How far will the main UK political parties go to stand against poverty?
Written by Elizabeth Harrison and Eleanor Jew
“With approximately 13 million people currently living in poverty in the UK, we believe it is time to shift the debate about poverty, which should not be seen as inevitable. Our aim is to transform the nature of information about poverty and support interested citizens make informed decisions when they vote on 7th May”.
Today, a report was released by Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP) on the political commitment to poverty in the UK and abroad by the five main UK political parties. Over the last few weeks a team of voluntary academics and peer reviewers have been analysing the General Election manifestos of the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, UKIP, Green parties and scoring them on 14 key areas to assess the impact of their policies on UK and global poverty. As explained in the Executive Summary of the Report: “the people that came together under the ASAP UK Election Manifesto Poverty Audit were all motivated by the urge to ensure poverty – in all its complexity - is discussed during this General Election”.
We were asked by Y Care International to help this discussion by disseminating these results as widely as we could. To begin with we feel it is important to outline the key findings as soon as possible to give interested people the change to read the full 53 page audit. Over the weekend we too will be reading the audit, and will provide a more in-depth overview of the findings. We’ll try to understand how realistic the plans are because at the end of the day we’d rather vote for something that will work, rather than something that sounds great.
ASAP define poverty broadly as “the inability to flourish”, consider it as a social and dynamic phenomenon, and emphasise the factors beyond income that can create and/or exacerbate circumstances of poverty. More information and a report on the definition and approach can be found half way down the page at: www.UKPovertyAudit.org
Using this broad definition of poverty, the political manifestos were scored on 12 key areas:
Here we outline the results for the 12 key areas as written in the report to give a brief overview of the main findings. We have colour coded them for easier identification of each party:
- On Crime and Justice, the Greens score highly, reflecting good consideration of regional differences and differences across age groups. The Lib Dems also do well. Conservatives and Labour did poorly because they “merely suggest more innovative ways of criminalising people and creating more prison spaces to lock them in”.
- On Disability, the Greens and Lib Dems score very highly because of their comprehensive response to disability and explicit commitment to disability rights, followed closely by Labour. UKIP scores moderately, followed by the Conservatives who scored poorly.
- On Education, Greens, Lib Dems and Labour all score equally highly, whereas Conservatives and UKIP score equally poorly. This primarily reflects consideration of different age groups, socio-economic backgrounds and household composition, as well as the transparency around proposed policies.
- On Work and Employment, Greens scored moderately, with Labour and the Lib Dems scoring poorly and the Conservatives and UKIP generating “very low confidence” in their policies. No parties were considered better than “moderate”, due to lack of consideration for different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds, household compositions and regions of the UK. Greens were judged to have the most sustainable and transparent policies around employment that acknowledged the impact for different age groups and different sexual orientations and genders.
- On Fiscal Policy, there were no scores higher than “moderate confidence”. Greens and Labour achieve this, followed by the Conservatives, with UKIP generating very low confidence in their proposed fiscal policy.
- On Health, Lib Dems and Greens scored much higher than the Conservatives and Labour, both at “2”, and UKIP at “1”. In the words of the author: “Labour’s manifesto section on health lacks detail and bite, whilst UKIP is too focused on minor concerns and the Conservatives’ bears the hallmark of an incumbent player. Conclusively, the Greens and Liberal Democrats manifesto offerings in healthcare most enable a person and community to flourish”.
- On Housing, Greens score highly, reflecting detailed use of current data to justify policies such as scrapping the ‘Bedroom Tax’ and high scores on equity questions. Labour and Lib Dems score moderately, with the author noting Labour’s reference to trends in homelessness and the Lib Dems proposals of a Green Buildings Act and further development of the Green Investment Bank. The Conservatives and UKIP score poorly, with the former making no reference to current trends in housing and the latter lacking clarity on statistics used.
- On Immigration, the Greens score highly, with their consideration of the need for migrants to have a family life making their policies socially sustainable in the long run. The Lib Dems score moderately, acknowledging the sustainability of combining a liberal asylum approach with a commitment to get asylum seekers into work. Labour, the Conservatives and UKIP score poorly due to the potential impact on local economies of their policies restricting lower skilled immigrants.
- On Migration and Security, the results on Immigration were replicated, with a sense that the Greens had the best grasp on the wider geo-political context of migration and did not just frame migrants as a threat. Although Labour and the Lib Dems also acknowledged this, their focus on the physical security of the UK’s borders was deemed unsustainable. The Conservatives and UKIP scored poorly due to their stigmatised characterisation of migrant behaviour and simplistic understanding of the link between context, migration and security.
- On Money and Banking, the Greens scored highly for their radical proposals on financial reform focused on addressing inequalities and fallout from the financial crisis, including controls on lending and payday loans, cancellation of student debt and the separation of retail and investment banking. Labour, the Conservatives and Lib Dems all score moderately, with the author noting their continued reliance on finance-lead growth and under-development of reforms. UKIP scores poorly due to the lack of acknowledgement of issues around debt and credit access and no suggestion of the need for financial reform.
- On Social Security, the Greens, Labour and Lib Dems do moderately. This reflects the opinion that Labour and the Lib Dems are likely to continue with current reforms, leading to limited improvement in addressing poverty. The Greens are acknowledged as shifting the debate towards more radical solutions, however the sustainability and suitability of their basic income proposal is called into question. The Conservatives and UKIP score poorly as their proposals seek to move further towards very basic provision of welfare. Overall, parties perform worse than on other issues, with the author highlighting concern for how policies apart from those of the Greens may affect levels of child poverty in particular.
- On Sustainability and the Environment, the Greens do best –gaining a “pretty high confidence” score, with Lib Dems a point down, the Conservatives and Labour together a point below that, and UKIP scoring “very low”. This largely reflects the extent to which the parties engaged with the large-scale and long-term challenges posed by the environment.
Here is also a brief overview of findings by party, again taken from the Executive Summary of the report:
- The Greens scored consistently the highest, and didn’t receive less than a '3' in any area. Although, there are questions around how far they would be able to meet these commitments in practice (when it comes to resourcing and implementation) on commitments alone this is where they come out. A common theme that came out was that – unlike other parties - their policies were more far-sighted, addressed the structural causes of problems (like Housing) and looked systematically at the impact on different parts of UK society
- The Conservatives and UKIP both performed fairly badly. The highest score was a “3” (medium confidence) on disability for UKIP, and on Money and Banking for the Conservatives. UKIP scored higher than the Conservatives on Disability and Housing. The Conservatives scored higher than UKIP on Health, Fiscal Policy, and Money and Banking.
- Labour scored well below average on confidence levels across the board, despite a full point better than the Conservative party in most policy areas. Their highest scores were on Education and Disability. And the lowest was on Crime and Justice.
- The Lib Dems scored second highest, after the Greens, on average – though authors still only had “moderate confidence” in their policies. They scored comparably highly on two policy areas, Disability and Health, as well as additionally doing better than Labour on Crime and Justice, Immigration, Migration and Security, and Sustainability and Environment.
To read the report and discover more findings and areas of analysis, please go to www.UKPovertyAudit.org. As the ASAP Co-Chairs wrote at the end of their introduction to the report:
“Please read this audit. Please dispute our scores. Please tell us if you agree with our assessments. But above all, please contribute to a public debate on the impact of parties’ policies on poverty”.
Follow the debate by following Academics Stand Against Poverty on Facebook and on Twitter @AcademicsStand. Also follow the debate on Twitter with #StandAgainstPoverty.