Poverty figures: the real numbers

Tory-Politico gets it wrong

The right-wing blog Tory-Politico takes issue with a recent post of mine in which I pointed out:

"...I sit and gloomily digest the horrible prospect, in the midst of a recession, of Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne announcing savage and severe cuts in public spending, accompanied by cuts in inheritance tax for the richest members of society....It will, as always, be the poorest, weakest and most vulnerable members of our society who suffer most under a Conservative government."

Tory-Politico (which says its aim is to "promote the Conservative Party") cannot contain its rage:

"Clearly the post author didn't bother to look at any facts before publishing.

Figures released earlier in the year by the Department for Work and Pensions shows that Britain under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown has become amore unequal country than at any time since modern records began in the early 1960s.

Since Tony Blair's third election victory, the poorest 10% of households have seen weekly incomes fall by £9 a week to £147 once inflation is accounted for.

The data showed that the second poorest 10% of households has also had to make do with less since 2005. Overall, the poorest 20% saw real income fall by 2.6% in the three years to 2007-08, while those in the top fifth of the income distribution enjoyed a rise of 3.3%. As a result, income inequality at the end of Labour's 11th year in power was higher than at any time during Margaret Thatcher's premiership."

Actually, the facts are on my side. This particular blogger chooses to highlight only the poverty stats since 2005 (why?), while overlooking the inroads made by this government since 1997. I too am outraged, and depressed, at the rise inequality under Blair and Brown, but that is a separate issue from poverty and the poor, who are always better off under Labour. Here are the actual facts, over the entire period, from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP):

1. The latest figures on child, pensioner and working-age adult poverty can be found in Households Below Average Income (HBAI) 2007/08. HBAI figures can be downloaded from http://www.dwp.gov.uk/asd/hbai.asp along with a statistical press notice.

2. From 1998/9 - 2007/8 the number of children in relative poverty fell by 500,000, before housing costs are taken into account.

3. From 1998/9 - 2007/8 the number of children in absolute poverty fell by 1.7 million, before housing costs are taken into account.

4. From 1998/9 - 2007/8 the number of pensioners in relative poverty fell by 900,000, after housing costs are taken into account.

5. From 1998/9 - 2007/8 the number of pensioners in absolute poverty fell by 1.9 million, after housing costs are taken into account.

Fact: the government has failed on inequality but succeeded on poverty.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war