The great poverty lie


A letter a day to number 10. No 1,457

Tuesday 07 June 2016.

Dear Mr Cameron,

Two studies, that I know of, have trialled a guaranteed income, one in Canada and the other in India. In both cases there were unreserved positive outcomes. In Canada not least among the benefits they found were, “Participant contacts with physicians declined, especially for mental health, and more adolescents continued into grade 12”. A feared labour fallout did not occur as the programme was, “designed in such a way that there is always a positive incentive to work more hours rather than less, because every dollar received from other sources would reduce benefits by only fifty cents.”

In India, where no work incentives or conditions were imposed, researchers found that there was, “a shift from casual wage labor to more own-account (self-employed) farming and business activity, with less distress-driven out-migration. Women gained more than men.” And, “Better health helped to explain the improved school attendance and performance, which was also the result of families being able to buy things like shoes and pay for transport to school.”

A study published just three days go was able to look at the cognitive effects of poverty and what happens when that is relieved by a reliable increase in income, in this case the opening of a “luxury casino owned and operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.” One tribal leader feared, “gambling would be the Cherokee’s damnation,” and North Carolina’s governor attempted to ‘block the project at every turn’.

What the study was able to do was shed light on the problem we face in this country, in particular from your government, on whether poverty is genetically determined and whether the poor are to blame for their poverty, or are the problems experienced by poor people caused by poverty? In short, which is the horse and which is the cart? What the study reveals is that the traditional paternalistic view so beloved of your government, that the poor are too stupid and lazy to do anything about their poverty is, in fact, baloney; utterly foolish nonsense.

Margaret Thatcher once called poverty a “personality defect,” the study found that the real problem for those trapped in poverty was a ‘scarcity mentality’. “Scarcity consumes you,” Eldar Shafir, a psychologist at Princeton University explained. “You’re less able to focus on other things that are also important to you.” What these studies confirm is that the punitive DWP regime and your ideologically imposed austerity are wrong, toxic and harmful, ruining lives. People who think that it is no good throwing money at a problem should think again, so far as poverty is concerned the evidence says otherwise. As the American study put it, “Poverty is not a lack of character. It’s a lack of cash.” The mental defectiveness and lack of character are in those who pursue a relentless war on the poor, you and your government.

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