The argument about the adequacy of minimum incomes is at least 110 years old. In 1903, the Charity Organisation Society was publicly claiming the superfluous generosity of Seebohm Rowntree’s ‘primary poverty measure’ for ‘merely physical efficiency’ which he had composed to show that the wages paid to low-paid workers were insufficient for decent social life as real (not just physical) human beings lived at that time. Nothing has changed. The scientific evidence of the inadequacy both of minimum wages and of the currrent benefit rates is up-to-date and published but the government continues to deny it.

In the 1980s two Tory MPs, Piers Merchant and Matthew Parris each separately tried to live on unemployment benefit for a week in one of the poorest areas of Newcastle and each failed, just as Mr Duncan Smith would fail and for the same reasons. The minimum standards they could not reach and which current low incomes still cannot reach are those set by the UK population, not by politicians. The scientific experts’ contributions to Rowntree as to today’s poverty research have been in ensuring the public’s views of what is needed do cover requirements for good health, not inflating the public’s views of what are the necessities that nobody should be without. Why do these politicians persist in denying the clear evidence?
Clearly the government’s agenda has nothing to do with making work pay, since the simplest way of doing that would be to raise the minimum wage to Minimum Income Standards. If competitiveness is its excuse for not doing so before, it can afford to do so now since the value of sterling is falling and exports are reportedly more competitive. Instead Mr Osborne and Mr Duncan Smith need to be powerfully challenged to show good cause why, if their claims about the economy are correct (which many eminent economists dispute), they are making the poorest people in society carry the heaviest burdens while relieving the richest of theirs. All else is a smokescreen for the government’s culture of greed, welfare for the rich and austerity for the poor.