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How Great it is to be Rich

London labour and the London poor : a cyclopaedia of the condition and earnings of those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work. 1851
London labour and the London poor : a cyclopaedia of the condition and earnings of those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work. 1851. Credit: Wellcome Library / Wellcome Images, licensed CC BY 4.0

In the dying days of the last Labour government in 2010 the Child Poverty Act was passed, setting a target of reducing child poverty by 10% before 2020. But when the Conservative government was elected, doing something about it didn’t quite fit in with George Osborne’s plea for austerity: eradicating poverty is expensive so since 2010 the Conservative government has shied away from their predecessor’s commitment. Today the numbers of children in poverty has barely declined at all and currently stands at 2.3 million—a rather shocking one in six of all children.

George Osborne’s solution is creative as ever—redefine the term. Today poverty means living in a household with an income below 60% of the median. The proposed Welfare Reform and Work Bill, will replace this with new measures such as levels of unemployment, education, family breakdown and drug dependence and remove the link with income. For Osborne the beauty of the change is that in future no child with a working parent would be defined as “poor”, thereby removing 63% of those currently on the registrar.

It would also allow the government to freeze benefit payments without increasing the number of people defined as poor.

Curiously, there is strong opposition to this change from the red leather benches on the other side of the House of Commons and the good people in ermine are fighting a rearguard action: last month the Lords voted by 290 to 198 to keep the original targets, requiring MPs to reconsider.

Whilst the House of Lords is not normally seen as an especially militant or radical body, currently Labour and the Lib Dems outnumber Conservatives – and in consequence the Lords have been flexing their muscles (such as they are) since the election.

It may seem curious that it is the Lords who are fighting for the rights of the poorest, but just maybe that’s exactly what the most privileged in our society should be doing.

How wonderful it is to be rich.