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ELECTION DAY: Reflecting on our Local Elections Event


Today, Thursday 2nd May, voters will have the opportunity to select over 2,600 councillors and 10 metro mayors, marking the final local elections before the upcoming general election. We have found ourselves amidst a dynamic political landscape across the UK. Significant events such as the resignation of Humza Yousaf, the Scottish National Party’s first minister, alongside the persistent challenges posed by the cost-of-living crisis and the ongoing debates surrounding the Renters Reform bill in parliament have commanded widespread public attention. Moreover, divisive discussions surrounding ULEZ policies, mounting housing waiting lists, the Israel and Gaza conflict, and the recent implementation of the controversial Elections Act 2022 which mandates voter ID, add layers of complexity to the present political period. In light of these pressing issues and the nature of the UK’s political environment and social issues, it is imperative that we convene events to address and engage with these critical matters affecting our communities. 


Last Thursday, April 25th, Voice4Change England (V4CE) hosted an online Local Election Event, featuring presentations and panel discussions centred around pressing issues, particularly emphasising the cost-of-living crisis. The event, led by V4CE Director Kunle Olulode, showcased speakers including Anjona Roy, Chief Executive Officer of Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council; Bashir Uddin, CEO of Bangla Housing Association; Jahanara Khanom, Director of Operations for Rooted Finance; Jennifer Wat, Environmental Strategy Intern at V4CE; Jonathan Thomas, Director of Afrinomica; and Ugo Ikokwu, Grants Manager at Trust for London and Trustee for Barratt Foundation.


Our speakers spotlighted the long-term consequences of the crisis and austerity measures, advocating for strategies to ensure future stability for all, with a particular emphasis on Black and Minoritised Ethnic (BME) communities that have been disproportionately affected. Topics included climate change, food insecurity, housing instability, the necessity of visionary leadership and the disproportionate effects on areas with lower socioeconomic status.   


The Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey suggests that roughly 80% of the factors worsening the cost-of-living challenge are global in nature, including the COVID-19 pandemic, an energy shortage, supply chain disruptions, and Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The remaining 20% includes labour shortages relating to Brexit, the energy price cap, an increase in national insurance, and a rise in council tax.  


Jonathan Thomas,  Economist and Director of Afrinomica, presented a scenario at the event, outlining the personal impacts of the cost-of-living crisis and inflation. Let's say you found £1,000 under your mattress and you decided to keep it there. If the Bank of England kept the annual inflation rate at the 2% target, then after ten years your savings will be worth around £820. If instead the inflation rate is 5% then after ten years, your £1,000 will be worth only about £600. Saving money during a cost-of-living crisis whilst dealing with increasing inflation rates can feel almost impossible – this scenario highlights the challenges individuals face in preserving the value of their cash savings during times of economic uncertainty. Jonathan also presented the key point of how the income distribution tends to widen in times of high inflation - households in the bottom 20% were struggling to make ends meet whereas households in the top 20% had seen their wealth grow over the past few years. A decade of austerity and stagnated economic growth, combined with a pandemic and conflict on the world stage has brought the worst outcomes for those with the lowest incomes.  

 

Inflation is not the only measurement that can be used to track the changes in our social domain over a significant period. In the next 30 years, food supply and food security will be severely threatened if little or no action is taken to address climate change and the food system's vulnerability to it. In this current year of 2024, England faced its wettest 18 months since records began in 1836. Our climate has become a stark reality warned by scientists: record rainfalls, vanishing sea ice, melting glaciers, and more intense heat waves. NASA has stated that our Earth will continue to warm, and the effects will be profound. 

 

Jennifer Wat, Environmental Strategy Intern at V4CE, presented how furthering our dependence on fossil fuels is driving both the cost-of-living and climate crisis, making life on this planet more precarious instead of redirecting these investments into green initiatives including renewable energy sources, home insulation and low-carbon and efficient transport. The consequences are concerning – they include more frequent crop failures, direct impact on infrastructure, transport and services due to extreme weather events, further pressure on the NHS through climate-related disease and illness and the emergence of novel infections with pandemic potential. Whilst food shortage poses an emergency, it could disproportionately affect those reliant on culturally appropriate foods. Anjona Roy, Chief Executive Officer of Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council, advocates for innovative solutions such as community fridges, a concept she successfully implemented in her local community in Northamptonshire. In Northampton, the county town of Northamptonshire, it was discovered that individuals from Eastern European, Black, or Asian communities were experiencing the greatest challenges during the cost-of-living crisis due to their lack of access to public funds, putting them at risk of exploitation. Anjona calls for policy implementation to address these pressing issues towards BME communities.  

 

The juxtaposition of Hackney's vibrant cultural scene with its persistent socioeconomic challenges paints a complex picture of the London borough. Whilst its streets may be full of colourful art and its venues showcasing musical talent, behind the scenes, many residents grapple with daunting disparities. The statistics paint a stark reality: high rates of child poverty, above-average levels of general poverty, and a significant portion of low-paid jobs reflect a community struggling to make ends meet. Bashir Uddin, CEO of Bangla Housing Association, highlighted the financial challenges Hackney residents are struggling with, such as increased debts, family disputes, physical and mental health, low self-esteem, and lower social development. Due to these factors, there is a higher chance of vulnerable people getting involved in crime. Bangla Housing Association continues to assist the people of Hackney, such as providing debt management advice, supplying grants and supplying food for vulnerable families. From the government, structural change is needed for targeted interventions and support systems to address these underlying issues and encourage a more equitable future for all Hackney residents. 

 

2024 is a year marked by elections and an increasing number of crises for communities and their livelihoods. During the panel discussion, Ugo Ikokwu, Grants Manager at Trust for London and Trustee for Barratt Foundation, emphasised the urgent need for visionary and empathetic leadership for the people of Britain. The housing crisis is one of the significant primary drivers of poverty and the shortage of social housing forces many into rental accommodations with little rights and protections.


On April 15, 2019, Theresa May pledged to eliminate Section 21, an order which allows landlords to evict tenants with just two months' notice, without providing a reason for doing so. Exactly five years later, Section 21 is still active and over 80,000 households have been threatened with homelessness since. The shortage of social housing, interconnected with insecure private renting, is perpetuating a cycle of poverty. Anjona also highlighted in the panel discussion how international students and migrants are often faced with further difficulties with private renting. In Northamptonshire, many people from BME communities are mainly working in minimum wage jobs and are not entitled to social housing, so they have no choice but to seek higher rents. The housing market desperately needs government intervention to adequately protect tenants' rights, end temporary accommodation and create systemic change. Whilst charities exist to tackle inequality and raise awareness, many charities are undergoing financial hardships, and this stresses the importance of the government's developing policies with long-term sustainability in mind.  

 

As a result, measures should be taken to protect communities, especially those experiencing economic hardship and racial inequalities. But this is one component of an existing problem – the other is voting disengagement amongst certain communities. According to the UK Government, evidence suggests that voter numbers have declined globally since the 1960s. Many people believe that they are less inclined to vote if they do not believe their actions can make a difference in political outcomes. Amongst those who are less likely to vote include young people, people who rent, people with fewer qualifications, people with lower socioeconomic backgrounds, people who were born overseas and people from BME groups. The government not only needs to address the issues that were discussed in the article and at our event but also improve voter reform by increasing accessibility to vote (automatic registration and modernising registration), addressing systemic barriers – such as the voter ID legislation, which has been criticised by many bodies as an attempt to disenfranchise BME voters – and building trust within communities who are more unlikely to vote.   


The characteristics of people who are likely to be disengaged with voting match the demographic of multiple regions in the UK. For example, how can the local council regain trust within Birmingham? Birmingham is Europe's youngest major city, with nearly 40% of its population under the age of 25. Additionally, 51% of its residents are from BME backgrounds and 29% are born overseas. However, despite this demographic diversity, the council is under severe financial strain, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. As a result, Birmingham's residents are facing a substantial 21% increase in council tax, which disproportionately impacts numerous financially vulnerable families.  

 

The upcoming local election could present some rapid changes in the UK – according to YouGov, Labour is predicted to win over 400 seats while the Conservative Party could win just 155. With this, some are predicting that the general election date may be pulled forward to this summer. Whoever our future local and national government leaders are need to urgently address the long-term effects of the cost-of-living crisis and austerity measures, as raised by Anjona Roy: In a decade or fifteen years, what repercussions will individuals face due to their experiences in insecure employment, part-time positions, and underfunded jobs? How will these circumstances affect their contributions to their communities, eligibility for state pensions, their healthcare requirements and their prospects for a longer lifespan?  


Your vote matters. The deadline to vote for the local elections has passed but you can still sign up to vote for the general election. See more here: Register to vote - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).  

 


Sources and referencing:  


Voice4Change England’s Local Election Event – Thursday 25th April (Zoom recording). 

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