Inequality is at the root of our most serious social problems: it offends our sense of fairness and impedes the efficient use of human resources. One aspect of disadvantage leads to others and countries that perform badly in material equality also perform badly across a range of quality of life measures. A recent study compared the average income of the top 20% of the population in 23 countries with that of the poorest 20% and found a multiplier of four in Japan and the Scandinavian countries, six in Germany, seven in the UK and close to nine in the US, with the UK the fourth most unequal country of the 23 surveyed. The researchers also found a clear correlation between well-being and equality, with the UK coming third from bottom out of 21 countries on both equality and health of society measures and only Portugal and the US performing worse.
Without strong measures to promote the interests of the disadvantaged, inequality becomes self-reinforcing. Wealthier people live in areas with better schools and support their children through education, in finding homes and with supporting their children in turn. But poverty traps young people, with friends who see education as a chore and schools that struggle in the face of enormous difficulties. Even if they do overcome such disadvantages, according to the Government’s own 2017 Careers Strategy: “people from poorer backgrounds earn significantly less than those with wealthier parents, even when they have the same job, experience and qualifications”.
Disadvantages in education, access to employment and healthcare pursue an individual from the cradle to the grave. Office of National Statistics figures show that in 2013-15, life expectancy at birth was 10 years lower in the most deprived parts of England and Wales than in the least deprived. The difference in years of healthy living was even greater, at just over 50 in the most deprived areas compared to almost 70 in the least deprived, reflecting a pattern of geographical disadvantage unequalled in comparable parts of Europe.
And equality of opportunity also has a major impact on the success of the economy as a whole. Thus, a study carried out for the Sutton Trust in 2017 found that an increase in the UK’s social mobility to the average across western Europe could be associated with an increase in GDP of 2% a year, amounting to an extra £590 per person, or £39 billion for the economy as a whole.
Individuals have different priorities, conceptions of well-being, abilities, skills and experience and, up to a point, differences in pay can promote the rational use of human capital and attract highly qualified staff. But it is simply not the case that inequality of the kind that exists in the UK is necessary for prosperity. On the contrary, greater equality supports wealth creation through better social engagement, education and health. The benefits are also illustrated by the issue of trust; a key factor both in perceptions of well-being and in economic efficiency. Asked in the World Value Association Wave 6 Survey: “do you think that most people can be trusted, or, alternatively, that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people”, 64% of people in Norway, one of the most equal countries, said they trusted other people, compared with 5% in Brazil, which is one of the most unequal.
Radical Reform Proposes:
- A National Programme for a More Equal Britain
- Fairness in Pay and an End to Exploitation at Work
- Decent Housing for All
- Tolerance and Personal Autonomy
- Freedom from Addiction and Dependence
A National Programme to Tackle Inequality
We believe that tackling inequality should be made the object of a national strategy with the aim of bringing the UK over a five-year period from being the second worst of the 20 largest OECD countries to being one of the ten best. As a further stage, there should be a ten year target for bringing the country into the top five in terms of the ratio of the earnings of the highest paid 20% and the 20% lowest paid. This should be led by the Prime Minister, should embrace all areas of ministerial responsibility and be subject to an annual report to the nation.
Getting the most from public spending
The strategy should focus on empowering disadvantaged people and on concentrating extra effort on communities where the need is greatest. Empowerment should be promoted through improvements to the education system and access to information, and by helping people to work together through community initiatives, co-operatives, local authorities and trade union branches. At the same time, much more must be done to tackle low pay and exploitation, eliminate discrimination, ensure decent housing for all and combat addiction and the poverty and dependence it brings.
Directing additional resources to communities rather than to individuals will address a wider range of aspects of inequality and concentrate the resources to help people solve their own problems where they are most needed. It will also help avoid pushing individuals who find low-paid work into the poverty trap, where they lose means-tested benefits and end up hardly any better off. A substantial proportion of poor and marginalised people live in areas which face multiple disadvantages (such as in impoverished physical environments, criminality and anti-social behaviour, and poor public transport to work, hospitals and shops), which go beyond the criteria determining access to individual benefits.
To offset these challenges, additional spending should be made available for NHS facilities, nursery care, schooling, careers support and social services in such localities, with the emphasis on human resources, young people, empowering women, community leadership, cohesion and integration. For example, many disadvantaged areas face high turnover of staff such as health workers and teachers, which hinders the development of local knowledge and trust. Increased funding should include resources to encourage such workers to develop a longer-term commitment to the communities they serve.
A fair start for all children
Ensuring access to good quality nursery care is a key element in giving children a fair start in life and in creating conditions where mothers and fathers can work, train and develop their careers. The cost of nursery care imposes a heavy burden on parents just at a time when finances are most stretched, with public funding insufficient to allow them to work full time. The Government’s “30 hours free childcare” initiative has encouraged parents who already have children in nurseries to increase their hours but has not done enough to encourage new families to take advantage of opportunities for nursery care.
We consider that the UK should move as quickly as possible to a situation where nurseries are available free or at modest cost for all children, with priority being given to the roll-out of free care for children in areas of deprivation. The benefit to the economy of enabling young parents to return to work would offset the extra cost to the public purse and would bring far-reaching benefits in terms of equality of earnings and career development as between men and women.
At the same time, steps should be taken to improve the conditions and status of childcare workers to help address the severe problem the sector faces with recruiting and retaining trained staff. In the context of an increase in public funding, consideration should be given to requiring nurseries which participate in funded schemes to increase pay for all qualified staff to the level of the Living Wage. This would help improve remuneration an area of employment which is characterised by very low pay, while maintaining a level playing field. And it would help make the most of investment in training nursery staff by encouraging employees who leave to have children to return to work in the sector later on.
Ending Modern Slavery and Exploitation at Work
Fair pay and an end to exploitation at work must play a central part in measures to tackle inequality. Enhanced rights for those on low wages with initiatives to make it easier for them to join trade unions should play an important part in this. Strong measures are also needed to address extreme forms of exploitation, including indentured labour and modern slavery (which Anti-Slavery estimates involve some 13,000 victims in the UK) that occur outside of formal employment relations. Better intelligence and better coordination between different agencies are needed, together with changes in regulations to protect immigrants who escape exploitative employers from being forced to leave the country as a result of their visa conditions. More staff and increased funding for training for the Immigration Service, the police and local authority inspectorates, which have regular contact with employers and people in places of work, are also needed
Equal pay for work of equal value is a legal right for all employees and an essential element of a fair and just society. The slow progress made in achieving equal pay for women has been brought to public attention by revelations of gross anomalies across a range of areas of employment. The fact that the UK performs badly in this regard compared with most European countries highlights the need for better information and stronger action. Greater transparency over pay, speedier enforcement procedures and measures to ensure women have appropriate opportunities to join trade unions are needed. And a kite mark should be introduced for employers who demonstrate best practice in equal opportunities, which should be made a requirement for winning public procurement tenders.
Excessive salaries are a matter of concern to the public. They undermine the proper use of resources and conflict with the responsibilities of boards to act in the best interest of shareholders. Businesses need to pay salaries sufficient to attract and retain scarce talent and experience but it is also clear the existing system is flawed in important respects. In the private sector, weak governance procedures and inadequate scope for legal redress make it difficult for stakeholders to challenge excessive pay at the top. Over-generous increases in a few companies then rachet salaries up throughout the sector.
The corrosion of rectitude resulting from the spread of neo-conservative thinking has led to a gulf developing between the highest salaries paid in the civil service and local government (which face scrutiny by MPs and the media) and in other tax-payer funded organisations. Though pushed by successive governments down the path to marketisation, universities and the NHS do not (and should not) operate like private businesses, not least because the NHS is almost entirely funded by the tax payer and universities are largely funded by a quasi-tax in the form of student fees.
Two approaches are needed to address the problem. In the market sector, the law should be strengthened to tighten governance procedures covering remuneration and give stakeholders stronger rights to challenge potentially excessive pay awards through the courts. And in the public service and taxpayer funded organisations, parameters should be established linking maximum pay for senior staff to civil service rates.
Decent Housing for All
In the 1950s and 1960s, under Labour and Conservative Governments, local councils built millions of houses, making it possible for poorer families to move into homes on secure tenancies and at affordable rents. Mrs Thatcher’s arrival in Downing Street put an end to this cross-party consensus. The capacity of local authorities to borrow to build was restricted and the number of new council houses fell from an average of 130,000 a year in the 1970s to 2,500 since 2010. As a result, there was a shortfall of over half a million units coming onto the market between 2010 and 2017. Meanwhile, Right to Buy legislation had further eroded the social housing stock, trapping many poorer families in cramped and sub-standard accommodation.
The failure of successive Governments to tackle this problem has played a large part in growing inequality. For example, according to Shelter, the shortage of houses and flats is the main reason for the rise in the number of people facing the hardship and danger of living on the street.
Initially, giving council tenants the right to buy their homes led to a rise in home ownership. But the promise of a home-owning democracy which was used to justify selling off public housing, was betrayed as prices rose. This prevented increasing numbers of young people from get on the housing ladder and increased pressure on the stock of accommodation available for rent.
The root causes of Britain’s housing problem are a rapidly rising population, especially in the South East, and failure by the construction industry to build anything like enough affordable homes. Governments Left and Right have failed to tackle the problem because those most in need tend not to vote; because neo-conservative “public is bad, private is good” ideology has prevented local authorities providing social housing; and because the powerful construction industry can hoard land in a rising market or build high-margin luxury dwellings. According to a recent study by Civitas, 80% of new homes in London are currently affordable by only 8% of the population.
Despite the shortfall in construction, the major house building companies have enjoyed super-profits in recent years, illustrated by a £100 million long-term bonus Persimmon planned to pay to its Chief Executive. These profits do not basically result from exceptional risk-taking or innovation, but from two factors which fall within the ambit of public policy.
The first of these is the increase in value that results when local councils grant planning permission. A hectare of agricultural land is currently worth an average of £21,000, according to the Financial Times, but if housing consent is granted, the value rises to over £2 million. Since 2012, local authorities have responded to the crisis by increasing the number of planning permissions by 40% but house building has increased by only 25% – to 164,000 in 2015-16, about half the number needed. Currently, local authorities claw back some of the added value by requiring developers to provide infrastructure and low-cost housing as a condition for obtaining planning permission. But this does nothing to discourage the developer from delaying construction in the hope of speculative gain.
The second factor is that the Government has pursued a policy of subsidising house buyers to stem the decline in home ownership through the multi-billion-pound Help to Buy home equity loan scheme. While popular with key voters, the main effect has been to push up house prices and inflate construction industry profits. While intended to help young people on modest incomes get onto the housing ladder, figures published in August 2018 show that some 20% of these loans have actually gone to second-time buyers with, in London, average incomes of over £70,000 a year.
We believe that the state should accept a fundamental obligation to ensure that the national housing stock is sufficient to meet public needs, as it is does for schools, hospitals and prisons. Three immediate steps are needed to resolve the problem:
- local authorities should be required to provide social housing for all who need it and be given the power to borrow to build (as has recently been done for housing associations), taking advantage of the low cost of public sector borrowing;
- planning procedures should be reformed to ensure sufficient sites are available by making it easier to build homes on redundant commercial land, and to ensure that they are actually used to provide housing;
- local authorities should be empowered to prevent hoarding by giving them the right to buy back housing land at its original price, should the developer delay unreasonably;
- subsidies for house-buying should be removed and the money saved used to address the acute needs of homeless people and parents bringing up children in insecure and sub-standard accommodation.
We are strongly in favour of increasing home ownership but the best way to achieve this is not to subsidise house purchase but to increase the stock of affordable houses, thus helping first-time house buyers and those who need to rent. The housing shortage and changes in the law have weakened the power of tenants vis-a-vis private landlords, leaving many at risk of being exploited or forced to leave their homes. Urgent steps should be taken to increase the security of tenure of vulnerable tenants. Consideration should also be given as to how to encourage innovative building techniques and the re-emergence of small builders to increase flexibility and choice in the housing market.
Local authorities should be empowered to introduce congestion charging and given the resources to support a major expansion in community-based transport initiatives, to extend rural bus networks and to ensure that fares and routes do not discriminate against people living in peripheral estates, who may otherwise be limited in their choice of employment and handicapped in access to city centre resources.
Tax-free Winter Fuel Payments paid automatically to all who are over 60 cost the exchequer approximately two billion pounds a year. Introduced to tackle hypothermia among elderly people, they are not tied to expenditure on heating and for most recipients, rich or poor, really serve as little more than a Christmas bonus. Meanwhile, excess winter deaths, which fell steadily from a five-year rolling average of 69,000 in 1961-2 to 24,000 in 2002-3, have risen sharply – reaching 30,000 on the same measure in 2014-5. Some 2.4 million people, predominantly elderly people and poor families with children, now live in fuel poverty, causing increased mortality, respiratory disease and other forms of ill-health.
Reform has been repeatedly discussed since the scheme was introduced in 1997, but nothing has been done for fear of upsetting better-off voters. The system should be changed as a matter of urgency to target the full amount on those most in need and channel the money directly into paying for warmth, hot water and hot food in the dark, cold days of winter.
Tolerance and Personal Autonomy
Radical Reform is strongly committed to equal rights on grounds of gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation and welcomes the progress made, after a long struggle, through legislation permitting people of the same gender to marry. But women, members of ethnic minority communities, supporters of minority religions, immigrants and LGBT people continue to face widespread discrimination. They also face an enhanced risk of threats and violence, which appear to have increased as a result of rising nationalism associated with Brexit.
An end to discrimination
The problem of addressing discrimination is no longer primarily one of inadequate legislation. Rather, it is a matter of empowerment and education, of challenging deep-rooted prejudice and fears, and of ensuring that the existing law is enforced and that offenders are apprehended and do not re-offend. Discrimination is a complex and multi-facetted problem. which demands a holistic response. The roots of the problem must be explored in a rigorous way and responses developed which can evolve to meet changing circumstances, expectations and knowledge. We understand that there is no single simple solution and will follow the evidence and listen to the views of experts and representative organisations in the areas concerned.
The right to a private life
The Government’s approach to inter-personal problems should be based on preventing harmful behaviour before it occurs, empowering victims and balancing public sensitivities with respect for privacy. We believe that adults should be allowed to live their personal lives with a minimum of involvement by politicians, the media and the courts. Changes in the law should be made on the basis of evidence, not introduced as a knee-jerk reaction to media campaigns.
They should be informed by international best practice and not simply copied from models promoted by right-wing evangelical politicians in the US. We oppose censorship and vigilantism and supports a statutory protection for individuals from interference in their private lives by the media. Britain’s antiquated censorship laws should be reformed so that, as far as possible, activities involving consenting adults are treated as a matter for the individuals concerned.
We support the call by Amnesty International for the decriminalisation of sex work and believes that those who choose freely to support themselves by providing personal services should be treated with respect and not persecuted by the law or automatically treated as victims. Legislation that makes it illegal for sex workers to share premises should, with appropriate safeguards, be removed, legitimising a range of alternatives to street work, which puts sex workers at greater risk and impacts local residents. At the same time, research into the extent and nature of trafficking and efforts to tackle it, should be stepped up along with initiatives to encourage sex workers to access support services, pay taxes and national insurance and integrate with society.
We oppose the suggestion that paying for personal services should be made an offence. Such a measure, which is strongly opposed by organisations representing sex workers, would threaten over 60,000 individuals who (according to the Treasury) currently support themselves and their dependents by providing such services. It would also put them at risk, as it has done in Northern Ireland and France, where it has pushed commercial sex underground, endangering the safety of those concerned and preventing clients from coming forward if they encounter signs of possible exploitation.
The age of consent
The age of consent was raised to 16 in Britain in 1875 in an attempt to control child prostitution, which was a pervasive problem in big cities, and to reflect the moral assumptions of the time. In 2016, the Faculty of Public Health, a division of the College of Physicians (CPH), which exists to advise government on health matters, reviewed the evidence from Britain and around the World and found that it varies in Europe from 14 in Germany and Italy to 17 in Ireland and 18 in Romania. Its research indicated that about a third of boys and girls in the UK have had sexual intercourse before 16. The FPH study found that, on average, teenagers started having sex later and the incidence of unwanted pregnancy and venereal disease was actually lower among young people in countries where the age of consent was lower.
On the basis of this evidence, it recommended that the age of consent in the UK be reduced to 15, arguing that this would give teachers and other professionals who work with young people a firmer legal footing for giving honest guidance and would make it easier for teenagers to get trustworthy advice on contraception and relationships. While the NSPCC responded that it intended to consider the Faculty’s recommendation, the Conservative Prime Minister, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party’s Shadow Health Minister all categorically rejected the findings of the report within hours of its appearance.
We consider that a law that makes it a criminal offence for 15-year-olds to engage in petting, increases the incidence of teenage pregnancy and disease, and puts parents and professionals who seek to protect young people at risk of prosecution, should be urgently reviewed. It strongly believes that the Government and opposition parties should listen carefully to the advice of competent professionals on the issue and not simply use it as a means of soliciting favourable headlines in the right-wing press.
Freedom From Addiction and Dependence
Addiction to dangerous psycho-active drugs, such as heroin and crack cocaine, and the misuse of prescription medicines and so-called legal-highs, is a complex world-wide issue. It causes enormous suffering and plays a central role in many health, social, economic, security and law enforcement problems. In the long run, the hope must be that pharmacological solutions are found, but the present pace of progress suggests that, if indeed such a breakthrough is ever achievable, it is likely to take many years.
In the meantime, Britain should follow a research-based response, which starts from acknowledging that the current punishment-centred approach is not working, understands that valuable lessons can be learnt from experience in other countries, and recognises the crucial links between social deprivation and inappropriate correctional policies and drug-related criminality. Unfortunately, in the present state of knowledge, there is no silver bullet which will solve the problem of the drugs trade and drug abuse, as legal restraints on the use and sale of dangerous drugs have both negative and positive effects.
On the negative side, they create an opening for criminality in both consuming and producing countries. But at the same time, the evidence shows that they do reduce consumption, both by pushing up prices and by stigmatising drug use. In this way, they constrain the incidence of the physical and psychological effects of addiction on addicts, their families and the surrounding communities. While the supply of currently illegal drugs should continue to be a matter for the police, using them should be treated as a medical and not as a criminal matter (See Objective 5).
At the same time, tackling social deprivation and enriching the opportunities for vulnerable young people should be brought to the centre of strategy for tackling drug abuse. The impact of relaxing controls on the use of drugs in other countries should be kept under review and lessons applied. More resources should also be made available for evidence-based efforts to persuade young people to abstain from experimenting with dangerous substances and for research to establish which approaches are most effective.
SUMMARY OF PROPOSALS
Programme for a Fairer Britain
- develop a five-year national programme to bring the UK from being the third most unequal major OECD nation to being one of the ten best;
- decant the programme to all local authorities and public agencies;
- build empowerment into all aspects of the programme;
- focus increased public spending on the NHS, education and other services in communities facing deprivation;
- provide nursery care free or at modest cost for all children, and free for all children in low income areas.
Fairness in pay and ending exploitation at work
- increase efforts to stamp out modern slavery, with more resources for front-line agencies and changes in visa conditions to protect immigrant victims who escape from exploitative employers;
- promote greater transparency and institute swifter remediation to end unequal pay at work;
- ensure women have greater opportunities to join trade unions and insist upon their rights;
- introduce a kite mark for employers who demonstrate best practice in equal opportunities and make it a requirement for public procurement contracting;
- tighten governance for determining remuneration and give stakeholders stronger rights to challenge excessive pay awards through the courts;
- publish guidelines for taxpayer funded organisations linking maximum pay to senior civil service pay scales.
Decent Housing for All
- require local authorities to provide housing for all in need and give them the power to borrow to build;
- empower councils to purchase land with planning permission at its unimproved value if development is delayed;
- encourage the re-emergence of small builders and innovative building techniques;
- expand home ownership by increasing the supply of homes for sale;
- increase the security of tenure of vulnerable tenants;
- target tax-free winter fuel payments to help vulnerable people out of fuel poverty.
Tolerance and Privacy
- tackle discrimination, challenge prejudice and fears, and ensure the law is enforced effectively;
- balance personal security with minimal interference in people’s private lives;
- decriminalise sex work, change the law to allow sex workers to share premises and increase efforts to tackle trafficking;
- ensure the age of consent reflects the safety of young people on the basis of the best available evidence.
Freedom from Addiction and Dependence
- treat supplying illegal drugs as a crime but their use as a medical, not a police matter;
- bring social deprivation to the centre of policies for tackling drug abuse;
- increase evidence-based initiatives to persuade young people to abstain from experimenting with drugs;
- review progressive drugs policies in other countries and explore how lessons can be applied.