The Department for Work and Pensions's new Child Poverty Strategy lacks any way of measuring success. Photo: Getty
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Why is Iain Duncan Smith avoiding the elephant in the room?

The Department for Work and Pensions’ Child Poverty Strategy lacks any hint of a target. How will we know if it is succeeding?

The Department for Work and Pensions’ Child Poverty Strategy – published this morning – has a clear three-dimensional approach to tackling low-income: focusing on income, costs of living and educational attainment.

This is a promising middle way between a single income-based strategy – which the Government argues led to an unhelpful pursuit of “Poverty plus a pound” – and an over extended multi-dimensional approach. Demos has long-argued the pitfalls of using income alone to measure child poverty. Our analysis of 40,000 low-income households in poverty highlighted the importance of measuring other everyday indicators such as health, housing, debt and material deprivation.

So far, so promising. But this is where the good news ends.

While the framework seems clear, there is an elephant in the room. There is not a hint of a target, not a suggestion of how progress might be measured, or indeed what a vision of success might look like.

How will we know in future if this strategy is working, and child poverty falls? In the absence of a direct response to this question, it seems possible the government may drop the income-based measurement and put nothing in its place. Or indeed, we might have a situation where the government claims success in reducing child poverty through the achievement of policies, rather than outcomes – confusing the means with the ends.

The strategy reads more like a retrospective – defining poverty in a way that fits with the Government’s existing agenda. Many of the dozens of announcements relate to previous funding commitments, while almost everything the government has worked on since 2010 has been grouped into one of the three action areas - Supporting families into Work and increasing their earnings, Improving living standards, and Preventing poor children becoming poor adults through raising their educational attainment.

In this strategy, we are told that Universal Credit is the solution to tackling in work poverty and the Localism Act addresses neighbourhood deprivation. In some areas, the document does away with past or previously announced policies altogether and only talks about trends – “Nearly 1.7 million private sector jobs have been created since 2010…”. Where future plans are hinted at, some are bemusingly open ended – the government will reduce the costs of living by “Promoting competition across all areas”.

The convenient implication is that wins in these areas will be seen as a win for tackling child poverty.

A strategy which does little more than serves to give coherence to and justify previous and current government policy also has another risk – it is wildly open to being exploited for policy bandwagons.

Just an hour before its release, IDS and Osborne took to the Guardian to proclaim the strategy would tackle the “root causes” of poverty “entrenched worklessness, family breakdown, problem debt, drug and alcohol dependency”.

This “troubled family” world view – where poverty is a life choice, a symptom of moral decline – so beloved of Conservative ministers is entirely at odds with the rigorous evidence -base and priority areas presented in the strategy – one which recognises that while poverty is a major issue for drug addicts, problem drug addiction (at 0.9 per cent of the population) is not a major issue for people in poverty.

Even the addition of a child poverty target would fail to balance this fatal flaw.

Claudia Wood is deputy director of the think tank Demos

 

Claudia Wood is deputy director of Demos.

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Why is it called Storm Doris? The psychological impact of naming a storm

“Homes being destroyed and lives being lost shouldn’t be named after any person.”

“Oh, piss off Doris,” cried the nation in unison this morning. No, it wasn't that everyone's local cantankerous old lady had thwacked our ankles with her stick. This is a different, more aggressive Doris. Less Werther’s, more extreme weathers. Less bridge club, more bridge collapse.

This is Storm Doris.

A storm that has brought snow, rain, and furious winds up to 94mph to parts of the UK. There are severe weather warnings of wind, snow and ice across the entire country.

But the real question here is: why is it called that? And what impact does the new Met Office policy of naming storms have on us?

Why do we name storms?

Storm Doris is the latest protagonist in the Met Office’s decision to name storms, a pilot scheme introduced in winter 2015/16 now in its second year.

The scheme was introduced to draw attention to severe weather conditions in Britain, and raise awareness of how to prepare for them.

How do we name storms?

The Name our Storms initiative invites the public to suggest names for storms. You can do this by tweeting the @metoffice using the #nameourstorms hashtag and your suggestion, through its Facebook page, or by emailing them.

These names are collated along with suggestions from Met Éireann and compiled into a list. These are whittled down into 21 names, according to which were most suggested – in alphabetical order and alternating between male and female names. This is done according to the US National Hurricane Naming convention, which excludes the letters Q, U, X, Y and Z because there are thought to be too few common names beginning with these letters.

They have to be human names, which is why suggestions in this list revealed by Wired – including Apocalypse, Gnasher, Megatron, In A Teacup (or Ena Tee Cup) – were rejected. The Met Office received 10,000 submissions for the 2016/17 season. According to a spokesperson, a lot of people submit their own names.

Only storms that could have a “medium” or “high” wind impact in the UK and Ireland are named. If there are more than 21 storms in a year, then the naming system starts from Alpha and goes through the Greek alphabet.

The names for this year are: Angus (19-20 Nov ’16), Barbara (23-24 Dec 2016), Conor (25-26 Dec 2016), Doris (now), Ewan, Fleur, Gabriel, Holly, Ivor, Jacqui, Kamil, Louise, Malcolm, Natalie, Oisín, Penelope, Robert, Susan, Thomas, Valerie and Wilbert.

Why does this violent storm have the name of an elderly lady?

Doris is an incongruous name for this storm, so why was it chosen? A Met Office spokesperson says they were just at that stage in their list of names, and there’s no link between the nature of the storm and its name.

But do people send cosy names for violent weather conditions on purpose? “There’s all sorts in there,” a spokesperson tells me. “People don’t try and use cosy names as such.”

What psychological impact does naming storms have on us?

We know that giving names to objects and animals immediately gives us a human connection with them. That’s why we name things we feel close to: a pet owner names their cat, a sailor names their boat, a bore names their car. We even name our virtual assistants –from Microsoft’s Clippy to Amazon’s Alexa.

This gives us a connection beyond practicality with the thing we’ve named.

Remember the response of Walter Palmer, the guy who killed Cecil the Lion? “If I had known this lion had a name and was important to the country or a study, obviously I wouldn’t have taken it,” he said. “Nobody in our hunting party knew before or after the name of this lion.”

So how does giving a storm a name change our attitude towards it?

Evidence suggests that we take it more seriously – or at least pay closer attention. A YouGov survey following the first seven named storms in the Met Office’s scheme shows that 55 per cent of the people polled took measures to prepare for wild weather after hearing that the oncoming storm had been named.

“There was an immediate acceptance of the storm names through all media,” said Gerald Fleming, Head of Forecasting at Met Éireann, the Irish metereological service. “The severe weather messages were more clearly communicated.”

But personalising a storm can backfire. A controversial US study in 2014 by PNAC (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) claimed that hurricanes with female names lead to higher death tolls – the more “feminine” the name, like Belle or Cindy, the higher the death toll. This is not because female names are attached to more severe storms; it is reportedly because people take fewer steps to prepare for storms with names they perceive to be unintimidating or weak.

“In judging the intensity of a storm, people appear to be applying their beliefs about how men and women behave,” Sharon Shavitt, a co-author of the study, told the FT at the time. “This makes a female-named hurricane . . . seem gentler and less violent.”

Names have social connotations, and affect our subconscious. Naming a storm can raise awareness of it, but it can also affect our behaviour towards it.

What’s it like sharing a name with a deadly storm?

We should also spare a thought for the impact sharing a name with a notorious weather event can have on a person. Katrina Nicholson, a nurse who lives in Glasgow, says it was “horrible” when the 2005 hurricane – one of the fifth deadliest ever in the US – was given her name.

“It was horrible having something so destructive associated with my name. Homes being destroyed and lives being lost shouldn’t be named after any person,” she tells me over email. “I actually remember at the time meeting an American tourist on a boat trip in Skye and when he heard my name he immediately linked it to the storm – although he quickly felt guilty and then said it was a lovely name! I think to this day there will be many Americans who hate my name because of it.”

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.