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The battle lines have been drawn. On 9 May, with a mandate from 24% of the voting population, but enabled through the first-past-the-post electoral system, the Conservative Party secured the minimum number of seats to form a majority government. Less than 48 hours after David Cameron was re-elected, thousands of people across the country took to the streets to protest against austerity. Further protests are anticipated over the next few weeks.
Will the Government heed their call? We will soon find out on 8 July, when George Osborne unveils the new emergency budget.
Given the party’s commitment toward savage cuts in public spending, it is critical we are attentive to the impact of policies on the most vulnerable, and often voiceless, members of society. Ahead of the general election, Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP) conducted a poverty audit of the party manifestos.
This review was motivated by concern that the UK’s Lobbying Act would silence civil society groups that normally stand up for those who are marginalised. ASAP also wanted to explore the implications of austerity for broader sections of society.
We took poverty to be a social and dynamic phenomenon, defining it as the inability to flourish. Poverty happens when vital needs, like mental and physical health, are not fulfilled. In order to compare key policy areas which impact upon poverty we developed a methodology that was used by all authors. The methodology included scoring each party’s performance to allow voters to see the extent to which British society would flourish if a party came to power.
A multidisciplinary team undertook the impartial, rigorous and evidence-based analysis of the main political parties’ promises on domestic and international poverty. This analysis involved our authors and peer reviewers assessing over 500 pages of manifesto pledges across 14 policy areas. Ultimately our audit – which included academics from 21 universities, students, communications experts and policy professionals – showed that the Conservative Party consistently failed to develop policies that will address poverty in the United Kingdom.
Our poverty audit awarded the Conservative manifesto an average score of 1.7 out of 5. The score is effectively a vote of no confidence by our authors in the party’s ability to alleviate poverty or to create the conditions for British society to flourish now and in the future.
This poor overall performance reflects consistently low scores of 1 and 2 across key policy areas with the exception of just one area – money and banking – where it was awarded a middling 3. Particularly insipid thinking, meriting scores of 1 out of 5, appeared in the pivotal policy areas of employment, housing, crime and justice, and immigration.
Key reasons for the low confidence of our authors included insufficient details about the funding and implementation of policies, the application of a narrow lens to a policy area, an absence of joined-up thinking and in some cases contradictory proposals. Taken together, they indicate that the party itself is unclear on how it will guide the nation to “a brighter, more secure future”.
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The Conservative party manifesto was released just over three weeks before the election – an inadequate period for the electorate to engage with their pledges or appreciate the wide-ranging deficiencies that it contained. Now in government, we believe that the party must be accountable for the positive commitments it made and work urgently to address weaknesses and inconsistencies in its proposals.
How do we get there? We believe that grassroots activism, systems thinking and evidenced-based policy will be crucial for the UK to become a flourishing society.
Democracy is not just about elections. It is also about active participation in political and civic life. As a post-election exercise we have summarised policy highlights from the Conservative manifesto, to encourage concerned citizens to engage with the issues of poverty and inequality. Please read the highlights and take a #StandAgainstPoverty: start a conversation with friends and family, speak to your MP and participate in initiatives organised by civil society organisations working on these issues.
With 13 million people already experiencing poverty in this country, it is critical that the government makes informed decisions when implementing new policies and budget cuts. It is also essential that the impact of policies and future budget cuts for different socio-economic groups (e.g. across class, ethnicity, gender and age), regions and future generations is clearly understood from the outset.
HM Treasury’s The Green Book is used by Whitehall to appraise new policies before they are implemented. The Green Book advises that new policies should be assessed according to their “impacts on various groups in society”. We call upon the Government to make compassionate conservatism a reality by sharing the forecasted societal and regional impact of new policies with the public and by ensuring societal and regional impact analysis underpins the forthcoming “emergency austerity” budget.
The UK chapter of ASAP will continue to monitor poverty in the UK. Our work is part of a growing trend of independent impact assessments that address issues which should be at the cornerstone of policy making. We intend to hold the Government to account on its promise to create a brighter and more secure future where we can all flourish.
We will update our website with more details in October. Please sign up to our mailing list if you would like to be kept informed. Until then we urge you to stay involved by keeping the conversation alive.