This visit was particularly poignant for Nandy, who once worked for Centrepoint as a 23-year-old in our head office as a Policy Officer. In fact, Centrepoint’s Director of Policy and Engagement, Balbir Chatrik, was on hand to give her old employee a warm welcome – and even present Lisa with one of her old work projects.
But Nandy’s visit to Centrepoint was more than just a trip down memory lane – as a longtime advocate of youth homelessness, she was there to tell us what she would do about the issues that are important to Centrepoint young people, such as Universal Credit, the complicated tax system and the welfare state, as the party’s leader.
Lisa spoke of her roots at Centrepoint: “It is here that I first started to understand through the young people I met in Centrepoint’s hostels — as someone who has always believed and continues to believe in the power off the state — that the best agents for change in their own lives were themselves. And that when this change came it was often despite, not because of the system that exists to help them.”
Her time at Centrepoint then encouraged her to move on to other projects, which carried the same thread of protecting young people and helping those who need it most. She spoke about the desperate need for change: “Millions of people live hand to mouth, barely surviving. And one setback can make all the difference. Like one of my constituents who was sanctioned for going to his mum’s funeral, and went without money for a month... We need far less complexity. We should not defend a system that cannot be understood by those who use it. If we ask ourselves, does it work for the people it is intended to serve, too often the answer is no.”
She also proposed changes to Universal Credit, offering big alterations to the way we tax big companies: “The system is desperately unfair. It cannot be right that the poorest can find themselves paying the highest marginal effective rate of tax — that baker’s bonuses are taxed more than bankers. The root is universal credit, and the cuts made in 2012. I would immediately reverse these, paid for by cancelling the Tories proposed changes to the NICS threshold, while we design a progressive tax system that works for the least well off.” (You can read more about the issue with Universal Credit in our blog post, ‘The Youth Obligation Isn’t Working’.)
After their defeat in the General Election in December, Lisa proposed that we started making crucial changes now, instead of waiting until the 2024 elections, citing Centrepoint as an inspiration: “This is one of the greatest challenges we’ve faced. But across this country, I know Britain can be better than this. That is the spirit that led this brilliant organisation, Centrepoint, being established half a century ago. It’s the spirit that I found here nearly two decades ago. I believe those young people have gone on to better things because they knew that everything is impossible until it’s done. We have to up our game. We make the brave not the easy choice to become the country I know we can be but I have never seen. And why I know that we will win, together.”