In the 1950s, Michael Young identified the increasing importance and implications of consumerism for society and politics. He foresaw changes in the ways we live and work, and predicted that “politics will become less and less the politics of production, and more and more the politics of consumption”. When he joined forces with a group of like-minded friends to form the Consumers’ Association, he was instrumental in founding a movement that would become the UK’s largest organisation of its kind. It is now a collective of over 1.2m members and supporters, sharing a vision to make life simpler, fairer and safer for all UK consumers.
The Consumers’ Association, more commonly known as Which?, began in 1957 as a 32-page magazine produced in a garage in Bethnal Green. Although the scale, ambition and impact of the organisation has grown enormously in the 66 years that have followed, the aim has always remained true to Michael and the other founders’ vision: to be a voice for consumers, to constantly question on their behalf, to champion their rights – and to provide expert, impartial advice on everyday decisions.
Which? has consistently been on the side of the consumer, empowering them, advising them and campaigning for them. Although the organisational focus may shift according to changing consumer needs, the purpose hasn’t altered. Recently, through the Covid years and the current cost of living crisis, Which? continues as a strong and independent consumer champion. Understanding consumer concerns and developing of new approaches to our research and testing, Which? helps people recognise products that offer both quality and value.
Campaigning and advocacy
This adaptive methodology also applies to Which?’s strategic advocacy. Through its campaigning efforts, Which? has both a short and a long-term objective: to deliver improvements for consumers struggling now but also to drive long-term systemic change, the benefits of which will be felt for years.
The Affordable Food For All campaign, for example, uses data-led research, rigorous policy and strategic campaigning, placing Which? at the centre of a national debate about food inflation. Thanks in part to these efforts, regulators have reviewed grocery pricing, and some supermarkets have responded, easing the burden on shoppers.
Which? remains an agile and adaptive organisation, ready to respond to immediate consumer need and detriment, but it is also aware of longer term shifts in the consumer landscape and anticipates issues that will impact people’s lives into the future.
Fighting for change
As we shift rapidly into an era dominated by a growing reliance on technology in all aspects of people’s lives, Which? has been predicting change and fighting to protect consumers against current and future detriment. This includes successfully pushing for the government to introduce the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, to ensure the UK has consumer protections and competition policy fit for the digital age.
Which? has also made life safer by improving scam protections for consumers – and our scam alerts service has more than 400k sign-ups. The Financial Services and Markets Act makes reimbursement mandatory for the majority of bank transfer scam victims, following years of Which? campaigning. And the Online Safety Bill will help prevent people being targeted by paid-for scam adverts. All were achieved through the efforts of a scams coalition, led by Which?.
Any organisation with significant heritage is aware of the responsibility of honouring the vision and the work of those who came before. Today – and into the future – Which? upholds the commitment of Michael Young by continuing to stand up for consumers’ rights, working with businesses and government to protect consumers from harm – and fearlessly challenging them when they don’t.
Photo by Viki Mohamad on Unsplash