Opinion

Paul McNamee: If you’re serious about poverty Mrs May we have plenty of ideas

"More children in poverty are in working families than in workless families. The strivers also need a hand up"

The days of strivers and skivers are over. Remember those days? Remember when, in the early months of the Coalition, George Osborne hit upon this wheeze? That we’re all in it together. That the debt inherited from the Labour administration was so big we all had to dig in to fix it. Austerity was the only way – and you either worked to beat it, or you sucked the marrow, you confounded benefit scrounger you.

It was an idea that flowered – hard politics, clever positioning. And it paved the way for the casual demonising of a huge volume of people. Unquestionably it stopped some folk who didn’t need benefits from claiming for them. But it hurt many more who did.

We’re in a new reality now.

One of Theresa May’s first pronouncements, while putting clear water between her and the financial decisions of the last Chancellor, was reinforcing this new reality. She insisted she wanted to speak for struggling, working families. “You have a job but you don’t always have job security,” she said. “I know you are working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle. The government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few but by yours.”

The volume of children living in poverty whose parents are IN work has rocketed. It’s now at 63 per cent

Which is easy to say, of course, but it is interesting. It is interesting because new figures last week on child poverty reveal a startling truth. The volume of children living in poverty whose parents are IN work has rocketed. It’s now at 63 per cent. That means more children in poverty are in working families than in workless families.

The detail can be argued over, not least the definition of poverty, but the topline is glaring. If foodbanks were the canary in the mine of social ills several years ago, in-work poverty serves that role now. Those in work, the strivers, are in need of a hand up themselves.

This will come as no surprise to a lot of people trying to make ends meet. The percentage of the population in work is up. And work HAS to be better than trying to eke out a living on benefits. But a change must be made.

I’m not suggesting all responsibility must be borne by the government using benefits. There are some simple things government can do to help before diving into the public purse – such as intervening with employers to improve conditions, as parliament has done with Sports Direct, and continuing to push for a viable living wage.

If Theresa May is genuinely serious about speaking for those struggling at the bottom, for those who keep trying to break the poverty cycle and build a better future, she needs to show how, and show soon. And if she needs some ideas, The Big Issue has been working at poverty prevention for almost 25 years. We’re on the phone.

At The Big Issue we believe in a hand up not a handout. But sometimes the hand up needs to linger.

We’re waiting, prime minister.

If you have any comments please email me at paul.mcnamee@bigissue.com, tweet @pauldmcnamee, or send a letter to The Big Issue, 43 Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 1HW

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Sudan's year of war: How British government has failed UK residents with family in Sudan
Sudan conflict protest
Nick Beales

Sudan's year of war: How British government has failed UK residents with family in Sudan

A lifetime of playing the imitation game has reaped rewards
John Bird

A lifetime of playing the imitation game has reaped rewards

The difference between Glasgow and Edinburgh? Glasgow's beauty is not overt, but subtle and beguiling
The Glasgow studio of the Duke of Wellington
Robin Ince

The difference between Glasgow and Edinburgh? Glasgow's beauty is not overt, but subtle and beguiling

What we can learn from how US has criminalised rough sleepers – and how Sunak may follow suit
Homelessness

What we can learn from how US has criminalised rough sleepers – and how Sunak may follow suit

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know