David Cameron has argued that "the evidence as well as our instincts" shows that "Britain is broken" and that our social problems are getting worse. He has also claimed that "the Conservatives, not Labour, are best placed to fight poverty". But voters should be clear that the evidence he cites on poverty, worklessness and social mobility is deeply misleading (Tories discover poverty, 5 May).
Comparing Britain now to Britain in 1997, there are fewer children living in relative poverty (and far fewer – less than half the number – in absolute poverty). Figures relating to the "very poorest", the bottom 3% of the income distribution, are statistically problematic, with the Institute for Fiscal Studies cautioning against their use. The percentage of children living in workless households is also lower than in 1997, despite the current recession. Widely cited negative trends in social mobility refer to the difference between those born in 1958 and those born in 1970, who grew up under Margaret Thatcher. The latest figures, relating to children born in 2000-01, suggests that this upward trend has now been stemmed.
Labour inherited extremely high levels of poverty, inequality and social exclusion. Their ambitious strategy to tackle these problems has had an impact; that the impact was not greater does not indicate a failed strategy, but that more of the same was needed. Conservative plans to cut back on successful government programmes such as child tax credits and Sure Start (while simultaneously lowering inheritance tax for the wealthy) will damage precisely those whom Cameron purports to help.
Dr Kitty Stewart, Dr Ruth Lupton
Professor Anne Power
Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE
And then there's this article in today's (Tory-backing) Financial Times:
Life in Britain’s most deprived neighbourhoods has improved during Labour’s time in power, a Financial Times analysis has revealed, casting fresh doubt over David Cameron’s claims that society is “broken”.
The Conservative leader has been forced to tone down his rhetoric about “broken Britain” in the run-up to Thursday’s vote after he was accused of painting a false picture of a crime-ridden country beset by social ills.
Instead, the Tory high command has trained its fire on the poorest towns, arguing that they are a potent symbol of the government’s failure to create a fairer country. In a speech last week, Mr Cameron said “the evidence – as well as our instincts – shows that our social problems are getting worse, not better”.
FT research shows that even the most deprived local authorities have shown signs of improvement over recent years when looking at figures ranging from crime and truancy to teenage pregnancies and children living in unemployed households.