The Independent View: five key priorities for the UK’s low earners

Today, the Resolution Foundation launches our open memo to the next government.  In it, we propose five key priorities which we believe will improve outcomes for the UK’s 9.4 million working-age ‘low earners’ – those people living on an average household income of £15,800 while remaining broadly independent of state support.

These are families who may not be the poorest in society, and they are not in crisis. Nevertheless their economic independence is fragile and they are living at the very edge of their means. 56 per cent have experienced a drop in income since the start of the recession – and at the same time, on average, low earning households have nothing left over in their budgets after covering monthly expenditure, bills and debt repayments.

Low earners tell us they feel alienated and ignored by politicians, and our analysis of previous elections shows that this frustration has translated into two key trends in recent years. Firstly, low earners are less likely to vote at all than their better-off neighbours. And secondly, those who do vote are more likely than other groups to vote for minority parties.

In the run up to this year’s General Election we have undertaken some further polling of low earners. The data from March suggests that the low earner intention to vote is creeping up, and also that it is coalescing around the main parties, reversing these earlier voting patterns. This could be good news for the Liberal Democrats.

That said, our polling also shows that within this trend, low earners are gravitating towards the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, and that this is at the expense of the Liberal Democrats. Our latest data shows that Liberal Democrat support from low earners dropped by 8 percentage points between February and March this year. It is likely that many of these voters have switched allegiance to Labour given that over the same period, Labour has experienced a notable upswing in support among these groups.

Low earners comprise a third of the electorate, so what can the Liberal Democrats do to attract the votes of this significant constituency? Our research shows that policies which emphasise fairness and which recognise the hard work people put into maintaining their economic independence are popular with low earners. They want to feel that it pays to work, and that it’s worth the effort to save.

Similarly, any messages about reconnecting politics with ordinary people’s lives are likely to play well with this group, so emphasising the Liberal Democrat role in holding the other parties to account could be an important part of an electoral strategy.

Analysis aside, the key insight from our polling is that the low earner vote is still up for grabs. Their votes may be coalescing around Labour and the Conservatives, but the fluctuations in low earner voting preferences are notably higher, with movements of 11 percentage points compared to no change beyond the margin of error across all other groups. The question now is whether the Liberal Democrats can reclaim some of its earlier support from this key constituency in time for the General Election.

The latest Low Earners Audit can be downloaded here.

The Resolution Foundation is an independent research and policy organisation seeking to improve outcomes for low earners. ‘The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

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11 Comments

  • I’d say it was extremely concerning that we aren’t pulling in these kind of people – our tax policy should be the benchmark for all parties and rewards those that don’t earn huge amounts while encouraging the unemployed that there is a real benefit to becoming employed. Why isn’t this message being shouted loud enough for these people to hear because it really should be!

  • I doubt if many low earners know about the party policy and I’m not convinced it would greatly help if they did.

    Firstly, I recon that not much more than a third of the UK get any Lib Dem leaflets. (roughly our councillor base and key seats). so not much hope of gettinga national message accross, especially when so much FOCUS is entirely local.

    Secondly, the policy was 4p of income tax (plus 4p put back as local income tax), which was estiamted as £1000 of your tax bill. Even party members struggle to keep up, the less interested public more so.

    Thirdly, people on the whole aren’t policy driven. They don’t sit there totting up policy commitments with a spread sheet and calculator working out which partys pledges would make them x £ a week better off.

    This is where the Lib Dems repeatedly fail on narrative. Instead of policy we need messages.

    for example, Lib Dem would

    Abolish the benefits trap
    No one would be worse off in work
    Incentives for all – work towards 50% being the top marginal rate of tax for everyone
    Reform the benefits system

    Only then do you need to provide the details – I suggest it needs to go a lot further than £10,000 tax threshold.

    What about abolishing National Insurance and reforming all tax bands. 20% on the next £10k, 30% on the next £10k – as aspirations not current calculations.

    Give the public the shares in the banks that the taxpayers own. Get serious about “capitalising the poor”

    Talk about the billions spent on Housing Benefit which could be bettered used on council housing
    Talk about the billions given as tax breaks to 2nd home owners and buy to let landlords at the taxpayers expense.

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