“We haven’t got the attention before Brexit; I don’t know if we’ll get it after.”

How people on low incomes feel about the prospects of post-Brexit Britain

31st July 2019

Poorer voters are disillusioned with politics and politicians, and feel little trust toward them, according to a joint report out today by the independent think-tanks, Joseph Rowntree Foundation and UK in a Changing Europe. 

Despite divisions across society on many issues, there’s agreement among those on low-incomes that major economic change is needed in their communities and the country at large after Brexit.

The report, which looks specifically at what poorer voters in deprived areas want to see happen after Brexit, is based on interviews with 190 people on low-incomes, spread across British towns and cities which contain some of the countries’ most deprived areas, such as Leeds, Glasgow, Newport, Bolton and Hastings. 

Many feel a sense of frustration at what’s seen as a lack of progress on the issues that matter to them, often relating to their community or local economies. There’s now a strong expectation that money should be spent on domestic priorities, and a feeling that the areas people live in should receive their “fair share” of investment, both from government and industry.   

People from poorer communities see their high streets failing, local services disappearing, and opportunities for well-paid, rewarding work diminishing. Ultimately, after Brexit, they just want better opportunities to thrive. 

Opportunity is a key theme, with many interviewees pointing to grim working prospects, and singling out zero-hours contracts as a major bane. Many identified the difficulty in covering the rising cost of living on the minimum wage. A female interviewee from Dudley, said: “…you can’t live on minimum wage. Once you’ve paid all your rent, all your bills, everything that comes out, your petrol, once you’ve lived, what have you got left?”

They need more companies to be brought in that aren’t just distribution centres

Paired with this, interviewees in many areas said there are very few opportunities for better-paid roles available locally, or there aren’t good enough travel links to access a better quality of jobs elsewhere. As a potential remedy to this, people wanted to see more support for local businesses, as well as investment to attract new businesses and job opportunities.

“It’s all low paid jobs, so to be able to bring up the area in general, we need people with higher paid jobs,” said a female interviewee from Worksop. “So they need more companies to be brought in that aren’t just distribution centres so we need incentives, like I talked about an engineering plant, to bring big businesses in that are willing to have their headquarters here, for example.”

Opportunities for both young people and adults to access better skills and training were highlighted as a key need for many poorer communities. Adult training should be made more flexible, so as to be viable for those with children or other commitments, and up-front costs should be removed. More apprenticeships of better quality are needed, yet as the report points out, it is concerning that recent stats show the rate of apprenticeships falling since the introduction of the new funding system.

Potter Street in Worksop 📸 David Hallam-Jones

While it’s focus is mainly on economic issues, interviewees across different areas consistently identified many of the same issues in other areas, such as a lack of pleasant community, public and green spaces; loneliness among older people; a lack of leisure and work activity for young people; and a perception of rising crime.

Though the Brexit vote has often been mischaracterized as being driven primarily by those on lower-incomes, there’s no doubt that significant numbers of poor voters did opt to leave the European Union in the referendum. What’s clear from this report though, is that regardless of political allegiance or views on Brexit, many poorer voters want to see the same things change in their lives.

Crucially, the report shows that any political party which offers an ambitious offer in terms of investment and development for areas which have traditionally been “locked out” of opportunity, could well pick up huge swathes of votes from those on low-incomes and in deprived areas. Earlier research found that low-income voters are increasingly turning out in greater numbers, and are the demographic most open to switching the party they vote for.

Main Image Credit: Dave Sample

31st July 2019