‘Poverty has many root causes – Labour must tackle them all’

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Next year there will be an election and Labour stands poised to take power. Unlike the late 1990’s, Britain is sick and the atmosphere sour. Things Can Only Get Better may be playing at Christmas parties, but the mood in the nation could not be more different.

Two Nations: The State of Poverty in the UK a new report by the Centre for Social Justice – is launched today and was led by a team of high-powered commissioners including Andy Burnham and Sir Stephen Timms. Two Nations describes a country beset by multiple disadvantage and entrenched poverty.

Britain is at risk of returning to Victorian standards of social division marked by a widening gulf between mainstream society and a depressed and poverty-stricken minority. There are millions of people leading lives marred by family breakdown, stagnant wages, poor housing, chronic ill health and crime.

Both parties have ignored the causes of Britain’s social breakdown

Two Nations polled the most deprived cohort in the country. It found that 40% of the poorest identify as having a mental illness, compared to 13% of the general public. 73% worry about their housing. Just two in five say they have a good quality of life. 

Labour looks likely to take power. Are they nervous? They should be if there is no plan to address the root causes of these social ills. For too long, both political parties have ignored the causes of Britain’s social breakdown and have thrown money at dealing with the symptoms. With £421.7bn due to be spent on maintaining the chaotic mess that is Britain’s public services in 2023/24, we can no longer afford to. 

Labour must be clear on what tackling poverty really means. It is much more than funnelling money into the benefits system. It requires a bold and reforming government, like Clement Attlee’s in 1945. His mission was to pull Britain up from the aftermath of the Second World War. What is Starmer’s? To put out the flames of social breakdown that lockdown poured petrol on.

Lockdown exacerbated the issues facing communities

Two Nations shows that one in five children aged eight to 16 now have a mental illness, up from one in nine before the pandemic. We project that this will rise to more than one in four of five- to 15-year-olds by 2030. 134% more children are severely absent from school – another result of successive lockdowns. 

Don’t take my word for it – this is what one Midlands charity told our commissioners: “Lockdown made things worse. Families drinking during the day. Individuals relapsed. Domestic abuse – it went up exponentially. Child exploitation is a big one. Domestic abuse and addiction was forced inside during lockdown, so got a lot worse.”

These communities have become uprooted, without identity and the common bonds of solidarity and friendship which people find through good work, safe communities, a strong civil society, continuity and security.

Labour in government must tackle poverty at its root causes

These problems go beyond more government spending, or even a basic income guarantee. Starmer must go for the root causes of poverty. This means talking about family breakdown, addiction, debt, worklessness and educational failure. It means empowering communities to tackle their problems, helping people to build relationships and restoring pride in place. 

Our polling shows that the Conservative vote share amongst the most deprived has collapsed by almost a half. Just 17% of the poorest plan to vote Conservative next year, down from 30% in 2019. 49% say they will vote Labour. 

More of this deprived cohort live in Conservative-held marginals than in Labour marginals. 20% live in Tory seats with less than 10,000-strong majorities. Labour looks set to win several.

If the most deprived in Britain vote Labour, the party cannot let them down. To deliver in government, the party must be brave enough to tackle poverty at its root cause. If not, Britain will always be poorer.

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