The moment we are in - looking ahead to 2023
JRF is redoubling our commitment to social change, driven by the unshakeable belief that poverty in the UK can be solved. Urgent action is vital, but deeper and more radical change is also needed to economic and social models. In this blog Group Chief Executive, Paul Kissack, tells us why.
We enter 2023 at a moment of profound challenge. This winter 7.2 million low-income households are going without essentials – hungry, cold, without basics like showers, toiletries or adequate clothing, and 4.7 million are behind on their bills.
We know this is not just the result of some passing ‘cost-of-living crisis’. It comes instead on the back of years of economic and social failure. For a decade and a half we have seen no meaningful improvements in living standards, especially for people on lower incomes. Over twenty years we have seen very deep poverty rise. Over decades our country has become much wealthier – but this wealth is tightly concentrated, with rates of homeownership declining, and inheritance becoming more important to life chances. We have some of the largest geographical inequalities in the western world. Improvements in life expectancy have stalled and for some are going backwards, while we see deeply worrying trends in mental health.
Underneath these economic and social challenges lie long-term foundational changes which we have been grappling with for years, and which will continue throughout the 2020s and beyond: tackling, and adapting to, the climate emergency; understanding the profound implications for society and the economy from the digital revolution and other technological changes, including robotics and AI; the acceleration in ageing of the UK population.
Little wonder that across the UK we appear to be at a point of doubt and questioning, with high levels of political instability. Nearly two thirds of people in Britain believe that the country is in decline, while another two thirds believe politicians are 'merely out for themselves'. Over half of people in Britain think today’s young people will have a worse life than their parents. Unless things change, they could well be right.
Faced with these challenges it would be easy to despair. But at JRF we are redoubling our commitment to social change. Around us we see challenges which are both urgent and deep, and we are increasingly clear about the task before us.
We are driven by the unshakeable belief that poverty can be solved in the UK. Honouring our history, there is a strong moral purpose to this mission: to end the poverty that blights the lives and life chances of millions of people, and ensure dignity and esteem for everyone in the UK, addressing insecurity, exclusion and powerlessness. This is urgent work – perhaps more urgent today than at any time in our history.
But while urgent action is vital, we are also driven by the belief that deeper and more radical change is needed to our economic and social models. Faced with growing crises, chronic failures, and deep foundational challenges, we believe we are in – or should be in – a period of deeper transition. We do not claim to have a clear blueprint for the new. Instead, we believe the task before us is to help imagine it, shape it, test it, and support others involved in that work.
And so we enter 2023 with a renewed clarity of purpose: JRF works to speed up and support the transition to a more equitable and just future, free from poverty, in which people and planet can flourish.
The complex web of challenges we face today requires us to take a wider lens on the changes needed. While we will remain anchored in a focus on poverty – and the need to address income poverty and destitution we need to focus on building greater economic security and the conditions in which people can thrive. We will focus on work, technology and markets; on care, family and relationships; on housing and land; and assets and wealth. Across these themes we will take forward three sorts of work.
First, we will shed new light on the nature and scale of social injustice in the UK today, while setting out practical routes to a more equitable future. We will become a home for the generation of distinctive arguments, ideas and policies that inspire hope for the future and offer practical routes to change, aiming to influence decision makers today, while seeding longer-range change through collaborations and demonstrations.
Secondly, we will campaign and advocate for change while supporting a movement of people and organisations shaping a more equitable future. Throughout 2022, with partners across the sector, we campaigned hard to protect people on low incomes from the worst of the current crisis. We will continue to do so in 2023, including through a major new campaign to ensure everyone can afford the essentials of life. In parallel we will nurture new relationships between funders, grassroots activists and national non-profit organisations, and shape new infrastructure to support movements for change.
Thirdly, we will invest in new propositions to speed up the transition to a more equitable future for people and planet, backing people engaged in this work. Rediscovering JRF’s role as a funder, our new Emerging Futures Programme will back pathfinders who are already building the new in the context of the old, and the visionaries who are opening up new ways to guide, challenge and inspire us through the transition ahead. We will cultivate the conditions and build capacity for this work – spaces of imagination and hope. And we will play our part in rethinking the role of philanthropy and investment to support the transition needed.
How we will work
We will be ambitious in our approach to this work. As a wealthy, independent foundation with talented, passionate staff we believe we can play an important direct role in the transition we want to shape. But we must be humble too. We recognise that deep and lasting change will only come from a larger movement, and that JRF is just one organisation, with one set of views, in a much wider ecosystem. Our ambition is to play a supportive, generous role with others.
Our work will be guided by a set of principles:
- Horizons. We will work across different horizons: helping to bring about urgent policy and practice changes now, while fostering the deeper structural changes needed to shape an economic and social model in which people and planet can flourish.
- Power. We will use our position to engage with and apply pressure to people who hold official power today, through the quality of our arguments and ideas and by building powerful coalitions and movements for change, while centring the voices of people who are often furthest from power in the status quo.
- Equity. We will bring the lenses of equity and liberation to our work, seeking to transform the unjust systems that perpetuate structural disadvantage. We are committed to playing a vocal role in reshaping philanthropy and investment practices in this context.
- Plurality. We will campaign with a strong consistent voice, grounded in a wide range of views from different political traditions and backgrounds – including traditional and new economic thinking.
- Risk. We will embrace more speculative work, learning as we go, and knowing there is no ‘what works’ path for more transformational change. We recognise shouldering risk is a responsibility of a wealthy, independent foundation able to think long-term and focus on radical change.
- Infrastructure. We will adopt an ‘infrastructure mindset’, always asking ourselves how, as a wealthy independent organisation, we can use our position in a generous and long-term way to develop ‘value for many’ infrastructure.
Finally, confronted with the need for both urgent and deep change, we are committed to putting all our wealth in service to our mission. Over the next 5-10 years we will make available a significant amount of additional funding (£50 million - £100 million) in mission-aligned spending and higher-risk investment, directly to deliver our emerging programme of work. We will also deepen and broaden our approach to investing the rest of our endowment in responsible ways, supporting the transition we wish to see.
I have written elsewhere about the reimagining of Britain 100 years ago: a movement that was informed by fresh insights; inspired by campaigning voices; acted upon by practical people finding a way forward through new experiments; and fuelled by imagination and a sense of belief.
As millions of families face their bleakest winter, it is time to put our shoulders to the wheel once again, and rediscover the pioneering spirit of our forebears. Nothing less than a radical reshaping of Britain for the decades ahead will be enough to meet the challenges we face. As we enter a new year, JRF stands ready to play its part.