October has arrived with the first real signs of autumn: soft edges to the sky and leaves turning from green to gold then a dusty brown.

Somehow autumn always suggests new beginnings to me. It heralds the start of a new school year and a fresh session of Parliament. It also means the party conference season is over for another year.

When I was growing up in the 1970s, Britain was a very tribal place politically. You often heard people say, ‘Oh, I’m Labour – and I always will be.’ Or ‘I’m Conservative and so is my family.’ The Liberals were a fringe party back then, just like today, and so they got mentioned more rarely. And we also had something that ensured zero contracts and poverty wages were relatively rare: powerful and effective trade unions.

Wind the clock forward forty years and we face a very different autumn political scene. For one thing, people seem far less stuck to old party loyalties – and more open to considering what policies the main parties have to offer.

The party conferences ending this week with the Tories in Birmingham have given citizens a prime chance to assess precisely that. Whichever way you lean politically, I would argue that, this autumn especially, us ‘little people’ need to consider politicians’ policy proposals very, very carefully.

We all know austerity Britain is a pretty dysfunctional place at the moment. A cursory glance at a few key statistics says it all. According to the government’s own figures, 4.5 million children are living in poverty with 19 million people in work on the verge of poverty. In fact, 17 million people have less than a hundred pounds in savings. The inevitable result is a tsunami of personal debt and anxiety.

Or take the deliberate underfunding of our public services so yet more wealth can be transferred to the already very wealthy through tax giveaways. Our education system is a prime example. Last year there were 66,000 more pupils but 5,400 fewer teachers; 2,800 fewer TAs; 1,400 fewer support staff and 1,200 fewer auxiliary staff. Meanwhile, UK national debt stands at a mind-blowing £1.78 trillion.

As autumn leaves flutter down many ordinary people are inevitably asking what we can do to get Britain back on track. So here are a few key areas to test whether a particular party deserves our vote.

First up, and a biggie in York, is the issue of housing. Put bluntly, a growing swathe of the population – often our younger citizens – are priced out of any chance for a decent home. People also face very high rents in the private sector, with the quality of the accommodation poorly regulated by the state. Any party deserving our votes must invest in a massive programme of affordable housing, including maximising the use of vacant properties, such as empty flats above the shops in York city centre. This would require new legislation but is entirely achievable.

In short, I would like to see politicians genuinely committed to housing as a place where people can live happily and securely, not just as a profitable investment.

Next is the economy itself. With Brexit causing uncertainty and the prospect of astonishing technological advances over the coming decades, parties should be anticipating new jobs for the future. My own preference would be investing in high skilled jobs that could turn Britain into a world leader for environmentally positive technology.

I would also like to see a more inclusive world of work where the rewards are shared out much more fairly. Dealing with obscene pay differentials needs to be a prime target for any political party worthy of our votes.

Britain is such a divided, uncertain place at present there seem to be too many areas of life needing a radical overhaul to mention. Our underfunded NHS and police, rundown social care system, rip-off utilities, low levels of productivity, overcrowded prisons, air pollution, creaking railways . . . the list goes on and on. And for the cherry on the cake we have Brexit to turn into a success.

Whichever party you think can solve those problems, it won’t be about individual politicians but their policies. Choose wisely.