Report on Child Poverty Action Group/CSJ event

It was fun.

Kate Green led, and made some pretty strong points, emphasising that her audience didn’t need to be reminded of the problems that poverty caused – effectively the argument that the long term costs made short-term investment worthwhile, whatever the the state of the cycle.

I was the colourless, numbers man. Reminded everyone that all the pledges add up to MONEY.  And that we don’t have any.  I was going to give the standard spiel about the top 10% only earning 250bn, there’s a 100bn gap to pay, they already pay 85bn in tax . . .  but there seemed to be little reason.  My major theme was: work is the only thing that has worked, probably the only sustainable solution, the only one remotely immune to political fashion in the future. Labour achieved more in terms of child-poverty reduction in the first term despite being less redistributive (see IFS docs); this was because it was in the first term that employment rates rose (again, IFS disaggregates the numbers).

I cautiously supported the idea that work needs to pay more. As the long argument about the minimum wage suggests, I don’t think that a higher MW necessarily cuts labour numbers, and it seems that the ESRC has found corroborating evidence.  This is clearly the view of the CPAG as well.  But Stephen Brien, the author of the report, warned that (on p287) they had found against this: because of high withdrawal rates, employers are effectively paying a quid and only 20p is reaching the staff.  Fair point: though dealing with those withdrawal rates/marginal levels seems imperative.

The excellent Tim Horton added information about carers benefits, queried my poverty figures (I had the IFS figures to help me) and was as usual polished. Tim Montgomerie did some relaxed chairmanship.

Then Theodore Dalrymple started. I had chatted with him before – it was perfectly pleasant, but I could tell our world views did not chime.  His is: everything is sh1t.  The administration of this country is incurably corrupt. The cities are foul.  No-one ever picks up litter.  We waste 80k on each child’s education and they don’t learn anything.    Most children now never know their fathers, or switch fathers all the time.  So if you want to avoid poverty – leave the country (incidentally, he didn’t blame this all on Labour: a lot was started by Thatcher, who is a Marxist economic determinist apparently).

After a couple of questions from the audience, Kate Green let him have it – ‘anyone who fails to realise that our lives are so much better than our grandparents is mad’ or words to that effect.  The audience cheered.  A conservative audience!  They don’t like the miserabilism either.  He later wound up some women at the front by implying something about women who’ve been abused by their husbands being in some way to blame . . . I don’t know what he really meant.

So no-one faced any fiscal impossibilities this time either, but I have learned not to expect that at every event.  I don’t think I saw Kate and Theodore chatting amiably afterwards.  But a good event, impressed by the CSJ in particular.  Not sure I’m going to read all those 387 pages though.

Published by freethinkingeconomist

I'm a mid 40s, former special adviser (Downing Street 2017-19, BIS from 2010-14), former FT leader writer and Lex Columnist, former financial dealer (?) at IG, student of economic history, PPE like the rest of them, etc. This blog has large gaps for obvious reasons. The name is dumb - the CentreForum think tank blog was called Freethink, I adapted that, we are stuck now.

17 thoughts on “Report on Child Poverty Action Group/CSJ event

  1. ‘anyone who fails to realise that our lives are so much better than our grandparents is mad’
    On the other side of the world, my former Policy Exchange editor Oliver Hartwich is due to speak in favour of “Anyone with a flat screen television should quit claiming that capitalism doesn’t deliver.” Never before did I realise that he had so much in common with CPAG!

  2. Hi Giles,

    Thanks for this interesting report.

    I take the point that large spending commitments to reduce poverty add up to MONEY, but wondered specifically what you thought about childcare subsidies.

    If work is the only sustainable route out of poverty, then something needs to be done about affordable childcare, as this is a major barrier to employment. The current system manages to combine high prices for parents with low wages for workers and a shortage of places overall.

    I saw a paper a while back which suggested that childcare subsidies in the Netherlands largely paid for themselves by enabling parents to go to work and to take fewer days off while in work, and wondered whether you thought this might be a more fruitful approach than some of the spending suggestions of anti-poverty campaigners.

  3. Hi Don

    Forgive the brevity as this is being typed from a shaky train on a maddening connection

    Not an expert in the childcare side, but I know that our director, Julian Astle, is rightly proud of his work on early years, called “The surest route”, which called for more funding for the preschool children of all parents (working or not) – since childcare and preschool education are not the same and the latter was what might count more.

    They may pay for themselves – though whether any “gains” from investment are in future used for anything but debt reduction is another matter – the paper was written in 2007, another world .. ..

  4. Firstly, I was at this event and a good number of those present were not conservatives. For instance, I heard people outside talking about their hopes that the Tories got ‘fucked over’ at the next election. There were people cheering Kate Green, but there were many others supporting Dalrymple as you must have seen.

    Secondly, Dalrymple was talking specifically about the inner cities and their housing estates, where there is a lot of litter, and conditions are pretty foul, and kids are essentially uneducated after 11 years of compulsory education. I don’t know, but I doubt Kate Green (or you) live in (say) Bromford in Birmingham, or Westvale on Merseyside, or the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark. What’s stopping you? Not the house prices, that’s for sure. Perhaps Dalrymple is right, after all.

    Thirdly, I didn’t hear him say ‘most’ children don’t know their fathers, but it’s certainly statistically the case that fewer know their fathers each decade. He did make the point, which you don’t mention, that twice as many children in the UK now have a TV in their bedrooms as have a father at home.
    Maybe you think this is fine – maybe you suffer from such a poverty of imagination as not to be able to imagine, never mind to see before your very eyes, the effect this collapse of the family and rise of a gogglebox which sells soulless commercial crap to people is having, and will have?

    Fourthly, please don’t tell me you don’t believe the political class is not corrupt?

    Kate Green is right that things are better now than they were in our grandfathers’ day. However, there are three important qualifiers, which anyone who has read Dalrymple will know he makes.

    The first is that this is only true in some respects. People no longer die of diseases which once killed legions; we have many material comforts to aid our passage through life; we are not in the middle of a world war; gay and black people are not widely persecuted.

    But your chances of being murdered or otherwise becoming a victim of serious crime are vastly greater. The chances of a child growing up with mum and dad are vastly lower. The general levels of civility are lower; I know this sounds terribly old fashioned, but it’s true, and it’s a shame (ask Fiona Pilkington, as a for instance – and please don’t tell me the abuse and harassment she suffered was unusual; only her remedy was.) The chances of you leaving school and finding a job are enormously reduced. Kate Green might disagree; a million unemployed young people would disagree with her.

    The second point is that, insofar as they are better, well… duh. We should be asking, how much better could they be? Of course, after seventy years of the greatest technological change ever seen, things will be better. Sure, you won’t die of septicaemia after pricking yourself on a rose bush, because Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin; a heart attack won’t necessary see you off, because we have defibrillators, and beta blockers, and open heart surgery. But why is the murder rate so much greater? Explain Fiona Pilkington and Gary Newlove and 20 to 30 teenagers being shot or stabbed to death in a year in London (in an era when doctors can save many lives they once couldn’t). Show me the statistics which say that kids murdered kids with frequency in the 1950s?

    The third point is that we live in a state of flux. Insofar (again) as things have got better, there is no guarantee at all that they will continue to do so.

    Unlike a lot of his critics, Dalrymple has spent a great deal of time among the actual poor, rather than talking or writing about them. Africa, South America, tiny Micronesian islands, India – he has worked in them all as a doctor. He has also worked in an inner city hospital and a prison in Britain for 15 years. He has seen – close up, and closer-up than almost any other living writer – the reality of poverty, and it’s not just about a lack of money, or a lack of material goods.

    He tells the truth, pure and unvarnished and obvious and in front of our noses; as Orwell said, the first duty of intelligent men is to state the obvious.

  5. Hi Jim

    Thanks for the long and thoughtful reply. Quick one:

    “He did make the point, which you don’t mention, that twice as many children in the UK now have a TV in their bedrooms as have a father at home.”

    I didn’t mention this because it is clearly untrue. Since “80% of dependent children live in two-parent families (including 6% who live in step-families). Another 18% live with lone mothers, and 2% with lone fathers.” (source: Civitas, not left wing nutters, this would need there to be something like 160% of children with a TV in their room

    On murder figures, you are right, it has risen since the glory days of 1900-1960, though nothing like to the nightmarish figures normal in say the US, or the UK pre 1800 Table 3

    Also, which one does TD want us to emigrate to:

    You are right: TD works in the inner cities, and therefore extrapolates the experience there to the whole country. Such experiences must be scarring. But to use them for a general extrapolation is unwise, unless you have an audience that deeply wants to believe such things about parts of the country that they on the whole have little experience of.

    I think the political class is no more corrupt than it used to be. I actually read a lot more political biographies than I do tabloid muckraking stories. Most of what went on in previous decades was far far worse. Not to mention other countries.

  6. Thanks, my pleasure.

    On the ‘TV-in-bedroom/live-with-their-fathers’ issue, firstly I think he actually said ‘nearly twice as many’ – my error there.

    I think, also (based on his past writing on the subject and that the whole evening was about poverty), that he was talking about children who live in what might be called ‘underclass’ homes (I don’t like the term, but there it is); in other words, children in the lowest socio-economic groups are twice as like to have a telly in their bedrooms than a dad at home. But I should have been clearer (and so should he).

    That said, thanks for linking to the Civitas report (which was based I think on Francis Jones’ work and contains ONS figures).

    You’ll be aware that it also talks about the huge – I mean, vast and varied – disadvantages experienced by children and teenagers living without their biological fathers.

    These include, but are not limited to, them being more likely to live in poverty and deprivation, to struggle at school, to suffer worse health, to be at greater risk of suffering physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, to be more likely to commit crime and go to jail, and less likely to find work.

    So how many kids actually live without their dads, and are thus at risk of the above?

    Well, as you say, it’s around a quarter of all children now.

    God, that’s easy to say, isn’t it? But the numbers are frightening. In 2008, there were 11.5 million people aged under 16 (and millions more who had already graduated from single-parent/no biological father families and were living as disadvantaged adults).

    That means there were around 2.875 million kids living without their dads, who – according to the Civitas report you like – are at risk of all that poverty, crime, unemployment and ill-health (etc).

    So although Dalrymple talks about TVs-in-bedrooms – and although I’d like to know what your views are on this? – it’s not really about the TVs, it’s about the fathers.

    What I really struggle with, with people like Kate Green, and those who shouted Dalrymple down, is that none of this is hard to find, or counter-intuitive, or hard to understand: it’s right there in front of your face, day in, day out.

    Yet when he calls for a return to old fashioned things like kids living with their dads, suddenly he’s the one who hates the poor? Hmmm.

    On murder figures, I know I’m right, but thanks.

    I’m not sure why you are talking about the pre-1800s, though?

    Kate Green was talking about, and I specifically referred to, things being better than they were in ‘our grandparents’ day. I can’t speak for you or your granddad, but that takes me back to around 1930. Maybe Kate goes back to 1900?

    I was suggesting that crime was one of a number of areas in which things are actually far, far worse now than they were – evidence also for the suggestion that we don’t live in stasis, but in an evolving world where the value of your investment can go up as well as down, and where not all progress has been for the better. So your reference to the 1800s is utterly irrelevant and obfuscatory, as you must have known?

    As for emigration, you’d have to ask him to be sure, though I think he has a house in rural France (note: rural).

    In his writing he has often agreed that there are worse countries to live in than Britain – most of the countries in the world, in fact.

    But – and forgive me for pointing out the obvious – that is not the point; it is a facile error of logic to say that because one criticises the state of Britain one must wish to live in Somalia, or Switzerland. One can also criticise the state of Britain because one wishes to remain here and wishes that it were better.

    Dalrymple does work in the inner cities, but he no longer lives there (I think he lives in a small town now) and travels widely.

    He’s no island; again, I can’t and don’t speak for him, but from his work it’s clear that he is very concerned for the people (particularly, being antiquatedly gallant, the women and children) who live in the inner cities and for the spread outward of the ‘culture’ that festers within them.

    Of course, for a variety of reasons, the people who think that this is all fine and dandy have almost won – and the spread of kids-without-dads and tellies-in-bedrooms is both symptomatic and causal.

  7. What I find interesting about TD’s views is that he seems to imply a maxmin (Rawls) definition of what the state should aim at: in other words it doesn’t matter if the median experience is getting better and better (which a lot of people feel, pre recession), what matters is what the bottom 10% are experiencing

    Which is what a lot of Left-leaning anti-individualists feel. The problem is the lack of agreement about means, not ends.

    I think 99% of commentators would agree about how sad and destructive it is to have children growing up without parents. The problem is that the Left don’t think it is actually useful to issue ‘calls for a return to old fashioned things like kids living with their dads’. Or rather: it is extremely useful if your need is to sell books and columns about the decline of society. It is of no use whatsoever in designing public policy, because ‘calling for things’ goes nowhere.

    What is the policy? Some cunning change to the tax code that will suddenly recreate the family life of the 1950s? And what tradeoffs will be tolerated? The levels of unprosecuted domestic abuse in the families where women did NOT feel free to leave – when divorce was so stigmatised, and separation so risky – was one matter that motivated liberalising acts in the 1950s-60s.

    I think the timescale for crime is problematic. I think crime is definitely much better than in the mid 1990s. Is that the relevant timescale? I don’t doubt that the 1950s were the best time for crime in this country. I also think our levels of crime are far better than they have been for most of our history or for most of the people in the world living currently. I tend to see the glass half-full.

    I’m not sure what Kate Green is meant to have done that is wrong. TD said that the only way of escaping poverty in the UK was to emigrate. KG’s life mission is to make it possible to escape poverty by other means.

  8. “The problem is that the Left don’t think it is actually useful to issue ‘calls for a return to old fashioned things like kids living with their dads’… It is of no use whatsoever in designing public policy, because ‘calling for things’ goes nowhere.”

    Forgive me if I goggle somewhat. From Rousseau to Marx to the civil rights movement to female emancipation to campaigning for nuclear disarmamernt, the ‘Left’ (if we’re using that descriptor) has done little other than call for things. Some days, it’s hard to hear oneself think for all the calling.

    And in, for instance, the cases of civil rights and emancipation – about which we must all agree they were entirely right – their efforts had some impact on ‘designing public policy’, surely?

    Re the specific issue of fathers, I’m not sure whether tinkering with the tax code would have the desired effect – though clearly not everyone does desire the effect – of keeping parents together, but it can’t help, at the lower financial margin, that it makes economic sense to be apart. Or can it?

    All I say is that this is an issue which should be looked at for the good of the 2.875 million kids currently in that boat, and the rest of us who will have to deal with the output (where it’s negative). I don’t feel it’s good enough to say – as you seems to be saying – that it’s a terrible shame but there’s nothing we can do; and I find the shouting down and heckling of a sensitive and inteligent man saying that at a public meeting boorish.

    I agree, the timescale for crime is problematic. But then, all timescales are problematic, and in the long run we’re all dead etc. But you (or Kate Green) introduced the specific ‘grandparents’ timescale.

    Buring that time, clearly, cancer = better and crime = worse. So Kate was wrong to ‘let him have it’ and suggest that ‘anyone who fails to realise that our lives are so much better than our grandparents is mad’; it all depends whether you are a cancer sufferer or living in fear on a sink estate.

    (I don’t agree for a moment that crime is ‘better’ now than it was in the mid-1990s. The figures don’t even show that in many cases, and these are figures which are widely acknowledged to be gamed – where once the police went all out to record crime, now they try anything to avoid it, for obvious reasons related to political interference and the pay of chief officers. The recent alleged fall in knife crime, which seemed to conflict with A&E/hospital figures, were instructive, for instance. And what of shoplifting under £200, now reduced to an adminstrative offence? Or burglaries recorded as criminal damages? Or S18 woundings recorded as S20? Or S20 recorded – actually not recorded, as it’s not recordable, a nice way of making violence appear to be declining – as common assault? Or issues like those Fiona Pilkington experienced simply not being recorded at all and being pushed to the ‘council’ as non-crimes. )

    As for what Kate Green has done wrong – nothing intentionally, I’m sure; I am convinced that her motives are of the highest, and that she is a very nice woman. But she does represent an industry which is entrenching poverty, not dealing with it.

    Actually, I’m a glass half full person too, which may surprise you. I’m just not happy at it being only half full.

  9. It’s funny, here I am defending the Left, I’m not particularly leftish. What a balanced blog.
    From Rousseau to Marx to the civil rights movement to female emancipation to campaigning for nuclear disarmamernt, the ‘Left’ has done little other than call for things

    Hold it a mo – I thought the problem with the Left was that they were always interfering, always taxing and spending, always directing from the centre, always overregulating. Sure, when out of power (i.e. from Rouseau to Marx . . . ) all they could do was campaign. But once IN power . . . .have you ever had to listen to a Gordon Brown speech?

    My point is – if your view is like Brown, Kate Green and others that poverty can be eradicated with MONEY and redistribution – which you heard in my talk at that event was a view I was sceptical of – then there are some things you can DO. on p 45 for example

    this work estimated that additional spending36 of around £4.2 billion a year by 2010–11
    would be needed to meet the target. Given that Budget 2009 allocated less than
    £0.2 billion towards meeting the 2010 child poverty target, it seems highly likely that this
    target will be missed, unless the government can find approximately £4 billion between
    now and the 2009 Pre-Budget Report

    Whereas just calling for more fathers to stay at home . .. results in what exactly?

    On Crime Stats: I personally don’t think that the figures are gamed. I think surveys like the British Crime Survey – which I mentioned at that event in response to the last question about measuring – are honest and reliable, and impervious to police incentives which I quite agree might produce distortions:

    These are about ordinary experiences, not form filling within the bureaucracy. I agree that the Pilkington case is dreadful – as was the Bulger case, the Moors murders, the Yorkshire Ripper, Jack the Ripper. I also know that Baltimore in the US has as many murders as half of England. is where you can see if it is down.

    Raising my half full glass, bye

  10. “On Crime Stats: I personally don’t think that the figures are gamed. I think surveys like the British Crime Survey – which I mentioned at that event in response to the last question about measuring – are honest and reliable, and impervious to police incentives”

    Then you’re beyond hope.

  11. Thanks for your replies. I guess we’re getting to the end of this discussion, but I’ll just make two points.

    The British Crime Survey is literally incredible.

    It doesn’t capture data on people under 16; it’s hardly controversial to say that kids under 16 are increasingly the victims of violent crime.

    If you’ve been a victim of crime more than five times in a year, any incidents suffered above the fifth are not recorded. Why? This is precisely how most violent crime now happens on inner city housing estates; weak victims are repeatedly targeted.

    It relies on Home Office approved questions being put to anonymous respondents by Home Office-funded researchers. You quite agree that police incentives might produce distortions but are unable to imagine the same of those collating the BCS figures? Why?

    But beyond all of that, belief in the BCS requires us to believe that, despite a vast increase in population, and 24 hour drinking, and the increasing collapse of families with all the deleterious effects that has, as shown by your Civitas link, and after an apparently inexorable rise in crime over the centuries, it all peaked at almost exactly the moment that Tony ‘Straight Kind Of Guy’ Blair walked into No 10, and has been declining ever since.

    How do we know this? The BCS says so.

    But surely the Government wouldn’t fake crime stats?

    This is the Government that took us into a war – a war – on the basis of a false prospectus. A few sexed up crime stats are nothing.

    As a for instance, look at P7, specifically at the woundings.

    Look at the difference between the official wounding figures for 1981 and for 2005/6. The numbers are seven or eight times in 2005/6, even allowing for distortions by officers.

    Now look at the non-reported ie BCS figures for violence (non-reported crime tending to be, according to the BCS, at the less violent end of the spectrum). They remain relatively constant (perhaps growing by 50%) as between 1981 and 2005/6.

    This requires us to believe that while recorded violence has increased by seven or eight times since 1981, non-reported crime hasn’t really budged.

    Either crimes of violence are becoming more serious – in which case, I rest my case – or there is much more violent crime – in which case, I rest it again; but we cannot say from these figures that it is ‘pretty much the same’ as it has always been.

    Your remarks about other cases are, of course, a well-known distraction.

    Of course there has always been violent crime and there always will be. The question is not whether the Jamie Bulger murder was more or less horrible than the Fiona Pilkington case, but whether the Fiona Pilkington case could have been prevented, how prevalent is casual violence and whether it’s getting worse or not.

  12. I suspect we are getting closer to the end of this discussion: I never really know what to say to quasi-conspiracy stories, and “they fix the figures” (where ‘they’ refers to quite diligent public researchers) is something I don’t know how to address.

    But this is sufficiently interesting and topical to warrant a full post: see also Philip Stephens today

    Your view seems to be: you KNOW things are totally sh1t, you clearly have no respct or trust for anything that New Labour does or did, and therefore if figures come out that ‘prove’ the other side, they must be fixed, adding more evidence to your personal view of a corrupt and wicked administration.

    I, on the other hand, trust these surveys, and others like the Family Resources Survey, the British Social Attitudes survey, etc that I have learned to download, work with etc. I know that if they are suspect there is a huge community of researchers out there dead keen to make their reputations from finding out how. I don’t believe in conspiracy theories.

    And I also remember 1995, and thinking things were terrible then: car crime, fear, squalor. I look around and like PStephens, find things better. Lower unemployment for 12 years is a straightforward reason, as is higher public investment. It goes somewhere – inefficiently.

    “But beyond all of that, belief in the BCS requires us to believe that, despite a vast increase in population, and 24 hour drinking, and the increasing collapse of families with all the deleterious effects that has, as shown by your Civitas link, and after an apparently inexorable rise in crime over the centuries, it all peaked at almost exactly the moment that Tony ‘Straight Kind Of Guy’ Blair walked into No 10, and has been declining ever since.”

    Our population has increased by a couple of million – it more than doubled in the 19th C, and crime/murder fell. Family breakdown was about as prevalent in 1995 – its acceleration has been a gradual thing. Unemployment matters more, I think. And, sadly, locking up more people (in the short term)

    But let’s let this rest for now. We won’t agree. And I don’t want to be drawn into an extreme view in opposition to yours – I doin’t think everything is better than in 1995, although most things are. (remember waiting lists? schools with rain dripping down them? Graham Taylor?)

    I can’t do state-of-society by anecdote and conspiracy theory. But a new post may draw in more people and get a few more views.

  13. For some of the most eloquent argumentation about poverty ever written, see these pieces by Dalrymple:

    What Is Poverty?

    Not As Black As It’s Painted (“It” being Africa)

    …or just buy his classic, Life At The Bottom. This man has more first-hand experience of poverty than Kate Green can even imagine.

  14. CT

    I would be dishonest if I did not share with you some of the disquiet and outrage that TD gets across: it is offputting to even set out in public service when you read of such ingratitue for the provision of services, when they are no doubt so gratefully received elsewhere. Like many people, I think there are limits to how much can be achieved by cash transfer- in fact, I expected to spend this event arguing with Kate Green about the limits – fiscal and philosophical – to redistribution as a tool for poverty.

    But what I found wrong about TD was his ability to extrapolate conditions in a minority of cases over the whole society. And also to ignore important material improvements. In India 2 million children a year die before they are 5. No amount of gratitude and spiritual grace can make up for such a figure.

    I also suspect a lack of historical perspective. The outrages that greeted earlier writers, from Dickens to Orwell, at social conditions was not all about honest but poor people striving – there was wickedness, ungratitude, the poverty that TD talks of too. Things can improve – you don’t have to leave the country. And the improving can come from the Left from time to time.

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