£36,800 a minimum standard income for the UK?

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There’s a fascinating piece of research released on Tuesday by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), and launched today, which “used panels of ordinary people reaching a consensus about the items and activities that allow participation in society as well as food, clothes, paying the bills and a home”.

What’s interesting is that it challenges a lot of notions about poverty, and encompasses in a large swathe of working people (often both parents) who are struggling to make ends meet. Thus although it may have something to say about benefit reforms it may also have a something to contribute to the debate about tax relief for the worse off.

I was particularly struck by Tim Worstall’s blog on the Daily Telegraph, who noted:

Fortunately the JRF are measuring poverty properly, as Adam Smith would have done. Smith pointed out that a linen shirt is not a necessity, but if you live in a society which sees linen shirts as a measure of affluence, then not being able to afford one makes you poor by the standards of that society.

The JRF are simply replacing linen shirt with holidays, computers, tumble driers and the rest. This is excellent: it is much better than the more usual measures which really describe inequality, not poverty.

However, the one thing that you really must know about the JRF numbers is that they are pre-tax numbers. These are the incomes that you need before the State takes its cut to pay for the Olympics, duck houses and those incredibly important diversity advisers.[Emphasis added]

You might say that, Tim is no shrinking lefty…  There’s a lot of detail in the report that shines a light on subtle but profound changes in society, like the view that buses have now become too expensive to compete with a car at time of austerity when every penny counts…

I caught up with Chris late night on Google Plus:

You’ll see that he points out that those in vulnerable groups run from a 100% of what we might call a living (ie, participating) wage that allows full participation in society, to just 40%.

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  • Reader

    So if you can’t have all of the perks of western affluence simultaneously, you are therefore poor?
    Full analysis here:
    http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news-in-pictures/news-briefly/family-needs-36800-to-afford-the-useless-trappings-of-our-moronic-society-2012071033797

  • Mick Fealty

    In case anyone is tempted to take that skit seriously, plasma screen tvs are definitely off the list of goodies…

  • lover not a fighter

    Doesn’t a banker get that from the taxpayer every time he manages not to fart for ten seconds ! ! !

  • harpo

    “Fortunately the JRF are measuring poverty properly, as Adam Smith would have done. Smith pointed out that a linen shirt is not a necessity, but if you live in a society which sees linen shirts as a measure of affluence, then not being able to afford one makes you poor by the standards of that society.”

    I’d have thought that there is a difference between being poor (ie you can’t afford everything that constitutes an affluent lifestyle), and being in poverty (ie that you can’t afford necessities).

    The JRF is not measuring real poverty, it is measuring inequality.

  • Mister_Joe

    Interesting. Looking back, my family was quite poor. But we didn’t know it because our neighbours were mostly all in the same boat. So we were happy children.

  • Zig70

    Maybe cynical but the measurement seems handy for the charities otherwise they would talk themselves out of a job. Chugging via glossy reports.

  • aquifer

    It is useful to focus directly on the ability to participate.

    Buses can be better than cars because you do not have to buy one to get to work. Education and training can enable more people from different backgrounds to participate in political life, especially if available to all and if those on low or no incomes can access it too. Opening publicly funded buildings to the public can support all sorts of participation. Supporting childcare enables adults to also participate in work, education, socialising, or perhaps caring for others.

    Interesting that we make idleness compulsory, removing state support from an unemployed person who returns to education.

    Until more people can participate politically it is difficult to say if income differentials are justified or supported, or simply arise from the unrestricted operation of capitalism.

    i.e. If our democracy is ineffectual or irrelevant, and our arrangements for administering poverty economically inefficient, how many people might currently notice?

  • Reader

    Mick Fealty: In case anyone is tempted to take that skit seriously, plasma screen tvs are definitely off the list of goodies…
    Well, it’s just that I raised 4 children and put my wife through university on pretty much that sort of income over a 10 year stretch (corrected for inflation). We never thought we were poor, but we knew we had to prioritise.
    So is that it – poverty is having to prioritise?