Social Justice

Keir Starmer promises 'sunlight of hope' – but can he offer progress on ending poverty in the UK?

Charities have given an urgent warning to the new Labour government – telling Keir Starmer that he must work towards tackling poverty in the UK as a matter of urgency

Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer has promised that Labour will bring change. But will he actually achieve it? Image: Flickr/ Keir Starmer

Keir Starmer has hailed the Labour landslide as offering “sunlight of hope”, but the truth is the new government faces a bleak backdrop. There are 14 million people living in poverty. The country is reeling from a cost of living crisis.

People are angry. They are tired. Many people do not have enough money to survive. And if this election result is anything to go by, it is undeniable that people want change.

Starmer promised to be as “bold as Attlee” in alleviating poverty in the UK and growing the economy. However, his party has faced criticism for its vague promises of reform and there are fears Labour will not go nearly far enough to ensure that the poorest get the support they so desperately need.

There are no plans to scrap the two-child limit, which could lift 250,000 children out of poverty immediately. There are indications that Starmer will take a tough approach to social security. And there are no official plans to make the benefits system more compassionate for people who are disabled or too ill to work.

Still, it’s all to play for and the Labour government has shown such caution in outlining their plans that it’s difficult to know exactly what they might do now they are in power. They also have a massive majority, which will make it far easier for them to enact change.

Previous Labour governments under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown invested billions into the welfare system and, as a result, there was a pretty substantial drop in poverty. But will Keir Starmer do the same?

Lord John Bird, founder of the Big Issue, said: “To Sir Keir and his new government, I say this – the people of the UK have put their trust in you. It’s now your responsibility to change things for the 14 million people in this country that live in poverty. 

“For the 3.8 million people experiencing destitution, fighting every day to feed, clothe and keep themselves warm. The buck stops with you. There can be no greater priority for your administration than ending the moral stain on this nation that is poverty.”



The Big Issue’s ‘Blueprint for Change’ outlined a series of proposals for the next government to help end poverty for good. These included an ‘essentials guarantee’ to be implemented into universal credit so people can afford the basics they need to survive, more social and affordable housing, free school meals for all children and better workers’ rights.

Thomas Lawson, chief executive of anti-poverty charity Turn2us, said: “As the new Labour government prepares to take office, there are critical opportunities to seize that will make badly needed progress on poverty. They have the power to transform millions of lives.

“Every day, people tell us that they can’t keep up with the cost of food, energy, and housing. Far too many people are being dragged deeper into poverty by a system that fails to grasp the reality of their lives.

“Tackling the stigma that perpetuates inequality is the first step to strengthening our society, where all of us can afford the basics, live with dignity and thrive. We urge the new government to immediately scrap the unfair two-child limit and commit to ensuring everyone receiving universal credit can at least afford essentials.”

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, people are still battling to afford the essentials as the cost of living crisis continues.

Helen Barnard, the director of policy, research and impact at the Trussell Trust, said: “These numbers are extremely shocking, and it is clear this cannot be allowed to continue. The food banks in our network do an incredible job supporting people in their local communities who are struggling to get by, but they are at breaking point.

“For too many years now, food bank need has risen because people on the lowest incomes simply do not have enough money to afford the essentials. We know the new government faces an extremely challenging backdrop and competing demands, but taking urgent action to reduce hardship and ensuring people can afford the essentials must be top of mind. The public will judge this government on whether it succeeds in reversing the tide of hunger, hardship and debt which is impacting so many people in this country.”

An open letter has been delivered to the new prime minister by members of the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN), urging the new Labour government to take immediate action to alleviate poverty.

“No one should have to turn to charity to be able to eat,” it reads. “Yet, over more than a decade, increasing numbers of people have been pushed to the doors of independent food banks and other food aid providers because they haven’t got enough money to afford food. As the UK poverty crisis has escalated, the charitable food aid sector has been pushed past breaking point.

“Food banks and other food aid services are being asked to do the impossible as they do their utmost to support growing numbers of people unable to afford food. These include both people in work whose wages are not enough to cover the cost of living as well as people who are already receiving all their social security entitlements but are still not able to make ends meet.”

Labour has promised to take action against rising levels of child poverty in the UK. Around 700,000 children have been plunged into poverty since the Tories came into power in 2010, taking the total to more than four million.

But one of the key criticisms of Labour’s plans – including from its own MPs – has been its failure to commit to scrapping the two-child limit.

Joseph Howes, chair of the End Child Poverty Coalition and chief executive of Buttle UK, said: “On behalf of more than 120 organisations working to eradicate child poverty, we congratulate Keir Starmer and the Labour party on their election win. We welcome their commitment to tackling child poverty in their election manifesto.

“Now is the time to act: on behalf of the 1.5 million children impacted by the cruel two-child limit to benefit payments, which pushes families into poverty – we call for immediate action to scrap this policy. Children cannot wait any longer, and as a society we cannot allow vulnerable families to continue living in poverty.”

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