Four things the new UK Prime Minister must do to show she is serious about tackling poverty

Sam Nadel Aid, Climate Change, In the news

Sam Nadel on Liz Truss’s to-do list – and how you can demand action

Dry ground
The new PM needs to act now on climate change, which is fuelling extreme weather events, such as the drought in East Africa, that are driving people further into poverty. This is the homestead of 27-year-old pastoralist Abdulahi Farah Isse, who lost dozens of cattle earlier this year in the drought in Puntland. Picture: Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam Novib

Like any new Prime Minister, Liz Truss faces a daunting list of challenges. Spiralling energy and food prices; the NHS, social care and unpaid care workers pushed to the brink; “apocalyptic” floods in Pakistan; persistent conflict in Europe and around the world. It’s a daunting to-do list for any incoming PM, but responding to these severe, and often overlapping crises, will be made harder still because trust in politicians is in the doldrums. A poll from January this year showed 73% of people in England don’t trust the UK Government to take decisions that will improve their lives.

So where should the new PM start? How can she build back some of the trust that’s been lost so dramatically in recent months? Here are four things she can do to show she’s serious about addressing the biggest challenges we face, along with ideas for how you can get involved and demand action.

1. Tackle the cost-of-living crisis

The new PM will rightly face pressure on day one to act on the cost-of-living crisis in the UK, as people face spiralling energy and food bills. Many are warning of a potentially catastrophic winter as an estimated 45 million people could be in fuel poverty by January. Earlier this year, 2.3 million families on low incomes were going without enough food and couldn’t afford to heat their homes. Without action, that number’s likely to grow.

This cost-of-living crisis is yet another reminder of how unfair and unequal our economy is. The Living Wage Foundation has found women are disproportionately affected by low pay and spiralling living costs, while people from minority ethnic backgrounds are also disproportionately impacted.

We need a credible plan that prioritises support to those who need it most. The PM should start by increasing Universal Credit and other benefits permanently and strengthening social security, ensuring this provides an adequate safety net for all low-income households, so that no one has to go without the essentials. Doing so will help build resilience to current and future crises.

Want to take action?

  • Sign this petition from Warm this Winter, a new campaign supported by Oxfam that calls for urgent financial support to people on the front line of poverty, upgrading and insulating homes to bring down bills, rapidly expanding clean energy, and stopping drilling new oil and gas fields so that we can escape our dependence on volatile fossil fuels.
  • Sign Save the Children’s petition, from our coalition partner in the Keep the Lifeline Campaign, calling on the UK Government to do more to ease the cost-of-living crisis by increasing Universal Credit and strengthening the benefits system.

2. Show global leadership on the world’s forgotten crises

The impacts of spiralling energy and food prices extend far beyond the UK and Europe. Millions across East Africa are facing extreme hunger as a result of regional conflict and climate change, and exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine, which has disrupted the supply of much needed grain, cooking oil and fuel. In Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia it’s estimated that one person every 48 seconds is already dying due to severe hunger and malnutrition.

With people in the region likely about to face an unprecedented fifth failed rainy season, urgent assistance is needed. Yet the global response has been woefully inadequate. Funding to tackle the crisis is falling well short of what’s needed. The UK’s aid cuts haven’t helped, leaving a £4.6 billion black hole in the budget compared to 2019. UK aid to several countries in East Africa has been slashed by 50% or more and a rumoured third round of aid cuts would only make things worse.  

The UK should reverse its short-sighted aid cuts and commit £900 million to the desperately under-funded UN humanitarian appeals for Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan. It must also do all it can to ensure aid gets to those who need it, especially women and girls who are bearing the brunt of the crisis, and in ways that put local communities in the driving seat.

In isn’t just East Africa that needs the PM’s attention. In Yemen, a fragile truce is holding but millions continue to suffer due to rocketing food prices, a lack of health and other essential services and dwindling economic opportunities. In the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Palestinian human rights defenders face escalating repression and attacks because of the vital work they do. 

If the Prime Minister and her new Foreign Secretary want to make good on the UK’s longstanding pledge to be “a force for good in the world”, they must take action to address these urgent crises. 

Want to take action? 

3. Make sure care is properly valued

The pandemic highlighted how essential unpaid and paid care work is to our economy and society, as well as to our collective wellbeing. It also exposed how the woeful undervaluing of care fuels poverty as well as gender and racial inequality.

In the UK, women do around 60% more unpaid work than men, while Black and minority ethnic women, who are the majority of social care and childcare workers, face persistent low pay and poor working conditions. This is trapping women and Black and ethnic minority groups in vicious cycles of time and income poverty.

It’s shameful that women retire with 38% less pension than men due to their unpaid caring responsibilities. Clapping is not enough. From childcare to looking after relatives with disabilities or illnesses, we need proper investment in care by the Government and support by employers, and a more equal distribution of care within our communities. These challenges are only made even more urgent by the cost-of-living crisis.

Want to take action?

  • Join and support the We Care Campaign, an award-winning grassroots campaign founded in 2018 by and for unpaid carers.
  • Support the calls of Oxfam Scotland, along with its more than 45 partners, for the Scottish Government to set a new National Outcome on Care to fully value and invest in care, setting a powerful example for the UK Government to follow.

4. Take action for climate justice

Meanwhile, the climate emergency rages on. The ‘monster monsoon’ and flooding in Pakistan is just the latest example of extreme weather that is becoming more frequent and intense due to climate change, driving people further into poverty.

In 2021, the UK took on a leadership role as hosts of the UN climate conference in Glasgow. The Glasgow Climate Pact made tentative progress towards building resilience to climate change and curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Though ambition ultimately fell well short. As Oxfam’s Gabriela Bucher said at the time: “Clearly some world leaders think they aren’t living on the same planet as the rest of us. It seems no amount of fires, rising sea levels or droughts will bring them to their senses to stop increasing emissions at the expense of humanity.”

The last Prime Minister’s pledge to consign coal to history rings hollow with signs now that the UK Government may approve Britain’s first new coal mine in decades as well as more exploration and development of new oil and gas fields in the North Sea.

In the remaining month of its COP Presidency, the UK has to clean up its act at home, and drive further action internationally. This means pushing rich countries to finally deliver the long-standing pledge for $100 billion a year to help poorer countries cope with climate change. In addition, they should heed calls from developing countries – representing over 6 billion people – for a loss and damage finance facility to build back in the aftermath of events linked to climate change. The agreement at COP26 for ‘technical assistance’ and a ‘dialogue’ on this agenda fell well short of what was needed.  

With just 61 days to go until COP27 in Egypt, there’s no time to waste.

Want to take action? 


Sam Nadel

Sam Nadel is Head of UK Government Relations at Oxfam GB