The poor and the illiterate we will always have with us

`Those in the lower percentiles in the IQ range cannot function in a modern society'

SO TONY Blair wants the whole country to be happy and good, housed and literate, as soon as possible - an admirable ambition. Last week he told those attending the 30th anniversary of the Charity for the Homeless, Centrepoint, that it was Britain's "shame" to have 1,600 people sleeping rough. It is. He pledged pounds 200m to put an end to it. That's pounds 125,000 a head. If that sum was handed out in cash to every person sleeping rough, say this Christmas Eve, I doubt you'd see many on the streets by the Millennium.

But it won't be like that. Good Lord, they might squander it. The pounds 200m will filter down from the top, from Treasury to the Social Exclusion Unit to the various charities, wrapped around with dictats and punitive ifs and buts, and will pay a whole lot of salaries on the way.

Tony Blair wants to end the divide between the haves and the have nots and so he should. But it is a stubborn problem. Even Jesus gave up: "For the poor always ye have with you" (St. John, 12-8). We politely gave up calling them "the poor" some decades back, and spoke about the "underprivileged", then the "underclass". Now, they're the "socially excluded" - which neatly puts the blame back on us for doing the excluding - but it is the same thing.

When Tony Blair says "the most important divide will not be between the haves and the have-nots but between the connected and the unconnected, those confident in cyberspace and those for whom it might as well be outer space," he is right. But I doubt that more than 50 per cent of the population will achieve sufficient computer literacy to be trusted by an employer to earn their living, and his, in front of a screen.

The point is that those people in the lower percentiles in the IQ range - with "mental health problems" as the charities tactfully describe it - cannot function in a complex modern society, and as society becomes more complex the percentage of those unable to cope creeps up. Getting a ticket on the Underground was once a simple matter: you told a human being where you wanted to go; you gave them money: they gave you a ticket. Now you have to press buttons in a complicated way. It seems simpler just to stand around enjoying the blasts of hot air that gush out when a train passes, and wait for the soup kitchen to come along.

The Government, in its egalitarian passion, is determined that all are born equal in "social competence" and all should be pulling their weight. ("Intelligence" is now such a no-no word that "social competence" is probably a better and safer term to use, for fear of uproar).

IQ tests were discredited back in the Sixties for their social divisiveness, after they had served their purpose in the Second World War to crudely but effectively divide millions of conscripts into categories, so you ended up either in the Diggers, at one end of the scale, or in the Education Corps at the other. A "normal" IQ - that is to say where most people cluster - was 100: 112 (from any social class) was reckoned to get you to grammar school: 120 to University.

There is a positive correlation between high IQs and upward social mobility, better exam results, and a high earning capacity: low IQs are associated with alcoholism, homelessness, and petty thievery. A team of psychologists, recently, and daringly, conducted IQ tests on those who were spending the night in a police station found the majority had scores of under 70. At this level of intelligence you don't understand concepts like "guilty" or "not-guilty". The lawyer has to dig you in the ribs and say "did you do what they say you did?" and if you have to been able to follow the proceedings at all you simply say yes or no.

What does this show? Simply that good or bad, right or wrong - at some levels - doesn't apply. Some people just have to be looked after, no matter what people like Louise Casey (the Tsarina of the Government's Rough Sleepers Unit), may think. She it was who recently complained that the homeless charities, with their hand-outs and soup kitchens, made matters worse.

It is extremely irritating that some people don't pull their weight, but not all have weight to pull. Those who used to totter round our mental asylums, safe, warm and fed, now fill our prisons and our doorways. The former we forget: the latter embarrass us.

As for the 20 per cent of the population who, according to Mr Blair, now leave our schools functionally illiterate, it may be shocking but it is not surprising. Stories come from TV and film, not books. Paying young adult illiterates to learn to read and write, as Mr Blair suggested, would probably work very well. But the sense of inadequacy and shame that used to accompany illiteracy is not, I imagine, as terrible as once it was. The illiterates may always be with us.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all