Letter: The hungry poor

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The Independent Culture
Sir: The "Invisible poor in England's playground"(report, 19 October) and everywhere else in the United Kingdom attempting to survive on means- tested benefits will have received letters from the Benefits Agency telling them whether or not they are entitled to benefit.

If they are the letter will tell them "how much money the law says you need to live on each week". If they are not they are told it is "because you have more money coming in than the law says you need to live on". There is, however, no list, quantification or costing by government of the amount of money which "the law says you need to live on each week". The law "says" but the law does not "know" what it is talking about. When government ministers settle the levels of pension, benefits, minimum wage and taxation there are no published minimum income standards available for them to take into account.

We have now begun to commission this work from the Family Budget Unit at King's College London. We will publish results as they become available. It should be done for a number of categories: parents and children, single men and women, pensioners, pregnant mothers and their infant children, teenagers and ethnic minorities. It should include diet and nutrition and other necessities and reflect the cost of social cohesion and inclusion. It should also be checked out with people on low incomes.

Without these reports government will not know how much money is needed to reverse the diminishing expectation of life of the poorest which began in the mid 1980s. The rest of us can expect to live longer because we do not lack the money to buy what we need.

The Rev PAUL NICOLSON

Chairman, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust

Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

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