Child Poverty – The Plural Of Anecdote Is Not Data

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We have an interesting attempt here to insist that the feelz is hugely more important than the reality outside the window. For that, at root, really is the claim being made here. Anecdotes from teachers about child poverty trump anything that we can actually derive about reality from the usual statistics. Statistics, in one useful sense, rather being the attempt to discern what reality is behind that wall of anecdotes.

Poverty is harming children’s capacity to learn and it’s getting worse, suggests a survey of teachers. Pupils who go to school hungry from cramped, noisy homes where they can’t sleep properly, struggle to learn says the National Education Union (NEU). “I try to teach my phonics group as I am giving others cereal to eat,” one teacher told NEU researchers. Ministers say employment is at a record high, wages outstrip inflation and fewer people are in “absolute” poverty. But the NEU says anecdotal evidence from its members suggests more families are falling into poverty. “Government does not want to hear these stories from the frontline of teaching, but they must,” said NEU Joint General Secretary, Dr Mary Bousted. “A decade of austerity has only served to place more children in poverty while at the same time destroying the support structures for poor families,” she added.

The thing is this past decade and a bit has seen a decline in child poverty. That’s by the usual measure of course, living in a household of less than 60% of median income. The reason being that this is a measure of inequality. Inequality falls in recessions. Thus, poverty falls in recessions.

Now, we might actually say that real living standards have fallen in this past recession. We’d even be right to do so. But if that’s going to be our definition then we’d better use that as our definition, right? Thus the upturn, which increases inequality and living standards alike, should be welcomed because living standards are rising even as inequality does.

Hmm yes, you know they’re going to do that bait and switch, don’t you? Change definitions midstream?

But the real point here is the joy to marvel at. The insistence that anecdotes trump data. That the feelz are a better illustration of reality than the tools we’ve painstakingly constructed over the past couple of centuries to illustrate reality.

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