Ed Balls recommends

Poverty

Ruth Lister <em>Polity, 208pp, £14.99</em>

ISBN 0745625649

Ruth Lister has researched and campaigned tirelessly over the past two decades to expose the scandal of rapidly rising poverty that scarred Britain during 18 years of Conservative government and to demand that the Labour government wage a war against poverty and disadvantage. And she has had a real impact. The government is committed to abolishing child poverty in this generation and halving it by the end of the decade.

In this important new book, Lister warns us that simply boosting the incomes of the poor is not enough. We need not only to tackle the root causes of poverty - unemployment, poor housing and class barriers to educational attainment - but also to change the whole way that politicians and policymakers talk about poverty.

Terms such as "underclass" and "social exclusion" are prime examples of how we tend to "other" the poor. This kind of language has two effects. It fails to respect the rights and dignity of people living with disadvantage. But it also makes it harder to build a wider public and political consensus in support of ending entrenched poverty.

Lister is right - we all need to take her critique on board in the way we debate and make policy. One great strength of the tax credit approach is that it brings that financial support for poorer families into the mainstream tax system. Rich people fill in tax returns. So now do lower-income families. Tax and benefit integration is a socially inclusive way to tackle poverty. If we put an end to "othering", we can have both a reformed welfare state and a fairer society.

Ed Balls, a former chief economic adviser to the Treasury, is a prospective parliamentary candidate for Normanton

Extract

"A human rights approach constructs people in poverty as active claimants of rights, who increasingly are demanding a voice in shaping the way specific rights are forged. Such constructions contrast with the growing tendency, for example among British politicians, to depict those out of work as 'passive' recipients of welfare. This portrayal of welfare recipients as passive members of a 'dependency culture' or 'underclass' is one of the more damaging examples of how the 'non-poor' other 'the poor'."