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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2006, 10:54 GMT
Toynbee not Churchill, Tory says
Polly Toynbee
Is Polly Toynbee the latest Tory icon?
The Conservatives should ditch Winston Churchill's attitude to poverty in favour of Guardian commentator Polly Toynbee's ideas, a Tory MP has said.

Key policy adviser Greg Clark says the party should tackle "relative" as well as "absolute" poverty.

His words were hailed by Ms Toynbee as a "really radical move" which showed the party "in a completely new light".

"They are at last realising that inequality itself matters," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

She said the Conservatives appeared to have acknowledged the "lost generation" created by high unemployment in the 1980s and that "the difference between the way they live and the way people at the top live itself matters".

If the poorest people in this country fall too far behind those further up the income scale, our society will pull apart
Greg Clark

"It's not just about putting sticking plasters on the worst of poverty. It's about the gross dysfunction of the gap.

"If they have really grasped that, that's wonderful because Labour itself will never talk about inequality," she added.

'More bold'

In an article for the Guardian, Mr Clark said the Tories should move away from just offering a safety net for those in "absolute" poverty.

They should also tackle "relative" poverty - people who were not in material need but who were too poor to participate fully in mainstream society.

"The traditional Conservative vision of welfare as a safety net encompasses another outdated Tory nostrum - that poverty is absolute, not relative," Mr Clark writes.

"Churchill's safety net is at the bottom, holding people at subsistence level, just above the abyss of hunger and homelessness.

"It is the social commentator Polly Toynbee who supplies imagery that is more appropriate for Conservative social policy in the 21st century."


Earlier Conservative governments made a "terrible mistake" by ignoring an "alarming" increase in relative poverty, contributing to an "atmosphere of anger and mistrust", he told The Guardian.

"Poverty in Britain hasn't gone away," he said. "Despite nine years of New Labour promises, the underlying problems are still unresolved.

"In fact, many are worse than ever. If the poorest people in this country fall too far behind those further up the income scale, our society will pull apart."

Mr Clark is a member of the party's Social Justice Policy Group, headed by former leader Iain Duncan Smith, which is due to report to David Cameron next month.


The government says it has lifted 700,000 children out of poverty since it came to power.

Working families with low incomes have benefited the most from the government's policies.

But the Tories say the government is overlooking people at the very bottom of the heap, often single and childless, who it says have got poorer under Labour.

Under the government's preferred measure, a couple with two children under five living on less than 230 a week after rent are below the poverty line.

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