A defining value

Tony Blair spoke the language of social exclusion and opportunity rather than of poverty and equality on taking office. He and other ministers made clear that redistribution through the tax-benefits system was no longer on Labour's agenda. So there were no illusions to be dashed with regard to tackling poverty and inequality.

June 1, 2007
2 min read

One of the more surprising milestones of Blair’s premiership, therefore, was the announcement in 1999 of the commitment to the eradication of child poverty by 2020.

Although the first interim target of a 25 per cent reduction by 2004-05 was missed and the most recent figures recorded a 100,000 increase over the previous year, the number of children living in poverty has been reduced by 600,000.There has also been a steady reduction in the number of older people in poverty to the extent that they no longer face an above average poverty risk.

The reduction in child poverty has been achieved through a combination of welfare to work and largely means-tested ‘making work pay’ measures in line with New Labour philosophy (although these and the minimum wage have not prevented high levels of in-work poverty). But it also reflects real improvements in support for children in families not in paid work (the real value of support for children under 11 has doubled) – just the kind of redistribution Blair dismissed. Surveys suggest a reduction in hardship as a result.

These are real achievements, which we should acknowledge. But there is a long way to go to achieve the child poverty target. Moreover, there has been a 0.3 per cent increase in the number of childless working-age adults in poverty to the highest recorded rate since 1961, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. And some asylum seekers have been made destitute.

Gordon Brown’s limited redistribution by stealth has helped to stem the growth of income inequality. Nevertheless, it reached a record high in 2000-01 and is slightly worse today than when Blair took office. This damning fact largely reflects the rise and rise of the super rich, who are enjoying unprecedented levels of wealth. As Peter Mandelson notoriously put it, ‘We are seriously relaxed about people becoming very, very rich.’

Not surprising, then, that Blair apparently vetoed a 50 per cent tax rate for those earning £100,000-plus and that there are no targets to reduce inequality of income and wealth. But for those of us who hold equality as a defining value for the left, Blair’s refusal to use the oncein- a-lifetime opportunity provided by his original landslide victory to promote a more equal society is unforgivable.

Ruth Lister is professor of social policy at Loughborough University.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility