Rishi Sunak’s recent backtrack on the UK’s climate commitments, suggesting that working-class people don’t care much for climate action, is a misguided stereotype that has done nothing for his popularity. In reality, working-class individuals often notice climate changes more keenly due to their direct impact on family finances.
When it comes to the climate crisis, working-class people are often the first to feel the effects of even minor shifts in climate patterns, as these changes can have a significant impact on their daily lives. While climate action may not be the primary topic raised during political canvassing or polling, it plays a vital role in shaping their trust in political leaders and parties.
Working-class individuals, who carefully consider their energy usage and insurance coverage, are acutely aware of the increasing frequency of hot summers and heavy rainfall that can overwhelm their drainage systems. Those who budget carefully when shopping are more attuned to the consequences of flooded fields on future food prices.
Crucially, working-class people recognize that they bear a smaller responsibility for national emissions compared to the private-jet class or wealthy investment managers who profit from fossil fuels. It is no surprise that many in the working class are skeptical of a climate movement that appears whiter and more middle-class than the communities most affected by climate change.
The author, who has spent their career working for charities that fight for low-income families and tackle inequality, understands the struggles faced by working-class families. They emphasize the importance of ensuring that working-class communities do not bear the brunt of the climate crisis. Their organization, Round our Way, focuses on highlighting the current impact of the climate crisis on working-class communities and amplifying their voices in climate discussions.
The consequences of the climate crisis are not distant concerns but are manifesting in everyday life. Research by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) revealed that climate impacts and fossil fuel costs increased the average food bill by £400 last year. Flooding disproportionately affects working-class communities, which often lack the financial resources and insurance coverage to cope with such events.
In conclusion, politicians should not underestimate the importance of climate action to working-class voters. Recent polling indicates that “loyal nationals” (formerly “red wall” voters) rank the climate crisis and the environment as the fourth most important issue. Politicians must recognize that attacking climate action is not a path to popularity, as working-class individuals are concerned about the tangible and immediate impacts of the climate crisis on their lives.