Erm, where does this number come from?

Child Poverty Action Group\’s own research shows just how inadequate benefits are and why Currie\’s claim that people are struggling because they\’re wasting their money on lottery tickets and cigarettes is absurd. A family of two adults and one child on out-of-work benefits can expect to receive £186 a week (after housing costs). That\’s only 65% of the official breadline.

I don\’t actually know of a number used in the UK as meaning \”breadline\”. The only poverty numbers we\’ve got are, I think at least, one for relative poverty and one for absolute poverty.

Relative poverty is 60% of median equivalised household income after housing costs and £186 a week is in fact 65% of that if median household income is £25,000 (which isn\’t in fact far off it).

So, in arguing against the statement (made by Edwina Currie which it isn\’t a pleasant occupation trying to defend) that we don\’t really have absolute poverty, of the kind where people are  \”Are you telling me people in this country are going hungry? Seriously? Seriously?\”, using the fact that we have relative poverty isn\’t really an answer, is it?

And as to food, yes, I\’ve been very cash poor (I won\’t say \”poor\” as given background, accent, education etc the option not to be cash poor while trying to get a business going etc has always been there, just go and get a decently paid job) and as JohnB often argues, food, good nourishing tasty food, just isn\’t expensive. You can most certainly feed two adults and a child on £10 a day and given a bit of time and planning, £5 a day is simple enough.

Sure, you\’re having stews of scrag ends and risottos and pastas and, well, the peasant foods that our forefathers all lived on becuase they\’re both cheap and nourishing. All that\’s changed is that we have available to us the peasant foods from multiple cuisines instead of being stuck with just the one.

20 thoughts on “Erm, where does this number come from?”

  1. CPAG basically make up the numbers to fit whatever they are trying to say at the time, knowing that as they are “on the side of the angels” anyone scrutinising the figures can be dismissed as missing the bigger picture or being evil enough to disagree that children being in poverty might be a bad thing.

    It is ironic that the most time-rich and money-poor people are also the least inclined to spend the time and save the money that shopping for food in markets and cooking from fresh involves.

  2. Thanks for the shout-out, and agree. But there’s an extent to which “don’t know how” is as much the case as “not inclined”.

    Orwell (and other 1920s-1930s commentators) highlight that even then, British urban working-class food consisted of white bread, jam, tinned meat, and so on – the UK’s poor lost their peasant skills a century ago.

  3. I can confirm that 2 adults + 6yr old weekly food shopping bill less than£35 including 2 bottles of wine. The money I would have spent on other food and drink has been taken away by the state. Ho hum.

  4. Couple of 2x + child.

    House and council tax paid for.

    Let’s say fuel/leccy £100 per month
    Water £10 pounds

    That leaves 634 pounds to spend on food and clothes.

    Am I missing something significant here?

  5. Pressure group makes up sob story to divert public resources its way shocker.

    @Tim: you have a valuable accent? I had no idea. How much do you want for it?

    Tim adds: I’ve been known to rent it to the BBC for the occasional £50……

  6. Fair enough point Tim, but if you’d ever been genuinely poor, rather than having a sticky patch, and not been in the

    ” accent, education etc the option not to be cash poor while trying to get a business going etc has always been there, just go and get a decently paid job)”

    crowd, you might be a little less blase.

    People often talk about education, etc, being important, and they are useful, but I think they underestimate that the primary benefit of public school, good university, upper-middle-class background etc etc is the network of contacts into which the person is imbedded rather than more tangible benefits like a degree or being able to do quadratic equations. One effect is that in such a sub-society, financial embarrassment is much more likely to be a passing, and rectifiable phase, than a lifelong grinding constant. There are lots of people for whom eating market sweepings isn’t a short period while Binky Struthers sorts them out with some seed capital, but a way of life.

    So yes, these poverty measures are rather abitrary, and we know that nobody is living in a shanty town on a dollar a day. But only primarily because that is illegal in Britain.

  7. Then again many of the poor will also have circles of acquaintance that can prove useful as they struggle along.

  8. And the words “after housing costs” – so no rent or mortgage to find from the £186!

    Food for four per week – say £70
    Heating & lighting – mebbe £70-80
    Transport costs (children will get free travel to school remember)

    And so forth

  9. Boracic, or brassic, Ian B. Not a mixture of the 2.
    Yes they are skint, but they can act as guides. This is the underlying reason why male regional accents are stronger than female accents.
    Back to the subject. The CPAG takes an artificial poverty line (as defined by G Brown) ignores housing benefit etc, then redefines this artificial watershed as the “breadline”.
    I suppose in 200 years time child poverty will be defined as not having a yacht.

  10. This is the underlying reason why male regional accents are stronger than female accents.

    I thought that was because it was evolutionarily advantages for working-class girls to get to marry up without sounding like Eliza Doolittle at the start of the play…?

  11. I never spell that right. Every time, I think, this is the one, and I end up wrong again. I’d use a dictionary, but I can’t spell it so I can’t look it up, unfortunately 🙁

    I’m not disagreeing that the CPAG are making an arbitrary claim about poverty. But it is valid to address the assertion that the poor are poor because they are dissolute; a narrative that goes back to the Victorian era and talk of the Residuum and so on. I know it is still a very popular narrative among certain types. especially those independent souls who demand State land controls and subsidised broadband in the Shires, but giving figures that show that in fact the poor are really quite cash poor is meaningful in the context of that debate, which is what the quote in the posting appears to be addressing.

    “Guides”? Hmm, dunno. Guides for what? How to survive being poor? Possibly. There probably aren’t so many guides available with useful tips on how to stop being poor, or how to get some cash together, because if they knew that they wouldn’t be in that social circle, having stopped being poor themselves.

    I just don’t think it’s much use having a go at the people at the bottom, not in a world where Mad Merv just handed another 75 thousand million pounds out to the top end of society, knowing full well that that is going to reduce the buying power of that £186/week even further. If we want a free society, with minimal welfare, we need to start at the top, not the bottom. You can’t expect people to haul themselves up by their own boostraps if you keep breaking their fingers.

  12. You hit a particular nail on the head Tim – part of the problem is not that people *can’t* afford certain things, it’s that they don’t want to make the compromises for them. I live in an old, rundown house, and most of my friends would be horrified by it (hey, it’s a roof, etc). But to them they *need* a new place. I was at a friend’s very nice apartment recently and he was talking about borrowing some money to get the place painted. I looked around and said “why”. There’s nothing wrong, turns out he doesn’t like the colour. This from someone who isn’t working.

    You left out curry on your list by the way – one of the foods that really can hide a multitude of sins 🙂

  13. Ian B

    Taking a pop at those at the bottom is no help to anyone. You’re dead right. However, questioning the use of terms like ‘breadline’ and ‘poverty’ is fair game. The misappropriation of such immotive language to describe people who are relatively well supported is unhelpful – and it makes it harder to draw attention to the people to whom those terms really do apply.

  14. Brian, follower of Deornoth

    This working-40-hours-a-week taxpayer certainly doesn’t have £186 per week “after housing costs”.

    So fuck ’em. Don’t care. They can starve to death in the gutter and I don’t give a shit.

  15. “The breadline is £14,800 p/a in net cash money? From which you’re not expected to pay for a house?

    Just how much bread do these folk need?

    I agree. Only 10 years ago I paid for mortgage on a flat in London on a salary of £20K pa before tax with £2.5kpa transport costs.

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