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Today, in a response to a report suggesting that social mobility was improving, Chris Grayling, the Conservative Shadow Welfare minister said: “The truth is that Britain today is a country where poverty is getting worse“.

Discussions about poverty would be aided if people defined their terms and spoke in clearer English. However, first of all, despite my scepticism about today’s report, we should be clear that the report is nothing to do with whether poverty is getting worse. Rather, it is to do with whether the children of poor parents are less likely or more likely to be in poverty themselves. Even if the poor are getting poorer on average, we can still have a society where the poor are more able to escape poverty. Indeed, there might be a trade off.

But, back to Chris Grayling. What did he mean by “poverty is getting worse”?

Did he mean that there are more poor people?

Did he mean that there are the same number of poor people but the poor are poorer than before?

Did he mean that it is worse to be poor now than it used to be (perhaps because poor areas are more crime ridden)?

Did he mean that it is harder to escape poverty than it used to be?

Or, did he mean that there are more people who are below some arbitrary benchmark relative to (say) average earnings?

I suspect he meant the last – unfortunately, it is not possible to find a fuller version of his remarks anywhere on the Conservative Party website. But, if he did mean this, then he should have said “society is becoming more unequal”. This has nothing to do with the report and nothing, necessarily, to do with poverty.

Philip Booth 154x154

Academic and Research Director, IEA

Philip Booth is Academic and Research Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs and Professor of Finance, Public Policy and Ethics at St. Mary's University, Twickenham. From 2002-2015 he was Professor of Insurance and Risk Management at Cass Business School. Previously, Philip Booth worked for the Bank of England as an advisor on financial stability issues and he was also Associate Dean of Cass Business School and held various other academic positions at City University. He has written widely, including a number of books, on investment, finance, social insurance and pensions as well as on the relationship between Catholic social teaching and economics. He is Deputy Editor of Economic Affairs and on the editorial boards of various other academic journals. Philip is a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, a Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries and an honorary member of the Society of Actuaries of Poland. He has previously worked in the investment department of Axa Equity and Law and was been involved in a number of projects to help develop actuarial professions and actuarial, finance and investment professional teaching programmes in Central and Eastern Europe. Philip has a BA in Economics from the University of Durham and a PhD from City University.

5 thoughts on “Poverty, mobility, inequality? Can somebody please tell us what they are talking about?”

  1. Posted 04/11/2008 at 14:22 | Permalink

    What ever the truth about poverty is, there seems every chance that it will get genuinely worse once the idiotic eco-policies begin to take effect. Rationing energy, or energy that costs a great deal more because of the methods chosen to supply it cannot help but influence future prospects for the economy. We will all be much the poorer. Still think of the upside, we are saving the planet, though I doubt the Chinese will take any notice.

  2. Posted 04/11/2008 at 14:22 | Permalink

    What ever the truth about poverty is, there seems every chance that it will get genuinely worse once the idiotic eco-policies begin to take effect. Rationing energy, or energy that costs a great deal more because of the methods chosen to supply it cannot help but influence future prospects for the economy. We will all be much the poorer. Still think of the upside, we are saving the planet, though I doubt the Chinese will take any notice.

  3. Posted 06/11/2008 at 20:00 | Permalink

    Does Chris Grayling want us all to believe that poverty is a form of hypochondria, with government the permanent doctor? And without ineequalities, where are the economic and personal incentives to come from? We need a good basic, and regularly rising basic standard. Liberal capitalism delivers that. No other system ever has. We also need a successful top level, to encourage us all. Why doesn’t CG say so?

  4. Posted 06/11/2008 at 20:00 | Permalink

    Does Chris Grayling want us all to believe that poverty is a form of hypochondria, with government the permanent doctor? And without ineequalities, where are the economic and personal incentives to come from? We need a good basic, and regularly rising basic standard. Liberal capitalism delivers that. No other system ever has. We also need a successful top level, to encourage us all. Why doesn’t CG say so?

  5. Posted 03/03/2015 at 06:28 | Permalink

    Economic inequality is the “defining challenge” by reading his comment what I understood is there are the same number of poor people but the poor are poorer than before. If the government find good solution and deal this problem the society can able to overcome from the poverty. This may be mainly due to unemployment. But I am not sure that what he exactly mean from the sentence “The truth is that Britain today is a country where poverty is getting worse”.

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