General Election: Leaders criticised for lack of plans to tackle poverty

The United Reformed Church has joined the Joesph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), the Trussell Trust and 200 other organisations in criticising Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer for a “stark lack of focus” on how each plans to tackle poverty ahead of the General Election.

The organisations’ criticism follows a study by JRF, published on 17 June, which found that desperate families unable to afford food, heating or clothing are increasingly turning to schools and primary health services for crisis help, which in turn are buckling under the pressure.

In an open letter, the organisations call on Sunak and Starmer, one of whom is expected to become Prime Minister after the General Election on 4 July, to urgently set plans to help provide immediate relief to families. Both have faced questions from the public on the campaign trail about levels of hardship in the UK, as JRF reveals the relentless reality of years-long hardship.

JRF’s latest research found:

  • Seven million low-income households (60%) were forced to go without essentials like food, adequate clothing and basic toiletries in the six months to May 2024.
  • Five million low-income households (42%) took fewer showers or baths due to cost during the cost-of-living crisis so far.
  • 7 in 10 (71%) low-income households in the bottom 20% of incomes were going without essentials in May this year, the same as May last year.

The latest JRF cost of living tracker, completed in the same month the election was called, also found over a third of low-income families – 4.3m households -are in arrears with at least one household bill or credit commitment. 1.2 million low-income households are in arrears with four or more bills.

In the past year, food banks in the Trussell Trust network distributed a record 3.1m emergency food parcels. Over the past five years, the number of people experiencing destitution more than doubled. Four million experienced destitution in 2022 including one million children.

Paul Kissack, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “It is astonishing that with seven million households going without essentials and record numbers of emergency food parcels being provided neither Rishi Sunak nor Keir Starmer are offering any practical measures to tackle this hardship with the urgency required. Addressing this emergency will need to be right at the top of the Prime Minister’s ‘to-do list’ after the election.”

Helen Barnard, Director of Policy, Research and Impact at the Trussell Trust said: “For too many years now, food bank need has risen because people on the lowest incomes simply do not have the money to afford the essentials. Ensuring the UK’s social security system is fit for purpose and provides enough support for people to afford the essentials is vital for building a future without the need for food banks.

“We know that hardship is an issue the public are deeply concerned about and the next Government has a responsibility to lead us into a more hopeful future, one where people are supported and food banks can close their doors for good.”

The letter in full is as follows:

Dear Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer,

We are writing to you as a diverse network of organisations united by our shared desire to see an end to poverty and hardship in the UK.

This general election is taking place against a backdrop of deep and growing hardship. In the six months to May, 7 million low-income households were forced to go without essentials like food, adequate clothing and basic toiletries, and over the past year, food banks in the Trussell Trust network distributed a record 3.1 million emergency food parcels. Most shockingly of all, almost 4 million people, including 1 million children, experienced destitution in 2022 – more than double the rate from five years previously.

Such levels of hardship are unacceptable in the UK and cannot be allowed to continue. The public are deeply concerned about the situation and believe it is the UK Government’s responsibility to right this wrong. It is clear they want to see action and commitments to turn this situation around so that no one is forced to go without essentials or to need a food bank to survive.

Yet right now there is a stark lack of focus from either of you on how you intend to tackle these issues if elected as Prime Minister next month. Families facing such levels of hardship cannot wait for the promise of growth, nor should they have to – the UK is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and has the resources to act now. Failing to do so is a political choice.

Together, we call on you to urgently set out a plan to help provide immediate relief to families struggling with hardship, as well as commit to developing a serious and ambitious strategy to build a future where everyone can afford the essentials, and no one needs a food bank to survive.

Learn more about The Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Trussell Trust.


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