Minister Matt Hancock said the figures showed the Government’s economic strategy was starting to work and feeding through to people’s personal finances.

But Labour accused the Government of ignoring the impact of cuts to tax credits and child benefits on working families.

Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said that while the Government had used a “perfectly sensible” set of figures, there were “problems” with its analysis.

“First, we have other sets of data – the Office for National Statistics publishes an average weekly earnings index. That went up quite a lot less quickly than inflation in the most recent months,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“And, of course, they are not taking account of reductions in things like benefits which were occurring over the time. So if you are looking at household incomes, that will be different from what’s happened to take-home pay.”

He said household incomes had fallen so sharply since the coalition came to power in 2010, there was “very little chance” they will have recovered by the time of the next general election in 2015.

For Labour, shadow Treasury minister Cathy Jamieson said real wages had fallen by more than £1,600 a year under the coalition while families were, on average, £891 worse off as a result of the tax and benefit changes.

“The Tories are totally out of touch to claim people facing a cost-of-living crisis are actually better off under them. These highly selective figures from the Tories do not even include the impact of things like cuts to tax credits and child benefit, which have hit working families hard,” she said.

“David Cameron simply doesn’t understand the cost-of-living crisis. He’s so out of touch he seems to be telling people they’ve never had it so good.”

Mr Hancock acknowledged that people were still worse off than they were before the financial crash but said the analysis – based on figures from the Office of National Statistics – showed the fall in incomes was “starting to abate”.

“I look at these figures and say things are starting to turn round,” he told the Today programme.

“Put them together with the very good jobs figures, with the record rise in the number of jobs that we had this week, with the fact the deficit is coming down – put all these things together and we can see that the economic plan is starting to work and helping to make people’s personal finances more secure.”

Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron said the increase in take-home pay was due to his party’s insistence on raising personal tax allowances.

“This is a Liberal Democrat tax cut – it was on the front page of our 2010 election manifesto,” he said..

“The Conservatives’ priority was an inheritance tax cut for millionaires, Liberal Democrats’ priority was to help those on low and middle incomes.

“These figures show that the Coalition’s economic plan is the rock on which our recovery is being built. This recovery would not be happening without Liberal Democrats in Government.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the analysis was an “insult” to millions of people still struggling to make ends meet.

“Having had no answer to the cost-of-living crisis, today’s the day that David Cameron is actually denying its happening,” he said.

“This is a complete insult to millions of people who can see with their own eyes and feel in their own pay-packets they’re getting worse off.

“All he’s demonstrated today is that he doesn’t understand the lives of millions of people across our country.”

Is me or Tory members across the country thinking that Theresa May and Borris Johnson are paving the way for a leadership challenge to David Cameron when Theresa May tries to introduce a last-minute tabling of a number of amendments to her own Immigration Bill was a cynical attempt to protect the government from political embarrassment.

The fact that the Home Secretary moved technical amendments at this late stage to the marriage and civil partnership notice period indicates a hastily written and ill-thought-through piece of draft legislation.

But her amendment proposing that naturalised citizens could lose their citizenship on the sole authority of Home Secretary suspicion of their involvement in terrorist activities takes the biscuit.

May’s legal advisers ought to have informed her that English law presumes innocence prior to conviction.

Taking it upon herself to act as judge and jury and to rule that someone’s conduct has “seriously” harmed the national interest and that leaving them in legal limbo would be for the public good is a step too far.

Presumably her decision would be informed by intelligence from the security services – the same organs that underwrote Tony Blair’s false allegation that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction prior to the US-led 2003 illegal invasion.

May’s decision to propose this tardy amendment stems from government fears – especially in its Tory component – of a sizeable back-bench revolt by its most hard-right elements.

The Home Secretary was intent on drawing the sting of backbencher Dominic Raab’s amendment to prevent the courts from ruling on whether an offender’s family links are strong enough to allow them to avoid deportation.

Liberal Democrat former minister Sarah Teather’s shock at Nick Clegg’s decision to lead his troops into the lobby backing May’s proposal is apparently heartfelt.

So is her fear that by passing legislation of this ilk Britain could find itself among a list of states that constitute “a roll call of dishonour.”

Her refusal to back him and May’s amendment is commendable, but she ought to be capable of appreciating just how far down the road Clegg has gone in trading his party’s longstanding decency over certain issues for a Cabinet post.

The Tory-led coalition is pinning its hopes of general election success on two issues – spurious claims of economic recovery and dog-whistle efforts to whip up xenophobia and racism.

It’s hardly surprising that Clegg has dropped any pretence to liberal values. He’s spent too much time in David Cameron’s company.

The Prime Minister’s record indicates that he wouldn’t know a political principle if it jumped up and bit his backside and that position and power are all that concern him.

After taking his place on the right of his party as a loyal Thatcherite, Cameron remade himself as a liberal-leaning, environmentally aware respecter of diversity to defeat David Davis for the Tory Party leadership.

He now finds himself fighting a constant rearguard action against his erstwhile allies of back-bench days on issues such as the European Union and immigration.

His weak-kneed decision to tell Tory ministers to abstain over Raab’s amendment rather than oppose it, even though he views it as illegal, is a transparent bid to forestall yet another back-bench revolt.

This and May’s last-ditch effort to hold the Tory Party together by pulling a particularly rancid rabbit out of a hat reveal a shambolic and authoritarian government.

The coalition may well believe that giving a single politician the right to render individuals stateless is reasonable.

Neither the court of public opinion nor the European Court of Human Rights is likely to share this view.


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