With a rising number of people being swept into poverty, Claire Ainsley calls for everyone to make this the year we take collective action to solve UK poverty.
The arrival of a new year often involves making resolutions. Getting fit, learning a new skill, trying harder at things we find difficult. If it is a time of change for us as individuals, why not for our collective action, too?
The Government is consumed by the task of leaving the EU. Rather than the referendum being a chance to think afresh about the kind of country we want to be, politics has been overwhelmed by the tortuous process of agreeing the terms of departure.
Meanwhile, the ‘burning injustices’ Theresa May spoke of in June 2016 as she stood on the steps of Downing Street are still raging. Rather than wring our hands, stand on the sidelines and take comfort in conversing only with those with whom we agree, now is a time to be brave and put solutions into action for our country’s long-term challenges.
One of the most pressing challenges we face is the rising number of people being swept into poverty. JRF reported in December that one in five (22%) of the population is now living in poverty. Of these, 8.2 million are working-age adults, 4.1 million are children and 1.9 million are pensioners. Eight million people live in poverty in families where at least one person is in work.
Across political parties and the public, there is a broad consensus about the causes of poverty in the UK. Most people see that low pay, high costs (particularly housing), and a lack of adequate opportunities are trapping people in unacceptable situations. Long-term, comprehensive action to solve poverty right across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is needed, at local and national level. But there are steps that can be taken now. The UK Government has shown that it is listening, by increasing the Universal Credit work allowance in the Autumn Budget, but this is only the start. We need reforms to social security, housing and the jobs market so more people can build a better life:
- End the freeze on benefits and tax credits a year early in spring, to anchor people against low pay and high costs.
- At the Comprehensive Spending Review, the Government should invest in building at least 80,000 genuinely affordable homes a year.
- More employers could play their part in solving poverty by paying the real Living Wage, and training their workforce so they can progress into higher-paid roles.
At JRF, we are changing how we work to respond to these challenges. In 2019, we resolve to work with others to create and promote solutions to poverty that tackle its root causes. We will be working with others to build public and political will for change so that more people want to take action to solve poverty, and will ensure people with direct experience of poverty are at the centre of our work. We will continue to work with other organisations and groups, across sectors, in pursuit of a prosperous UK without poverty.
Let’s resolve to make 2019 the year we build common ground, and put solutions into action. Maybe a new year is a time to remember that all change starts with us – so let’s get to it.