Monitoring poverty and social exclusion 2001, by Mohibur Rahman, Guy Palmer and Peter Kenway

(Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2001, ISBN 1 85935 069 0).Paper back. Order this book

“This report provides updated statistics for 50 indicators which between them portray the key features of poverty and social exclusion today in Great Britain. Whilst income is the focus of many of the indicators, they also cover a wide range of other subjects including health, education, work, and engagement in community activities. …. Each indicator is presented on a single page, and comprises two graphs: one showing how the indicator has changed over time and the other typically showing how the indicator varies between different groups within the population” (p.5).
The report lists improvements in education, in housing, and in some aspects of health, but identifies continuing areas of concern, many of which relate to income levels and inequalities. Particular concern is expressed that children are more likely than adults to live in low income households, and that two million children live in workless households. “From a monitoring perspective, the two key questions are first, whether the [Government’s] initiatives are collectively sufficient to address the scale and depth of the problems over time and, second, how successful they are in helping the more disadvantaged to catch up – or at least keep up – with the rest of society” (p.8).
Of interest to readers of this journal will be the fact that the number of people on means-tested benefits fell from 1995 to 1999 and then rose again in 2000 (with the replacement of Family Credit with the means-tested Working Families Tax Credit in October 1999). The executive summary misleadingly records a fall (an ‘improvement’) in the number of people on means-tested benefits from 1999 to 2000. (It is only a fall if the tax credit is ignored).
What of course does not appear in reports such as this is the percentage of families on Child Benefit because that is always nearly 100%. Thus the beneficial effects which Child Benefit has (e.g., disproportionately increasing low incomes and thus reducing income inequality) are not give the recognition which they are due. Maybe future editions could give some recognition to the effect of Child Benefit on income inequality and to the way in which it enhances the incomes of many low-paid families without creating labour market disincentives.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is to be commended on this excellent publication.