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A cast of characters: The Monarchy (part 6)

By Dr George Venturini  

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Hanover-Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, later Windsor (since 1917), and later still Battenberg (since 1947) in the part of Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of the United Kingdom and Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, had officiated in Perth, Western Australia on 28 and 29 October 2011 for the 22nd Commonwealth tournée. The year after, she was preparing for the 23rd show which would take place in Colombo, Sri Lanka on 15-17 November 2013.

Elizabeth II is also Queen of Australia, of former Dominions such as Canada, New Zealand, as well as villes du plaisir et de débauche for the privileged such as Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, and fortunate places such as Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu, in each of which she is represented by a Governor-General. Elizabeth II holds a variety of other positions, among them Supreme Governor of the Church of England, Duke of Normandy, Lord of Mann, and Paramount Chief of Fiji. Her Majesty is also styled Duke of Lancaster, Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of many of her realms, Lord Admiral of the United Kingdom, Defender of the Faith in various realms for differing reasons.

Neither Elizabeth II nor her husband (and second cousin once removed as well as third cousin – and that may go a long way in explaining Prince Charles and much of the other progeny), Philip Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg known as Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, would take part in the tournée, as they had done in Australia in 2011 at the declared cost – according to the Australian government – of AU$58 million. The Queen would try to survive on a meagre disbursement of 35 million English pounds, having recently obtained a rise of 2 million pounds for her services – essentially for doing nothing. One of the Queen’s functions is that of supporting a large and expanding entourage of social parasites.

The wealth of the ‘Windsors’ remains a deep mystery, on which one could only speculate. A lot of reports surfaced that the Queen and the Royal Family are worth billions, although clarifications have been made that much of the privileges enjoyed by Her Majesty, including living on palaces and castles such as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, using the Crown Jewels and hundreds of priceless paintings, are held in trust for the state. She could use them but she could never sell them. But, with or without these, Queen Elizabeth II is a very, very wealthy woman. The quantification, which follows, would remain uncertain. Maybe it is intended to be part of the glamour of the monarchy – glamour in the Scottish sense of magic spell, incantation.

However, before entering such mystery it may be worth considering some of the conditions of the United Kingdom in 2012 – the year of the Diamond Jubilee, and for that to take a look at the beginning of life – in childhood, and toward the end of it – as pensioners, and the governing poverty of both times.

The United Kingdom is a ‘developed’ country with comparatively large income differences; those at the lower end of the income distribution have a relatively low standard of living. However, the severe privations of those in the developing world are scarcely to be seen due to the more advanced social infrastructure – health services, welfare and so on. Discussions surrounding poverty in the United Kingdom tend to be of relative poverty as well as absolute poverty.

In the early 1950s it was believed by numerous people that poverty had been all but abolished from the United Kingdom, with only a few isolated pockets of deprivation still remaining.

Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree chose a basic ‘shopping basket’ of foods – identical to the rations given in the local workhouse, clothing and housing needs – anyone unable to afford them was deemed to be in poverty. By 1950, with the founding of the modern welfare state, the ‘shopping basket’ measurement had been abandoned.

The vast and overwhelming majority of people which fill the government’s current criteria for poverty status have goods unimaginable to those in poverty in 1900. Poverty in the ‘developed’ world is often one of perception; people compare their wealth with neighbours and wider society, not with their ancestors or those in foreign countries. Indeed this is formalised in the government’s measure of poverty. A number of studies have shown that though prosperity in the United Kingdom has increased, the level of happiness people report has remained the same or even decreased since the 1950s.

Over the course of the Fifties and Sixties, however, a ‘rediscovery’ of poverty took place, with various surveys showing that a substantial proportion of Britons were impoverished, with between 4 per cent and 12 per cent of the population estimated to be living below the Supplementary Benefits scales.

In 1969 Professor A. Atkinson stated that “it seems fair to conclude that the proportion of the population with incomes below the National Assistance/Supplementary Benefits scale lies towards the upper end of the 4-9 per cent.” According to this definition, between 2 and 5 million Britons ere trapped in poverty. In addition, some 2.6 million people were in receipt of Supplementary Benefits and therefore living on the poverty line. This meant that at least 10 per cent of the population were in poverty at his time.

In their 1965 study on poverty, The poor and the poorest, Professors Brian Abel-Smith and Peter Townsend decided on measuring poverty on the basis of the Supplementary Benefit scales, plus 40 per cent. Using this poverty line, Abel-Smith and Townsend estimated that some 14 per cent – around 7.5 million of Britons lived in poverty, i.e. on incomes below 14 per cent of the Supplementary Benefit scales. Abel-Smith and Townsend also estimated that since the mid-Fifties the percentage of the population living in poverty had risen from 8 per cent to 14 per cent.

In 1972, 12 per cent of British households lived in houses or flats considered to be unfit for human habitation.

In his seminal work Poverty in the United Kingdom – published in 1979, Townsend suggested that 15 million people lived in or on the margins of poverty. He also argued that to get a proper measure of relative deprivation, there was a need to take into account other factors apart from income measures such as peoples’ environment, employment, and housing standards.

Another study on poverty estimated that 9.9 per cent of the British population lived below a standardised poverty line in 1973.

During the late Sixties and Seventies, progress was made in reducing the level of post-war poverty and inequality. Based on various measurements, however, the number of Britons living in poverty rose significantly from 1979 to 1985. The number of Britons living in poverty – when defined as living below the Supplementary Benefit level – rose from 2,090,000 to 2,420,000 during that period, while the number of people living in poverty when defined as living on or below the Supplementary Benefit level rose from 6,070,000 to 9,380,000. Using a poverty measurement of living at 140 per cent of the Supplementary Benefit level or below, the rise was alarmingly higher, from 11,570,000 to 15,420,000.

Figures from the European Commission estimated that from 1975 to 1985 the number of people living in poverty had doubled in Britain, from just over 3 million to 6.5 million. In 1975 the United Kingdom had fewer people living in poverty than Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Luxembourg. By 1989 Britain had a higher poverty than each of these four countries. In 1989, 12 per cent of the United Kingdom population was estimated to be living in poverty, compared with 7.2 per cent in Belgium, 7.4 per cent in the Netherlands, 7.9 per cent in Luxembourg, 8.5 per cent in Germany, and 11.7 per cent in Italy.

From 1979 to 1987, the number of Britons living in poverty – defined as living on less than half the national average income – doubled, from roughly 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the whole population. In 1989, almost 6 million full-time workers, representing 37 per cent of the total full-time workforce, earned less than the “decency threshold” defined by the Council of Europe as 68 per cent of average full-time earnings. In 1994, 76.7 per cent of all part-time workers earned less than this threshold. From the late Nineties onward, however, poverty began to fall steadily, helped by policies such as big increases in national insurance benefits and the introduction of the national minimum wage. Using the 60 per cent of median income after housing costs poverty line, the percentage of the British population living in poverty rose to 25.3 in 1996-1997, compared with 13.7 in 1979. From 1997-1998 to 2004-2005 – using the same 60 per cent of median income after housing costs measurement – the percentage of the population living in poverty fell from 24.4 per cent to 20.5 per cent.

Prime Minister Tony Blair vowed in 1999 to cut child poverty 25 per cent by 2005, 50 per cent by 2010 and to eradicate child poverty completely by 2020. The Labour Party website stated: “In 1997 Labour inherited one of the highest rates of child poverty in Europe – with one in three children living in poverty. Our mission to abolish child poverty is grounded both in our determination to secure social justice, and to tackle the problems that the social exclusion of children builds up for the long-term. Work is the best route out of poverty and our successful welfare to work measures have lifted millions out of poverty including disabled people, who have too often previously been consigned to a life on benefits. At the same time, millions of families are benefiting from the Child tax credit, the Working tax credit, and record rises in Child benefit.”

A 2000 report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimated that 4 million people lacked access to a healthy diet, while a review of European Union food and health policies estimated that food poverty was far higher in the United Kingdom than any other E.U. member state.

Poverty rose again from 2005-2006 onward, reaching 22.5 per cent of the population in 2007-2008, before falling again to 22.2 per cent in 2008-2009.

The 2005 Labour manifesto stated: “[Since the Labour government came to power in 1997] there are two million fewer children and nearly two million fewer pensioners living in absolute poverty.”

In a report covering only the east of England, the Foundation found that in 2004-2005, 22 per cent of children in the east of England lived in families on low incomes. This compares to the 26 per cent of children in low income families in 1998-1999, showing child poverty had been reduced. The Foundation noted that the government had missed its official target of reducing child poverty by a quarter between 1998-1999 and 2004-2005.

In late November 2006 the Conservative Party garnered headlines across the press when a senior member spoke out on poverty. The headlines began when then Opposition leader David Cameron’s policy adviser and shadow minister Greg Clark wrote: “The traditional Conservative vision of welfare as a safety net encompasses another outdated Tory nostrum – that poverty is absolute, not relative. Churchill’s safety net is at the bottom: holding people at subsistence level, just above the abyss of hunger and homelessness. It is the social commentator Polly Toynbee who supplies imagery that is more appropriate for Conservative social policy in the twenty first century.” This was followed two days later by Cameron saying that poverty should be seen in relative terms to the rest of society, where people lack those things which others in society take for granted, “those who think otherwise are wrong … I believe that poverty is an economic waste, a moral disgrace. … We will only tackle the causes of poverty if we give a bigger role to society, tackling poverty is a social responsibility … Labour rely too heavily on redistributing money, and on the large, clunking mechanisms of the state.”

The Liberal Democrats held the view that Labour: “must completely overhaul the weapons it uses. The way in which tax credits and benefits are being used, with little or no attention paid to housing, health and education, is creating a state of dependency. The Government must fundamentally rethink how it tackles child poverty. Gordon Brown’s unwillingness to admit and address failures in the tax credit system is undermining the wider aims of the Government. We now have a system where two million people face an effective tax rate above 50 per cent. A single mum on minimum wage can receive just 36p per hour. If we are to truly create opportunity for all we must make work pay. Although the Government has had some success, particularly in reducing the number of children in poverty, they have already missed their first target by some 300,000.”

Continued Wednesday – A cast of characters: The Monarchy (part 7)

Previous instalment – A cast of characters: The Monarchy (part 5)

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.venturini@bigpond.com.au.

 

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