Opinion

How to talk about politics with your family this Christmas

Here’s how to respond to some of the big political issues so you can keep it civil and state the facts when the debate is getting heated.

Conversations can get heated at Christmas but it's important to not get personal. Image: Nicole Michalou/Pexels

Ah, Christmas. Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, rosy-cheeked children building snowmen in the park, and adults arguing furiously over the political issues and generational divides of the year after a little too much mulled wine and brandy butter.

It can help to come to these conversations with the facts to hand. Everyone has their opinions and everyone deserves their say but it’s important to clear up any misinformation or misunderstanding going around.

Here’s how to respond to some of the key issues so you can keep it civil and state the facts when the debate is getting heated! We know it’s hard sometimes to stay calm, but remember  making it personal will only make people defensive, by which point they’ve stopped listening. And if we’re going to make change for the better, we have to be understanding and do it together.

Housing

1. “If young people just saved up and spent less money on holidays and Netflix they would be able to afford a house.”

It’s a view shared by half the British public: young people are just too frivolous with their money. Lattes and Netflix, avocado and holidays. If young people saved instead of spent they could buy a house!

Let’s break it down though. In comparison to average earnings, house prices have almost doubled since the 1990s  And people 35 and under are far more likely to be living in the private rented sector. This makes it extra hard to save up money as rent prices are through the roof.

The average salary for people in their 30s is £34,000, dropping to £27,000 for people in their 20s. When the average deposit for first-time buyers is £30,000 what chance do young people have? 

2. This is a difficult time for landlords too, they are struggling to pay their mortgages and have lots of extra costs from owning a house.

This isn’t about landlords vs. tenants, it is about bad policy-making. 

Current and previous governments sold off social housing and failed to meet housebuilding targets. The lack of housing makes the market unevenly swayed towards landlords, leading to extortionate rent hikes. 

We need more affordable housing built and more rights for renters. 

3. Tenants are only usually evicted if they don’t pay their rent on time, or if they treat the house badly. 

Let us introduce the concept of Section 21 evictions. Section 21 evictions are ‘no fault’ evictions and allow private landlords to evict tenants without having to give a reason. That’s right. 

There’s a reason they were banned during the pandemic. But now they’re back with a vengeance and are up by 76 per cent from last year and are the biggest cause of homelessness.

Low wages

1. Of course everyone would like more money, but it’s economically unfeasible to raise the minimum wage.

A record number of people in this country are below the poverty line, and have to resort to food banks and warm banks to survive. Meanwhile, profits for large companies reached record levels at the end of last year. UK billionaires have over £650bn between them. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

Raising the minimum wage to a level that allows people to get a foothold on their finances would not only benefit them, but benefit the country on the whole. Workers would spend it in shops and save it for things like, I don’t know, a deposit for a house rather than squirrelling it away in a bank account on the Cayman islands. 

And there is evidence that a £15 minimum wage would be affordable even for small businesses, as the government could lower national insurance contributions to compensate for increased wages.

2. Strikes are damaging this country and putting out ordinary people.

Trade union strikes have provided us with a two day weekend, minimum wage, annual leave, pensions, maternity leave amongst many other rights we enjoy today. 

When it comes to the NHS, nurses and paramedics have been sharing heartbreaking tales of how the NHS is already broken because of a decade of funding cuts. They are striking to save it because they can see it is already on its last legs.

It might be a small inconvenience for us over a day or two, but workers wouldn’t strike, risk losing their jobs and lose out on pay if they felt negotiation deals were fair.

3. The job market is better than it has ever been – there are more people in work now than ever before. 

This was a Boris Johnson special and a false statement he was corrected on publicly at least nine times. The truth is there are 600,000 fewer people in work than before the pandemic. 

And while we have a relatively high employment rate at the moment not all of these are decent jobs. Almost 4 million people in the UK are in insecure work, according to the TUC

This is not the case in other countries such as New Zealand and Germany, where all employees are given the same rights from day one and zero-hour contracts are banned.

Climate Justice

1. Of course it would be great to tackle climate change, but the biggest issues currently are the cost of living and energy crisis. 

The energy crisis could have been avoided if the government invested in renewable energy and insulating homes when it said it would — more than 10 years ago. These policies would also create millions of new jobs, lower bills and end our reliance on fossil fuels. 

All of these crises are linked to the way our economy is organised. Energy companies’ profits skyrocketed whilst the rest of us are suffering the consequences. 

2. Activists like Just Stop Oil and other environmental groups are just creating havoc for society in an irresponsible way. 

You may not agree with their tactics but activists take direct action to draw attention to an issue. Similar tactics have been used throughout successful social movements to produce change, such as the UK suffragettes and the American civil rights movement. 

Given the urgency of the climate emergency, you can see why activists would use whatever tactics necessary to raise awareness and start conversations. Especially when, throughout history, they are tactics which secured the rights we enjoy today.

3. The media is creating a mountain out of a molehill – the government is doing what it can to solve the climate crisis. 

The UK is not on track to meet climate targets in line with the Paris Agreement. The UN recently warned that there is no credible pathway to limit the rise in global temperature to just 1.5C. And to top it off, the UK has just opened the first new coal mine in 30 years, despite concern from MPs and experts about the impact on the climate.

There is definitely more we can all do to solve the climate crisis. But only the government has the power to make some of the changes we need. And they’re not making those choices.

The Big Issue’s #BigFutures campaign is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future. 

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