The 2015 Project: If I were Prime Minister for a day – Julia Unwin, Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Julia Unwin

Julia Unwin is Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust.

My day as PM is already underway with an early morning Cabinet meeting.

Looking around that oval table, it’s obvious that I need a major reshuffle. It really is male, pale and stale. Governments are elected to represent us all, but are hardly representative of the population. So – more women, more people from ethnic minority communities, more people with different backgrounds and more young people will be sat around my Cabinet.

There will be discussion about the recommended pay rise for MPs I’m strongly advising my Cabinet colleagues not to accept it. I’m much more interested in what Government departments can do to encourage organisations to adopt a ‘Living Wage’. It’s based on JRF’s work on what people need for a minimum standard of living. Paying such a rate is good for the individual, business and society. I am asking Treasury official to cost a programme of paying the Living Wage, across Government over the lifetime of the next Parliament.

Targets can be millstones for Governments, often downgraded to mere ‘ambitions’, but we ought not to flinch from tackling difficult and perhaps unpopular issues. I shall today commit the Government to reducing poverty in working families by 40 per cent over the next five years. Too many of our fellow citizens are in work, but out of pocket.

And today is the day we set shovel to soil and begin a social house building programme that has been lacking for a generation. Around 1.5 million more young people aged 18 to 30 will be pushed into living in the private rented sector in 2020, reflecting growing problems of accessing both home ownership and social renting. Without a sustained and long-term increase in new housing supply, initiatives to help aspiring home-owners risk maintaining the inflated house prices they are meant to overcome. And if we are to do anything at all about the huge risk of climate change we will need to refit all our houses. Good jobs, training, and a chance to dramatically reduce fuel poverty, while getting closer to our carbon reduction targets.

And finally, the changing shape of society as we age will be no surprise to this government. What matters is what we do, and all my colleagues will need to look at their programmes and make sure they are prepared for the ageing society.

This is all in one day. I’m enjoying this. There’s so much we can do – and so many ideas in the voluntary sector about what to do. The trick will be making change happen fast enough to achieve the real savings that are available.

For more information on NCVO’s election work see Election 2015: And so the election campaign begins…

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