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Phil Hammond’s quite right that Britain has no dire poverty

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This is correct:Mr Hammond said: "I reject the idea that there are vast numbers of people facing dire poverty in this country."I don't accept the UN rapporteur's report at all. I think that's a nonsense. Look around you, that's not what we see in this country."As Barbara Castle pointed out back in 1959, dire poverty is something we eliminated in Britain.Except, of course, we’ve Adam Smith’s linen shirt to think of (explained by two of us at 7.50 here). Relative poverty is a real thing, even if the implications of it are rather overblown these days. Today’s definition of that dire poverty being:According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1.5m people experienced destitution in 2017 - meaning they had less than £10 a day after housing costs, or had to go without at least two essentials such

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This is correct:

Mr Hammond said: "I reject the idea that there are vast numbers of people facing dire poverty in this country.

"I don't accept the UN rapporteur's report at all. I think that's a nonsense. Look around you, that's not what we see in this country."

As Barbara Castle pointed out back in 1959, dire poverty is something we eliminated in Britain.

Except, of course, we’ve Adam Smith’s linen shirt to think of (explained by two of us at 7.50 here). Relative poverty is a real thing, even if the implications of it are rather overblown these days. Today’s definition of that dire poverty being:

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1.5m people experienced destitution in 2017 - meaning they had less than £10 a day after housing costs, or had to go without at least two essentials such as shelter, food, heat, light, clothing or toiletries during a one-month period.

Going without new clothing - they don’t mean not having clothing, just buying anew - for a month? Well, yes:

The coupon allowance was at its lowest from 1945 and 1946. For the eight month period from 1 September 1945 to 30 April 1946 only 24 coupons were issued, effectively allowing the shopper only 3 coupons a month.

That’s not coupons for three pieces of clothing.

Eleven coupons were needed for a dress, two needed for a pair of stockings, and eight coupons required for a man's shirt or a pair of trousers.

A man could have a new shirt every three months, a woman a new dress every four. By the standards being used today concerning clothing everyone in 1946 Britain was in that destitution.

And the thing is, we’d agree. By today’s standards everyone in 1940s Britain was dirt poor. If you want to leave WWII out of it then everyone in 1930s Britain was also poor by today’s standards. Very few indeed of us would be happy to live at the standards of 1950s Britain, even 1960s. Certainly today’s fuel poverty is defined as something that would have been regarded as luxurious in 1970s Britain. We know, we were there.

All of which means one of three things. There really are people living in destitution in Britain today, an idea we reject. Society’s wealth has advanced so much that what was once regarded as normal is today poverty, something we’re entirely happy to agree with. Or, perhaps, if we’re to stick with clothing, there’s a certain benefit to all that fast fashion and those sweatshops out there.

What can’t be true is that society hasn’t got richer if our current definition of poverty - using Smith’s linen shirt example - is what was the norm back then.

That is, we really are very much richer than the past. Our current definition of poverty - or the one people are attempting to use - is all the proof we need of that contention.

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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