What have these two definitions got in common?

  1. People who spend more than 10% of their income (not sure if that is net or gross) on fuel for heating
  2. Households who have an income that is 60% or less of the national median income. (National median income is currently about £360 per week after tax)

Answer – the label we put on both these definitions includes the word, ‘poverty’. ‘Fuel Poverty’ and ‘Relative Poverty’.

Having definitions like these that are clearly stated and well understood are useful. Once something is clearly defined it can be measured and tracked, then it can be debated and perhaps even changed.

But this use of the word, ‘poverty’ bothers me. It’s quite a potent word and to me conjours up images of dispossessed and hungry masses. Say ‘poverty’ and I think Victorian workhouse or aid camps in war-torn African countries. I’m in no way suggesting having to spend a large portion of your income on something as basic as keeping warm isn’t an important issue, but ‘poverty’? Really?

Now I realise I’m opening up myself to an accusation of hypocrisy here because in one of my earlier posts I argued that we should all just chill out about changing uses of words. Presumably every change in the usage of a word begins with the misuse of that word so maybe I just need to heed my own advice, but I really do feel like I’m being manipulated when I hear terms like ‘Fuel Poverty’. It probably is too much of a mouthful to go round saying, ‘People who spend more than 10% of their income on fuel for heating’ so a snappier moniker was needed, but the person who came up with ‘Fuel Poverty’ really was pushing their agenda a bit too far. “I want everyone to think this issue is as important as I do, so I’ll throw the word ‘poverty’ in there to give all the apathetic dolts out there a shock.”

And as for ‘Relative Poverty’ that’s even more contentious. Consider the final years of the last Labour government, they did a fantastic job of reducing ‘Relative Poverty’ and they achieved this miracle by some clever new initiative called ‘ruining the economy’; you see now we’re all poor, the poor are relatively richer. Doh!