On Monday 2nd March well over a hundred people gathered to hear Andrew Harrop, General Secretary of the Left-leaning think tank Fabian Society, and Ryan Shorthouse, Director of the Right-leaning think tank Bright Blue, open a conference designed to look for solutions to poverty. A presentation of quotes from children in poverty by a young people’s theatre group, Seasons Playhouse, set the scene; and a panel then debated the situation that we are in – and Barry Knight, Principal Advisor to the Webb Memorial Trust, told us that he was tired of receiving numerous reports on the extent of poverty and almost none on possible solutions.
After a ‘dragon’s den’ had evaluated some local poverty-reducing projects, breakout sessions tackled social exclusion, parenting and early years, the role of business, the skills gap, and the future of welfare reform. The last of these was particularly interesting. During their presentations, all three of the speakers – Sam Bowman, deputy director of the Adam Smith Institute; Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group; and Andrew Harrop, general secretary of the Fabian Society – advocated a Citizen’s Income as an appropriate benefits system reform in today’s circumstances. This unanimity was unbidden and uncoordinated, and suggests that the think tank and poverty campaign world is now looking seriously at the options for long term reform of the benefits system, and at a Citizen’s Income in particular.
Alan Milburn, Chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, then gave the keynote address, and a final panel answered a series of questions more or less related to the stated aim of finding solutions to poverty.
We might look back and see this conference as a significant moment in history.