Today, in a response to a report suggesting that social mobility was improving, Chris Grayling, the Conservative Shadow Welfare minister said: “The truth is that Britain today is a country where poverty is getting worse“.
Discussions about poverty would be aided if people defined their terms and spoke in clearer English. However, first of all, despite my scepticism about today’s report, we should be clear that the report is nothing to do with whether poverty is getting worse. Rather, it is to do with whether the children of poor parents are less likely or more likely to be in poverty themselves. Even if the poor are getting poorer on average, we can still have a society where the poor are more able to escape poverty. Indeed, there might be a trade off.
But, back to Chris Grayling. What did he mean by “poverty is getting worse”?
Did he mean that there are more poor people?
Did he mean that there are the same number of poor people but the poor are poorer than before?
Did he mean that it is worse to be poor now than it used to be (perhaps because poor areas are more crime ridden)?
Did he mean that it is harder to escape poverty than it used to be?
Or, did he mean that there are more people who are below some arbitrary benchmark relative to (say) average earnings?
I suspect he meant the last – unfortunately, it is not possible to find a fuller version of his remarks anywhere on the Conservative Party website. But, if he did mean this, then he should have said “society is becoming more unequal”. This has nothing to do with the report and nothing, necessarily, to do with poverty.