Politics

Benefits, bills and safe routes for refugees: All the issues the major parties aren't talking about

It's been a big week for manifestos there are plenty of opportunites to tackle poverty being missed ahead of the general election. We break down the big omissions

Sunak and Starmer debate

Sunak v Starmer: The ITV Debate. Image: Jonathan Hordle/ITV/Shutterstock

Britain needs change. That’s why we put together our Blueprint for Change – a comprehensive plan for political leaders standing on 4 July on just what they should do to end poverty in their manifestos.

They have their own plans, of course. The Conservatives unveiled their ‘clear plan’ while Labour revealed their own idea of ‘change’. The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto centred on the NHS while the Green Party and Plaid Cymru also laid out their vision for the future.

We’ve combed through the manifestos to see what’s missing from the conversation and the campaign trail ahead of the general election.

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

Reform the energy price cap

Our blueprint argued that the energy price cap is unfit for purpose for low-income households and pensioners. The cap, which reflects the typical price paid for gas and electricity by direct debit, will fall to £1,568 from 1 July – but remains £300 more than in 2022. There was no sign of the Ofgem cap being scrapped in the major manifestos with the Tories instead vowing to maintain it.

Local housing allowance to remain unfrozen

The crisis facing low-income renters saw Jeremy Hunt announce at last year’s Autumn Statement that local housing allowance rates would be unfrozen for the first time since 2020 in April. Housing benefits are supposed to help renters cover the 30th percentile of market rents, but fall behind rising rents when they are frozen. The freeze is set to return next year despite private rents rising 8.7% in the last year on average. Both the SNP and Plaid Cymru pledged to keep local housing allowance permanently unfrozen to keep up with rents.

Commit to keeping libraries open and reinstating Sure Start

Libraries and Sure Start centres play an important role as community hubs and boosting literacy, but they have been one of the biggest victims of austerity.

The Green Party pledged to invest an extra £5bn over five years to fund keeping local museums, theatres, libraries and art galleries open and £1.4bn per year to invest in Sure Start centres.

The Tories promised to extend the community ownership fund to allow communities to take control of libraries as well as vaguer promise to “protect our national heritage”.

Free bus travel for under-23s

The cost of transport is a barrier to young people getting on in work and education, so our Blueprint for Change called for political leaders in Westminster to take bold action to make travel free for under-23s. It was only the Greens who made a similar pledge, promising to scrap fares for under-18s. Outside of the main Westminster parties. George Galloway’s Workers Party is campaigning on free bus travel for children as is the case in London.

Outlaw high-cost credit

Our Blueprint for Change called for high-cost credit to be outlawed in the first 12 months of the next government to prevent predatory lenders from taking advantage of people struggling during the cost of living crisis and driving them into debt. Instead, we wanted leaders to commit to making loans and credit sources affordable, equitable and fair but there was silence in manifestos.

Simon Dukes, chief executive of the Fair Credit Charity, said: “While the sub-prime lending sector has contracted in recent years there are still exploitative lenders who cause misery with their disingenuous, inflexible practices – harming households’ finances, causing stress and anxiety, and setting them up for future difficulties by ruining their credit scores. We are disappointed to see that the main parties’ manifestos do not commit to tackling the issue.

“However, it is important that any attempts to curb those practices does not simply drive even more people towards illegal lenders. This is why it is vital that government encourages more investment into ethical lenders such as Fair for You, which is owned outright by the Fair Credit Charity. This investment is already being made by organisations like Fair4All Finance, but there needs to be more of it.

“Mainstream banks also have a role to play – the Fair Credit Charity also published a whitepaper earlier this month calling on the banks to consider their responsibility to society when it comes to credit, instead of leaving people with few options but those exploitative or illegal lenders – if the industry does not do so voluntarily, we support calls for a Fair Banking Act is needed to enforce this change.”

Safe routes on immigration

With both the prime minister and opposition promising to ‘stop the boats’, and off the back of a rejuvenated Reform UK, immigration has become one of the hot topics of this election. Neither Labour or Conservative manifestos made a pledge to offer safe routes to sanctuary for those fleeing danger, persecution and war. Instead that was left to the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and Greens.

Two-child benefit cap

The two-child benefit cap limits universal credit and child tax credit for a family’s first two children, costing an estimated £3,000 for each additional child. The End Child Poverty Coalition’s research shows that scrapping the policy would lift 300,000 children out of poverty almost overnight. Despite that, the Conservatives and Labour declined to commit to scrapping it, leaving the pledge to the Lib Dems, the Greens and the SNP. Labour’s silence attracted particular criticism as even populist firebrands Suella Braverman and Nigel Farage have voiced support for axing the policy.

Rent controls and a basic income

Both policy measures that remain divisive five years after Jeremy Corbyn included them in his 2019 manifesto, Starmer steered clear of a basic income or rent controls pledge. Both featured in Plaid Cymru and Green manifestos.  Siobhan Donnachie, London Renters Union spokesperson, said: “If the next government does not make urgent and wide-reaching interventions, the housing emergency will deepen and ordinary people will pay the price. We need rent control now.”

No recourse to public funds

The no recourse to public funds (NRPF) policy prevents people subject to immigration control from accessing state support. In reality, this “hostile environment“ drives people into destitution and experts argue that it is virtually impossible to end rough sleeping while it exists. Despite this, Plaid Cymru committed to scrapping the policy in name while the SNP also pledged to lobby Westminster to allow asylum seekers to work.

Nick Beales, head of campaigning at Refugee & Migrant Forum of Essex and London, said: “Any incoming government should prioritise scrapping the NRPF policy. This punitive measure is one of the worst excesses of the hostile environment, and causes serious harm to British citizen children, long-term UK residents and those with exceptionally strong UK family ties.

“The policy has been shown time and time again to force families into destitution and the courts have repeatedly found it to be unlawful. Rather than repeatedly tinkering with the policy to try and comply with court orders, our next government should acknowledge the harm it has caused and scrap it entirely.”

Housing First

Plaid Cymru was also the only party to mention Housing First in their manifesto despite speculation Labour would commit to a national programme rolling out the model further in England. Housing First is widely credited with having a big impact on ending street homelessness in Finland and sees rough sleepers given a home alongside support for as long as they need. Three Westminster government pilots in England have been running for seven years but face an uncertain future beyond funding to 2025.

Disability benefits

The Big Issue has extensively covered the harrowing experiences faced by people navigating the disability benefits system. Nothing in the Labour or Conservative manifestos promised to deal with the scandal.

The Greens pledged to raise disability benefits by 5% and stop unfair personal independence payment (PIP) tests. The Lib Dems – whose leader Ed Davey has spoken about the issues facing carers on the campaign trail, citing his experiences with his disabled son John – promised to reform PIP assessments. The SNP said the party scrap proposed punitive welfare reforms for sick and disabled people.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? Get in touch and tell us moreBig Issue exists to give homeless and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy of the magazine or get the app from the App Store or Google Play.

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