DEMAND AN END TO POVERTY THIS GENERAL ELECTION
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Sunak calls general election for 4 July: 'It's time to put a limping government out of its misery'

Big Issue founder Lord John Bird, among other campaigners and organisations, has called for an end to poverty after the general election

Credit: Sky News

Rishi Sunak has called an unexpected general election for 4 July – but what is truly at stake as British voters return to the polls?

There are calls for serious change after 14 years of a Conservative government, which has seen four prime ministers, a pandemic, a cost of living crisis, public services slashed, poverty and homelessness on the up, stagnant wages and scandal after scandal in Westminster…

Speaking as Labour’s totemic 1997 anthem “Things Can Only Get Better” played on a speaker in the background, Sunak played up his record as chancellor during the pandemic.

“I came into office above all to restore economic security”, Sunak said as rain fell onto his jacket.

“I will do everything in my power to provide you with the strongest possible protection I can.

“I cannot and will not claim that we have got everything right. No government should do that. But I am proud of what we have achieved together.”

Lord John Bird, founder of the Big Issue and crossbench peer, said: “This has become a limping government, and it’s time to put it out of its misery. Things have got very sticky politically, and it’s the right thing that the country can now go to the polls.

“The public have the opportunity to use their voices to call for change, and a more prosperous future for us all. The next government must put ending poverty at the very heart of its agenda.”

Around one in five people in the UK live in poverty. There are a reported 14 million people struggling to meet their most basic needs, including four million children. The last 30 years has seen the biggest increase in child poverty since records began.

The Big Issue Group has demanded an end to this crisis. It recently sent an open letter to prime minister Rishi Sunak, the Labour Party’s Keir Starmer – the favourite to replace him – and other political leaders, laying out a blueprint for change for the next government to implement within their first year of office in order to dismantle poverty.

It asks the next government to build more social and affordable housing, scrap no-fault evictions, increase universal credit to provide an ‘essentials guarantee’ and reform the energy price cap within 12 months of being in office to keep people in their homes.

Big Issue is demanding an end to poverty this general election. Will you sign our open letter to party leaders?

Sunak’s general election announcement means the 2019 Conservative manifesto promise to end no-fault evictions will now be a failure.

The Renters Reform Bill – the legislation due to end Section 21 evictions as they are also known – began its passage through the House of Lord last week after stalling in the Commons following opposition from Conservative backbenchers.

Tom Darling, campaign manager of the Renters’ Reform Coalition, said: “The 2019 Conservative Manifesto promised to deliver a better deal for private renters and an end to section 21 evictions. The announcement of the general election for July 4th is confirmation that the government have failed to deliver that manifesto commitment.

“The Renters Reform Bill has always had holes, but after successive concessions to landlord groups it is hardly worth the paper it is written on. If the government aren’t willing to make wholesale changes through the parliamentary ‘washup’ process, and there is no evidence they are, then the bill should fall and the next government should start again.

“We look forward to parties setting out how they plan to tackle the acute crisis of insecurity, disrepair and unaffordability facing private renters.”

More than 655,000 people needed to use a Trussell Trust food bank for the first time last year.

That is more people than ever before and a 40% increase from five years ago. It is a stark reminder that in spite of inflation easing to near-normal levels, people are still battling to afford the essentials in the aftermath of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis.

Helen Barnard, director of policy at the Trussell Trust, said: “Now that an election has been called, the Trussell Trust is urging all political parties to prioritise ending the need for food banks in their election manifestos. For too many years now, food bank use has risen because people on the lowest incomes simply do not have the money to afford the essentials, and this issue cannot be ignored any longer.

“We need the next government to prioritise the urgent reform of our social security system, which isn’t meeting the needs of the people of the country. It has a responsibility to lead us to a more hopeful future, one where food banks can close their doors for good. The Trussell Trust is ready to work in partnership with the new leadership to make this a reality.”

This is also likely to be an election with a key focus on welfare and employment, as the government seeks to push more people into work and plug gaps in the British workforce.

Tory ministers recently suggested a series of – widely criticised – proposals to reform the welfare system, including increased conditionality and a more punitive benefit regime.

Ayla Ozmen, director of policy and campaigns at Z2K, said: “Today’s announcement comes against a backdrop of increasingly dangerous rhetoric and proposals to remove vital income and protections for seriously ill and disabled people.

“Whatever the outcome of the next election, economic inactivity will remain high on the political agenda. We need all political parties to commit to scrapping plans to tighten the work capability assessment from next next year, and to moving towards a system that truly addresses the risk and inadequacy in universal credit, as our recent Security not Sanctions report set out.”

Thomas Lawson, chief executive of anti-poverty charity Turn2us, said: “Thousands of people continue to contact the Turn2us helpline each month – many are skipping meals and getting into debt to pay their household bills and rent. The deepening level of poverty in the UK is a direct result of the erosion of the real-terms value of benefits and a punitive approach to social security.

“In the run up to the election and beyond, we urge political leaders to listen to people’s experiences and design a compassionate and fair system that works for everyone. This must begin with ensuring benefits adequately cover essential living costs and abolishing ineffective measures like the two-child limit and sanctions. People across the UK want a system that supports and reassures anyone struggling to get by – a system we can all be proud of.”

Sunak’s leadership has also seen the Conservatives seize on an Uxbridge by-election result to change tack on the climate. In September 2023, Sunak claimed he was fighting against plans to introduce “seven bins”, and delaying a ban on new petrol cars.

“We can’t let climate change become a culture war in this general election campaign,” said Leo Murray, co-director of climate charity Possible.

“During the 2019 general election, it was an issue on the doorstep for the first time. The first ever televised climate debate was broadcast into millions of living rooms and leading politicians pledged billions for climate action,” Murray added, arguing a consensus for climate change should be protected,

“Going into this election, the political consensus around climate is in peril. Government ministers peddle conspiracy theories. Our prime minister has watered down net zero targets. Politicians are trying to turn climate into a dividing line, rather than a way to bring people together.”

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
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