The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth, it’s justice

(A version of this post was first published in the Brighton and Hove Independent on Friday 26 June 2015)

I’ve been asking people recently what they considered to be the opposite of poverty. The best answer I’ve received is “Justice”.

This week the Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, gave a speech in which he said that the “creaking and outdated” justice system in England and Wales is failing society’s poorest.

The BBC has reported that he said that the best legal provision was the preserve of the wealthy, while victims of crime are “badly” let down, and he is seeking a £700m investment in the courts to make better use of technology and speed up trial procedures.

The point has been made many times since his speech that cuts to legal aid has widened that divide. It is not just the victims of crime that are being badly let down. So too are those in debt, those being failed by the Benefits Agency, and those in poor quality housing. Early intervention to prevent homelessness is also denied to many, which ultimately results in more costly Court appearances that could be avoided.

But it is Mr Gove’s first big outing since becoming the Justice Secretary that reminded me of what he regarded as household necessities. The Telegraph reported:

“Over a five-month period between December 2005, and April 2006, he spent more than £7,000 on the semi-detached house, which Mr Gove, 41, and his wife Sarah Vine, a journalist, bought for £430,000 in 2002. Around a third of the money was spent at Oka, an upmarket interior design company established by Lady Annabel Astor, Mr Cameron’s mother-in-law.

“Mr Gove bought a £331 Chinon armchair from there, as well as a Manchu cabinet for £493 and a pair of elephant lamps for £134,50.

“He also claimed for a £750 Loire table – although the Commons’ authorities only allowed him to claim £600 – a birch Camargue chair worth £432 and a birdcage coffee table for £238.50. Other claims in the five-month period included Egyptian cotton sheets from the White Company, a £454 dishwasher, a £639 range cooker, a £702 fridge freezer and a £19.99 Kenwood toaster.

“Mr Gove ….. also charged the taxpayer for eight coffee spoons and cake forks, worth £5.95 each, four breakfast knives and a woven door mat worth £30. A claim for new patio furniture worth £219, including a four-seater bistro dining set, was turned down by Commons officials.”

By contrast, I thought I would repeat something I was told by a colleague.

“The Hastings Furniture Service (HFS) was delivering beds and mattresses to a woman for her and her children who had just been placed in accommodation. The woman was in floods of tears as the beds were delivered and having delivered them and put them in the rooms, the worker from HFS asked the woman if everything was ok, had they done something wrong. Her response: “You brought pillows and duvets, I was only expecting bed frames and mattresses. Having pillows and duvets means I will be able to tuck my children in tonight when they go to bed”.

Exactly how much is a starter pack of REAL necessities? The starter pack is approximately £60. A starter pack with 3 beds, cooker, fridge freezer, bedding, the whole kit & caboodle to make a house a home for a family is just over £800.

A relatively small amount of money makes a HUGE differences to the lives of people and children which is why I so strongly oppose cuts to Local Welfare Assistance Grants. They need the basics, not Egyptian cotton sheets, coffee tables and cake forks!


One thought on “The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth, it’s justice

  1. 1948; The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 25:

    Article 25.
    •(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
    •(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

    Overlooking the now archaic language (“himself and his family”) this seems a pretty good basis for grounding the fight against poverty within a legal framework. Britain signed up to it nearly 70 years ago. Although “just ” a declaration, it does require signatory governments at the very least, not to enact policies which goes against the principle expressed within it. This government and its predecessor are enacting legislation which is generating poverty and homelessness on a significant scale.

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