Summary of Oxfam response to UK government Measuring Child Poverty consultation | Child Poverty

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In November 2012, the Department of Work and Pensions of the UK Government launched a consultation in order to design a better measurement of child poverty in the UK. Oxfam submitted a response in which we highlight that income and relative poverty must remain at the core of any measurement of poverty in the UK. Our suggestions below are offered by way of augmenting our understanding of the causes, experience and solutions to poverty.
   Summary of Oxfam response to UK government Measuring Child Poverty   consultation February, 2013 General comments This is a summary of Oxfam’s response to the government’s consultation on measuring child poverty. Oxfam welcomes the opportunity to respond to this consultation. 1  Our response draws on over fifteen years working with some of the poorest communities in the UK and over seventy years working to overcome poverty around the world. In both contexts we approach our work in a similar way  –  supporting communities, learning from them about what is going wrong and also being inspired by them in our vision for change. Our response draws on our analysis that the causes of poverty and also the means to address poverty lie in several arenas, namely with individuals and communities themselves as they build sustainable livelihoods, but also in the wider society and economy that shapes individuals’ and communities’  opportunities to do so. Oxfam is clear that income and relative poverty must remain at the core of any measurement of poverty  in the UK. Our suggestions below are offered by way of augmenting our understanding of the causes, experience and solutions to poverty. We are therefore pleased to see the promise that the basic income measure of poverty will be retained: Income  –  or rather the lack of a decent income  –  is and will always be at the heart of what it means to be poor. This Government understands that...There can be no 1   NB Oxfam does not explicitly work on ‘child poverty’. Our response is offered in relation to poverty in general –  child poverty of course is a reflection of poverty experienced in a family.  doubt that income is a key part of our understanding of child poverty and who it affects. It is not, however, the only part  2    For Oxfam, one of the most important outcomes of developing a multidimensional measure of poverty  –  that retains income at its heart    –  is that doing so is more likely to secure the action of a range of Government departments (and other actors) in helping to deliver the solutions to poverty in the UK. Poverty is created by a complex web of root causes. In the UK, economic changes are arguably the single factor most responsible for the rise in poverty during the last few decades. 3  This has led to increasingly large geographical differences in life expectancy, employment and so on. Moreover, given the nature of the economic sectors that have prospered, it has led to increasingly fragile work for millions of people. These processes impact individuals, yet individuals have virtually no control over them  –  these structural changes shape people’s life chances, yet they mean people have little chance to shape their own lives. This is not to deny people’s own agency –  the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach recognises that people in poverty are active and rational drivers of their own lives. Every day people make choices, prioritise and undertake various courses of actions which can impact their opportunity to build a life out of poverty. But these choices are made within various settings that impose parameters on the course of action taken  –  these parameters include the local community, the local labour market, the wider economy and our society that pressures people to act in certain ways. Recognising societal pressures, Oxfam welcomes the consultation’s discussion of the   experience  of poverty. Our work in the UK shows that living in poverty in a rich, unequal country is profoundly painful  –   it undermines people’s confidence, t heir ability to participate in society, and their stress levels which can lead to long term physical and mental ill health. This in turn has deleterious impacts on people’s ability to find work, to build their skills, sustain social relationships and so on. This is why, at its core, poverty in a developed economy is largely about relative incomes. It is crucial to recognise that in the UK, causes of poverty lie in economic structures, responses to those structures (including by political decision makers), and the extent to which individuals can exercise their agency to build their livelihoods. Experiences are the 2  Consultation page 3 and 14 3  See, for example, Resolution Foundation, 2012, Gaining from Growth: the Final Report of the Commission on Living Standards, London  symptoms . Unless this is recognised we will remain concerned that confusing experience with causes risks placing undue blame on individuals for their poverty. For example, an emphasis on ‘ worklessness ’ as an alleged cause of child poverty implies that being out of work is the fault of the parents. In Oxfam’s  experience most people desperately want to work 4    –  in too many communities there are few suitable jobs available. People have applied over and again and received multiple rejections. Or people are unable to work due to disability that employers will not accommodate, or there is insufficient transport, or there is insufficient affordable and suitable childcare. Or people have caring responsibilities that employers cannot accommodate. To label people as ‘workless’ in a way that neglects the wider labour market contexts and other necessary infrastructure that facilitates work is in danger of stigmatising individuals and shifting attention away from wider conditions that hinder people’s ability to move out of pove rty. Dimensions we should consider for inclusion in a multidimensional measure of child poverty Oxfam’s understanding of poverty is encapsu lated in the words of one of our programme partners: It is the infrastructure - both physical and social - which make up the constituent parts of a community which is at ease with itself and on a par with opportunities which are afforded to...[other] communities...Other than working for one of the multinational fish farming companies, the MOD, or the local council, there are no job opportunities let alone a career path, woe betide you if you have the temerity to challenge your employer on terms and conditions. Life is one of survival.  There are multiple social  problems related to isolation and lack of opportunity; sadly, incidents of suicide are all too common...most teenagers bolt from the island as soon as they are able... poverty is not as simple as a lack of money and physical goods  .  –  Don, member of Oxfam partner organisation, South Uist This perspective is framed by the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach 5  which highlights that to prosper, to be resilient, to build a life out of poverty, families (and individuals) require five types of assets  –  financial assets, environmental assets, physical assets, human assets and social assets. 6   4 5 6  Financial assets include income from work, pensions, other income support and stocks of wealth. Environmental assets include local green space, air quality, parks, and clean streets. Physical assets include    In Scotland Oxfam has built a measure of Scotland’s prosperity (the Oxfam Humankind Index 7 ) based on these assets  –  we conducted a consultation with Scottish people to understand what sort of assets they needed to live well in their communities; what sort of human assets; what sort of financial assets; what sort of social assets; and so on. In doing so, we engaged with almost 3000 people, making a particular effort to reach out to seldom-heard communities and creating time and space for deliberation, discussion and debate. This generated a set of priorities which were weighted to reflect the relative importance of each factor of prosperity relative to the others. For example, the satisfaction derived from work is one of the top priorities, not work  per se . Security and sufficiency of income are important to people, not enormous amounts of money. The quality of our environment, the strength friendships and the safety of those we care about are also key factors. And above all are health and housing. The Humankind Index is about assets that people need to build sustainable livelihoods  –  it is not a measure of minimum standards, and certainly not a measure of poverty. It does, however, offer useful additional contextual factors which should be incorporated into any multifaceted conception of poverty (again, we reiterate our position that this should retain income and relative poverty at its heart). In order to deepen and improve the domains proposed in the consultation document, this table below sets out the additional information the Oxfam Humankind Index provides respective components: Table 1 Government consultation Additional information from Humankind Index Lives in a workless household Security of work, suitability of work, satisfying, worthwhile work Having satisfying work to do (whether paid or unpaid) Lives in a family with problem debt Having a secure source of money Having enough money to pay the bills and buy what you need Lives in poor housing or a  Affordable/ decent home and having a safe and infrastructure, houses, tools and equipment. Human assets include skills, education and health. Social assets are people’s network s of friends, family and contacts. 7
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