Poverty is back on the political map: our roundup of Labour Party Conference fringe events

Poverty is back on the political map, and not before time. Experiences of period poverty, detailed by Plan International UK, the twenty year difference in life expectancy between richer and poorer individuals, and the new measure of poverty by the Social Metrics Commission have all contributed to a much-needed wide conversation on the subject.

All in time for party conference season. The Fair By Design team are attending three political party conferences in our launch year as we publish our roadmap. This week we were in Liverpool for the Labour Party conference.

On Tuesday we hosted our own fringe event on the poverty premium, joined by a great panel of experts including John Bird, Stephen Timms MP, Martin Coppack, a commissioner on the Financial Inclusion Commission, Ruth George MP, Sian Williams from Toynbee Hall, all wonderfully chaired by Ros Wynne-Jones from the Daily Mirror.

We heard about the mix of parliamentarians taking the fight on cuts to benefits to the House of Commons, how local councils themselves can and are contributing to efforts reducing the costs of essentials for people on low incomes, and how the Fair By Design campaign gives organisations a single banner under which we can all build the case for fairly priced essential services for UK households.

On the day before the Fair By Design team paid a visit to the team at CLES (Centre for Local Economic Strategies) to listen to their fringe event at Labour conference on local wealth building, featuring contributions by, among others, Andrew Gwynne, the shadow Housing secretary, and Cllr Asima Shaikh, Executive Member for Economic Development at the London Borough of Islington.

CLES

Cllr Shaikh spoke about the local authorities supporting their local supply chain of businesses and taking essential services back in-house. She mentioned that businesses in her area were increasingly interested in exploring what they can do for their employees by way of employee support and assistance — a subject of significant importance to us, not least because of the work of the Fair By Design Fund’s investee WageStream.

The team later that day attended the New Statesman/Energy UK event on transforming energy services for customers in vulnerable circumstances, with friends and colleagues from National Energy Action, Alan Whitehead, the Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change, and Joanna Elson from the Money Advice Trust.

New Statesman/Energy UK

We were very interested in something Mr Whitehead mentioned during his remarks: “The concern now is that with the wider price cap coming in, the original assistance to vulnerable customers will be subsumed into the wider price cap with the effect that vulnerable customers may be paying more under that original price cap.” This is something the team will be keeping an eye on.

After our event on Tuesday (and our obligatory celebratory breakfast) the team went to a fringe event hosted jointly by the Chartered Body Alliance, Chartered Insurance Institute (CII), Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment, and Chartered Banker, on the subject of the ethics of AI in financial services. We were treated to some very interesting discussions by Wes Streeting MP, Chi Onwurah MP, and Sian Fisher, the CEO of the 
CII.

Chartered Body Alliance

One point made by Mr Streeting that made us very enthusiastic was the strong case for innovation in financial service design, particular for those people who, in his words, “often find there is too much month at the end of their money”. Our view is that people who struggle financially are often a last priority for innovative service design — which is why we have the Wayra Fair By Design acceleration programme, to design out the poverty premium through business ventures and startups.

After that event we went over to see our colleagues at the Centre on Household Assets and Savings Management (CHASM) who were doing a fringe event on winning the campaign to end high cost credit with Stella Creasy MP, Karen Rowlingson from the centre, economist Ann Pettifor, and Jonathan Reynolds MP the Shadow Economic Secretary.

CHASM

We also heard from Laura Smith MP on the panel talk about her own experience of poverty. She said that sometimes the Provident agent, collecting money owed on loans for the home credit company, was the nicest person you knew, making the point that people’s relationship with providers of high cost credit is complex and should be dealt with sensitively.

While we were in Liverpool we popped in to see the leader of the opposition’s speech on Wednesday. One thing that interested us, which may not on the face of it seem like an issue involving the poverty premium, was Mr Corbyn’s plans on home insulation. People facing the poverty premium for heating their home often live in houses that require more fuel use because of insufficient insulation. They are then hit with two premiums; the extra costs of being in poverty and extra costs of heating a home. In their interests it’s good to see plans are afoot to insulate homes to high energy efficient standards.

Next week we will be visiting Birmingham for the Conservative Party conference, where we will write another note on events attended, including our very own, and anything of particular interest going on in the main hall.