Frank Young is a Political Director and Head of Family Policy at the Centre for Social Justice.
In a recent survey of low-income voters commissioned by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), almost eight in ten (78 per cent) voters living on the lowest incomes have never met or spoken to their local MP. Over half of these voters also told us they hadn’t heard from any of the parties in the last year, despite candidates gearing up for the general election campaign. So it is probably not surprising that 60 per cent of these forgotten voters told us that “no political party really cares about helping people on low-incomes”.
The general election needs to be about more than Brexit if it is to address the issues that face low-income Britain. Whether you voted leave or remain in 2016, our analysis shows that any political party will struggle to win a working majority if they fail to connect with the poorest voters across Britain and demonstrate that tackling poverty is a top priority.
As an independent think tank, the CSJ is neutral on the question of which party will best address the concerns of low-income voters. However, the CSJ is not neutral on poverty. We have put together this analysis of low-income voters to encourage all parties to make social justice their priority.
In our poll of ‘Breadline Britain’ we found that voters on the lowest incomes overwhelmingly view the Conservative Party as ‘uncaring’ and only interested in ‘the rich’. The Labour Party is viewed as the most “out of touch” by the voters they have traditionally viewed as their ‘core’. Neither of the two big parties aiming to win the next general election come out well in our survey. Therefore, much more needs to be done to win the ‘breadline battleground’ we identify in this report.
Indeed, the candidates to be Prime Minister will struggle to get any feted parliamentary majority at all if they can’t build a big social justice narrative. Number crunching by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) shows that over 1.4 million poorer voters live in the 100 most marginal seats which represents 1 in 7 voters in these areas – more than enough to swing the result of the next general election.
In fact, in all of the 100 most marginal constituencies the number of the lowest income voters exceeds the majority, making it difficult to win these constituencies without their support.
In our political system, some voters are more equal than others. To win, party strategists need to target resources on the marginal seats where a few hundred votes either way could be the difference between winning and losing. This is the breadline battleground that is hard to ignore for any political party looking to lead the country.
Put simply, no political party will be able to win a general election and a working majority in the House of Commons without a clear message to these voters with a plan to tackle poverty and improve the lives of the poorest. This means addressing crime in our poorest areas. Violent crime is top of the public’s concerns at present, with a sharp increase in the last few years. Putting community policing back up the agenda is crucial.
It means boosting in-work training and properly investing in our Further Education sector. After leaving school, less than 15 per cent of low wage/skilled workers in the UK progress to middle wage/skilled occupations. That’s got to change.
It means looking after the most vulnerable; tackling our homelessness problem with a proper national Housing First plan; confronting the UK’s growing problem with addiction by re-investing in our crumbling treatment and recovery sector; offering real human support within Universal Credit to ensure it is a system for life change, not just survival.
And amidst all this it’s also too easy to look to government for everything. We will never have enough government. Instead we need to look closer to home. In fact, we need to look directly at our own homes.
The quality of our family relationships in the UK is collapsing. We are now a world leader in family breakdown and our marriage rate is at half the previous low point in 150 years. Voters are concerned about this but which party will be brave enough to address it?
As parties go about trying to persuade voters to back their campaigns, every party should ask themselves what they will do for our country’s poorest constituents and towns. Our poorest voters need the help of a government that is committed to social justice and this will only come from a political party that clearly demonstrates that commitment.