Poverty Trapped is the first attempt to explain why the centre-right’s approach to solving poverty through better and more equal opportunities for everyone, and equipping people with the skills, education and attitudes they will need to grasp them whenever they appear works better and more powerfully than the left’s traditional approach of equalising incomes. The paper is a heavyweight attempt to explain why the left’s intellectual hegemony in this area of policy is a dead-end and needs to change.
John Penrose argues that Britain has failed to abolish poverty because we’ve been looking at it the wrong way. Income inequality is an unhelpful lens that has led politicians to treat the symptoms rather than the causes. We need a new way of not only looking at poverty but also fixing it- it is fatalistic not to try to fix poverty. We’re better than we think- our mobility is better and our wealth more evenly spread than we think, and than many other countries too. But we still have a long way to go.
Instead, a better alternative is to improve opportunity for everyone, equipping them with the skills and attitudes to take the opportunities when they appear so you can have more control over your path in life. This is more fulfilling but also it works better and more effectively than equalising pay too. The UK has benefitted from faster overall growth to increase living standards. That’s valuable but doesn’t fix the structural causes of poverty that reduce our social mobility and health inequalities (which share many of the same underlying causes as poverty)
A key theme of Poverty Trapped is to equip people with the tools to pursue and grasp life opportunities. One solution for John Penrose is to universalise accreditation for all skills and knowledge already gained to dissolve snobbery about FE skills and in-work experience, so employees can switch careers and retrain throughout their lives.