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Hundreds of charities push for hardship to be top of British Prime Minister’s priorities from day one

Guest content
01 July 2024

Share The World's Resources has joined over 200 organisations committed to ending poverty in calling on the next British Prime Minister to put tackling hardship at the top of their agenda from day one. 

Frustrated by the "stark lack of focus" from Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer during the campaign, the diverse network of organisations placed their message that hardship must be at the top of the Prime Minister's to-do list in national newspapers with one week to go until the election result.

The leaders of UK's political parties have faced questions from the public on the campaign trail about levels of hardship in the UK, as JRF reveals the relentless reality of years-long hardship. Our latest research found:

  • 7 million low-income households (60%) were forced to go without essentials like food, adequate clothing and basic toiletries in the six months to May 2024.
  • 5 million low-income households (42%) took fewer showers or baths due to cost during the cost-of-living crisis so far.
  • 7 in 10 (71%) low-income households in the bottom 20% of incomes were going without essentials in May this year, the same as May last year.

The latest JRF cost of living tracker, completed in the same month the election was called, also found over a third of low-income families, 4.3m households are in arrears with at least one household bill or credit commitment. 1.2 million low-income households are in arrears with four or more bills.

In the past year, food banks in the Trussell Trust network distributed a record 3.1m emergency food parcels.

Over the past 5 years, the number of people experiencing destitution more than doubled. Four million experienced destitution in 2022 including one million children.

The letter signed by organisations including the Trussell Trust, Citizens Advice, Crisis, Age UK, Barnardo's, Mencap, Scope, Mental Health Foundation and many more, says, "it is clear [the public] want to see action and commitments to turn this situation around so that no one is forced to go without the essentials or need a food bank to survive."

Paul Kissack, Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “It is astonishing that with 7 million households going without essentials and record numbers of emergency food parcels being provided neither Rishi Sunak nor Keir Starmer are offering any practical measures to tackle this hardship with the urgency required. Addressing this emergency will need to be right at the top of the Prime Minister’s ‘to-do list’ after the election."

Helen Barnard, Director of Policy at Research and Impact at the Trussell Trust, said:

“For too many years now, food bank need has risen because people on the lowest incomes simply do not have the money to afford the essentials. Ensuring the UK’s social security system is fit for purpose and provides enough support for people to afford the essentials is vital for building a future without the need for food banks.

“We know that hardship is an issue the public are deeply concerned about and the next Government has a responsibility to lead us into a more hopeful future, one where people are supported and food banks can close their doors for good.”

Tom MacInnes, Interim Director of Policy at Citizens Advice, said:

“Citizens Advice is helping 6,000 people every day with cost-of-living issues. They can't pay rent. They can't buy food. Millions are just about surviving.

“Politicians have been skirting around the issue but have failed to offer real solutions. People want to know what will actually be done to help them. Party leaders still haven't shown what they’d do for households who have more going out than coming in.

“This is the living standards election and that's what voters will judge the next government on.”

James Taylor, Director of Strategy at Scope, said:

“Life has always cost more for disabled people. Buying essentials is swallowing up ever more cash, and prices – particularly of the basics - continue to rise.

“Our politicians need to hear this message loud and clear. We’re hearing from disabled people who are rationing how often they shower and use their powered wheelchair to get them to the toilet.

“The next government must tackle the unfair extra costs disabled people face, and break the link between disability and poverty.”

Mark Rowland, CEO of the Mental Health Foundation, said:

“Poverty and financial hardship are key drivers of poor mental health. Our research has shown that many people across the UK are feeling anxious, stressed, and hopeless due to increasing cost pressures and uncertainty surrounding their financial situation.”

“We need any future government to take more action to lessen the financial pressure people are experiencing, which is key to preventing poor mental health. This must involve a comprehensive plan to reduce poverty and economic inequality as well as taking a trauma-informed approach to reduce the poverty stigma associated with accessing public services. We need government to make sure all their decisions take into account the mental health impact on those affected, especially those most at risk of financial difficulty.”

Lynn Perry, CEO of Barnardo’s, said:

“Millions of families across the UK are struggling to afford basic necessities – be that food, toiletries or for many, even a bed to sleep in. Children growing up in poverty go to school hungry, they miss out on opportunities to learn and struggle with poor health long into adulthood.

“We call on the next UK government to tackle this issue head-on, including ending the two-child benefit cap – which would immediately lift 300,000 children out of poverty - and committing to an essentials guarantee in Universal Credit. This would be an investment in the health and future prospects of millions of children.”

The letter

Dear Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer,

We are writing to you as a diverse network of organisations united by our shared desire to see an end to poverty and hardship in the UK.

This general election is taking place against a backdrop of deep and growing hardship. Just last month (May), 7 million low-income households were forced to go without essentials like food, adequate clothing and basic toiletries, and over the past year, food banks in the Trussell Trust network distributed a record 3.1 million emergency food parcels. Most shockingly of all, almost 4 million people, including 1 million children, experienced destitution in 2022, more than double the rate from five years previously.

Such levels of hardship are unacceptable in the UK and cannot be allowed to continue. The public are deeply concerned about the situation and believe it is the UK Government’s responsibility to right this wrong. It is clear they want to see action and commitments to turn this situation around so that no one is forced to go without essentials or to need a food bank to survive.

Yet right now there is a stark lack of focus from either of you on how you intend to tackle these issues if elected as Prime Minister next month. Families facing such levels of hardship cannot wait for the promise of growth, nor should they have to, the UK is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and has the resources to act now. Failing to do so is a political choice.

Together, we call on you to urgently set out a plan to help provide immediate relief to families struggling with hardship, as well as commit to developing a serious and ambitious strategy to build a future where everyone can afford the essentials, and no one needs a food bank to survive.

Yours sincerely,

Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Over 200 organisations committed to ending poverty