Letter: What is poverty?

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The Independent Culture
Sir: In their letter on the extent and causes of poverty, Lord Russell and David Rendel call for welfare benefits to be increased, citing the Acheson report as finding benefit levels "to be too low to be compatible with good health" (letter, 9 September). In fact the report was somewhat ambiguous on the effects of increasing benefit levels.

The report claimed that empirical research "demonstrated that people living on low incomes ... have insufficient money to buy items and services necessary for good health", despite finding that "there is a lack of experimental evidence that increasing financial resources results in measurable health gain".

The Acheson report added little new to what had already been written and researched on the subject of poverty. It relied heavily on the previous findings of pressure groups and their academic acolytes.

Had the report ignored these biased findings and instead focused on the reasons why very many people on benefit do not suffer bad health or run out of money and concentrated on ways of helping those not so fortunate to manage their low resources better, we might have seen a cross-party consensus on action to alleviate poverty. Instead, we have the endless and fruitless debates on how much to raise taxes by to increase further the level of benefits which pressure groups will forever say is inadequate.