The poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame. Part 3 – the Tories want to repeal the 2010 Child Poverty Act


Political theories of poverty vary across the political spectrum, with those on the right tending to individualise social problems more generally, and those on the left tending to socialise them. Very different policy implications stem from each perspective.

Since the Thatcher era, the New Right have developed a distinctive behaviourist approach to poverty, founded on the idea that poor people are poor because they lack certain qualities and traits.

In 2013, Iain Duncan Smith worked on developingbetter measures of child povertyto provide a “more accurate reflection of the reality of child poverty.” According to the Conservatives, poverty isn’t caused by a lack of income.

The Coalition conducted a weighted and biased consultation at the time that did little more than provide a Conservative ideological framework in the form of leading questions, to catch carefully calculated, led and subliminally shaped public responses.

Iain Duncan Smith has indicated he will repeal the 2010 Child Poverty Act, which committed the government to a target of eradicating child poverty in the UK by 2020. He has dispensed with the current relative definition of poverty (anyone in a household beneath 60% of median income), abandoned the targets and introduced a new (although rather unclear) definition: the child poverty target is to be replaced with a new duty to report levels of educational attainment, “worklessness” and addiction, rather than relative material deprivation and disadvantage.

Duncan Smith argues that the measures set originally by Tony Blair are a “poor measure of poverty”, and he claims that families can fall or go above the relative poverty line for reasons that have little to do with their material wealth.

Using the Centre for Social Justice’s 2012 report Rethinking Child Poverty, (set up by none other than Iain Duncan Smith in 2004) to support his ideological perspective, Duncan Smith’s account of UK poverty is defined by bad parenting, by alcohol dependency and drug-addiction.

There is of course very little focus on accounts of parents who are poor because they are unemployed or in low-paid work. Or because of government policies that are directed at rewarding wealthy people and punishing poor people. (See also: We are raising more money for the rich.) Duncan Smith said:

“We know in households with unstable relationships, where debt and addiction destabilise families, where parents lack employment skills, where children just aren’t ready to start school, these children don’t have the same chances in life as others. It is self evident.”

Of course it’s also “self-evident” that debt, addiction and unstable relationships happen to wealthy people as well, so as far as causal explanations of poverty go, this one certainly lacks credibility and coherence.

Furthermore, I propose that a lack of opportunities and life chances arise from the cumulative effects of discriminatory economic and social structures and policies. Iain Duncan Smith went on to say:

“They cannot break out of that cycle of disadvantage. We are currently developing these measures right now – family breakdown, problem debt and drug and alcohol dependency – and we will report each year on these life chances as well.”

The Conservatives are claiming that poverty arises because of the “faulty” lifestyle choices of people with personal deficits and aim to reconstruct the identities of poor people via psychopolitical interventions, but it is only through a wholesale commitment to eliminating poverty by addressing unemployment, underemployment, job insecurity, low paid work, inadequate welfare support and institutionalised inequalities that any meaningful social progress can be made.

Over the last five years, the UK has become the most unequal country in Europe, on the basis of income distribution and wages. If that increase in inequality arose because of individual failings, as the Conservatives are claiming, why have those personal failings only become apparent so suddenly within the past five years? The Child Poverty Action Group voiced concerns :

“The statement isn’t about strengthening efforts to end child poverty, but about burying the failure of the government’s child poverty approach. And with more cuts coming down the line, child poverty is set to rise.”

The Bell Swerve

Iain Duncan Smith draws on a framework of ideas that was shaped to a large extent by the white male supremacist musings of Charles Murray, the controversial ultra-conservative American sociologist that exhumed social Darwinism and gave the bones of it originally to Bush and Thatcher to re-cast.

Murray’s New Right culture of poverty theory popularised notions that poverty is caused by an individual’s personal deficits and character flaws; that the poor have earned their position in society; the poor deserve to be poor because this is a reflection of their lack of qualities and level of abilities. Murray’s very controversial work The Bell Curve was a novel of racist pseudoscience and manipulated, misleading statistics which he used to propose that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor.

According to Murray, disadvantaged groups are disadvantaged because, on average, they cannot compete with white men, who are intellectually, psychologically and morally superior. Murray advocates the total elimination of the welfare state, arguing that public policy cannot overcome the “innate deficiencies” that cause unequal social and educational outcomes.

Many critics, including myself, regard Murray as a white supremacist, a nationalist that has a long history of advocating discredited ideas that are rooted in eugenics. Nonetheless, Murray has had a significant influence on Conservative thinking about welfare in particular, both here in the UK and across the Atlantic.

“Unless the government sets out a clear target for improving the life chances of the poorest families, its agenda for healing social division in our country will lack both ambition and credibility.”

The Children’s Commissioner issued a statement regarding the repeal of the Child Poverty Act:

“The Child Poverty Act targets were not just about relative poverty – which is a measure of inequality, important in itself – but also included a measure of material deprivation. Critically, the new measures proposed today would not include any tangible measure of poverty, hunger, cold, or deprivation of any kind. Poverty is a financial measure. Unemployment statistics and statistics on educational attainment are already collected.

“The majority of children living in poverty have at least one parent who is working. Employment is important but if wages do not rise substantially in relation to living costs it will not provide a route out of poverty alone. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has today published a report stating that families with children working full-time on the National Minimum Wage are now 15% short of the Minimum Income Standard that people believe offers an acceptable standard of living.  Today’s announcement will effectively confine to history any figures on the millions of children being raised in families who experience in-work poverty denying them necessities such as adequate food, clothing and heating.”

Last year, the Children’s Commissioner said that the increasing inequality which has resulted from the cuts, and in particular, the welfare reforms, means that Britain is now in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which protects children from the adverse effects of government economic measures.

Austerity cuts are disproportionately targeted at the poorest. It’s particularly shameful that absolute poverty has returned to Britain since 2010, given that we are the 5th wealthiest nation in the world. That indicates clearly just how much inequality has increased under the Conservatives since 2010.

Poverty and inequality are a consequence of the way that society is organised, political decision-making and how resources are allocated through discriminatory government policies.

Poverty arises because of the behaviour of the powerful and wealthy, not the poor.


See also:

The Poverty of Responsibility and the Politics of Blame

The poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame – part 2

The just world fallacy

The right-wing moral hobby horse: thrift and self-help, but only for the poor

The New New Poor Law

UK Wealth Divide widens, with inequality heading for “most unequal country in the developed world”

Poor people are poor because they don’t know how to get something from nothing

1957929_293215800829475_303676825_oPictures courtesy of  Robert Livingstone

37 thoughts on “The poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame. Part 3 – the Tories want to repeal the 2010 Child Poverty Act

  1. Excellent analysis, as always. A great read, and pulls together the many threads that have now set the stage for further assaults on the poor. One factor that was missed from your list of factors used to identify “troubled families” and “Murray-defined poverty” by IDS is disability. It is included in the criteria used by LAs to identify “troubled families” to gain central govt funding, and the families are then targeted with unwarranted levels of intrusion through social services and other agencies. Disability is also one of the strongest correlates with actual (real, short of money) poverty, too. One wonders where the eugenicist policy will lead on that. Will the chronically sick & disabled now be forced through the benefits system into a new caste below the Tory-created poor underclass, to become the new “untouchables” whereby family life and rearing of children by these “social Darwinist inadequates” will become impossible?


  2. I wonder where addiction to money and power fit into these theories they have about addiction? Or are they not classed as dysfunctions, even when they are at the expense of basic human compassion and the recognition of the only sane agenda for evolution – that of socio-economic equality?


    1. I know that my comment was essentially shorthand for pieces written previously on this site about the nature of the psychology of The Psychopath in politics. I would urge anyone who hasn’t read them to do so. But I guess it was worth re-iterating.

      I just keep getting images in my head of a broadsheet news article I saw, two to five years ago? It had a big photograph of Cameron, with some guys that were dressed as Arabians (Spike Milligan sketch “Selling England” from the 70’s comes to mind – t’s on YouTube – type in ‘Spike Milligan, Selling England’, ignore the boobs jokes at the beginning etc.) and it looked like Cameron and these Arabian guys were in a plane, a Learjet maybe, docked, on an airstrip, possibly in Dubai. All smiles and jokes and business camaraderie.

      (It seems unlikely to me that that was just a humorous photo-shoot designed to leave an impression of faux – British Industrial cock-strutting, whilst actually having no basis in fact, and really, I would almost be pleased if it turned out to be a Saatchi and Saatchi publicity stunt, and that actually the UK has nothing of that nature to sell) and the plane was hired for 24 hours and the strip was in Basingstoke, and the Arabian chaps were actors).

      The article was about Cameron brokering some kind of Arms Deal. You know… something that would contribute to employment in the UK for Munitions Companies? Jobs for say 750 to 1,500 people?



      Some missiles that would kill maybe 2,000 to 5,00 people?

      (Questions about certain politicians’ shares in certain munitions companies stock suddenly becomes relevant?)

      A few generations ago these (UK electorate) people’s forefathers fought and died, their lives and their families’ lives were destroyed, fighting against Fascism. Damaged for generations by the real and psychological damage that were the consequences of that War.

      So… if you are the kind of person who is brokering an arms deal? That is tantamount to… no… actually… equivalent to, being a mass murderer. A psychopath, and therefore…. a Fascist.

      That is:

      Someone who has no qualms in their hunger for power, no conscience, no sense of remorse about what they do and who it hurts, even who it kills, or how many lives it destroys, as they embody and embrace the creepy infamy that that affords.

      Glowing tributes in history books about great military strategists, between the lines, are notes about which mass murderer was cleverer than the other one. And in the middle of all that, people who just wanted to live their lives were maimed, killed, their lives destroyed, and the damage of that infected generations after.

      A person who has done that, who has signed their name to an arms deal, has walked over a line. The same kind of line any killer, any psychopath, has to cross. A line which signifies it means nothing to them, the consequences of their actions, no matter who it hurts, whose lives that decision mutilates.

      And it is screamingly obvious,, anyone who makes a choice like this, whatever terms you couch it in:

      Power is an addiction for them.

      They’re high on it. And they don’t care what it takes to keep the high coming. No matter who suffers.

      And anyone who works with them and is unperturbed at supporting such evil, is equally culpable, whether it be with regard to foreign policy, so-called ‘national’ policy, or the world of “business” through which they define what “employment “, “unemployment” and “disability” are, and how stratifying that economically and bureaucratically is administered. Notwithstanding the fact that their businesses’ funds are siphoned out to offshore accounts, that have no benefit for the taxpayers that voted for them anyway. These rulers that apparently represent the real feelings of the nation.

      The politics of blame is their legerdemain, their way of redirecting the foolish audience attending their well practiced Magic Show, from noticing how they are screwing the very people that voted for them, built on a lie of Pyrrhic aspiration.

      It’s a given they are quite happily fucking everyone else. Lime the Nazis, propaganda – marking the poor, the disabled, the psychologically disenfranchised, as the scapegoats for the rip-off they are gerrymandering.

      So that is what these strange people (the UK electorate) who seem to have forgotten what their forefathers fought and died for, have voted for. A mass murderer. An arms dealer. The thing their grandparents fought to stop.

      It seems to me this world is a “war world” where there is a constant battle between the forces of evil against the forces for good. And it is pretty obvious (“by their fruits ye shall know them”), who’s working for which force. That’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s self evident.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Suzanne. It’s very frightening that the people of this country regard some people’s lives as disposable. That is the foundation of all eugenicist doctrines.


  3. So pleased to have found your blog. Amazingly sharp commentary and well researched pieces.
    This last one -today; if people aren’t scared about this, they should be; if they aren’t aware that this is happening now and is intentionally orchestrated, they need to pay attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sally. It’s not as if we can rely much on the media to present a balanced view of what is happening. I just wish the electorate would pay a little more attention. People seem to dismiss the cuts happening to welfare, planned because the tories intend to dismantle the welfare state completely. The claim that this somehow “makes work pay” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny when we consider how low pay and insecure jobs are keeping people in poverty. And now the tories plan on taking away working tax credits and targeting the working poor. Such flimsy and glib justificaton for tory social Darwinist ideology. But people are falling for it.


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