Opinion

Why The Big Issue has launched a new campaign to End Housing Insecurity Now

The polls tell us that people are tired of austerity and underfunding, and have lost faith in the government

Illustration of people and houses

Illustration: Mateusz Napieralski

The biggest problem faced when you ask people what they think is them actually telling you. When that truth comes, reality bites.  For a long time, the Westminster government told everybody that due to lack of money they’d have to make cuts. The legitimacy of the austerity programme – taking from the poor to, well, take more from the poor – was emboldened by election victory in 2015. A further general election victory in 2019 that scored a massive majority must have left those in the big chair thinking, why hello – all those people out there believe in the righteousness of our political ideology. We can cut public spending, cut public services, make the case for small government and sail on the shining deck of the good ship market forces all the way to the bank. 

Then, last week, Lord Ashcroft published a poll. Ashcroft is a hugely wealthy businessman who, at one point, held senior positions in the administration of the Conservative Party, as well as being a major donor. Latterly a publisher and pollster, his readings on the temperature of the nation, and his publications working to move the political dial, have made him a force to be listened to regardless of your politics. Two key outcomes in his newest poll will make for uncomfortable reading for the party to whom he contributed so much. 

Two-thirds of those polled said they believe that “people have a right to things like decent housing, healthcare, education and enough to live on”. Tellingly, they added, “the government has a responsibility to make sure everyone has them.” Such findings make the Osborne-era of strivers and skivers, something that successive front benches have sought to reinvigorate, feel finished. The poll results also show that when push comes to shove, it’s not small statism that the majority are after. They want a government they can trust to do things they need, like make sure the schools are fit for kids to attend and doctors are there when needed. There is no demand for government to massively slim down. Which must be something of a knock after 13 years of pushing in that direction. The signs have been there for a while. 

Every time a train operator has run into trouble (frequently) it was the state that bailed them out and kept the wheels turning. There is strong support for a more nationalised rail service.  

More pressing for the Sunak government is another finding. Over 70% of people in Ashcroft’s poll said: “Britain is broken – people are getting poorer, nothing seems to work properly, and we need big changes to the way the country works.” 

You can’t spin that. You can’t tell people that you’re meeting your avowed commitments and that things are getting rosier when they see a different reality with their own eyes and live it with their own wallets.  

Besides, perception, when it’s widely set in, is every bit as potent as reality. And we’ve sailed rather far beyond perception. 

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At present, it’s becoming ever more difficult to see anything beyond a change of government at the next election. Though as Neil Kinnock will tell you, taking such things for granted can quickly make a fool of you.  

As the clock ticks down, there is still time for Rishi Sunak to effect useful and positive change, to show he is on the side of those most in need, rather than just saying he is.  

We have three asks in our End Housing Insecurity Now campaign. If the prime minister engaged with them – even one, Rishi! – it would improve the lives of millions of people who are facing incredibly difficult and uncertain futures. And if he were to do that, perhaps the next Ashcroft poll wouldn’t read like a horror story heading for a splatter ending. 

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter

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