tick box ticked with equality next to it as though on a ballot paper

The next General Election could be won on eradicating inequality

This is a guest blog by Caroline Tosal-Suprun, Network Manager at the Structural Inequalities Alliance. Her post is a comment piece on the polling and report by Stop the Squeeze focusing on key elections issues among swing voters. 

Regardless of which part of the country we live in, how we are educated or how much our parents earned, we all have the right to a safe, warm, dry home, nutritious food at every meal, an opportunity to contribute and a doctor’s appointment when we need one. 

New research from Stop the Squeeze (StS) signals that voters crave bold policy solutions to the cost of living crisis, the NHS and the economy. The three big challenges of our times are intrinsically related.

“Pull a thread here and you’ll find it’s attached to the rest of the world.”

                                                                                                            Nadeem Aslam

Financial hardship has evidenced links to stress and anxiety, with particularly severe impacts reported for those who have to go without basics and essentials such as food or heating. Waiting lists for mental health support can vary vastly from weeks to months depending on age group or region. Nursing staff are accessing food banks. NHS positions are increasingly harder to fill.  Last year 17 million working days were lost to stress, depression or anxiety. Persistent absenteeism has almost doubled during the cost of living crisis. This will affect chances of well paid, stable employment, good housing and so on. The building blocks on which society is founded are broken. 

Without acknowledging and addressing the deep rooted structural inequalities perpetuating unequal access to health, wealth and power, policies will only ever offer short-term solutions to a long-term problem. The StS polling shows that voters are in favour of taxing the rich to fund support, which would be a great start to repairing these blocks so we can create a society where everybody can thrive. 

What if our political parties came out to discuss the difficulties in creating holistic policies? Because that’s what we need; policies founded on a deep understanding of the nuances of people’s life experiences. “Resolution Foundation estimates that the inflation rate for the poorest 10% of households is 12.5%; in contrast, it’s 9.6% for the richest 10%.” People don’t start off equal and therefore need a range of interventions and support to have the same quality of life – something the energy price cap intervention did not take into consideration. The IFS estimated that half of the government spend on the price guarantee would benefit the top earners, whilst leaving those on low incomes to face the highest proportion to their household spend on energy. For some it means no holiday, or putting off renovating, for others it means no beds, no food, no gas and electricity.

The impacts of the cost of living crisis are disproportionately felt by the most disadvantaged groups in our society. Much as the pandemic demonstrated, single parents, women, people with disabilities, people of colour and low-income households feel the immediate and long lasting impacts of such traumatic events.  People living well are more productive, creative, they spend more contributing to the economy and they are less reliant on health services. The upcoming election is an opportunity for our elected leaders to show they are uniquely positioned to create policies which enable a thriving society and economy by tackling structural inequalities.  

From people earning £180k a year to people accessing universal credit, everyone in the UK is feeling the impact of the cost of living crisis. That’s a huge opportunity to pick up voters along the way. 

StS polling shows 85% of voters say they do not have a good idea of what any of our parties will do to tackle the cost of living crisis. Perhaps politicians are avoiding the issue because it is deeply complex and nuanced. Current housing, education, employment and transport policies are mostly failing to improve living standards. 

Whilst equality is better for everyone (Wilkinson and Pickett 2009), what we should all be discussing is the cost of inequality. And whilst there are no easy fixes, the Structural Inequalities Alliance urge policy professionals to develop solutions based on these principles: 

1. Fairness & equality

For all citizens to reach their full potential and have a good quality of life policy must shift focus toward equality of outcome.

2. Intersectionality & evidence

We must better understand the challenges and intersectional nature of inequality and what works in dismantling structural inequalities. Expertise can be found in empirical data and from people’s lived experiences.

3. Participation

To change the structure of society we must change who gets to design it. Therefore people directly impacted by policy should be partners in all aspects of policy development including, but not limited to planning, decision making and accountability.