The JRF programme to eliminate poverty in the UK

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published a pamphlet called A UK without poverty , proposing a programme of action to mitigate or reduce poverty.  Poverty is “when a person’s resources are not enough to meet their (sic) basic needs.”  They argue for a “comprehensive approach” focusing on “pockets” (boosting resources directly), “prospects”, “prevention” and “places”.

The view they’re putting of poverty is limited – there is much more to it than low resources – but that doesn’t diminish from the importance of improving people’s resources.  However,the approach that’s generally being taken – including the emphasis on prevention and places – is heavily geared towards correcting individual and familial deficiencies,  rather than addressing structural issues.  In the treatment of benefits, there are three key flaws: the exploded belief that work is the answer, the attempt to swim around the need to put adequate funding into basic transfer payments, and an acceptance of personalised targeting that is doomed to failure.  Those are, of course, the same flaws that have run most recent attempts to reduce poverty into the buffers.

There’s a gap between the heading I gave this entry – eliminating poverty  – and mitigating or reducing it.  Most of the measures that JRF consider are timid.  Increasing resources is supposed to be done by improving incentives, encouraging people into work and reviewing the decisions to cut benefit upratings.  That is nothing like enough, and the pamphlet’s own assessment of the likely impact doesn’t suppose that it will be.   If we’re serious about eliminating poverty, we need major steps towards inclusive economic development, a wide ranging reconsideration of household incomes, benefits that offer households a stable and secure income, and much more extensive redistribution.  Of course, that’s not going to happen.




  1. Caroline Leclercq

    I notice with interest that you write that the measures that could eliminate poverty are “not going to happen”. Could you direct me to a source where this is explained (shortly!) or is there an explanation that could be given here? Many thanks.

  2. Paul Spicker

    I can’t prove that a policy is not going to happen, any more than I can prove that Papua New Guinea will not produce the first astronaut to land on Mars; there’s just no reason to suppose that it might be true, and some reason to suggest the opposite. I specified four elements. We need inclusive economic development; we have growing inequality. We need to have policies for household income that secure income regardless of conditions in the labour market; every main party in the UK (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP) sees work as the best means of avoiding poverty (which we know it isn’t, because most poor families are working). I’ve argued that we need households to have a stable and secure income; the current direction of travel, again supported by all major parties, is for a flexible labour market, increasing self-employment, and personalised benefits whose value will fluctuate. As for redistribution, the main parties in the UK are committed to restraining or reducing support for ‘working age’ benefits, although the proportion they take of the national income has fallen markedly in the course of the last twenty years.

  3. Caroline Leclercq

    Thank you for taking the trouble to reply. And what you say is, of course, true; it’s good to see a succinct analysis.
    Do we know where UKIP – “the people’s army” – stands on eliminating poverty? I have tried to find out and failed.

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