People Experiencing Poverty Hold Political Power

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 05/08/2019 [Online], Available:  [Accessed: 2019, Aug 6]

Woman walking with her son in the city

“Voters on low incomes are turning out in greater numbers and could hold the balance of power in future elections.”

There is an emerging constituency of men and women residing on restricted incomes who are becoming increasingly frustrated with politicians failing to act upon their concerns. A report released last Thursday by Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), alongside UK in a Changing Europe and ComRes, highlights that voters on low incomes are turning out in greater numbers than ever before, are among the most likely to switch their vote and could hold the balance of power in future elections.

These findings emerged in the same week as another report JRF participated in by the Social Metrics Commission, which said: “… despite fluctuations, overall rates of poverty have changed relatively little since 2000/2001.” With record levels of crisis grants dispensed in Scotland, higher numbers of foodbank use across the UK and more international experts raising concerns about how we treat our poorest citizens, it did not seem to fit the prevailing narrative.

Upon closer inspection, however, it is clear that things have not stood still. Large falls in pensioner and child poverty have gone into reverse, a rising tide of in-work poverty has swept more families into hardship as millions more experience a deepening level of poverty while trying to make ends meet. And one of the most frustrating aspects of political discourse on poverty is time wasted arguing over what measure is being used rather than agreeing upon what remedial action is required.

I spoke to Helen Barnard, one of the commissioners, and also Deputy Director of Policy and Partnerships at JRF, who said: “Having an agreed measure that gives us a base we can build from feels incredibly positive.” She added: “This enables us to identify what action can be taken in the short and long-term and ensure policy-makers have some assurances as to what level of change decisions could make if they were, or were not, to be taken.”

Lone parent households, those with disabilities and families without work are identified as at greatest risk of being pulled under by existing waves of poverty and investment in local economies, suitable subsidised social housing and robust social security would provide an anchor in times of greatest need. This coalesces with the recommendation made by JRF to deliver a replacement for existing EU funding in the form of a £2.4 billion per year Shared Prosperity Fund to rebalance the economy.

These reports reveal that, while there may not be a huge increase in levels of poverty, there is a widening chasm between austerity and prosperity and the mechanisms required to rebuild the fragile bridge from one side to the other must be an electoral priority. If those we elect to represent our interests and secure opportunities for us to build sustainable futures do so, we will secure their future by re-electing them to represent our interests come the next election which could, potentially, be very soon.