Politicised poverty research misses the point

It is a bit tricky to criticise an organisation that describes itself as “the leading charity campaigning for the abolition of child poverty in the UK. But when a charity enters the realm of political debate, as the Child Poverty Action Group frequently does, then their proposals ought to be examined without the kid gloves on.

Not so long ago, the CPAG’s membership journal featured an article in which Polly Toynbee presented her findings from qualitative research into the attitudes of the UK’s “super-rich” (the upper 1%) towards poverty. The first part of the article could be described as an eat-the-rich rant. The way Toynbee explains it, her research started as an attempt to “persuade” the wealthy to pay more taxes. But this carrot approach failed, so Toynbee now recommends the stick:

“This very small slice of the population is, always was and always will be profoundly conservative, myopic and ignorant about everyone else. They will never be persuaded, and any progressive party must simply ignore them.”

The second part of the article, in contrast, is an alleluia to the virtues of the big state:

“We are closest to the USA, low tax and spend, high inequality. France and Germany are in the middle, fairer and higher taxed. The Nordics, such as Sweden and Finland, are the highest taxed and the fairest. [...] The other great task is to persuade people that government really does do good [...] Can we recapture public enthusiasm for the virtue of taxation as the most important part of citizenship?”

 

But what does any of this have to do with child poverty? What is the connection between the incomes of the richest 60,000 individuals in society, the overall size of the state apparatus, and the wellbeing of children?

What children deserve is access to high-quality education, healthcare, and housing in an area not blighted by crime and violence. Contrary to Toynbee’s assertion, the UK is by no means suffering from a scrawny state that spends almost nothing in these areas. Instead, public spending is quite high by international comparisons. It has risen considerably in recent years, and largely failed to satisfy the expectations connected with the increase.

We will not improve children’s life chances by glorifying the state bureaucracy regardless of the outcomes it produces. And going green with envy will not do the job either.

 

 

UPDATE:  A reader has pointed out that the CPAG receives a significant proportion of its income from various government departments. See Note 3 to the 2008 accounts.

Considering her background as an erstwhile Social Democrat, Ms Toynbee’s current views are pretty extreme. I read her stuff quite regularly, and she is far to the left of the Gordon Brown show. I don’t mind this, but she shows an increasing degree of intolerance for anybody who doesn’t share her mindset.While her goal is quite clear, the methods by which she thinks we ought to move towards the Nordic utopia are far from obvious. High tax rates feature prominently, but the direction and administration of all this public spending are left vague.Didn’t Frank Field work for CPAG when the world was younger?

Does Polly Toynbee ever define what she means by ‘fair’. Secondly, it is not at all clear the rise in inequality has anything to do with the top rate of tax. It could have a lot more to do with the high effective marginal tax rates that the poor face, as a result of the policies that Ms Toynbee herself advocates.

The problem with many on the left is that they automatically connect poverty with inequality, so that if we deal with the latter we will automatically have dealt with the problems of the poor. Of course, in reality there is no necessary connection between the two, and it is interesting that commentators like Ms Toynbee never choose to use countries like China, Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea as examples of economic and social equality.One also can’t help mentioning that there is something quite grotesque in someone from such a priviliged and wealthy background as Ms Toynbee being so critical of her own kind.

To give Polly Toynbee some credit, she has worked in low paid jobs and experienced the life of the poor. Sadly, while she may understand the consequences of poverty, she has little understanding of its causes, prefering platitudes like exploitation etc. ‘The poor are poor because the rich are rich’ etc, whereas the real reason is poor productivity, education, poverty traps et al.

Toynbee: “We are closest to the USA, low tax and spend, high inequality.”When the government is spending 50% of GDP, this sentence can only be described as Orwellian. Didn’t Big Brother have his origins in English Socialism?Peter: “One also can’t help mentioning that there is something quite grotesque in someone from such a priviliged and wealthy background as Ms Toynbee being so critical of her own kind.”The Christian Socialists might respond that there is no greater joy in heaven than a sinner who repents. But I don’t think we should dwell on Ms. Toynbee’s background. It is her stupidity that we should focus on.

How interesting, BTW, that Ms. Toynbee’s idea of research “started as an attempt to ‘persuade’ the wealthy to pay more taxes”.I have some experience of research myself (including as three years as Policy and Research Manager for a childcare charity) and I am fairly sure that research is not supposed to consist of attempting to pursuade your sample of your views, and then drawing conclusions from their reluctance to adopt them.It’s not the political debate that worries me. CPAG is welcome to advocate, just as the IEA are. It is the atrocious methodology underpinning their claims.

From the original Toynbee article, entitled Unjust Rewards:“After months of persuasion and with great difficulty, Polly Toynbee and David Walker managed to assemble focus groups of some of the country’s highest earners. Most of these City merchant bankers and lawyers were in the top 0.1 per cent, earning around £500,000, some up to £10 million, a year. Ipsos Mori had never before managed to assemble such high earners. Here, Polly Toynbee describes the key findings from these focus groups, now published in Unjust Rewards.”Now, I wonder if anybody can guess why Toynbee and Walker might have struggled to get these people to participte? Could it be that many of them sensed a witch-hunt?

Could someone not tell Ms Toynbee that it is not the rate of tax on the rich that is the cause of poverty, but rather a misguided and hideously complicated benefit system (plus other factors).

Richard Hotchkis is right to mention Ms Toynbee’s work in low-paid jobs for a book she wrote a few years ago. I praised this in a debate I had with her at the then EOC. However she responded with an ad hominem attack on me which surprised me a bit and changed my mind about her. I now see her as a knee-jerk leftist with no constructive ideas. I also think her continued attacks on Gordon Brown are venomous. Whatever my view of GB’s politics and economics, some of her stuff is really below the belt.

In reply to Tom, the issue with Polly Toynbee, as Len has pointed out, is precisely that her method of attack is personal as was made clear with her comments on Boris Johnson during the Mayoral election and her comments after Auberon Waugh died.

To begin with, Toynbee’s country-categorisation is at best a gross oversimplification. It’s too much of a thinking in models: Anglo-Saxon (bad), Rhineland (quite good), and Nordic (superb).
That doesn’t work out. UK total government spending is now quite close to German levels. German and Belgian social spending, in turn, is about equal to Scandinavian levels (even if total government spending is lower). And then we’ve got Switzerland, with government spending at Irish levels, and an income distribution similar to that of the Rhineland models. Plus Portugal, Greece and Italy, with high government spending and high inequality. Hmmmmmm…

Given that the top 1% of earners are those who earn £100,000+, I’d be very surprised if Toynbee isn’t one of the very rich people she’s critising; in true Stalinist style she would, no doubt, raise her hand to sanction her own execution.

“To give Polly Toynbee some credit, she has worked in low paid jobs and experienced the life of the poor.”B******s.She has no direct experience of working to survive. None. She’s a just another aristo hectoring the proles. Mary Louisa Toynbee (to give her her real, none faux proletarian name, played for some eight months in a variety of “jobs” such as working in a burger bar, dinner lady or nurse (huh?) or army recruit. Then milked it in books and articles.Look, if you’re the rich benefactor of the Toynbee family fortune you can play at being a milk maid or do whatever you want. But it’s a pose. Nothing else.

Peter: “the issue with Polly Toynbee, as Len has pointed out, is precisely that her method of attack is personal…”Well, that’s part of it. Bigger issues are whether she massages facts to fit her prejudices (e.g. levels of government spending) and sees the world in manichean terms. As for her personal attacks, we should avoid sinking to her level.Having said that, David has a point when he notes that Toynbee “has no direct experience of working to survive”. Her claims to have lived on a low income rather remind one of Pulp’s Common People. In fact, the really devastating aspect of poverty isn’t the low income but the knowledge that there is no hope of escape. She never knew that.

John: “I’d be very surprised if Toynbee isn’t one of the very rich…”Actually, one of the most common and superficially persuasive argument I hear from wealthy socialists is that “I would be happy to pay extra tax if the money was spent on the right things.” Toynbee is surely one of these.I say “superficially”, however, because what those who say this fail to recognise is that they are not making a sacrifice if they are paying for things of which they approve, but – by doing so through taxation – they are asking others (those who do not approve of that spending) to sacrifice. Effectivley they’re saying “I want to give, but will only do so if others are forced to give.”

[...] a recent blog post for the Institute of Economic Affairs, Kristian Niemietz was critical of Child Poverty Action Group [...]

Hi all,The biggest challenge, outside of making reallignments to the real and “residual” economies; i.e., SME enabling environments, financing to business, employment creation in the new economy and on the other end, financial services regulation and CEO compensation, is the management of the new state. The new state needs not be big, but it can be smarter. With the newer technology, there is no way the government should be lagging behind in the developed world to that of the private sector. Too many skilled labourers out there who need steady employment…Yourihttp://globalviewtoday.blogspot.com/

Considering her background as an erstwhile Social Democrat, Ms Toynbee’s current views are pretty extreme. I read her stuff quite regularly, and she is far to the left of the Gordon Brown show. I don’t mind this, but she shows an increasing degree of intolerance for anybody who doesn’t share her mindset.While her goal is quite clear, the methods by which she thinks we ought to move towards the Nordic utopia are far from obvious. High tax rates feature prominently, but the direction and administration of all this public spending are left vague.Didn’t Frank Field work for CPAG when the world was younger?

Does Polly Toynbee ever define what she means by ‘fair’. Secondly, it is not at all clear the rise in inequality has anything to do with the top rate of tax. It could have a lot more to do with the high effective marginal tax rates that the poor face, as a result of the policies that Ms Toynbee herself advocates.

The problem with many on the left is that they automatically connect poverty with inequality, so that if we deal with the latter we will automatically have dealt with the problems of the poor. Of course, in reality there is no necessary connection between the two, and it is interesting that commentators like Ms Toynbee never choose to use countries like China, Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea as examples of economic and social equality.One also can’t help mentioning that there is something quite grotesque in someone from such a priviliged and wealthy background as Ms Toynbee being so critical of her own kind.

To give Polly Toynbee some credit, she has worked in low paid jobs and experienced the life of the poor. Sadly, while she may understand the consequences of poverty, she has little understanding of its causes, prefering platitudes like exploitation etc. ‘The poor are poor because the rich are rich’ etc, whereas the real reason is poor productivity, education, poverty traps et al.

Toynbee: “We are closest to the USA, low tax and spend, high inequality.”When the government is spending 50% of GDP, this sentence can only be described as Orwellian. Didn’t Big Brother have his origins in English Socialism?Peter: “One also can’t help mentioning that there is something quite grotesque in someone from such a priviliged and wealthy background as Ms Toynbee being so critical of her own kind.”The Christian Socialists might respond that there is no greater joy in heaven than a sinner who repents. But I don’t think we should dwell on Ms. Toynbee’s background. It is her stupidity that we should focus on.

How interesting, BTW, that Ms. Toynbee’s idea of research “started as an attempt to ‘persuade’ the wealthy to pay more taxes”.I have some experience of research myself (including as three years as Policy and Research Manager for a childcare charity) and I am fairly sure that research is not supposed to consist of attempting to pursuade your sample of your views, and then drawing conclusions from their reluctance to adopt them.It’s not the political debate that worries me. CPAG is welcome to advocate, just as the IEA are. It is the atrocious methodology underpinning their claims.

From the original Toynbee article, entitled Unjust Rewards:“After months of persuasion and with great difficulty, Polly Toynbee and David Walker managed to assemble focus groups of some of the country’s highest earners. Most of these City merchant bankers and lawyers were in the top 0.1 per cent, earning around £500,000, some up to £10 million, a year. Ipsos Mori had never before managed to assemble such high earners. Here, Polly Toynbee describes the key findings from these focus groups, now published in Unjust Rewards.”Now, I wonder if anybody can guess why Toynbee and Walker might have struggled to get these people to participte? Could it be that many of them sensed a witch-hunt?

Could someone not tell Ms Toynbee that it is not the rate of tax on the rich that is the cause of poverty, but rather a misguided and hideously complicated benefit system (plus other factors).

Richard Hotchkis is right to mention Ms Toynbee’s work in low-paid jobs for a book she wrote a few years ago. I praised this in a debate I had with her at the then EOC. However she responded with an ad hominem attack on me which surprised me a bit and changed my mind about her. I now see her as a knee-jerk leftist with no constructive ideas. I also think her continued attacks on Gordon Brown are venomous. Whatever my view of GB’s politics and economics, some of her stuff is really below the belt.

In reply to Tom, the issue with Polly Toynbee, as Len has pointed out, is precisely that her method of attack is personal as was made clear with her comments on Boris Johnson during the Mayoral election and her comments after Auberon Waugh died.

To begin with, Toynbee’s country-categorisation is at best a gross oversimplification. It’s too much of a thinking in models: Anglo-Saxon (bad), Rhineland (quite good), and Nordic (superb).
That doesn’t work out. UK total government spending is now quite close to German levels. German and Belgian social spending, in turn, is about equal to Scandinavian levels (even if total government spending is lower). And then we’ve got Switzerland, with government spending at Irish levels, and an income distribution similar to that of the Rhineland models. Plus Portugal, Greece and Italy, with high government spending and high inequality. Hmmmmmm…

Given that the top 1% of earners are those who earn £100,000+, I’d be very surprised if Toynbee isn’t one of the very rich people she’s critising; in true Stalinist style she would, no doubt, raise her hand to sanction her own execution.

“To give Polly Toynbee some credit, she has worked in low paid jobs and experienced the life of the poor.”B******s.She has no direct experience of working to survive. None. She’s a just another aristo hectoring the proles. Mary Louisa Toynbee (to give her her real, none faux proletarian name, played for some eight months in a variety of “jobs” such as working in a burger bar, dinner lady or nurse (huh?) or army recruit. Then milked it in books and articles.Look, if you’re the rich benefactor of the Toynbee family fortune you can play at being a milk maid or do whatever you want. But it’s a pose. Nothing else.

Peter: “the issue with Polly Toynbee, as Len has pointed out, is precisely that her method of attack is personal…”Well, that’s part of it. Bigger issues are whether she massages facts to fit her prejudices (e.g. levels of government spending) and sees the world in manichean terms. As for her personal attacks, we should avoid sinking to her level.Having said that, David has a point when he notes that Toynbee “has no direct experience of working to survive”. Her claims to have lived on a low income rather remind one of Pulp’s Common People. In fact, the really devastating aspect of poverty isn’t the low income but the knowledge that there is no hope of escape. She never knew that.

John: “I’d be very surprised if Toynbee isn’t one of the very rich…”Actually, one of the most common and superficially persuasive argument I hear from wealthy socialists is that “I would be happy to pay extra tax if the money was spent on the right things.” Toynbee is surely one of these.I say “superficially”, however, because what those who say this fail to recognise is that they are not making a sacrifice if they are paying for things of which they approve, but – by doing so through taxation – they are asking others (those who do not approve of that spending) to sacrifice. Effectivley they’re saying “I want to give, but will only do so if others are forced to give.”

[...] a recent blog post for the Institute of Economic Affairs, Kristian Niemietz was critical of Child Poverty Action Group [...]

Hi all,The biggest challenge, outside of making reallignments to the real and “residual” economies; i.e., SME enabling environments, financing to business, employment creation in the new economy and on the other end, financial services regulation and CEO compensation, is the management of the new state. The new state needs not be big, but it can be smarter. With the newer technology, there is no way the government should be lagging behind in the developed world to that of the private sector. Too many skilled labourers out there who need steady employment…Yourihttp://globalviewtoday.blogspot.com/

Every child deserves to be well-educated and fed three time a day. The important idea to start with is build more schools with free tuition and all. Limit words with actions, do the right thing to lessen poverty and maximize better living and a sustainable community.

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