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Vision, mission and principles

We are an independent social change organisation, working to support and speed up the transition to a more equitable and just future, free from poverty, where people and planet can flourish.

Our mission

For us, ending poverty in the UK is a moral cause: to ensure dignity and respect for everyone, and to address exclusion and powerlessness.

Our work is supported by about 150 permanent staff across York, London and Glasgow.

Our work

JRF supports and undertakes many different types of work in all four nations of the UK. This includes policy development and insight gathering, advocacy and campaigns, impact investment, funding pioneers and visionaries, field building, and supporting those building grassroots movements.

We are perhaps unusual as an organisation in embracing so many methods. But we see value in building bridges between people working across different disciplines and horizons, shaping new coalitions for change. 

We use a three-part framework for categorising the different kinds of contribution that these strands of our work make to our mission.

Directional change

This pathway is critical to working with power structures as they exist now, and in acting quickly to address hardship and insecurity. You can see this pathway in the work we are doing to advocate for changes to tackle deep poverty and destitution and build economic security.

It is present in our campaign to ensure the basic rate of Universal Credit is set at a level which would guarantee that people can afford the essentials, as well as our propositional policy work on housing and care.

Systemic change

In this work we are often leading with questions, rather than proposing specific answers, which means JRF acting not as expert but as explorer - a curious, values-driven field-builder and risk-taker. The contribution to our mission in this work is found less in the concept of impact, but in learning. 

Working with others who are building alternative futures or counteracting sources of power, are we deepening understanding about what is needed to shape the conditions for more radical change?

This pathway is central to much of the work in our new Emerging Futures programme. In particular we are working with a group of Pathfinder organisations who are doing the difficult and important work of reimagining and redesigning the world they want to live in to achieve deep, transformative change, and we are also bringing together partners to explore questions around wealth and philanthropy.

Infrastructure for change

JRF has a proud history of building elements of insight infrastructure which have become essential parts of social policymaking in the UK – from the Minimum Income Standard (MIS) which underpins the Real Living Wage, to our essential guides to the scale and nature of poverty and destitution in the UK. We will continue to build on these anchor studies with new elements of insight infrastructure. In addition, we are building new infrastructure to support other elements we believe are essential to social change – including imagination, storytelling and movement building.

Our guiding principles

Our work is guided by a set of six principles:


We help 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.​


We use our position to engage with and apply pressure to those who hold official power today, through the quality of our arguments and ideas and by building powerful coalitions and movements for change, centring the voices of those who benefit least from the status quo.​


We 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.​


We 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.


We 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.


We campaign with a strong consistent voice, grounded in a wide range of views and voices from different political traditions and backgrounds – including traditional and new economic thinking.​

Our heritage

We were established over a century ago by Joseph Rowntree, to help understand the root causes of poverty. You can read more about our unique heritage and our founder’s vision for lasting change.

Our role in York and the North East

We play an active role in York, with a number of heritage sites including Homestead Park which we run for the local community. We are also the parent organisation of the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust (JRHT), which provides affordable housing and care services in the North East.

We are developing a Regional Strategy to nurture and grow our presence in York and the wider region. This work will deepen our approach to place-based work and define our model of partnership working across philanthropic, business and community sectors to support deep transformative change.