Friday, December 15, 2006

What we can learn from the Royal Family

I liked this very much:

The new Conservative Party statement on its proposed family policy is an important contribution to the real political debate, and must therefore be taken seriously by social policy and poverty analysts.

When, like the authors of this report, one tries to disentangle the various causes and effects of the complex of social problems associated with poverty, I often find it helpful to think through, how does theBritish Royal Family rate on this? During the past century, one or more members of this extended family have shown symptoms of every single one of the malaises and problems which are often described as causes of poverty, of crime or social exclusion -- family breakdown and divorce; poor educational attainment and lack of saleable occupational skills, unemployment; chronic illness and disability, both physical and psychological; old age and alcoholism. Have I left any of the usual ascribed causes out?

If the Conservative analysis is correct -- and there are many politicians of other parties, journalists, prime ministers and other instant social analysts who share its analysis -- and these symptoms really are causes, then they should have brought the Royal Family to the same condition as the so-called 'underclass' to which the authors of the Conservative Party Report refer. Yet for some reason the Royal Family never seems to be at risk of poverty or social exclusion. I wonder if their immunity to poverty, in spite of suffering from the same set of problems that large parts of the general population of all social classes suffer from at some points in their lives, is simply because they have a lot of money, some of it from taxpayers? And if that is a correct analysis [please test my hypothesis and prove me wrong], then should we not all learn a valuable evidence-based policy lesson from theRoyal Family, that the cure for [or at least an alleviation of] the material and behavioural consequences of so many of these personal breakdowns, malaises and problems, might be having enough money to buy oneself out of them, just like the RF does?

At present, the British taxpayer spends a lot of money, collectively via the state apparatus and individually, on dealing rather incompetentlywith the consequences of these social evils. Wouldn't it be a lot more cost effective to ensure that everyone had enough money not to be poor in the first place, and then the government would only have to deal with the remaining problems if they occurred, and also only if it were any business of the state to be involved in them? Who knows, less expensive but equally effective ways might be found than paying each person in poverty quite as much as taxpayers currently pay the Royal Family per head to prevent its members joining the social 'underclass' [and thus becoming a worry to the Conservative Party, Mr Blair and some others]. Indeed, many of us are familiar with the evidence which suggests that the government might find that, if it reduced income inequality and raised all the lowest incomes to guaranteed adequacy-for-inclusion levels [as the various human rights conventions to which it has signed up require it to do], then there might be far fewer people with the consequences of whose relationship breakdowns it had to concern itself. It may be that nobody told Mr Duncan Smith about this evidence before the report was written.

Perhaps some Conservative can explain to me why public expenditure on marriage [fiscal welfare -- the married couples' transferable taxallowance which is the policy objective here] is somehow a better use of taxpayers' money to prevent social evils, than is public expenditure on child benefit and adequate universal pensions which [Conservatives complain] equally go to people who need them least -- but do at least benefit all those who need them most, unlike fiscal welfare. But perhaps this document is simply part of some tacit ideological class metaphysics which merely rational analysts of poverty policy don't grasp.

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