The Sketch: How to conquer poverty: ignore all the things that cost money

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The Independent Online

They've changed the measure of poverty. Do you wonder why? Andrew Smith tells us that with his new approach we're in much better shape than we used to be. Poverty is reducing rapidly, he tells us, um . . . as long as you don't take housing costs into account. Poor people, by this new definition, only fall into poverty when they have to have somewhere to live.

They've changed the measure of poverty. Do you wonder why? Andrew Smith tells us that with his new approach we're in much better shape than we used to be. Poverty is reducing rapidly, he tells us, um . . . as long as you don't take housing costs into account. Poor people, by this new definition, only fall into poverty when they have to have somewhere to live.

The world-weary, the cynical, say we should be used to this sort of trick by now. It's the political way of doing things. If certain significant prices rise very rapidly, they are ignored. Council tax goes up by half, and house prices double, but neither lifts the inflation rate because Gordon Brown excludes them from the index.

In the same way Minister Smith will conquer poverty by ignoring things that cost money. It was said that he only had one consultation before he changed his measurement; it was all he needed.

What is the appropriate response to this? Shall we go mad with machetes? Yes, but not yet.

Youth unemployment figures were volunteered as a triumph of the Department of Work and Pensions. It is perverse - and possibly illegal - to disagree when we are told that long-term youth unemployment has dropped by 92 per cent.

However, we have a real mystery on our hands - what are the other 8 per cent doing? It's statistically impossible to be a long-term unemployed youth (and not just because you grow up). After six months you are put on to a training programme and are removed from the unemployment register.

It seems that inconvenient people are ignored, just as are inconvenient figures.

There are, as Andrew Selous pointed out, a million young people who are neither working, nor studying, nor in training. Were you to add a million to the register - doubling it - you would have a very different picture of Britain's employment miracle.

Maria Eagle said merely that Mr Selous must have got out of bed on the wrong side. As reported earlier, we are well down into the bottom third of the ministerial barrel.

Ms Eagle went on to denounce the Tories for using the incapacity benefit to conceal unemployment. She would take no lectures from them. No need, of course, she's learnt the lesson well.

Yes, the number of people on incapacity benefit trebled under the Tories and, yes, it fell by a third after New Labour came to power and, yes, it is even true that the number of people claiming the benefit is falling. Ms Eagle was able therefore to indulge in her favourite pastime of Tory bashing. She didn't mention that, despite all these positive indicators, the numbers actually on this benefit are as high now as they were in 1997, and rising.

In fact, the department's figures are rotten in more ways than one. It's why the National Audit Office refuses to endorse them, year after year after year.

How's your machete sharpening up? You may find a rusty, jagged edge more suited to your purpose, as time goes on.

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