Whilst legislation is vital to achieve meaningful change in society, it is important to not get carried away with legalisation for legislation sake. This is illustrated by the inclusion in the Queen’s speech, of the bill that sets out to eradicate child poverty by 2020. Whilst it would be amazing if the government achieved this, I think it is pretty evident that it would be an almighty task to rid ALL child poverty by 2020. There are several problems that I see that would prevent such a target being fulfilled.
For one, what poverty are you talking about? Well, by this I mean, do you mean absolute poverty? Relative poverty? Lifestyle poverty? You get the point. Everyone has different definitions of poverty, to me, relative poverty is the most pressing concern, but to working class/middle class aspiring to those above them, they may consider themselves to be in poverty when they can’t afford the same clothe lines as others. Thus, for one, it is important to emphasise the definition of poverty that is being used when discussing poverty legislation.
Even if the poverty definition is firmly stated, another problem with enshrining the commitment into law is that it could take attention away from the actual policy details that will be used to attempt to eradicate poverty. What meaningful policies were discussed in the Queen’s speech that really get to grips with child poverty? There needs to be less talk and more action, the more talk occurs around a law that seems to offer all the answer to solving poverty, the less attention is spent on considering real policy options that will help those in the deepest inequality.
Another inherent problem with the eradication of poverty being a law is that we operate within a system that is inherently unequal. How can we aspire to eradicate poverty by 2020 when the capitalist system feeds off class divisions and the power of one group over another? I think this is where we have to recognise the importance of Karl Marx as a theorist, he provided powerful insights into the structure of capitalism and helps show how poverty is needed in order for the capitalist system to be maintained.
Another influential theorist who is important to bear in mind when discussing poverty is Max Weber. He did not talk about poverty per se, however, his theory of rationalisation can be clearly related to the legislation of eradicating poverty by 2020. Weber talks about how rationalisation will result in targets becoming ends in themselves, so the actual values, such as tackling poverty itself, are lost in the process of an increased obsession with ends.
So what happens if the government does not fulfil its commitment? Will they be liable to the courts? Of course they wont. This is just a token. It is a distraction from the mass level of poverty in society. What about the poverty all around the world? We can’t just set targets like this and expect it to be work done, there needs to be greater consideration of the wide range and level of poverty. Thus, I feel that whilst aiming to reduce child poverty is a good thing, to say you will eradicate it and then enshrine this belief in law seems to be a little absurd. I would be more than happy to eat my words in 2020 but I very much doubt I will have to, due to the reasons stated above.