A close look at the demographyby Julia Unwin / September 2, 2016 / Leave a comment
Earlier this week, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published one of the first academic analyses on the drivers behind the Brexit vote. The research, written by Matthew Goodwin at the University of Kent and Oliver Heath at the Royal Holloway University, shows how a lack of opportunity across swathes of the country led to Brexit. Groups of voters pushed to the margins of society, living on low incomes, with few qualifications and without the skills required to prosper in the modern economy, were more likely than others to vote “Leave.”
Education levels were a particular dividing line. Other things being equal, support for “Leave” was 30 percentage points higher among those with educational qualifications at or below GCSE level than it was for people with a degree. In a particularly stark finding, over 70 per cent of people with no qualification voted for Brexit, whereas 70 percent of those with a postgraduate degree voted to remain.
There was also a strong link between income and the likelihood of supporting Brexit. 58 per cent of people whose household incomes were below £20,000 per year voted for “Leave,” compared to 35 per cent of those in households earning above £60,000. Job security and type of work also had an impact, with people in low-skilled, precarious and manual jobs more likely to vote “Leave,” as were people who were unemployed.
The importance of geography cannot be overlooked, with the “Leave” vote much higher in areas with high proportions of low skilled jobs and residents. Crucially, the research showed that the gap was being driven by more than just the qualification level of individual voters. In low skilled areas, the proportion of people with A-Levels who voted “Leave” was the same as the proportion of those with GCSEs, whereas in high skilled areas it was similar to the proportion of people with degrees.
Of course, all research into the demographics can do is point towards the larger trends driving the vote. It goes without saying that there were many highly educated, wealthy people in prosperous town and cities who supported Brexit, just as there were people on lower incomes in areas will low skills and lower levels of education who voted “Remain.” But these findings paint a clear picture of a “Leave” vote driven by a feeling of disconnection from the opportunities and prosperity on offer in some parts of the UK. The rapid pace of change in the economy has left too many people without the skills and opportunity to get on in life.
It is vitally important to understand why the majority of voters chose to “Leave,” and what they were hoping to change by doing so. But now that the vote itself is behind us, we must turn our attention to working out how Brexit can best be achieved. The vote has plunged the British political system into a state of uncertainty. Now is the time to ask ourselves, as a nation, big questions about the sort of country that we want Britain to become.
Making a success of Brexit is undoubtedly one of the most important challenges facing the new government. But it cannot be allowed to overshadow the work needed to improve prospects for people and places in poverty in the UK.
We know that economic shocks often hit the poorest hardest. People on the lowest incomes see a much higher proportion of their wages taken up by essentials like food, energy bills and rent, all of which could be affected by economic changes. Separate JRF research has shown that some of the least prosperous areas of the UK, many of which voted for Brexit, will lose £8.6bn of aid money from the EU.
The financial situation of the UK and its residents will undoubtedly be different post-Brexit, and we need a new political and economic deal which reflects this. We cannot afford to return to business as usual. Theresa May has promised “a Britain that works for everyone.” The only way to deliver this is through a firm plan for creating better jobs, tackling the high cost of living and ensuring that prosperity is more equally shared.
Next week JRF will set out our approach for how we best solve poverty in the UK, and ensure everyone can enjoy a decent standard of living. It will set out what the government, businesses and individuals need to do to ensure that by 2030, the year that children starting school next week enter adulthood, no-one in the UK is destitute, no more than one in ten people lives in poverty and no-one lives in poverty for more than two years.
It’s a huge task, but I believe it can be done. The seismic nature of the vote showed we need bold answers. When the Brexit children look back at why their elders voted the way they did, the fact the establishment left so many people behind for so long goes a long way to explaining it. We have a responsibility to ensure they don’t experience the same fate.