Low-income voters ‘politically homeless’ as worries take their toll

Analysis for the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) shows those struggling on low incomes are most worried about money and debt, their health and housing.

The analysis shows that no political party has majority support of those on low incomes, with a third supporting Labour and 23% who support the Conservatives. A quarter of low income voters do not support any political party.

JRF says the main political parties need to address their concerns about living standards and financial security, not just deliver Brexit.

JRF commissioned the National Centre for Social Research to add new questions and analysis to their annual British Social Attitudes survey, and extensive interviews and focus groups by YouGov. Together, these paint a picture of low-income voters feeling the strain of mounting financial pressures in their day to day lives.

Although concerns about Brexit, politics and current affairs came up in the discussions, they did not dominate, and often were secondary to more personal issues.

The analysis comes in the aftermath of the General Election and party conferences, where the Conservatives and Labour both examined their electoral appeal to people struggling to make ends meet, their economic policies and Brexit.

Concern about overall levels of poverty in Britain has been growing over the past five years. At the end of 2016, one-fifth of the public said that poverty was one of the most important issues facing Britain today.

The research found:

  • Money or debt is the most commonly concern for people in the lowest income group (45%). The next most common concerns are physical health (38%), caring for someone (30%), housing (30%), immigration (30%) and work or finding a job (28%). The six most frequent concerns or worries among lowest income quintile, by income group:

Six most frequent concerns of worries among lowest income quintile, by income group

My wages are stagnant and have been for over 10 years. I try and cut my cloth accordingly but the cloth is getting a bit threadbare.
Male, online group

  • None of the above’ – a quarter of low income voters do not support any political party. This compares to 23% who support the Conservative party and 30% who support Labour. Support for Labour is now evenly spread across the income distribution – suggesting its historic link to people on low incomes is in decline.

Support of a political party, by income group

  • Nearly two-thirds (65%) support government responsibility for reducing income differences between the rich and poor, although there is less consensus about how to achieve this. Most respondents do not want the government to achieve this by transferring money from the rich to the poor. Less than half (42%) agree that the government should redistribute income from the better-off to the less well-off. The public are split on whether taxes should rise to spend more money on health, education and benefits (48% to 44%).

Last year I had to come here (community centre) for help with money because I couldn’t afford to move out of my mould ridden home. They gave me money to help me move. They gave me a washing machine. My partner works full time. We get child tax credits, £1,000 benefit and it still isn’t enough.
Female, 25-44, Scarborough

  • Asked about Government responsibilities, people across all income groups believe government should be responsible for providing health care and a good living standard for older people. There is also majority support for providing decent housing for people who cannot afford it and 56% of people overall say that the government should be responsible for providing a decent standard of living for the unemployed. Nearly half (48%) think the government should provide a job for everyone who wants one.

Views of government responsibilities, by income group

Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said:

“British politics is overwhelmed by Brexit, but this analysis shows how day-to-day worries about debt, housing and jobs dominate people’s lives.

“Low income voters are clear they want to action on living standards and the party that seizes this agenda could be more likely to secure a parliamentary majority at the next election. Otherwise ‘none of the above’ could be the big winner if struggling families feel their concerns are not being heard.

“If we fail to address the concerns that led to the Brexit vote, we will have missed a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform so our economy and society so it truly works for everyone.”

Nancy Kelley, Deputy Chief Executive at the National Centre for Social Research, said:

“Our report hints at the changing political landscape we have seen over the past 18 months or so, with the traditional link between income and Labour support all but disappearing. But people on low incomes aren’t necessarily switching allegiance to another party, rather they are the most likely to feel ‘politically homeless’ and feel like none of the parties represent their views.

“It’s vital for a functioning democracy that people from all walks of life feel invested and involved in our political processes. Those on low incomes are generally concerned about debt, housing and living standards, and they think it’s the government’s responsibility to address these. Our research may be a good starting point for political parties seeking to reconnect with those who feel left out.”

Jerry Latter, Associate Director at YouGov, said:

“People expressed concern with societal and political issues, but for some, and particularly the youngest and most vulnerable, personal issues are much more paramount. These particularly include household finances, and the wider effects of indebtedness, as well as physical and mental wellbeing. The interplay between mental health issues as both a cause, and effect of living in poverty, was particularly revealing.”