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.

Paul McMillan
Show Hide image

"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

0800 7318496