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What do political parties say they want to do about poverty?

The Houses of Parliament as seen from across the River Thames
Gareth McNab

Director of External Affairs

A look at the three main parties’ manifestos ahead of the general election on 4 July, and how they’re committing to tackle UK poverty. 

Write to your local Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs)UK poverty is a matter of public urgency, and needs to be made a greater political priority.“

With 14.4 million people experience poverty today — in all its forms, with all its terrible impacts — Christians Against Poverty seeks to engage all people everywhere to raise their voices to make this case. That’s why we have been asking people to http://capuk.org/ppc, asking every candidate in every constituency key questions about poverty is our ambitious goal for this election period (and you can track our progress via our UK map).

In the months and years before this election was called, we’ve been working away behind the scenes with politicians and civil servants to call for a number of changes we need to see in society if people trapped in poverty and problem debt are to experience a release. We know from our clients’ lives, from our advisors’ expertise and our volunteers’ committed acts of love and service that there are so many things that need to change if we want to eradicate poverty in the UK.

Our External Affairs team have particular responsibility to engage with policy makers and policy shapers in Westminster, Whitehall and across the nations of the UK, and in the two years before this election was called, we’ve had one relentless focus:

Liveable incomes.

We want to see fewer people trapped below the poverty line because of unmanageable debt, escalating costs and insufficient incomes.

That is the basis of our policy influencing work: understanding that as people are released from the crushing pressure of poverty and problem debt, they become freed up to step further into a life of joy and peace and community.

This has been a key priority for us because it reflects the reality of what we see every day. Our debt service is unable to help half of the people who come to us because they are trapped in deficit budgets (meaning no matter how much a person cuts back, their essential outgoings are higher than their income). The cost of living crisis has highlighted the daily realities of people experiencing poverty that we’ve seen time and time again over the 28 years of CAP.

We’ve been focusing our efforts on influencing party manifestos in the run up to the election, and now parties have begun to publish their manifestos, we’ve been reviewing them in depth.

The three main parties we’ve focused on in this review are Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats. Between these three parties, pretty much all polling undertaken so far says that one of them will form the next Government and one will form the main opposition. We’ve had constructive relationships with each party as a policy and public affairs team, and we see aspects of hope and interest in tackling poverty in all three of the manifestos.

From all three main parties, we see slightly different approaches to the right instinct of putting more money in people’s pockets. We know from both the recent (and ongoing) cost of living crisis and the enduring chronic nature of poverty that insufficient income is the biggest barrier to people and communities thriving, rather than just surviving.

Conservative manifesto: reducing tax

The Conservative manifesto aims to put more money in people’s pockets by reducing tax, which could work well for parts of society. Our focus when reviewing policies is always how it affects our clients and people in similar situations, and with most of our clients not in a position to pay significant amounts of income tax, cuts to national insurance and other forms of tax don’t tend to be the most beneficial to our client base. However, if these cuts lead to a growing and thriving economy, then the idea is that we all benefit.

The Conservative manifesto also highlights the increasing Social Security bill, which is currently around £45–50 billion a year and projected to rise to £80–85 billion a year. Whoever forms the next Government is going to need to make choices about how to address this. They will need to choose to increase taxes over that time, increase borrowing over that time, or reduce spending — on social security, or on other areas.

The Conservatives approach includes encouraging more people into work to reduce the benefits bill, focusing on those who are currently off work due to sickness or disability. There are barriers for these groups in accessing work that need to be reviewed. However, if the primary aim is to cut the costs of these benefits rather than the increasing needs that people have for these benefits, it could lead to worse health outcomes and higher long-term costs. Any new Government will need to ensure there is greater support for the mental health challenges experienced more broadly across society over recent years, and ensuring sufficient support for anyone with ill health or disabilities who wants to explore work. Every party, we’re pleased to say, made mention of much needed and welcome support for mental health in the years to come.

Liberal Democrat manifesto: addressing social security

The Liberal Democrat manifesto aims to address inadequate incomes by making clear commitments around social security, including abolishing the two-child limit and the benefit cap. They aim to end deep poverty within a decade, support pensioners by protecting the triple lock” — a promise to pensioners that their pension won’t be reduced in real terms — , and promote the interests of carers, including by increasing their wages. Our society has long undervalued unpaid or underpaid work such as caring, and changes like this seek to recognise the importance of contributions to society that aren’t purely economic.

Labour manifesto: improving wages

The Labour manifesto makes its clearest commitment around inadequate incomes by focussing on wages. A key commitment is to make the legal minimum wage the same as the real living wage, ensuring that the least anyone in work can earn is enough to cover essential costs. Labour also plans to review Universal Credit to make work pay and truly tackle poverty’ — for example, there are some quirks in the system that mean working extra hours doesn’t make a meaningful difference to someone’s income. The intersection between work and welfare needs to be addressed to make meaningful progress in ending poverty — rather than the two being pitted against each other in stark binary terms, we need to develop a social security system that enables and rewards work where people can work, and is sufficient to meet people’s essential needs.

Three parties with three different approaches

In summary, the three main parties have different approaches to the common goal of increasing incomes: reducing tax (Conservatives), addressing social security (Liberal Democrats), and improving wages (Labour). Each approach has potential benefits and challenges, and our analysis and future policy work focuses on how these impact our clients and their ability to escape the grip of poverty.

The balancing of these three priorities — who pays tax and how much; how does social security provide a suitable safety net for society; and how we ensure the wages paid for work are sufficient — are a vital role of Government in a democracy. Politicians will propose policies that seek to balance many different interests, and people everywhere will make their own judgements as to how those interests should be met.

Additionally, there are mentions across most manifestos of other policies that could make a material difference to our clients’ lives and the experience of poverty in the UK today. Policies like increasing the reach of free school meals to all children experiencing poverty (ideally, to all primary school students)) and like promoting public transport. Poverty is not just about insufficient income but also the stigma associated with it, and universal free school meals can help address this. Promoting public transport helps keep individuals’ costs down and enables people to access connections to people and places that help them to thrive. Ending poverty isn’t only about different ways of putting money in people’s pockets, it is also about the public services that we all use and rely upon in different ways and at different times. Another policy that could make a big difference is seeking to reduce the cost of energy bills through various means, as this was one of the earliest and deepest effects of the cost of living crisis.

Christians Against Poverty wants to see an end to poverty in the UK, and will continue to work with people from across the political spectrum who share that aim. The next Government has a huge role to play in ending poverty, and we each have a vital part to play as individuals, churches and communities. Let us pray for our nation, as we work for justice and serve others with compassion.

Ruth holding a sign that reads 'There is so much need. I'm at my limit.'
Ruth, Co-Debt Centre Manager

We urgently need your support to reach every person in poverty.

Ruth holding a sign that reads 'There is so much need. I'm at my limit.'