Polly Toynbee has an excellent analogy to describe that aspect of our society which really is broken - the fact that some 20% of our fellow citizens are getting left further and further behind. Toynbee compares this to a caravan in the desert. First the rear 20% lag behind but are still part of the same caravan. If they get too far behind they become a separate caravan. This is what is happening to our "underclass" today.
Until I read the Guardian's leader last Monday, ("Bending the yardstick" (28th June, 2010) I had supposed that Toynbee's excellent image was of a caravan composed of camels. The Guardian, who presumably know best, referred firmly to trucks, which in my view are not nearly so picturesque.
The leader is well worth a read, but one dangerous proposal it doesn't mention is a move to change the measurement of poverty from the present comparative definition of, I believe, less than 60% of median income, to some arbitrary absolute level of income.
Poverty is the inability to participate at least to some extent in what is regarded as "normal" by society. Hence a child without access to television in the home or an indoor bathroom and lavatory would today be regarded as poor, whereas these and much else that we take for granted today (telephones, refrigerators, regular holidays) were available only to the better off sixty years ago. Very few people in Britain today are poor in the absolute, Third World, sense of lacking the basic necessities for survival. Even those on relatively modest incomes live in the lap of luxury compared with the lifestyles of our grandparents.
A redefinition of poverty to an absolute level of income would mean that the rear 20% of the Toynbee's caravan, camels or trucks, would fall further and further behind without our noticing, a retrograde step in the progress towards the coalition's stated aim of a fairer and more equal society