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How can the next government tackle poverty and inequality?

Petty Coat Lane
Petty Coat Lane

On 4 July 2024, the UK will elect its next government. At the same time, millions are struggling to get by, faced with high living costs, and in low-paid or insecure work. Record numbers of people in our capital are facing homelessness. The next government must act ambitiously and fast – beyond what is currently proposed in the main parties’ manifestos.

We fund hundreds of organisations representing those hit the hardest. These organisations are calling on politicians to commit to solutions in critical areas like housing, migration, social security, employment, and social justice during the next parliament.


Tackling the housing crisis

High housing costs are pushing millions of Londoners into poverty, and forcing many to leave the city. On top of this around 170,000 people are homeless and living in insecure temporary accommodation. That includes 80,000 children – an equivalent of one child in every classroom.

What the next government should do

A collection of policy asks from our partners including Homes for All, New Economics Foundation, London Housing Panel and Generation Rent.

Tackling the housing crisis requires a comprehensive strategy. Homes for All – a national coalition that we’re proud to support – has set out a vision for a new national housing strategy, calling on the next government to transform England’s housing system. You can read this here

More than 300,000 households in London are on the social housing waiting list, and a lack of social housing means many are residing in costly private rentals. This is a key contributor to poverty and homelessness.

The next government must substantially increase the number of social homes. New Economics Foundation set out the case for this and how it can be done.

Huge numbers of people are stuck in unsuitable and low-quality temporary accommodation, often for very long periods of time.

We need vastly more social homes to end the need for temporary accommodation. But in the meantime there’s an urgent need for enforced quality standards – set out in the London Housing Panel’s 2023 open letter, supported by sector leaders and politicians.

Justlife are currently consulting with the homelessness sector on what needs to be done, culminating in a ‘Better Vision for TA’, setting out actions for the next government. If you work in the sector, feed in here.

Millions of Londoners rely on the private rented sector for a place to live – often living in costly and sometimes unsuitable accommodation, with no-fault evictions a constant possibility. Generation Rent set out five actions the next government must take to tackle the rental crisis. They also analyse what each of the main parties’ manifestos means for renters here


Decent work

In-work poverty is a major issue in London. Across the capital, there are at least half a million people paid less than the real Living Wage. On top of this, insecure work and insufficient hours are too common – and the impact of technology and AI threatens the employment security of many of those on the lowest incomes.

What the next government should do

A collection of policy asks from our partners including Citizens UK, Kalayaan, ELAN and the Institute for the Future of Work.

Millions in the UK earn wages that don’t meet living costs, often meaning they have to go without essentials. Citizens UK’s manifesto advocates the real Living Wage – calling on the next government to ensure all social care workers in England are paid at least the real Living Wage (the London Living Wage in London).

As well as a fair wage, Living Hours are important – ensuring workers have secure hours and can earn enough to live on. Citizens UK urges the government to promote both Living Hours and the Living Wage through procurement and grantmaking processes, to support fair employment practices and encourage businesses to treat workers justly.

Insecure work puts many workers at high risk of exploitation. Domestic workers, for example, face high levels of exploitation, detailed in the Latin American Women’s Rights Service’s Behind Closed Doors.

Our funded partners are calling for greater protections for the most vulnerable workers. Kalayaan urges a return to the pre-2012 visa protections for domestic workers, challenging persistent myths that mask government inaction on abuse. The Work Rights Centre’s live blog is monitoring the main parties’ positions on exploitation and vulnerable work.

The Employment Legal Advice Network (ELAN) call on changes to reduce exploitation of vulnerable workers. These include improving education on rights and responsibilities at work, introducing a properly funded and resourced Single Enforcement Body and improving access to quality legal advice that can assist prompt dispute resolution.

They also urge the government to take steps to reduce migrant worker exploitation including through removing exploitative work visas and introducing a right to work for those in the National Referral Mechanism (which is the process victims of modern slavery go through to access support).

Over the next parliament, technology will continue to shape workers’ experiences to an ever-greater extent, particularly affecting low-income workers.

The Institute for the Future of Work is proposing policy changes to adapt to these shifts, including a new Responsible Innovation and AI Act and an Employment Act to clarify the effects of technology on work, ensuring that both employers and workers can navigate the evolving landscape effectively.


Improving social security

A social security system should protect people from falling into poverty. But the current system of social security doesn’t provide enough to cover the basics of living in London. Even worse, it actively pushes people deeper into poverty through punitive features like the two-child limit.

What the next government should do

A collection of policy asks from our partners including Child Poverty Action Group, the Women's Budget Group and Z2K.

Many of our funded partners, including the Child Poverty Action Group and 4in10, are calling on two key changes that would lift millions of children out of poverty: scrapping the two-child limit and the benefit cap. These two policies deprive many families of much needed income.

The Women's Budget Group highlights that social security reductions have disproportionately affected women, who often engage more in unpaid domestic and care work and rely more on social security. Since 2010, women on the lowest incomes have lost an average of £3,348 annually. These cuts have contributed to the growth of child poverty, homelessness, and reliance on foodbanks. They call on the next government to increase the real value of benefits to pre-2010 levels.

The current social security system is both inadequate and punitive, causing hardship and challenges to many Disabled people. Z2K has set out a proposal for reforming the benefits system, to ensure it works for seriously ill and Disabled people. This includes efforts to reform Workplace Capability Assessments, to rebuild trust and ensure that people are treated with dignity and respect. Read it here.


Ending migrant destitution

Migration is a key political battleground in this election. Many of our funded partners are arguing for a fairer, more humane way forward, that turns away from the hostile environment and instead supports people’s settlement. 

What the next government should do

A collection of policy asks from our partners including Praxis, We Belong and Safe Passage.

Hostile environment policies such as ‘no recourse to public funds’ and long routes to settlement often push migrants into destitution. Our partners Praxis set out here why and how the hostile environment can be dismantled, and replaced by a more humane and compassionate immigration system.

We Belong, a young migrant-led charity, are calling for the next government to end unpredictable and unaffordable Home Office fee increases. These increases often come with little warning, making it impossible for young migrants to save and afford visa fees.

Many people come to our shores for safety from persecution. A lack of safe routes means that many take dangerous journeys to arrive here – and when they do, they are often vilified in the media and by politicians. Our funded partner Safe Passage call on the next government to end the use of inflammatory, racist and anti-refugee rhetoric. They also demand a fairer system: ensuring refugees have safe alternatives to dangerous journeys, renewing the UK’s commitment to international cooperation, and building a system that treats people with dignity. Read the full manifesto here.


Ending the poverty premium

People on low incomes often pay more for essential goods and services compared with those who are better off. This is known as the poverty premium and affects about a quarter of all households. Fair By Design set out 12 solutions for the next government, which will help bring the unfair poverty premium to an end. It includes changes to the energy and insurance markets. You can find it here.


Social justice

Some people are much more likely to be in poverty because of factors like their class, disability, ethnicity and sex. Black and minority ethnic Londoners, for example, are almost twice as likely to be in poverty than white Londoners – and households that include a Disabled person are significantly more likely to be in poverty than those that don’t. Women are also often disproportionately impacted by many of the issues highlighted in this blog. For example, women in London are more likely to be low-paid than men.

What the next government should do

A collection of policy asks from our partners including Inclusion London, People First and Action for Race Equality.

A third of families in London that include a Disabled person are living in poverty. And Disabled people have been hit the hardest by the cost-of-living crisis and austerity.

The Disabled People’s Manifesto, supported by a wide group of Deaf and Disabled People’s organisations including Inclusion London and ALLFIE, urges the next government to take radical action to create a society where everyone has equal life chances.  You can read it here.

Our funded partners People First has also put forward a manifesto with specific asks for people with learning difficulties. This calls on the next government to see, hear and listen to the voices of people with learning difficulties, and to invest in self-advocacy and community groups. Read it here.

Women are more likely to be in poverty than men. Many of the issues outlined in this blog disproportionately affect women - such as low pay and cuts to social security.

On top of this Maternity Action highlight the issue of pregnancy poverty. Statutory maternity pay is less than half of the national minimum wage - and many new mothers struggle with the financial impacts. Maternity Action call on the government to end pregnancy poverty by investing in levels of statutory maternity pay and benefits.

Period poverty is another major issue. Across the UK, women, girls, and people who have periods are struggling to access basic essentials, and the cost of living crisis has made this worse. Bloody Good Period are tracking what the main UK parties are saying about period poverty, and calling on the next government to take action to end it.

Race and poverty in the UK are clearly linked. Black and minoritised Londoners are often more likely to be impacted by the issues outlined in this blog, and it’s vital that racial justice and meaningful involvement of Black and minoritised communities are at the heart of policies to tackle issues such as the housing crisis.

A major focus this election is the Windrush scandal, with the Windrush Justice Manifesto from Action on Race Equality urging the next government to right the wrongs of the scandal. Read it here.


The solutions presented by our funded partners, collated in this blog, set out both the scale of change that is needed – and how it can happen. To tackle London and the country’s deep inequalities will require bold action and investment. Tax Justice UK are setting out the case for sensible, popular tax reforms, which could raise billions and shield working people.