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From Poverty to Life Chances and back to Destitution

Thursday 19th October 2017


Talk by Frank Field, MP, 19 October 2017, sponsored by the Las Casas Institute and the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics

Frank Field, Labour Member of Parliament for Birkenhead and poverty campaigner, delivered an impassioned appeal demanding that Universal Credit should reviewed. For the first time in his public life, the poorest are no longer being protected from destitution.

Successive governments have failed to maintain and deepen popular support for the welfare system. The system came to be seen, essentially (even if wrongly), as a subsidy to the indigent rather than providing an insurance mechanism for all. An appeal to working class self interest, rather than an exclusive reliance on altruism, he suggested, is necessary to underpin the welfare system. Altruism and self interest need to be connected.

The welfare system has failed to focus on improving the life chances of the poorest by developing effective policies to address: maternal bonding; maternal mental health; and improving the home learning environment. The failure of Sure Start, however laudable its objectives, was its inability to help the so called “hard to reach” families.

Mr. Field placed considerable blame on the dominance of the global market and, in particular, the fact that working class people have been made to carry the costs of globalisation. One cannot blame poor people for wanting to come to the UK to improve their lives but this should not be at the expense of the poor.

Universal Credit, according to Mr. Field, represents the destruction of a fundamental pillar of the welfare state. Its impact is not being monitored by the Government. The “safety net,” which ensured that no one should end up destitute, has in effect been abolished. The system of delayed payments and loans makes little sense. Poor people with no savings and many already heavily in debt are now unable to fend for themselves and their families or to provide a roof over their heads. People who lose their homes may never able to get their lives back in order.

Civil society — often led by the churches — is being forced to step in through the provision of food banks and others types of support or handouts. Universal Credit, according to Mr. Field, has ushered in “a world I never thought we would see.”

A recording of the lecture can be viewed by following this link: