THE POLITICAL CREDIBILITY OF THE MIS
1. What characteristic must a governmental
minimum income standard have in order to satisfy any government?
The respected US semi-official review of what is there called
a "poverty line" (Citro and Michael 1995) concluded
that a MIS must be (1) publicly acceptable, (2) methodologically
defensible and (3) administratively feasiblein other words,
they must be politically credible. To emphasise the essence of
political credibility in all MIS, how they are set in those European
countries which have them
is outlined below (from Veit-Wilson 1998). The methods used varied
widely between countries and across the various tiers of the income
maintenance system (see appendix 2). But in each case political
credibility was achieved by consensus over the technical or negotiating
methods and the conclusion.
2. In each country in which it is practised,
the setting of MIS in the first place is not necessarily a simple
matter. It may take considerable methodological effort or political
negotiation to achieve the necessary credibility and desirable
consensus. In the UK, where the governmental approach to responsibility
for poverty has alway differed from that in the countries mentioned
below, the basis of MIS must lie in what is valued in this society
and what the UK Government and its opponents respect as incontrovertible
fact. We have no tradition of political consensus as in the Nordic
countries, or reliance on statutory obligations to provide a minimum
income respecting human dignity, as in Germany. Even EU obligations
and charters which do set out such obligations in principle give
no guidance on how to achieve them.
3. In the UK, the conventional "discourse",
the idiom of persuasion, is "the scientific facts" as
expressed by the experts. The various governmental collections
of data on such matters as incomes and households, on consumption
and domestic finances, on health and mortality, all command respect.
They may be contested but they are the common currency of debate.
To meet UK requirements of political credibility for the foundations
of a MIS, we must look in this statistical field and its counterparts
reporting on other social problems. We must examine the empirical
evidence collected by reputable scientific methods and analyse
the official statistics. To construct MIS, relevant evidence may
come from the various sources referred to in the body of this
paper, such as primary dedicated research (various types of empirical
poverty surveys) or secondary analysis of existing data collected
on social problems, on individuals and households, their life
experiences, deprivations and exclusions, and their incomes and
other resources over time.
4. Aggregation of the range of relevant
evidence through triangulation of such data sources is therefore
indispensable for public acceptance and methodological defensibility
in the construction of a MIS for the UK.
OF MIS IN
5. In Sweden, public confidence in the work
of the Swedish official consumer organisation, which quinquennially
sets "reasonable" (corresponding to "modest but
adequate") household budgets used as the MIS, ensures political
credibility. A range of benefits and other official income provisions
such as the tax threshold and court procedures are based more
or less directly on these budgets.
6. In some countries (France and the Netherlands)
where governments were responsible for setting the minimum wage,
it was treated as the MIS and was set periodically, taking account
of increases in the cost of living and earnings, on a base originally
accepted by the unions and employers (France) or by tripartite
negotiations between the employers, trades unions and government
(Netherlands). Both methods had political credibility. The lowest
level of unskilled full time wages has often been taken historically
in industrialised countries as a comparator of incomes for a "family
wage" for a stereotypical household.
7. In Norway and Finland political credibility
is achieved by the intensive annual political negotiation of the
level of the minimum pension taken as the MIS until virtual consensus
is achieved. A range of other benefits is calibrated against the
8. In Germany, where the government is concerned
chiefly with the level of social assistance, the MIS was based
in the early 1990s (until it was suspended) on intensive politically-negotiated
formulae drawing on official household income and expenditure
statistics. It is statutorily required to provide a level of living
for human dignity, a matter which is contestable in the administrative
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24 Omitting Belgium which used social research findings
as a tacit MIS. Back