George Osborne’s recent speech to Demos saw the man who would be Chancellor proclaiming to be from the true party of fairness. This has become a familiar cry from Cameron’s “new” Tories, but whilst they are finally prepared to at least talk about ending child poverty and a fairer society it looks as if they will continue to gloss over and dismiss what we need to do to really achieve that.
Osborne is against redistribution of income and wealth as the sole means of tackling poverty. Well, giving people more money is a pretty good way to stop them being poor, but he’s right, and those in the Labour movement have always argued, that this approach alone is unsatisfactory. Giving money to people and failing to better equip them for society will only entrench an underclass handing poverty down the generations.
Osborne is keen to eliminate what he considers to be the causes of poverty: worklessness, family breakdown, drug abuse, and indebtedness but I am at a loss to see how he intends to do that without redistribution. Improving drugs education or rehabilitation, training the unemployed for new jobs or supporting parents with childcare so that they can return to work, all cost real money. When the state spends money on projects targeted at particular groups,that is redistribution.
But to admit that would leave the Tories in serious arithmetical difficulty. Since they want to lower taxes for the poorest they’d have to pay for all this the old fashioned progressive way – by taking a little bit more from those with the most. Unfortunately for the shadow chancellor he and his party are against that too, with Osborne lamenting recent calls for an increase in the top rate of taxation.
The Conservatives have admitted the serious impact of poverty on children’s life chances, it’s time they admitted that they simply aren’t prepared to do anything about it – they’d rather keep taxes low and reinforce stereotypes of the deserving poor.