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In this week’s newsletter:
  • 5 big policy challenges on the horizon
  • Social trust research spotlighted in The Sun
  • A keynote speech by the Science Minister

2023 is here. But the front pages still look a lot like 2022. Headlines are dominated by public sector strikes and pressures on the NHS. In today’s newsletter we want to look at the other challenges coming down the track that could define the rest of this year. 

Rising homelessness. The domino effect started by increased interest rates on Britain’s strained housing market could result in more people becoming homeless. The figures are troubling. Four million mortgage borrowers could see their payments rise by £3000 a year. 1 in 12 private renters, around a million people, are already under threat of eviction. And the number of households living in temporary accommodation has doubled in the last ten years. These pressures could lead to a spike in people sleeping on the streets. While official Government figures showed a national drop in rough sleeping for the fourth year in a row in Autumn 2021, more recent estimates released last Summer showed a sudden 24% rise in London. 

Creaking childcare provision. Last year our report First Steps pointed to the rising costs and labyrinthine complexity of Britain’s childcare system. Parents would do anything to improve it. Or, almost anything. Only one policy that we tested with parents had a negative response: reducing child supervision ratios, with 52% against and 27% in favour. When we asked what their top priority was for a reformed system, reducing costs was a distant second to improving quality, at 39% to 59%. So it’s not surprising that the Government is reconsidering Truss-era plans focussed on deregulation. But they’ll need to come up with a big bold offer to win back the support of young families.

Ongoing energy support. Even as the country warms up after the December cold snap, the impact of higher energy prices will continue to be felt by businesses and households. The Government is reportedly planning to extend energy subsidies for businesses (the Energy Bill Support Scheme) for another year beyond March, albeit at a lower rate. This could have major fiscal implications, with the current six month package estimated to have cost £20 billion. The Government’s desire to help keep businesses open is understandable. But this needs to be accompanied by more ambitious plans to cut energy demand and to accelerate the construction of new solar and wind farms – which haven’t always been popular with backbench Tory MPs.

Going for growth. A problem that won’t go away is the UK’s meagre economic growth, which will need to be the focus of any Spring Budget. Measures on accelerating housebuilding, reducing economic inactivity, and increasing technical education will need to feature. But one area where the UK could be much more ambitious is science and technology. Ministers are reportedly re-considering whether to invest roughly £15bn in the EU-wide Horizon Europe scheme. But where could that funding go? Luckily, Onward is hosting a speech next week by the Science Minister setting the scene for the decision, followed by an expert panel setting out their views on “Horizon Plan B”. You can sign up here.

Levelling up. The Prime Minister was clear on the steps of No.10 that his mandate came from the 2019 Conservative manifesto. More than anything else that means levelling up. With the Government running out of road before 2024, a premium will need to be on delivering tangible improvements on issues like antisocial behaviour and struggling town centres. These small steps can’t replace the full transformation needed to close regional divides, but they are a downpayment on progress. And as our work in Oldham, Walsall, and South Tyneside revealed – they are the public’s priorities.

A packed agenda. So how can the Government prevent and tackle homelessness? What reforms need to be made to the childcare system? How can new energy projects be delivered in a way that benefits communities and their representatives? What needs to happen to unlock growth and boost innovation? And what does levelling up locally look like? These are all big questions for Government and Opposition in 2023: and Onward will be ready with research to provide answers.

News and media

The Times cites Onward research on the generation gap in British politics

Incoming Director, Seb Payne, discussed the red wall on The World this Weekend

The Sun covered our upcoming report on social trust at the neighbourhood level

Adam Hawksbee discussed our research on reforming childcare on BBC Woman’s Hour and GB News

Upcoming events

Keynote Speech by George Freeman MP, Science Superpower: the UK’s Global Science Strategy beyond Horizon Europe

Science Minister, George Freeman MP, will deliver a keynote speech on the UK’s Global Science Strategy beyond Horizon Europe. Now the UK has left the European Union there is a chance to reconsider how we invest in our science capabilities. Maintaining the status quo would see us invest to participate in Horizon Europe. But with a price tag of approximately £15 billion, Ministers must ensure this represents best value for money.

As the first event of a two part series, he will set how the UK should frame decisions for post-Brexit EU collaboration on science and innovation, as well as the opportunities and challenges the UK faces to become a global science superpower.

Sign up here.

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The Future of Conservatism: In Conversation with Michael Lind.

We are hosting our first event of the year and will be hearing from Nick Timothy, former Downing Street Chief of Staff, and Michael Lind, influential American columnist and writer. 

The event will explore challenges facing both the UK and the US, what answers conservatism has to  build a more resilient economy and a stronger society and the steps we can take to see a renewed future of conservatism. 

Sign up here.

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