Sir: Why is the Prime Minister not attending the UN Social Summit in Copenhagen? Is he ashamed to stand alongside Franois Mitterand and Helmut Kohl and be identified as the Poor Man of Europe? Or does he genuinely believe that British policy on poverty is simply a matter of overseas aid, as his sending of Baroness Chalker in his place would seem to suggest?
We are told by the Rowntree Foundation and others that social inequality is increasing faster in Britain than in any other major country, with the exception of New Zealand. The incomes of the wealthiest have increased by 49 per cent since 1979 while the incomes of the poorest have decreased by 12 per cent. Approximately 25 per cent of British households now live on or below the poverty line. Tourists comment on the high numbers of beggars on our streets. The Prime Minister has been moved to criticise the greedy barons of the privatised utilities but it appears that he is a long way from condemning the very real poverty which is endemic among the population he serves.
Perhaps there is another reason why Mr Major is staying at home. When he went to the UN Rio conference three years ago he came back having signed up to reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and to programmes for planned sustainability which he has not been able to deliver. If he went to Copenhagen there is the possibility that he would also sign up to targeted reductions in poverty levels in Britain and to delivering a national anti-poverty strategy by the end of 1996.
The political dangers are obvious. However, the Prime Minister's absence and his "Nimby" attitude towards poverty will not go unnoticed by the world community, rich and poor, assembled in Denmark nor will it be unnoticed by those British people for whom the feel-good factor has had no effect. There has been a shift in popular attitudes towards poverty in Britain in recent months. People are becoming increasingly concerned about a "divided" Britain. The UN leaders will be trying to address this issue of social division on a global and a local scale. In the interests of social unity, the Prime Minister should change his mind and go to Copenhagen.
Strathclyde Poverty Alliance