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Poverty - Pensioner's hand holding a collection of British coins
Last updated October 2016

We can solve poverty in the UK

Dominic Fox discusses tidal changes in the approach to social justice and practical campaigns to help those living in poverty.

At the recent ACO Autumn Summit we reflected on the words of Teresa May, recently installed by her party as Prime Minister. She paid tribute to her predecessor on the steps of 10 Downing Street thus: "David's true legacy is not about the economy but about social justice.

"That means fighting against the burning injustice that if you're born poor you will die on average nine years earlier than others. If you're black you are treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you're white. If you're a white working-class boy you're less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university. If you're at a state school you're less likely to reach the top professions than if you're educated privately. If you're a woman you will earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there's not enough help to hand. If you're young you will find it harder than ever before to own your own home. If you're from an ordinary working-class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise".

She pledged that her government would not be driven by the interests of the privileged few. "When we take the big calls we will think not of the powerful. When we pass new laws we will listen not to the mighty. When it comes to taxes we will prioritise not the wealthy".

In the meantime the fact that the country voted to exit the European Union, which led to her elevation, is exercising and inflaming public discourse. The Prime Minister took a harder line at the Conservative Party conference, signalling a tack to the right and hard Brexit. This spooked the business community, worried about an exit from the single market and customs union. The pound started plunging downwards even as she spoke. As one HSBC strategist, David Bloom, said "The currency is now the de facto official opposition to the government's policies".

Tesco's UK boss warned that food price inflation could prove highly toxic for shoppers and those on a tight budget. Matt Davies said: "Everybody should be very, very clear how damaging food inflation is to the economy, to retail businesses and manufacturing businesses and how lethal it could be for millions of people struggling to live from week to week." He spoke out after Tesco became involved in a very public disagreement with one of its main suppliers, Unilever, after the maker of brands such as Marmite and Persil demanded an across-the-board 10% rise in prices in light of the post-referendum devaluation of the pound.

Hard-working families receiving working-age benefits stand to lose out as a result of higher inflation forecasts since the vote to leave the European Union, the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned, as inflation jumped to 1% in September, a two-year high. Don't forget that in last July's Budget, George Osborne announced a four-year freeze on many benefits - including tax credits, housing benefit and personal independence payments. The IFS said claimants stood to lose 4% of the value of their benefits in cash terms as a result of the freeze, meaning 11.5 million families would be an average of £360 a year worse off.

With the resources at their disposal it is becoming increasingly obvious that charitable organisations will play an important role in maintaining the social fabric. Our keynote speaker at the York summit was Julia Unwin, Chief Executive, Joseph Rowntree Foundation. She told delegates about the new JRF strategy, called: "We can solve poverty in the UK".

Joseph Rowntree was one of this country's great philanthropists, who used his personal wealth to promote social reform and left much of his wealth in trust to promote understanding of, and action on, the underlying causes of social ills. Today, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation is an independent organisation inspiring social change through research, policy and practice work, and actively works with its global investment managers and other partners to promote responsible investment. In addition, JRF has committed £15m to social investment, to support projects that aim to tackle poverty, but would not necessarily be financed through conventional means.

JRF wants to work with others to support initiatives that tackle the underlying causes of poverty. They want organisations to test and scale products, services or social businesses that offer good value to low-income consumers. They seek to end poverty premiums and develop the social lending market to enable providers of affordable credit to modernise their offer (for example, with internet or smartphone applications) by providing loan capital. An important factor is supporting the development of processes and administration behind these products and services.

They want to link up affordable credit providers with providers of basic household items (such as white goods and furniture). Social enterprise letting agencies should work to raise standards in the private rented sector and support tenants to maintain tenancies, and energy providers should develop new, better value offers for pre-payment meter customers.

The Foundation hopes more philanthropists will follow in Joseph Rowntree's footsteps in supporting poverty reduction, and that wealthy individuals establish funds to foster solutions to poverty, particularly those designed and implemented by or with people experiencing poverty. Existing charities, and particularly grant-making trusts and foundations, are urged to recognise poverty and prioritise it where possible.

I heartedly recommend you read the report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. It really is within our power to help solve poverty in the UK.

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