We need a cross-party poverty strategy that addresses the needs of everyone
We need a poverty strategy because what we are doing is not working, writes Baroness Stroud. | PA Images
Covid has worsened poverty and inequality, but vulnerable families have been struggling for a long time.
Last week Tony Blair added his voice to the calls for a UK poverty strategy. In fact, he called for a child poverty strategy. However, whilst a strategy to change the life trajectory of children is vital, as a shocking 33% of under 4s are in poverty, it is self-evident that no child is poor separate from parental circumstances and income. This is why I have been calling for a full poverty strategy that addresses the needs and circumstances of everyone.
We need a poverty strategy because we need to move beyond political narrative to deep cultural change. We have had Tony Blair’s focus on ‘the country for the many and not the few’, and Gordon Brown’s ‘future fair for all’. We have had David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, and Theresa May’s ‘burning injustices’. But since 2001 the proportion of the population in poverty has remained remarkably static at just over 20%. Our approach to rebuilding the fabric of our society, of “levelling up”, has to be more than rhetoric. Now is the time for substantive change.
Issues of poverty and inequality have been brought to the fore during the pandemic, as the virus has impacted those in poverty more than any other group. Almost two thirds (65%) of those in employment and in deep poverty have seen their hours reduced, been furloughed, or lost their jobs entirely. But the reality is that these vulnerable families have been struggling for a long time.
If you look back over the last 20 years, you will see that although governments of all colours have come and gone, poverty has remained. A few thousand people may have moved from one side of a poverty line to another, but we have not yet changed the life outcomes for the 14 million people who are in poverty year after year.
Our approach to rebuilding the fabric of our society, of “levelling up”, has to be more than rhetoric
We need a poverty strategy because what we are doing is not working. Usually what happens in government when a strategy is announced is that the Cabinet Office compiles a list of what departments are already doing and one or two announcements about what they would like to be doing. But no real work is done on identifying the size and scope of the challenge and there is little evaluation on whether, if implemented, this compilation of policies would have any real impact.
We need a poverty strategy because we need to use every lever at our disposal. Income redistribution is important, but it is only one lever. The profound change we need if we actually want to see a different outcome needs to involve everyone. Government needs to build a safety net that will provide dignity and adequacy. Businesses need to ask if the salaries they pay enable their employees to reach their potential. Civil society needs to ask how we can serve our communities to ensure they thrive. Neighbours need to ask how they can care and support each other. And individuals in poverty need to ask what steps they can take to change the trajectory of their own lives.
We need a poverty strategy because we need to build for the long term. The poorest cannot take drastic policy fluctuations with every change in government. When you are vulnerable the first thing you need is a stable platform that will enable you to take your own steps out of poverty.
The political war needs to cease. We need to work cross-party with great ambition to envision what a different Britain would look like that did not leave a fifth of the population behind. This is the opportunity, but we need a full poverty strategy to get there.