Tackle poverty’s roots with a living income, put children first and tax the wealth of the 1% | Poverty

Gordon Brown’s article is certainly timely (Britain seems stuck in a doom loop of poverty. I have a plan to raise billions to address that, 27 March). However, his proposal for a new, temporary partnership of communities, charities, companies and government, creating “headroom” to fix our social security system, risks further institutionalising a charitable response to poverty.

The mind-blowing Department for Work and Pensions poverty statistics published on 21 March are incontrovertible. A record 3.7 million people reported severe food insecurity in 2022-23, up by 1.5 million on the previous year. Charitable support in any form might alleviate hardship, but won’t address the root causes of poverty, nor bring down those figures. And, as last month’s data also makes clear, most households struggling to afford food don’t seek out help.

Why would we waste further time and effort creating yet another temporary sticking-plaster response to destitution based on charity and surplus? The endless extension of the household support fund also proves that short-termism has passed its sell-by date.

Food banks aren’t asking to be made redundant to pave the way for food banks by another name. Their teams are calling for a living income so that people don’t need charity. Food banks were first set up as temporary responses to austerity policies less than 15 years ago. How would Brown’s proposed transitional arrangement be any different?

The impactful £20 weekly uplift to universal credit was instigated in a matter of weeks. Surely the first ask of government is to waste no time in putting in place an essentials guarantee, alongside the removal of the two-child limit, the punitive sanctions regime and lengthy universal credit waiting times. These are cash-first or income-focused changes that don’t need headroom. They simply require the will and ingenuity to act now and before yet more people fall into poverty.
Sabine Goodwin
Director, Independent Food Aid Network

Gordon Brown is correct. The fact that times are so desperate for poor children is a stain on our national character. Here in Newport, coalitions of goodwill, comprising ordinary people of all faiths and none, are coming together to address some of our most serious challenges, and what can be more serious than child homelessness?

If we want children to flourish, then good-quality, stable housing is a prerequisite. It is also good for the economy and society as a whole. The US worked this out as far back as 1862, when it passed the Homestead Act, with studies demonstrating a direct causal link between security of tenure and economic growth.

If we are interested as a society in human and economic flourishing, we need to start from the ground up, with our children, through an absolute commitment to eradicate child homelessness; the only way to achieve this is through coalitions of goodwill that include government, charities, businesses, and religious and civic organisations.
Canon Andrew Lightbown
Newport Cathedral

In his excellent piece, Gordon Brown recognises the elephant in the room, then turns his back on it. He notes that “if that top 1% were incentivised to donate just 1% [of their income], £1.4bn a year could be raised for good causes”. Well, dream on. They ain’t going to cough up unless the incentive is so great as to erode the benefit. The answer is to extract the £1.4bn and more through a wealth tax – and Brown must know that, even if Keir Starmer doesn’t.
Brian Basham
Crowhurst, East Sussex

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