Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond

I should imagine that there are quite a few people who hate this book and think that he has got it all wrong but what can’t really be argued is that the ways in which we try to reduce poverty are not working. And Desmond argues that this is because the rich want the status quo. Someone is always making money out of poverty and it is this that needs to be stopped.

I listened to this as an audiobook but it is one that would be better being read as a book because it is so hard to go back and find quotes and there are obviously no page numbers. Desmond argues that we are all to blame for poverty because we don’t stand up and shout about it and even when we do have successes, we don’t shout about those either. There are several interesting ideas for reducing poverty, none of which are earth shattering:

  • Pay a decent minimum wage. This in itself has the power to make a significant difference. It offers stability and fairness to those who wait and clean and do all those jobs that most of us wouldn’t want to do but like to have others who will do it.
  • Unionise – it is these groups that fight for social/class/race justice, fair working conditions and pay and are on the side of workers. If we have to wait for each Starbucks or Amazon workplace to do this, we will wait for ever. Desmond encourages us to ask ‘Who benefits?’ when we see the unfair work practices and pay.
  • Affordable housing where maintenance is a priority so that tenants are not left in conditions that are unsuitable to live in.
  • Benefits that are universal and then targetted. He states that it is only the wealthy who can get mortgage interest relief because the poor can’t get bank accounts never mind loans to buy houses they can afford.
  • Ensure that schools are excellent so that everybody has the chance to learn which means the same funding, staffing, resourcing and opportunities.

I don’t know how this book would be received in America, who likes to be told they are part of the problem, but it is an interesting discussion particularly as some of these ideas have roots in research and trials. What would happen if there were a county or state that did it all? That set out to reduce poverty and this drove all of their policies. I wonder who would complain?

A fascinating and well-written narrative around poverty that was like listening to a story.

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