Housing costs a critical issue for voters, says JRF

25 Jun 24

Insecurity over financial futures could decide votes, research reveals

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Fear of paying for housing costs is a critical issue for voters at all social levels, according to new research.

Economic insecurity will be a critical factor in how people decide to cast their votes, according to experts at Nuffield College, University of Oxford commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.  

No matter what their social status or income, fears over how housing costs will be met is the biggest fear for voters, along with meeting debt repayments and childcare costs.

The study of 8,000 people, conducted in March 2024, reveal that the cost-of-living crisis remains a critical concern. As many as 18.5 million people – 39% of voters – feel economically insecure and have worries about their costs and financial prospects.

Their biggest fears are costs which are difficult to adjust to quickly in response to economic shocks, particularly those of working age.

Although it’s the first time in the election campaign that personal poverty fears have been on the agenda, it’s an issue that’s been raised consistently for more than a year.

The Trussell Trust revealed in March that more than 3.1 million emergency food parcels were distributed by food banks in its network in the past 12 months — the most parcels ever distributed by the network in a year.

And the Resolution Foundation also warned in March that wage stagnation is now a critical issue.

Councils in London have also been highlighting that working families are claiming benefits in increasing numbers.

That’s been backed by research from the Health Foundation published in April which concluded the number of working families classed as being in poverty has increased over the last two decades.

“Although people in poverty living in working families fare better than people out of work in terms of income, material deprivation and financial stress, people in poverty – regardless of work status – fare worse than people not in poverty,” it said. 

The concerns were put forward by Joseph Rowntree Foundation as a major reason why the government is fairing badly in opinion polls. It claimed economically insecure Conservative 2019 voters are defecting to both the right and to the left. 

It revealed 26% of them are planning to vote for Reform UK and 13% intend to vote for Labour. A large group 24% – are still undecided.  

Jane Green, professor of political science and British politics at Nuffield College, University of Oxford, said: “You cannot understand this election without understanding economic insecurity. It has emerged as a key dividing line between voters and helps to explain both the Conservatives’ loss of support and Labour’s gains.

“The next government will inherit a country where almost 40% of the electorate feel economically insecure. Addressing their concerns should be a priority – given the pivotal role economic insecurity now plays in voting intention, failure to do so carries huge political risk.” 

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