Poverty Trapped

In Poverty Trapped, John Penrose MP argues Britain has failed to abolish poverty because we’ve been looking at it the wrong way. Income inequality is an unhelpful lens that has led politicians to treat the symptoms rather than the causes. We need a new way of not only looking at poverty but also fixing it- it is fatalistic not to try to fix poverty. We’re better than we think- our mobility is better and our wealth more evenly spread than we think, and than many other countries too. But we still have a long way to go.

A better alternative is to improve opportunity for everyone, equipping them with the skills and attitudes to take the opportunities when they appear so you can have more control over your path in life. This is more fulfilling but also it works better and more effectively than equalising pay too.

The UK has benefitted from faster overall growth to increase living standards. That’s valuable but doesn’t fix the structural causes of poverty that reduce our social mobility and health inequalities (which share many of the same underlying causes as poverty). Poverty Trapped is a heavyweight attempt to explain why the left’s intellectual hegemony in this area of policy is a dead-end and needs to change.


Prof Lee Elliott Major, Professor of Social Mobility, Exeter University 

This is a serious report on a topic that should be a central motivation for anyone who goes into politics: how do we create a society in which all can pursue opportunity irrespective of their background? This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking treatise, packed full of ideas – sometimes bold and sometimes controversial, but also in many cases, evidence-informed, eminently sensible and very do-able.

Dr Rakib Ehsan, Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society.

“This policy paper represents a timely and important intervention in contemporary British debates on equality and discrimination.”

Prof Tim Evans, Professor of Business & Political Economy, Middlesex University

“Poverty Trapped presents a masterful array of insights and solutions for some of the UK’s most urgent public policy challenges. Encouraging readers to gain altitude above a broad, yet highly interconnected set of issues spanning housing, education, childcare, taxation and honours, it unearths a breath-taking wealth of practicable policy gems. This is one of the best contributions to public policy I have read in many years.”

Mark Littlewood, Director of the Institute of Economic Affairs

“John Penrose is one of the nation’s most intellectually engaging Members of Parliament. If only more politicians displayed the sort of detailed and strategic thinking shown in ‘Poverty Trapped’, we would have a much more constructive political discourse, focused on the UK’s long-term opportunities – rather than just dealing with hour-by-hour crisis management.

This important publication gets to the nub of what is going wrong in Britain – and, just as crucially, what isn’t. Even if you do not agree with the entirety of the author’s analysis – or with all of his prescriptions – you will find it impossible not to be thoroughly engaged and enormously challenged by John Penrose’s thoughtful approach.

‘Poverty Trapped’ should be read by anyone and everyone who cares about opportunity and prosperity in 21st century Britain. It deserves to kickstart a serious debate – right across the ideological and political divide – about where we want to take our country next.”

Prof Philip Booth, Director of the Vinson Centre for the Public Understanding of Economics at the University of Buckingham

“We have had over six years of Conservative government, during which the state has simply become bigger – and is projected to grow even further. Where will this end? John Penrose offers a way out. He has put together a series of practical reform proposals in several areas which would help to turn the tide. Although I am not a member of any political party, it is easy to see that discussion of John Penrose’s proposals is politically important for the Conservatives too. Without radical reforms to the land-use planning system, for example, the Conservative Party will be relying on the votes of a shrinking number of home-owners whilst younger people become more and more restless. The Conservative Party hierarchy should be challenged by this document – and fearful of the consequences of carrying on as they have been in the last six years.”

Prof Bobby Duffy, Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Policy Institute (KCL)

“This incredibly wide-ranging report demonstrates how interconnected the drivers of poverty are, and how after-the-fact fixes are not only not enough, but also poor policy and a poor moral choice. It reminds us that we need to change all of these preconditions in a systematic way if we’re to tackle the stubborn and shameful problem of poverty in a rich country like the UK.”

Will Tanner, Director of Onward

“True to form, John Penrose MP delivers a tight, powerful argument about what is wrong with how we approach poverty and what can be done to fix it. He is right that economic opportunity today is too often bounded by narrow corridors and glass ceilings that hold back people’s potential and prevent them from going as far as their talents and hard work will take them.

“His solutions – not least more affordable childcare, greater street-level planning control, and greater accountability from universities for the degrees they sell – are characteristically sound. It is precisely this kind of thinking that is needed to renew the intellectual foundations of the centre right and deliver for the governing party’s new electoral coalition.”

Will Snell, Chief Executive of The Fairness Foundation

“This thoughtful and wide-ranging paper provides a refreshing take on how to banish poverty once and for all by building a fairer society. It is noteworthy in its emphasis on tackling the causes rather than the symptoms of poverty, and on creating genuine equality of opportunity that allows people to live independent lives by removing structural barriers. I hope that this paper can encourage others to join a broad-based conversation about how we can move forward.”