Why the left and the right are getting it wrong on poverty

Demos's new research shows that poverty can be both an economic and social phenomenon.

When the government announced that it was again reviewing how it measured child poverty, some on the left decried the move as "moving the goalposts". Iain Duncan Smith didn’t help matters by launching the consultation with a speech which seemed to suggest he had already made up his mind. The focus on family breakdown, in particular, raised hackles – in essence, poverty would be measured by how long a child had been raised in a two-parent family. While single parenthood can mean a lower income, to suggest a child should be deemed in poverty on this basis alone betrays a particular ideological outlook.

This is a shame, because it has meant that many have dismissed the consultation out of hand, as yet another cynical attempt by government to move the focus of the poverty strategy away from tackling deprivation and towards stigmatising single parents and troubled families. But the fact is, a more holistic measure of poverty – which takes causal factors and symptoms into account – will give us a better understanding of poverty, and help politicians tackle it more effectively.

Both the government and the opposition risk falling down an ideological rabbit-hole now that the definition of poverty is back on the agenda. On the right, the Victorian tendency to explain poverty as a social problem, experienced by troubled families, and brought on by their own failings and weaknesses, will no doubt lead to a critically limited range of policy responses. But this will be no more limited than the response from the left, whose fixed position that low income is the central feature of poverty has in the past led to a one-dimensional, technocratic approach – memorably described as "poverty plus a pound", where poverty is "solved" by redistributing until enough people are over the invisible poverty line.

Our research published today seeks to take the politics out of poverty and use evidence to point to the best policy response. By applying 20 separate indicators associated with poverty to the population below the poverty line, we keep income central to our understanding – but also recognise that the lived experience of poverty is never just about one’s bank balance, but a complex interaction of social issues, spanning one’s social networks, health, education, and housing.

The result is 15 distinct types of poverty across three cohorts – households with children, those without, and pensioners. Each type of poverty is made up of a unique combination of the different indicators, creating a sense of the "lived experience" of each type.

What was clear was that while some of the poverty types were experiencing the kind of poverty the government has set out to solve – unemployment, debt, single parenthood and poor health – many were not. The most prevalent type of child poverty (applying to about a third of families) was defined by long work histories in poorly paid jobs or recent redundancy from well paid jobs, a strong work ethic, home ownership and good education.

Our research disproves the assumptions held by those on both ends of the political spectrum – and concludes that poverty can be both an economic and social phenomenon, depending on the household in question. Perhaps this smacks of sitting on the fence – an excuse to do nothing. But this is far from the case. In fact, the findings represent a highly inconvenient truth. The truth is that there is no magic bullet to ending poverty – neither a crusade against troubled families, nor a predistribution and living wage strategy will be effective in isolation.

An effective poverty strategy will not, in fact, serve either party’s particular ideological standpoint. Indeed, our findings suggest there is no such thing as an effective poverty strategy, but that each type requires its own strategy, each one relying on a coordinated response from different combinations of agencies – good, old-fashioned joined-up government.

Those on the front-line working with poor families might be wondering what’s new here. They already know that a poorly skilled young mother struggling to put food on the table needs different help to a recently redundant, middle aged divorcee coping with a vastly reduced income.

But the Demos work has, for the first time, articulated and quantified this difference – and in so doing, shows exactly where existing narrower approaches are falling short. With the government’s consultation, we have an unprecedented opportunity to harness the evidence to guide our policy response – but politicians on both sides must first learn that a sincere attempt to tackle poverty is an issue beyond politics.

Claudia Wood is deputy director of Demos

Two young boys play football in a run down street in the Govan area of Glasgow. Photograph: Getty Images.

Claudia Wood is deputy director of Demos.

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It's time to rid the beautiful game of online abuse

Kick It Out first started receiving reports of social media discrimination relating to football in 2012/13.

Today at Kick It Out we’re launching a social media campaign called ‘Klick It Out’ – looking to highlight the issue of social media discrimination within football.

Football has moved forward in so many ways over the last 25 years or so. Whilst prejudice and discrimination is alive in society sadly it will continue in football, but improvements have been made at football stadiums and there’s been a shift in people feeling happier to not only report discrimination but to challenge it amongst their fellow supporters as well.

The advances in technology have brought many advantages for supporters as they can discuss the latest football news and revel or wallow in their team’s success or failure. It has brought about problems though and what we see at Kick It Out reflects wider issues online.

For those of you who aren’t football supporters, Kick It Out is English football’s equality and inclusion organisation. Established in 1993 and firstly known as ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out Of Football’, the organisation has grown and in 1997 changed its name to Kick It Out.

Now concerned with tacking all forms of discrimination within the game, Kick It Out looks to use the positive impact football can have to communicate messages of equality and inclusion.

In our role as a third-party reporting bureau, the organisation first started receiving reports of social media discrimination in 2012/13.

A full-time reporting officer was first appointed in 2013 to deal with all discrimination reports, right across English football, from the riches of the Premier League to those who play the game for their sheer love of it in the wind and rain on Sunday mornings. Alongside this, year-on-year reports of social media discrimination have risen.

Some of the comments are truly shocking and many in our office were taken aback by the vitriol and hatred produced online. It has become common place though for too many in the digital age.

A common question is ‘would people say that to my face?’ – and you do wonder if many of the users would approach you face-to-face and be so strong with their views. We have to change the mind-set that ‘it’s OK’ to direct this discrimination online, as if it isn’t real life for some.

Often social media discrimination towards high-profile players will be rightly picked up by the media but we also have to deal with discrimination towards other supporters. It’s when you hear these personal stories that it hits home about the impact it can have on an individual.

This summer’s campaign looks to raise awareness of the problem of football-related social media discrimination and also publicise ways of reporting such abuse, one of which is through us at Kick It Out.

To tie-in with Euro 2016, Kick It Out, alongside Brandwatch, a world leading social intelligence and analytics company, will monitor online discrimination towards those European nations competing, including the full squads from England, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Wales.

This follows on from research published in April 2015 looking at direct discrimination towards Premier League players and clubs, which first highlighted the true extent of the problem. Between August 2014 and March 2015, 134.4K discriminatory posts were made on publicly accessible social media platforms, forums and websites.

At Kick It Out we’re determined to continue campaigning for reforms in this area, to ensure there’s greater action from all concerned in the football world, social media platforms and 
and in civil authorities, and for there to be clear penalties for those posting discrimination.

Roisin Wood is the Director of Kick It Out. Visit klickitout.org to find out more about the campaign.