A vision for us based on fairness: towards a new Social Contract

Liberal Democrats stand for fairness. “We exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society”, as the Preamble to our Constitution begins, and fairness is our continuing thought.

For there is little fairness apparent in our unequal society, with 14 million people in poverty, including close to 40% of our children predicted to be living in poverty by next year, as reported by UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty Philip Alston last May. Where are these people? They are in every nation and region, in cities, towns and rural areas, wherever there are food banks, wherever there are people with precarious jobs or ‘unemployed’ at home with young children, or living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, or struggling to live on inadequate benefits, whether disabled or just unlucky.

Who will stand up for all these people? Our new Prime Minister, who belatedly realised the decline of the de-industrialised towns of the north-east and Midlands? Hardly. There will probably be investment in infrastructure. But in worthwhile new jobs? Or in benefit increases as the food prices rise after Brexit?

Who will represent all these people? Will the Labour party, with its Union-dominated outlook? Will Labour activists care for the homeless and the stuck-at-home, the self-employed and people on zero-hours contracts, or the people moving from one temporary minimum-wage job to another?

Will our Liberal Democrats? Now we seem south-east centred, and dependent on the support of well-educated middle-class liberal-minded people. Do we have much to offer the urban factory workers, or the rural farmers and country folk? Are the West Country and Wales and Scotland just holiday destinations for most of us?

It isn’t good enough. Our councillors, everywhere we have them, will be trying to serve the needs of their voters, thinking of their housing and transport, their local services, the education and health provision locally, and how to foster local community and jobs. But is that enough to offer, for all of us to serve all our citizens?

I believe we need to commit to a new Liberal Democrat vision: to hold a new Social Contract between government and people.

We should follow in the giant footsteps of Rousseau in the eighteenth century and William Beveridge in the twentieth. Beveridge wanted to combat five great evils as he saw them, Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. Our modern Social Contract should ask more than that. Care for all individuals, and for their families and communities. Care for their physical environment, and the new demands of facing climate change. Care for the nations of the UK, for the regions of England, for rich and poor, people of every class and ethnicity and gender. For fairness for everyone.

Liberal Democrats have to do this. The two big parties can’t. Only we have the breadth of vision and capacity to care for everyone. But let us call on dispossessed liberal politicians, ex-MPs and MEPs from both big parties and our own and all our Liberal lords, to work with us on forging, declaring and committing to this vision, a new Social Contract for our country.

* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Copeland and Workington.

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121 Comments

  • Jenny Barnes 27th Jan '20 - 10:49am

    The “nations” of the UK appear to include a region (N.Ireland) , 2 nations(Scotland & Wales) and the remnants of the centre of an empire:
    London and England-except-London (EXLon)
    Brexit was largely the result of suppressed nationalism in EXLon, maybe also Wales. I don’t know how fairness applies to entities of such different characteristics and sizes; I doubt that the UK has a future as the UK.

  • Peter Martin 27th Jan '20 - 11:11am

    @ Katharine,

    I’d agree with you on most of this. Some exceptions. For example, your claim:

    “Only we have the breadth of vision and capacity to care for everyone….”

    Does ‘we’ include people like Nick Clegg and Jo Swinson? I would say you are very much on the left fringe on the Lib Dems. Most of your colleagues are much further to the right and don’t share your commitment to greater equality.

    Apart from the question of the EU I can’t think of any major points of difference between us. So why are we in different political parties?

  • Keir Starmer is pressing for a Federal UK:

    Keir Starmer: only a federal UK ‘can repair shattered trust in politics’
    Labour leadership frontrunner calls for new powers for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland after Brexit

    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/jan/26/rebecca-long-bailey-calls-for-greater-powers-for-scotland-and-wales

    Irrespective of the past – measures to counter the climate crisis are best handled as locally as possible – so regional government with devolved powers would help. However, each region and nation needs to have equal powers. Scotland should never have been granted the right to leave the union – it was Blair’s Scottish Raj that introduced the option.

    Not the actions of a responsible national government.

  • Katharine Pindar 27th Jan '20 - 12:27pm

    Thanks, Jenny and John, but just a bit more on the Social Contract idea first. Philip Alston, the UN Rapporteur, wrote in his initial Statement of November 2018 after his visit here: ” It was a British philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, who memorably claimed that without a social contract, life outside society would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.’ The risk is that if current policies do not change, this is the direction in which low-income earners and the poor are headed.” Citing “a determined resistance to change” on the part of British Government, Professor Alston also wrote in the Introduction to his Statement, “Key elements of the post-war Beveridge social contract as being overturned. In the process, some good outcomes have certainly been achieved, but great misery has also been inflicted unnecessarily, especially on the working poor, on single mothers struggling against mighty odds, on people with disabilities who are already marginalized, and on millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty escaping.”

    I think it is clear from this that a new Social Contract is needed, not as an intellectual concept, but as a commitment from our party and sympathisers to help these people and make fairness to everyone our watchword.

  • Innocent Bystander 27th Jan '20 - 1:19pm

    Of course this is right, but no society wants disease, want and squalor. They don’t want it in the drug and crime ridden slums and favellas of Latin America or the desperately poor villages of Africa and Asia but they are stuck with it despite their regular experiments with Marxism.
    These are the consequences of poor economies and we are headed that way too.
    It is easy to point to these problems and decry them but much harder to find solutions that actually work. It is naive and simplistic to increase taxes. Laugh at the Laffer curve all you like but in it is a grain of truth. The super rich only pay taxes if they want to. The world is a very big place. The able, imaginative, enterprising go getters just sit on their hands and remain inactive.
    I have said umpteen times before but the political left always look away and avoid the reality. That is, you can not force the achievers to make themselves rich so they can more tax. They won’t. Now what?
    The only solution is much wider and deeper wealth creation than we have now, so that the mass of the working population both creates wealth and contributes more tax.
    Accept Katharine’s message as I do, there is no point unless it is mirrored with an economic revival programme far more effective than the same policies on offer which have been tried and failed countless times since the war.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Jan '20 - 2:31pm


    Now we seem south-east centred, and dependent on the support of well-educated middle-class liberal-minded people.

    Our strongest support in the south-east used to be poor working class people living there.

    Thanks to the cosy agreement between the Conservatives and Labour, these people had no MPs to properly represent them. Labour MPs from northern and heavy industrial areas did not know and did not care about speaking up for working class people in the south-east.

    Also, in the past it seemed that Labour only cared for those who had big Trade Unions, and so had no care for south-east working class people who mostly didn’t.

    Regrettably, from Clegg onwards it seems the leaders of our party were happy to throw away the support we used to get from such people and get it replaced by wealthy middle class types.

  • Katharine Pindar 27th Jan '20 - 3:31pm

    Not sure who the ‘energetic go-getters’ are ‘who just sit on their hands and remain inactive’, Innocent – that sounds a bit contradictory. But I quite agree about needing ‘an economic revival’ policy, with continued national growth allowing government expenditure, as our colleague Michael BG is apt to recommend. I think our party economists are leading us in the right policy directions there, but it is likely to be harder after Brexit. For instance, the Times reported that the Treasury 2018 analysis showed, if high-end manufacturing jobs are hit by trade restrictions, it is the left-behind regions that the new government hopes to ‘level up’ which are likely to be hit hardest.

    Whether that turns out to be so or not, we should not forget the poor working-class people of the south-east, as Matthew Huntbach reminds us. And that is my reply to you, Peter Martin, on your point about left-of-centre Lib Dem thinking not seeming much different from your own. Liberal Democrats, whether left, centre or right of centre in thinking, are committed to serving and caring for everyone , which your Labour Party cannot claim.

  • @ John Roffey “Scotland should never have been granted the right to leave the union”.

    Tell me, John, are you based in the South East of England ?

    @Katharine, Agree completely on the desirability of the Liberal Democrats adopting (and more importantly committing to) a new Social Contract – but it remains to be seen how many of the Lib Dem parliamentary party do with the honourable exception of Tim Farron. I’m sure his predecessor as spokesperson on Social Care & Welfare had other fish to fry and I’ve yet to hear a peep from Mr Davey about the Alston Report….. although his previous policy commitments have a strong Orange Book flavour.

    Be interesting to see how Keir Starmer emerges over the next few weeks. “Labour leadership contenders: Sir Keir Starmer – BBC News
    13 Jan 2020 – Sir Keir Starmer “The moral fight against poverty, inequality and injustice must continue.”.

  • John Marriott 27th Jan '20 - 4:33pm

    @John Roffey
    If Scotland wants ‘out’, then Scotland should be allowed to get ‘out’. However, is that really what Scotland wants. The only way to find out is to ask those resident in Scotland what they think. Mind you, the cynic might want to add that perhaps we should have a referendum in the rest of the UK to find out whether or not we want them to stay!

    @Katharine Pindar
    Who knows why people vote Lib Dem, let alone what makes a ‘Liberal’? Mind you, I sometimes wonder what the Labour Party stands for anymore. All I do know is that at least 40% of the adult population is basically Conservative with a small ‘c’, which is clearly not likely to change much. OK, it’s not majority; but it’s enough to keep things as they are politically for the foreseeable future. As for a social contract, fine words; but it’s not words we want, it’s actions.

    And …..

    I see that Starmer has indeed jumped onto the Federal bandwagon. Nice of you to join us, Keir. Now all we need is a decent horse!

  • Innocent Bystander 27th Jan '20 - 4:34pm

    No Katharine, it’s not a contradiction. Societies need the enterprising to drive wealth creation forward and this category is in short supply already and steadily dwindling despite BoJo’s dreams of a national economic renaissance. Will higher taxation encourage or discourage these individuals? (Hint – I know some of them and they all, without exception, use the best accountants to reduce the tax they have to pay).
    As to the Keynesian option, it wasn’t a bright idea when the factories were in Birmingham and the customers were in China. Now it’s the other way round it’s economic suicide and a recipe for ever worsening import / export ratio.
    But still, no one can think of anything else so the inevitable will have to happen.
    Your trust in the party’s economic gurus is heartwarming.
    But misplaced.
    ‘Government expenditure) sounds simple and foolproof but it is a drowning man clutching at a straw.
    No matter, nothing I say will help.
    The seductive music of the Sirens will be far more appealing than the prospect of having to work hard rowing away from the rocks.

  • John Roffey 27th Jan '20 - 5:49pm

    David Raw 27th Jan ’20 – 3:49pm

    Tell me, John, are you based in the South East of England ? South East David.

    I hoped my reply would imply objectivity. Apart from the referendum [which I do not think should have been held because it raised expectations and made the issue even more divisive] – these matters were settled many years ago through war and in the manner that the nation became established before 1066 – through marriages.

    How can a nation develop successfully if various parts can leave if they choose – where do you draw a line? For Scotland the underlying problem was that of religion but given:

    Dramatic drop in church attendance in Scotland

    A census of Scottish Christians found that there are around 390,000 regular churchgoers north of the border, down from 854,000 in 1984.

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-39613631

    This is hardly an issue now in a, primarily, secular administration. As usual it is ambitious politicians stirring a previous grudge for personal gain – rather than dealing with matters that adversely effect the people’s wellbeing.

    Devolved government – with as much power as possible – should provide the various regions/nations a route to demonstrate their superiority. Through success and through the acceptable form of modern warfare – sports.

  • David Warren 27th Jan '20 - 6:14pm

    I agree with the points that Katherine 100 per cent.

    Liberals have a great historical tradition as social reformers and we need to return to that. Unfortunately we have been either pretty much silent of far to timid in recent years on the measures needed to tackle poverty in our country.

    The proposal in last years General Election manifesto fell well short of what is needed. Labour were far more radical and it needs to be the other way around. In areas like welfare we need to be saying clearly that the amounts paid are nowhere near enough for people to exist on instead of merely talking about things like waiting times.

    Let’s get this onto the agenda at every level of our party and start a massive national campaign.

  • John Roffey 27th Jan '20 - 6:15pm

    On the economy, jobs and society generally – it seems that the impact of dealing with the climate emergency has been overlooked. How many million trees need to be planted and tended [in their early years]?

    There are many local and full time green jobs – so many that it is likely that, non violent, prisoners would be required to be used if they wished to be involved. We would also need to grow as much food as possible – this video demonstrates, again, that the real battle is against the globalist banks and corporations – not against each other.

    Bill Gates is continuing the work of Monsanto’, Vandana Shiva tells FRANCE 24

  • John Roffey 27th Jan '20 - 6:20pm

    On a related matter to my last post – does anyone know anything about Agenda 21? This good lady seems to think it is of great concern:

  • John Marriott 27th Jan '20 - 6:53pm

    Just watched our local BBC news and gather that the Lib Dems on Hull City Council are advocating a Universal Basic Income, where everyone in the city would get a weekly £100 gratis. You can imagine the reaction from viewers. It’s stunts like this that do nothing to improve the party’s image, and to think that they used to run the council a few years ago.

  • Katharine Pindar 27th Jan '20 - 7:53pm

    John Roffey. Thanks, John, but I am curbing my international instincts here to concentrate on the needs of our little, now effectively somewhat isolated country. Thanks to everyone else and I hand over to our economists to defend a continuing Keynesian approach to the need for growth and shared prosperity. I am supposing there will unfortunately be a still smaller cake to share in the immediate future. I am demanding that we commit to sharing it with the poorest and most disadvantaged in our country.

    David Warren puts this so well. ‘Liberals have a great tradition as social reformers and we need to return to that’, he writes, going on to deplore the fact that our Manifesto was not radical enough on welfare reform and asking for the demands to be on our agenda at every level and that we ‘start a massive national campaign.’ I agree absolutely, David, and thanks also to David R. for your ever-engaged encouragement.

    I believe that we Liberal Democrats can and should lead a campaign for a new Social Contract. The very fact that we have no elected leader at the moment is relevant – we don’t have to sit waiting for our future leader to endorse this, but can call on our magnificent membership to rise up and do so. If from the thickets of the Labour leadership elections Keir Starmer manages to struggle forth into the light, he will be welcome to accept it as most relevant to his wish for social justice and equality. Meantime, I call on our own Social Liberal Forum to agree to manage and develop it.

  • David Becket 27th Jan '20 - 9:32pm

    There are two issues, Social Contract and Climate Change where we should be able to make our own, though it will require a great deal of work. It would be more use concentrating on these, and ensuring we updates at every conference, until we get it right.
    However is our current leadership up to it .As Katharine kept pointing out neither of our two leadership candidates mentioned the Alston Report, which is now allowed to wither on the vine. Layla appears to believe that we can work closer with Labour, fat chance. (Though it would be helpful if our next leader did not spend so much time attacking Labour).
    As this debate shows these policies are not going to be easy to develop, and we need to involve members. We should be looking as assemblies to develop policy. These at Regional level and one day of Conference given over to the issues.

  • Katharine, as you wrote, “Beveridge wanted to combat five great evils as he saw them, Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness”. We should want to also build a society where no one lives in poverty; where we can successfully fight disease and ensure everyone gets the health care they need within a timely manner; where everyone receives the education and training they require to fulfil their potential (including during their working lifetime); where everyone who wants a home of their own has one; and everyone who wants a job has one. Our party is a long way from espousing these aims. Those who accept draft policy papers and motions for debate bleat about how to pay for these things rather than accept we should be espousing them and then work out how to manage the economy to pay for them.

    Fairness is nebulous. We both may say it is unfair that anyone lives in poverty while someone else would say it is unfair for them to work to earn the money to pay for their needs including their home while others have these paid for by the state because they have no job. Perhaps ‘fairness’ is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Peter Martin 27th Jan '20 - 11:03pm

    @ Matthew Huntbach, @ Katharine

    “Thanks to the cosy agreement between the Conservatives and Labour, these people had no MPs to properly represent them.”

    “These people” being working class Southerners. Where does Matthew get these silly ideas from? The last time I checked, London was in the South of England and Labour always has good representation there. We’ve had Labour MPs in places like Southampton, Portsmouth, Reading, Plymouth, Bristol even in Dover ! We’ve got Rosie Duffield in Canterbury. And that’s because we came to “a cosy agreement” with the Tories?

    It’s true that we probably won’t win in Christchurch or Tunbridge Wells anytime soon. I’d have said that’s because of the socio-economic status of the towns, but you think it’s all settled in some dark corner, and as a matter of agreement with the Tories?

    It’s all nonsense of course. In any case, what makes you think Lib Dems are in any position to lecture anyone on “cosy agreements” with the Tories?

  • Katharine Pindar 27th Jan ’20 – 7:53pm
    “John Roffey. Thanks, John, but I am curbing my international instincts here to concentrate on the needs of our little, now effectively somewhat isolated country.?

    Katherine – perhaps you should give them full rein!

    Exxon [global corporation] Knew about Climate Change almost 40 years ago
    A new investigation shows the oil company understood the science before it became a public issue and spent millions to promote misinformation:

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/exxon-knew-about-climate-change-almost-40-years-ago/

    What the five hottest years on Earth look like – in pictures

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2020/jan/15/what-the-five-hottest-years-on-earth-look-like-in-pictures

  • Jenny Barnes 28th Jan '20 - 8:32am

    Everyone knew about climate change 30 years ago. In that time humanity has doubled its fossil fuel usage and done next to nothing to curb it. It’s not all the big bad oil companies fault – the demand for holidays by air, electricity, cars by the people might have had something to do with the demand for fossil fuels.

  • Peter Martin 28th Jan '20 - 9:17am

    @ Michael BG,

    “Fairness is nebulous. We both may say it is unfair that anyone lives in poverty while someone else would say it is unfair for them to work to earn the money…”

    A good point. One which goes to the heart of the matter. Hardly anyone would admit to wanting an unfair system. Except we all know it’s unfair. Life chances are still largely determined by an accident of birth a-and not just in a socio-economic sense. Those of us who are lucky enough to have no classifiable disabilities might think its “unfair” on those who do have.

    Therefore all we can aim for is to reduce the level of unfairness and try to take into account everyone’s POV. I agree we do need to move towards better combatting the five evils of “Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness”.

    We shouldn’t forget idleness. We tend to think economics is just about money. So, for example, if there are problems in the NHS we tend to think they can be solved by spending £N billion. In reality they’ll only be solved by the application of human labour power. This means we can’t really afford to have people not contributing to the system – even if they do live in poverty.

    Therefore with the right application of policies we can address the concerns of both sides of the “fairness” argument.

  • Peter Martin
    Personally, I’d like a world were more people could afford to be idle. I was never happier than in my early twenties just after University when all I had to do was play video games, wear funny hats, sit in the pub and spend time with my girlfriend. It was pretty awesome. To this day the only reason I do anything as awful as work is to earn enough money to live on and to eventually implement my retirement plan of being as idle as possible.

  • Katharine Pindar 28th Jan '20 - 10:03am

    Michael BG. I am happy to accept your idea of what the Social Contract should offer each individual, Michael, and that might indeed form the basis of what people should expect from government if the notion of a new Contract came to be accepted, as I hope it may be.

    Fairness is indeed a debatable word – thank you also, Peter, for your discussion of it. But so are other great concepts debatable as to their meaning: words such as ‘liberal’, ‘freedom’ and ‘community’. (I won’t mention the D word which has been exhaustively debated throughout the Brexit struggle!) My reason for advancing the word ‘fairness’ is that we have to have buzz-words in talking to people, which we then proceed to enlarge on. I can’t go up to a voter and say straight away, ‘Don’t you agree, we need a new Social Contract between government and us?’ but I could say, ‘We Lib Dems believe in fair treatment for everyone’, which seems understandable and generally acceptable, and go on from there.

    I would like the Social Liberal Forum to take up this campaign, which surely should be up their street, and I am contacting individual members whom I know. But it also occurs to me that this would be a great cause for our ex-MEPs, without a job after Blackest Friday, to take a lead on in their intervals of hunting for new employment. I shall recommend it to a NW MEP!

  • Peter Martin 28th Jan '20 - 11:13am

    @ Katharine,

    “I hand over to our economists to defend a continuing Keynesian approach…..”

    It’s been a long time since any major political party had an overtly Keynesian approach. The mainstream view is now monetarism, sometimes erroneously referred to as neo-Keynesianism. and it’s very rarely challenged. The idea is that the economy can be regulated by monetary means rather than Keynesian fiscal means.

    I often describe it as the process of deliberately stoking up the extent of private debt in the economy. If the economy is sluggish because of the build up of too much private debt then interest rates are are reduced to encourage more borrowing and therefore the creation of more private debt. House prices skyrocket and young people are priced out of the market.

    I’m sure we can all spot the flaw in this line of thinking! Except, maybe the ones who are paid the most to not be able to!

  • Perhaps we should change our emphasis from education to skills and employment training. We should be aiming to provide a worthwhile job for everyone who wants one. We should not be afraid of pointing people towards the future jobs market such as in the green economy, IT, services and farming include forestry.

  • Peter Martin,

    It seems to me that it is OK for rich people to be ‘idle’ and pursue non-employment activities but it is not OK for everyone and especially the poor. If we ever get to a robot society where most work is done by robots we will need to educate people to combat ‘idleness’ with other activities, one of which should be face to face socialising. As I see that aspect of employment as very important. However, we are not there yet and that is why government economic policy should be to try to run the economy so everyone who wants a job has one and those who don’t have a job don’t live in poverty.

    Katharine,

    How about – the Liberal Democrats have the policies to end poverty, improve the NHS, provide free adult training, ensure there are sufficient homes for everyone who wants one to have one and provide full employments so everyone who wants a job has one?

    I wish you well with trying to get the Social Liberal Forum to campaign within the party on these issues. Maybe we need a new Liberal Democrat organisation with Beveridge in the name. (I assume that the Beverage Group no longer exists.)

  • Sue Sutherland 28th Jan '20 - 2:01pm

    I like your idea of a new Social Contract very much Katharine and I think it could be developed if we concentrate on the community part of our commitment to liberty, equality and community. We have done this with success at a local level but haven’t managed to transfer it into national policies, I think because we have thought of communities as having physical restrictions. Instead we should focus on the fact that we see society as a community, and a series of interlocking communities, rather than the battleground that it is for socialism and conservatism. We don’t want a ‘them and us’ approach at any level and between any members and groups in our society. Instead, we want a nurturing model where everyone should be able to have the best life they can, have equality of treatment and contribute to and enrich the community at large as well as their local community.
    Our model of democracy is essential to achieving the optimum community and to that end I believe we should be looking at democracy with a far wider scope than just voting methods. Citizenship should be a part of the school curriculum and we should celebrate our country’s contribution to democracy as well as trying to improve it and defend it from those who use lies to further their own position. We need to have working groups in each region and then take this wider for every citizen to have their say. Brexit actually gives us the opportunity because for many people we Lib Dem’s have looked to be on the wrong side of democracy.
    Climate change is the greatest challenge we face and to solve the problem we will have to cooperate in a way that is unthinkable at present. It’s the equivalent of an alien attack on Earth. The selfish gene model of behaviour will not save us because we require compassion, generosity and innovation to overcome the threat because we need to benefit others so that we can benefit from them.
    We must articulate our way of looking at the world much more strongly than we have done and I think a Social Contract based on community may give us a good chance of doing so.

  • Katharine Pindar 28th Jan '20 - 3:26pm

    This is very interesting – thank you, everyone, for the developing discussion on what the Social Contract should involve. The concept of a worthwhile job for everyone who wants one would indeed as Peter Hirst suggests involve some emphasis on skills and employment training, and that would have to include as Michael says free adult retraining. (\Where jobs aren’t available because of robots, potentially, I am intrigued by your suggestion of education in face-to-face socialising, Michael – a good thought, surely, because people made unemployed do often miss the personal contacts and ‘crack’ of work, and idleness alone at home seems a recipe for loneliness.)

    Sue, how right you are to emphasise fostering community, and your account of how it can be approached by us as ‘a series of interlocking communities’ is I think excellent. It leads me back to the buzz-words notion, too – Fairness and Community providing some shorthand for the Social Contract idea. However, we will have to keep focused on what the Contract itself would be considered to cover, and I think, following Alston again, it should include local services and facilities to sustain our communities.

  • Today’s Guardian,
    ‘Disabled man starved to death after DWP stopped his benefits MPs call for inquiry into case of Errol Graham, 57, who weighed 28.5kg when he was found dead’.

    A coroner’s report found that Graham, who suffered from severe social anxiety and had cut himself off from family and friends, had died of starvation. When he was found, his Nottingham flat had no gas or electricity supply. There was no food in the property apart from two tins of fish that were four years out of date. The Graham case is not unique.

    It’s time to stop ignoring the Alston Report, time to take an honest look at the outcomes of the Welfare Reform Act, 2012, and time to work with Debbie Abrahams and other M.P.’s identified in this report.

  • Katharine Pindar 28th Jan '20 - 5:34pm

    Thank you very much, David, for informing us at once of that very sad story. Can I also add something from last Friday’s Times. The paper reported that, according to an independent fact-checking agency called Full Fact, there are now estimated to be more than 2000 food banks in this country, at a time when the fast-food chain McDonald’s has about 1300 branches. Moreover, nearly half a million people turned for help to charity over the last year.

    It is indeed time to act. Let our party take the lead now, in fostering the acceptance of a new Social Contract between government and people. We should not leave it to the Labour party, whose broad-brush approach such as their Manifesto commitment to abolishing Universal Credit is not sensitive to the country’s needs, but call now for a total change of attitude to the country’s poorest and most disadvantaged people. by government and all in authority. The Alston report showed the way, and pointed out the crying need for a successor to Beveridge.

  • And thank you very much, Katharine. I’d only add that the stats for all UK Foodbanks show a 22% increase in demand over the last twelve months as Universal Credit and PIP began to bite.

    Poverty, inequality and homelessness are out there…. but some people either aren’t interested, don’t want to see it ,or don’t want to talk about it in polite circles.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Jan '20 - 10:50pm

    Peter Martin

    The last time I checked, London was in the South of England and Labour always has good representation there.

    That proves my point. If you think Labour MPs for inner London are able to give good representation to speak for working class people in small towns and villages in Sussex and Kent, you haven’t a clue.

    I grew up in a working class family in Sussex in the days when every MP for the county was Conservative. We most certainly felt we had no-one to truly represent us.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Jan '20 - 10:58pm

    Peter Martin

    It’s all nonsense of course. In any case, what makes you think Lib Dems are in any position to lecture anyone on “cosy agreements” with the Tories?

    Well, thanks to Labour supporting the disproportionate electoral system, we have a right-wing Conservative government in full control of the country. By the looks of it, thanks to Labour, it seems that’s how we’re going to be for the foreseeable future.

    So it seems that Labour would rather the Conservatives have complete control of this country, even if they have way under half the actual votes, so long as that means Labour is the sole big opposition party.

    That seems to me to be a cosy agreement.

  • Katharine Pindar 29th Jan '20 - 12:47pm

    ‘Benefits crisis as enquiries soar’ – local paper poster in Cockermouth this morning reminds me of the most pressing need for us now – to get the government to upgrade benefits and help the poorest people. This is where our MPs can surely work with Labour. But let us lead the way in demanding this help, and in showing the need for a new Social Contract, in attitudes and action. I hope Social Liberal Forum, together with our parliamentarians such as Tim Farron MP and Lord William Wallace, whom we know to be concerned with social justice, will take this up and pursue it formally at our York Conference with an emergency motion and fringe meeting as well.

    Matthew Huntbach – I agree with you, Matthew, that we can’t leave hopes of progress to the Labour party, whoever they select as leader. They remain a highly conflicted party where the blame game and continuing divisions are likely to weaken them We should take a lead nationally, as we do so often locally.

  • Peter Martin 29th Jan '20 - 3:36pm

    @ Michael BG,

    27th Jan ’20 – 10:59pm

    “Fairness is nebulous. We both may say it is unfair that anyone lives in poverty while someone else would say it is unfair for them to work to earn the money……”

    You seem to understand a welfare system does require public support. If there is a general perception as there perhaps was in the 70s that others are working the system for their own benefit ………

    But then you’re back to your old ways with:

    28th Jan ’20 – 1:04pm

    government economic policy should be to try to run the economy so everyone who wants a job has one and those who don’t have a job don’t live in poverty…

    But what if people don’t want a job but still want a reasonable lifestyle etc?

    As Glenn has admitted

    “I was never happier than in my early twenties just after University when all I had to do was play video games, wear funny hats, sit in the pub and spend time with my girlfriend.”

    Sounds good. At that age. I was busy working to try to get the money to be able to afford to sit in the pub! I’m not sure if it would have made me a better person if I’d just been able to idle my time away.

    You can’t have it both ways. You have to come up with a system that satisfies both sides of the fairness debate. Otherwise it won’t achieve public acceptance. There has to be an element of “from each according to their ability” to be able to give to “each according to their needs”.

  • Peter Martin 29th Jan '20 - 3:46pm

    @ Matthew Huntbach,

    “Well, thanks to Labour supporting the disproportionate electoral system, we have a right-wing Conservative government in full control of the country. ”

    If we had a more proportionate system we’d probably have a UKIP /Tory coalition. Would that be much better?

    The experience of the Tory/LibDem coalition wasn’t great. That did put off those in the Labour Party who were sympathetic to the idea of PR.

    Look. I’m sorry that the good citizens of Sussex have a propensity to vote Tory. At least there is a Green bastion in Brighton now. If you can figure out a way to shift them all to the left a little, please let me know and I’ll pass on your advice to Labour Party Head Office.

  • Peter Martin,

    There was no perception in the 1970’s “that others are working the system for their own benefit” it came later, after the Tories first ran the economy to provide a large pool of unemployed people and then demonised these people.

    We need to try to convince people that no matter what a person’s employment status no one in the UK should live in poverty. Is living at the poverty level “a reasonable lifestyle”?

    If the poverty level is the floor which no one can live below, then as a liberal I think it is fine if everyone can then choose to have a higher income or not. A first step must be to ensure no one in full time work lives in poverty.

  • Katharine Pindar 29th Jan '20 - 11:27pm

    Michael BG has the reasonable answers, Peter Martin. It’s evident you enjoy the process of trying to pick holes in the arguments of committed Lib Dems, and we don’t mind in the least you trying it on. But I would like to know, to which section of your highly divided Labour Party do you commit yourself? May we know your own principled stance, if any please? I am doubtful if there is really any committed belief and wish for action that we share, however aligned our public positions may sometimes seem to be.

  • Peter Martin 30th Jan '20 - 10:28am

    @ Katharine,

    I’m sorry if I have caused you some discomfort by suggesting that there may be some things we might agree on! How about the need for action on the climate? Surely that should be possible.

    I’m sure you can work out that I’m somewhat Old Labour with Bennite (Tony rather than Hilary!) inclinations. It might cause you slightly more discomfort to know that, with your pro EU views and socially liberal POV you’d be much more at home in the modern day Labour Party than I am.

    You could still say things like “Only we have the breadth of vision and capacity to care for everyone”.

    Just a different “we” of course!

  • Peter Martin 30th Jan '20 - 2:01pm

    @ Michael BG

    The perception, of abusing the system, was probably around even before thr 70s. Margaret Thatcher was the one who simply tapped into existing resentment

    I’m sure much of it was unjustified, but it’s not what you and I think that matters. The system has to be beyond criticism even by those who are very inclined to vote Tory. Otherwise we’ll just never get away from what we have now.

  • Peter Martin,

    Before 1979 I don’t recall there being much long-term unemployment, even though unemployment increased in the 1970s. As there were few people living on benefits long-term it was not an issue. It was only in the 1990s that the Tories started attacking those living on benefits starting with single mothers. Maybe it started with Peter Lilley at the Conservative conference in 1992. In the 1980s there was still the widespread hope that we would have full employment again and so being unemployed was not a person’s fault or life choice but the result of government policy.

    Instead of providing full employment after the 1997 general election the Labour government continued to attack those on benefits. This led to the Work Capability Assessment for those too ill or disabled to work.

  • Katharine Pindar 31st Jan '20 - 9:56am

    That the only way out of poverty is to work was the philosophy of recent Tory governments, as the UN Rapporteur Philip Alston reported last May, and as Michael BG suggests, the Labour Party seems to have gone along with the idea that employment must be the answer to poverty. It plainly has not been, with families where both parents are working still needing to use food banks. The government assumption that today’s high employment is all that is needed is clearly wrong, when people’s employment may be on zero-hours contracts or none, and benefits are insufficient and cannot cover irregularity of employment speedily enough. There needs to be a change of attitude in both the major parties, and compassion for the most disadvantaged to be restored. Our party should demand this, and to raise the Social Compact renewal as an aim gives the demand a focus and way of action.

  • Peter Martin 31st Jan '20 - 11:31am

    “…the Labour Party seems to have gone along with the idea that employment must be the answer to poverty. It plainly has not been……”

    True. Good Point.

    The problem is that the workers don’t have the bargaining power they once had. The best way to keep employers on their toes is for them to know that if they don’t provide decent pay and conditions their workers will go off and find a better job somewhere else. This was essentially how the economy operated until the 70s. The problem was that if the demand for workers is relatively high there will likely be an inflation problem. Prices rise and workers strike to maintain their real wages as prices rise. The desire to maintain full employment with good wages leads to a class conflict.

    The rise of Thatcherism and monetarism was about putting a stop to all that. Inflation was brought under control and the trades unions were weakened. Unemployment rose. The neoliberal idea of unemployment, at the time, was to act as a reserve army of labour to suppress wage levels. They have since added to that. They’ve created a reserve army of the poorly paid and underemployed. To do this requires that people don’t have any other choice than take minimum wage jobs or ZHC jobs. Its now much harder than it ever was to obtain social benefits and that’s not an accident! It’s part of the anti inflation plan.

    I sometimes think that well meaning Lib Dems haven’t quite grasped that this is how the capitalist system works. The GDP of the UK is about £30,000 per capita. So there’s plenty there to solve all our problems if only it was distributed more evenly. The snag is that if you do that, the motivation for many to get out of bed in the morning to do all the jobs that are necessary to keep the country functioning disappears.

    So how to fix all this? This is where the idea of the Job Guarantee comes in and is much superior to the alternative of a UBI – which will never get popular acceptance anyway.

  • Peter Martin 31st Jan '20 - 11:45am

    @ Michael BG,

    “….As there were few people living on benefits long-term (in the 70s) it was not an issue..”

    Oh yes it was! It doesn’t take many. If there are genuinely plenty of jobs around then the attitude towards the unemployed is even harsher than normal.

    The Tories won an election in ’79 on the slogan of Britain isn’t working. They didn’t just mean unemployment. They were also having a go at the working class for being too stroppy!

    This is an interesting article.

    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FA%3A1016914319477

  • Peter Martin,

    I only read the abstract for the article, which appears to have been written in 1998. The sample size is small – 67. However, whatever the attitudes to the unemployed recorded then, it does not reflect the attitudes in the 1970s. In the 1970s it was Trade Unions which were attacked in the press and not the unemployed. As I stated there were few people unemployed for long periods of time in the 1970s.

    The Tory campaign that ‘Labour isn’t working’ was about the one million unemployed. Giving the impression that the Tories would run the economy so unemployment would fall more than it had under the Labour government. Instead they ran the economy to increase unemployment to over 3 million. I suppose it would have been possible to see it as an attack on the failure of the Labour government’s pay restraint policy and the ‘Winter of Discontent’ (1978-79).

    I will only accept that capitalism has to have a large pool of unemployed or underemployed people once my suggestions on how to run a capitalist economy have been tried and have failed. Until we become a robot society there is a need for a Job / Training Guarantee scheme. As a liberal I believe it must not be compulsory and the thing undertaken under the scheme must suit the person. When we are a robot society UBI will be accepted. There will be no alternative. The issues are how to introduce a UBI gradually and how long before it needs to be fully implemented. If we rolled it out one year group at a time it would take 49 years to be fully implemented (67-18).

  • Peter Martin 31st Jan '20 - 2:34pm

    @ Michael BG,

    I don’t know where you were in the 70s but comments like “there’s no such thing as unemployment. There are plenty of jobs for anyone who is willing to work” could be heard in just about every public bar in the country.

    To some extent that was true. I managed to pick up all kinds of different jobs without really trying too hard about it. But I was young and good looking at the time so that always helps. 🙂 But it probably wasn’t true for everyone. Unemployment was starting to rise.

    “The Tory campaign that ‘Labour isn’t working’ was about the one million unemployed.” That is quite a naive thing to say. It was about the workers getting too “upetty!” Both Tories and Labour knew what it all meant. There was a widespread desire in the country to curb the power of the unions.

    Surely you’ve watched Basil on Fawlty Towers?

  • Innocent Bystander 31st Jan '20 - 3:34pm

    The Tories didn’t need a slogan to win in 1979. Millions of working people, including me, voted for Thatcher to save them from kamikase TU destroying their livelihoods.
    Anyone been to a TU mass meeting in the 70’s? In the reign of Sunny Jim? I have and a punch in the face was the reward for putting up your hand at the wrong time. Anyone else remember the word ‘blacked’? Socialists pretend they’ve never heard it but I have. I am old now but I was there and any new improved machine tool (especially CNC) was immediately ‘blacked’.¹
    The workers were the ones voting Tory, they were not getting uppety at all.
    How to run a western capitalist society in the face of competition from other countries who don’t have (and will never get) the cornucopia of benefits British men and women enjoy, is the $64,000 question that’s never faced here, or anywhere really.

  • Katharine Pindar 31st Jan '20 - 6:12pm

    ‘Cornucopia of benefits’ enjoyed by British people, Innocent? Tell that to people struggling with illness or disability, trying to fill in the Work Capability Assessment forms, frightened of losing the little allowed them. Or the people driven from their rented homes by the inflexibility of the demands of Universal Credit, in B&Bs, trying to find accommodation which, no matter how damp and decrepit, the Housing Allowance will barely pay for – worrying about the kids’ schooling and where they can find work at the same time. Charities have to try to pick up the callousness or indifference of our governments.

    In any case, I think I have heard that countries in the prosperous EU also manage to pay benefits to the poor, unlucky and disadvantaged, and make capitalism with a human face work.

  • A decent amateur football match is a social contract in action. Both sides know the rules, and come together, the one to side to beat the other by play skilful and fair according to rules well known. Each side accepts that ‘foul’ play will be penalised by the recognised arbitrator, the ref, in accordance with well known scales — free kick or penalty or sending off. It works.

    A Social Contract is another matter altogether: the capitals proclaim a wealth of background History and Philosophy and Politics, some of it well known, some not. And that wealth is grist to the mills of several valuable commentators such as the contributors to the very interesting and important thread started for us by Katharine.

    So I am astonished to find, in all the responses to Katharine’s call for a Lib Dem revival of the idea of a Social Contract, no mention of the Report written for Labour by the distinguished academic Guy Standing (of the Progressive Economy Forum) with the title “Basic Income as Common Dividends: Piloting a Transformative Policy” — astonished because what this Report depicts and persuasively promotes seems to me to be an extremely credible description of a viable social contract (and Social Contract) for our times — and for our party, especially since Labour seem not to recognise how good it is.

    The Report is well written and a good read, and begins not with Rousseau or Beveridge, but with the two charters of which the Magna Carta is the partner, setting us on the social and national path we’re still — just – treading today
    The text runs to 75 or so pages, so if time is short I suggest reading the ‘Introduction’ and the ‘Concluding reflections and recommendations’ first. The discussion before he embarks on ‘piloting’ is the most important and the most interesting, I find, because I do not believe that such a ‘transformative’ Social Contract can be ‘piloted’ — you’ve just got to take leap, once the nation is properly primed!

    And we must stop being so damn sniffy about the Reds and the Greens, please! We can beat them better if we know them better. Or join them for a spell, to despatch FPTP and its supporters.

  • Katharine Pindar 31st Jan '20 - 6:48pm

    ‘Oh, winnow all my folly, folly, folly and you’ll find A grain or two of truth among the chaff’ as Mr Gilbert had his Merryman sing! Sorry, Peter, couldn’t resist that! I do agree always with your opinion of a Job Guarantee scheme being preferable to UBI, and it should be coupled as Michael says with a Job Training guarantee. But on going through your comments above I do feel a sense of class hatred, and class warfare. I think those are concepts alien to Liberal Democrats. I do deplore the single-minded drive to power and wealth of Tories in government today, but I don’t hate Tories in general.

  • Interesting that this thread has drifted back to the subject of UBI. I agree with Roger Lake (I think !) that the best way to start to reforge a social contract is to accept that we all have a legitimate share in the wealth of the nation and to articulate this through a universal basic income.
    I don’t see how a job guarantee scheme would work. Everyone guaranteed a job – irrespective of the broader macro economic circumstances ? And would this job be linked to a persons qualifications, or would unemployed nuclear physicists be asked to work in Starbucks (other coffee chains are available) ? And what about those not keen to take the job allocated ? Doesn’t sound very liberal, and certainly doesn’t give people the freedom to express their creativity.

  • Peter Martin,

    What you remember and what I remember are different, neither of us have provided any evidence for public attitudes regarding the unemployed in the 1970s. We are both basing our views on what we can remember of that time. One of the reasons the slogan that ‘Labour isn‘t working’ was so successful was because there was still an expectation that the government would run the economy to minimise unemployment and aim for full employment. I don’t think the slogan would have been so successful if there had been the widespread belief that being unemployed was the person’s fault and a life choice.

    As I said Trade Unions were being attacked and were unpopular with some. I think the Winter of Discontent was also a huge factor in people voting Tory and not Labour. It was clear that the Labour Party could not get the Trade Unions to support their economic policy. There was no general feeling that everyone who worked was ‘getting too “upetty”’. It was about the Trade Unions being too powerful.

  • Peter Martin 31st Jan '20 - 8:27pm

    @ Chris Cory,

    “I don’t see how a job guarantee scheme would work.”

    It works by saying to anyone who is short of money, and wish to make a contribution to society, that this is what they need to do to get a decent living wage. Many people who suffer from such disabilities as Down’s Syndrome are quite capable of doing something but the unemployment rate is ultra high. Hardly anyone suffering from Down’s syndrome has a job. So the JG is very much about matching abilities with jobs. I’d anticipate there could be some problems but essentially the JG would be voluntary and in addition to what we have now. So an unemployed nuclear physicist would be no worse off than they are now.

    This is how it works in a macroeconomic sense:

    https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-umkc-buckaroo-a-curre_b_970447

  • Peter Martin 31st Jan '20 - 9:09pm

    @ Katharine,

    No I don’t hate Tories, or Lib Dems, for that matter. But I do hate the sort of society we have become with its ” homeless and the stuck-at-home, the self-employed and people on zero-hours contracts, or the people moving from one temporary minimum-wage job to another”. And there’s really no need for it all. Remember that figure of £30k per person. Which includes everyone. Including small children and the very elderly who can’t work. How much is ever enough?

    However, we do have to recognise that the society does sort-of-work for most people. People wouldn’t want to come here if it was all bad. I do try to explain why the mainstream, which isn’t just Tories, do what they do. They don’t deliberately create a vast class of poorer people. They might not want to admit it publicly, but they do believe that such a class is a necessary for the functioning of society. You can’t just say “no it isn’t” without understanding why they think that. They do have rational reasons.

    There are rational reasons for thinking we can come up with something better too.

  • John Peters 31st Jan '20 - 9:49pm

    @Peter Martin
    “They don’t deliberately create a vast class of poorer people. They might not want to admit it publicly, but they do believe that such a class is a necessary for the functioning of society. You can’t just say “no it isn’t” without understanding why they think that. They do have rational reasons.”
    I am a Tory voter.

    I don’t want beggars, I don’t want zero hours contracts, I don’t want poverty.

    We disagree about a method to eradicate these abominations – they are abominations, on that at least I hope we are all agreed.

  • Innocent Bystander 31st Jan '20 - 11:50pm

    I’m sorry Katharine, but the world is far, far bigger than your corner of safe and comfortable England. The benefits you decry as insufficient are already vastly more than huge tracts of the human race could ever dream of.
    It is they who are destroying our childrens’ means of earning a living by undercutting every wealth creating activity we have left.
    Now what? Tell them to stop? Close the borders with trade walls?
    Political parties, and thinkers, who can only think up ways to redistribute ever diminishing national income, but who can’t come up with plausible ways to increase it , are ten a penny.
    But, as you say, the party’s economic boffins will come up with some miracle and with one mighty bound we will be free.
    All I read here is no better than Pantomime Jack’s Magic Beans.

  • Roger Lake,

    Hopefully this link goes to the Guy Standing report – https://www.progressiveeconomyforum.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/PEF_Piloting_Basic_Income_Guy_Standing.pdf. (Perhaps you can save this somewhere so in the future you can provide the link when you refer to it.)

    Peter Martin,

    I think Guy Standing makes a strong case for a UBI. I hope you can find the time to read his report. He ends his report with, “A progressive government should use the power of the state to empower people, to have agency and greater security and control over their own lives and an ability to forge communities of their own volition. A basic income would help in doing just that.”

    I am glad to see that your Job Guarantee scheme is voluntary and matches a person’s abilities and skills with the guaranteed job. The issue with such a scheme is finding the jobs across the skill spectrum to give to people.

  • Katharine Pindar 1st Feb '20 - 1:43am

    So do I take it that being poor and not expecting much, if you happen to live outside fortunate Europe in some of the wastelands of the world, makes you ‘a threat to our childrens’ means of making a living’, not-so-Innocent Bystander? Ah well, pull up the drawbridge indeed, keep out all those immigrants. Actually in the illogical rush to exclude EU folk, Brexiteers don’t seem to have noticed the greater numbers coming from outside, until at last their leaders have quietly abandoned the pretence of stopping hundreds of thousands arriving. But what has all of that to do with me, or this thread? I am a citizen of the world and a Christian, but at this time I am concerned with other Liberal Democrats in trying to help the poorest and most disadvantaged of our society here.

    Peter Martin, I do agree with you on much of what needs to be done, Peter, and that ‘the mainstream’ are really – neither liberal nor illiberal. But, John Peters, though I can believe that you are good-hearted yourself, I can’t believe that Boris Johnson and his close adherents are so. For instance, I look at people cast out by him. Ah well, the blackest day is over, and we can work for the dawn again.

  • Katherine Pindar
    It’s all irrelevant. The important bits are who votes, what the local norms are and how people feel. Who’s to say what a wasteland is? You can be dispossessed, unhappy or whatever anywhere. There is no objective state of grace. The thing about Europe is that it’s values are as subjective as anything else.

  • Katharine Pindar 1st Feb '20 - 10:21am

    Gloomy thoughts of the night, Glenn, give way to determination of the day, not least that the interesting discussion of this thread be not prematurely lost. ‘Basic income’, described in Guy Standing’s excellent report (thank you, Roger and Michael), is no longer I note to be described as ‘Universal’, and there lies one of the difficulties of its possible implementation. But what I am considering is, can Basic Income be thought in any case to be one of the foundation stones of any future Social Contract between government and people?

    It is a question I think of a hierarchy of desirable goods. And for my part, I would put way above it the concept of Training and Job Guarantee. Not because I accept for a moment the right-wing demand that people must have paid work and should only expect to escape poverty if they do so, but because having a job is, like having a family, a basic part of fulfilment, of self-valuing, for many, surely most?, people in Britain today. And I am afraid of a quiet but insidious growth of society’s sense of people having value if Basic Income were to come in: between those of working age who are clearly contributing to the nation’s economic well-being through taxation, and those who can’t or won’t.

  • Katharine my priorities are different. Poverty is the thing I want to deal will most. To do so I believe benefit levels should be raised to the poverty level. This will take years to do. To finance this and other things the government should try to maximise economic growth with a growth target of 3% plus the determination not to increase it above 3%. Part of this would be to have a Training / Job Guarantee scheme.

    I think Guy Standing would arguing that having UBI would give people value. If we are going to be a society where most of the work is done by robots we will need to find a different way of providing self-worth to people than having paid employment. My worry is that with little paid employment people will have fewer contracts with other people.

    If Guy Standing is correct and we can have new green taxes to fund a UBI then we can also start to introduce it. I would start with the 18 year group and extend it upwards each year. If set at the equivalent of the Income Tax Personal Allowance (which would be abolished for those receiving UBI), it would be £48.09 a week. There would be no cost for those in work earning more than £12,500 pa and it would provide some income for students to live on. It seems that Guy is advocating introducing UBI after there have been pilots, which I think would be in the fourth year of a new government.

  • Innocent Bystander 1st Feb '20 - 1:10pm

    Katharine, I did not vote leave either, in the belief that it will only make our economic survival even less likely. I too am a regular Anglican communicant and my beef is not with a desire to help the poor but the absence of any matching level of passionate debate on how that help can be afforded. We are currently impoverishing our grandchildren already and more spend is at their expense not ours.
    It is easy to call for more for good causes but even easier to abdicate the finding of that resource to others.
    Globalisation is the problem. There is no drawbridge. You will not be allowed to concern your self with your local disadvantaged. The world is taking away our means of livelihood whether you like it or not and unless the elephant in the room is properly discussed there is no help for your poor, yourself or any of us.
    A Social Contract is just another wish list like thousands of others without a matching Economic Contract to enable it.

  • Just back at the table — and finding goodies! The very last line at this moment, from Innocent Bystander, asserts that ” A Social Contract is just another wish list like thousands of others without a matching Economic Contract to enable it”. I agree: and that is what Guy Standing proposes; and what I am trying to propose does so too. “Economics is about how a society chooses to produce and distribute the goods and services it desires and needs: it is not, dear boys and girls, about Money.” That was the first sentence in the prof’s introduction to his course, Yr 1, Wk 1. 1963.

    But first I would like to question Katharine’s observation (at 12.21 today) that Standing’s ‘Basic Income’ “is no longer to be described as “Universal”. In the Conclusions to his report ( on p 58, for example) he states that “We need to rebuild the welfare state on new universalistic principles. . . . The road to the latter will start modestly, but it is the direction that matters above all. . . . ”

    So I suspect that the author decided that the content of his Report would quickly reveal the universality at its core, and that the word ‘Universal’ has (along with ‘Austerity’) acquired such a nasty smell that it should be expunged from the title, as repellent to the potentially inquisitive reader!

    I must pause here. May I leave two thoughts which I think need developing, in the attempt to reassert Innocent Bystander’s blunt comment above?

    One is that I believe it would be in everyone’s interest if we could alter the great tanker’s course materially, by resolving in future that for most purposes it would be preferable (as more illuminating) to discuss the life of the Economy in terms not of the holy GDP, but of National Income — which is very much the same quantities and totals, but measured from the consumer’s, the family’s, viewpoint — it’s Income that brings home the bacon, after all! Product is a bosses’ term. (Not long ago I recall a letter in the Grauniad urging the same thing; and signed by Caroline Lucas.)

    I forget the other (loose marbles) but hope to return to it.

  • Katharine Pindar 1st Feb '20 - 3:36pm

    Does a national Social Contract also need a matching Economic Contract? No, because the Social Contract is not to be laid down like a new Act of Parliament but involves firstly a public attitude change and commitment to social justice for everyone. Its specific commitments, adapting Michael BG’s suggestions, may perhaps be that

    1. Nobody in our country shall live in poverty
    2. Everyone who wants a job shall be able to obtain one
    3. Education shall include access to retraining throughout life
    4. Everyone who wants a home of their own shall be able to have one
    5. Everyone must be able to live a life of peace and security
    6. Everyone must be able to access the health and social care that they need
    7. Government must protect its citizens against the dangers arising from global warming.

    I don’t think that Basic Income, Universal or not, quite ranks with these great goods myself, but of course others will disagree. Certainly anyway the goods will have to be paid for, Innocent, as you suggest. But with 3% annual growth they could be. That growth has not been found in the recent years of Tory government and Brexit uncertainty, but with the right (Liberal Democrat) policies it still could be. Brexit will hamper good implementation, sadly, but I believe the right governmental attitude and commitment should be the first object of any campaign.

  • Peter Martin 1st Feb '20 - 4:27pm

    @ Katharine

    “Does a national Social Contract also need a matching Economic Contract?”

    You are saying ‘no’ but I have to disagree. Up until the election of the Thatcher govt in 1979 the economics of were largely Keynesian. Margaret Thatcher and Keith Joseph introduced monetarism into the political lexicon, but there is evidence that James Callaghan’s govt was already moving in that direction before that. It was a political refection of what was happening in the academic world. So we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of Economic thinking.

    ‘Monetarism’ sounds so plausible to the average person. We are all used to the idea that we have to live within our means and we can’t spend more that we earn. But we aren’t currency issuers and Govts are! That’s the big difference which Mrs Thatcher didn’t, or couldn’t, or wouldn’t explain.

    So Clause 1 of the Economic contract has to acknowledge that for the rest of us not to be in debt or deficit then Govts have to be. Everything sums to zero.

    If we always try to balance the books, instead of balancing the economy we’ll always have the problems we do now. Even with the best will in the world, governments won’t be able to do much unless they understand the basics of macroeconomics.

  • Peter Martin 1st Feb '20 - 5:39pm

    @ Michael BG,

    I’ve had a quick look through Guy Standings report. I haven’t seen anything that is particularly new. I do agree with Katharine when she says:

    “Not because I accept for a moment the right-wing demand that people must have paid work and should only expect to escape poverty if they do so, but because having a job is, like having a family, a basic part of fulfilment, of self-valuing, for many, surely most?, people in Britain today. And I am afraid of a quiet but insidious growth of society’s sense of people having value if Basic Income were to come in: between those of working age who are clearly contributing to the nation’s economic well-being through taxation, and those who can’t or won’t.”

    It’s not too long ago that People suffering from motor neuron disease, like Stephen Hawking, were immediately consigned to the scrap heap. This is not to say that everyone with MND can push back the barriers of theoretical Physics but you never know! Most likely everyone will be capable of doing something. It’s just a question of finding out what and being generous in allowing a high degree of in job training.

    This is far better than giving out a sum a money to everyone and then telling them to go away and stop bothering the rest of us. You may support the concept but I guarantee that if you stopped ten people on the street at random you’d be hard pressed to find one person who agreed with you. It just doesn’t seem fair to hand out money in return for nothing at all – except if the recipient is unable to make a contribution in return.

    But of course if they are unable then they should receive a basic income – if they need one.

  • Peter Martin 1st Feb '20 - 5:59pm

    @ Roger Lake,

    Gross National Income, sometimes called Gross National Product is not hugely different from Gross Domestic Product. It’s just GDP modified to reflect the net money flows in the economy.

    There are objections to both. For example, in many societies child rearing is organised communally and informally. This doesn’t appear in GDP accounts. But in our society where we pay child minders then it does.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gross_national_income

  • Peter Martin 1 Feb 4,27

    Indeed you’re right — up to a point. “So we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of Economic thinking.” But when it is clearly wrong — as Hayek et al including Mrs Thatcher and the other ‘neo-liberals’ who inflicted “Austerity” on us are now seen to be — the fact must be exposed and the “thinking” rejected. That is now beginning, even on the Right.

    The rest of what you see, I respectfully suggest, is where you are wrong. Borrowing to invest is good ‘Economic thinking’. If a self-employed taxi-driver has his car off the road because of a faulty tyre, will you tell him to scrimp and save for a fortnight or a decade of austerity, going hungry and his kids as well, until he has saved up enough pennies to buy a new tyre? Would you reassure him “there’s no magic money tree!”? Or would you tell him to buy a new tyre with his credit card, and get back on the road ASAP to recoup the lost half hour and earn enough to settle the credit card bill? “Our means” are not solely money-in-the-bank, but also resources such as an enhanced ability to earn. Surely, if “everything sums to zero”, nothing can be done about anything?

    I am losing confidence in what i think I know, so please put me right!

  • Katharine Pindar 1st Feb '20 - 8:55pm

    No, Roger, I’m sorry, but the Basic Income recommended for trial by Guy Standing just isn’t Universal. On page 9 he temporises, calling it Quasi-Universal, and honestly explains that he can’t call it Universal Basic Income or Citizen’s Basic Income either, because it will actually have to be restricted to ‘those who are usually resident in the country’. I think that illustrates the problematic nature of the concept, with the exceptions and additions it would require. In previous discussions of Basic Income on this site, provisions like Housing Allowance and Retirement Pensions have been seen as possibly requiring separate arrangements.

    Michael, you seem to have been won over by the Guy Standing report, of which I have only read part myself, but you continue to refer to Universal Basic Income which he does not. Besides, the days when we may be excluded from most jobs by robots are not yet upon us, to need this much forward planning; and you have in any case
    cogently argued against the costs, and opted for continuing welfare benefits.

    I should like to know how readers of this discussion view the tentative list of provisions of a Social Contract which I have now suggested. Many thanks to everyone contributing!

  • Peter Martin, at 5.59 :

    I’m sorry Peter, but I have failed to explain my thinking regarding Product and Income. Ignoring, for this purpose, the important but irrelevant differences between the Gross and the Net figures, and the National and the Domestic, I was trying to say that because one woman’s (pay) Income is her employer’s cost: and that cost is part of the price of the Product he sells. In the simplest of worlds (ignoring associated things like insurance or energy, to keep it simple) adding up all the Incomes would make the same total, I think, as all the Products.

    The point I wanted to make was that what really interests households is their own incomes, because that is what determines how they are to live, as a household. So in the interest of a more general, or more domestic, understanding of the processes and magnitudes involved, it might — it would, I’m suggesting — be more illuminating and useful in discussing the general state of the Economy, when it is examined, and reported in the media, to report on the National Income rather than on the Product. The Product, it seems to me, is naturally and indeed properly the interest of Business and Government, rather than the people. Lets talk bacon, not livestock!

  • Peter Martin 2nd Feb '20 - 11:15am

    @ Roger,

    I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at but, as I said previously, GDP is only measured by financial transactions.

    Which means that GDP is what is spent every year in the economy. Therefore, if we acknowledge that spending equals income for each individual household, then spending also equals income for all sectors as a whole. GDP measures the production of the economy and so the total income in the economy. We can, therefore, use the terms production, income, spending, and GDP interchangeably.

  • Innocent Bystander,

    We are currently impoverishing our grandchildren already and more spend is at their expense not ours.

    The First World War increased the National Debt as did the Second and neither impoverished any grandchildren. It just does not happen no matter how many times politicians say it happens.

    Peter Martin,

    I hope you will find the time to actually read the whole of Guy Standing’s paper, as I found his arguments for a UBI very convincing. From your comments it seems you have either not read the whole thing or have not been convinced by his arguments which include that a UBI would be popular.

    For me the issue is the coming of the robot work force. I think humanoid robots should be well developed within twenty years and will be widespread after a further twenty years. It could be sooner. It would seem sensible to start preparing for this at least after the next general election in 2024. If there are few jobs then everyone will need an income not from paid employment. As currently envisioned a UBI is not enough to live on, but even at such a low level it would give people more freedom.

    However, until the robot society arrives I agree that society should be providing jobs suitable for everyone who wants one.

  • Katharine,

    I am not bothered if it is UBI or just BI. Guy Standing explains who he thinks should receive it and I like his suggestion. I have been a supporter of the concept of a UBI for a number of years. I always point out the huge costs and often I point out that those who benefit the most from its introduction would be those people of working age who don’t work currently because they can afford to stay at home without receiving any means-tested benefits. Guy lists within his new giants things which could be cured by his Basic Income which I had not considered in relation to it – stress, precarity, the environmental crisis and populism and neo-fascism.

    My criticisms of the Guy Standing report are he doesn’t state how much his BI would be (his pilot A might give us a clue – £100 per adult and £50 per child), how much it would cost and how the money would be raised to pay for it. Also he does say how he would deal with the issue of the people living in well-off families who have no direct income but can afford not to work. I think a UBI or BI could only be introduced gradually and we will need to make a start after the next general election. However, increasing the benefit levels to the poverty level is still my first priority, followed by ensuring full time work always means a person is not living in poverty.

    I am not sure about the concept of a new Social Contract. Philip Alston wrote his report, ‘Key elements of the post-war “Beveridge social contract” are being overturned’. One of those elements was the idea that people would pay ‘National Insurance’ so they would be looked after if they were unemployed, ill or when they retired. This was replaced with universalism, there was no longer any requirement to have paid into the system first. Blairism built on the selfishness of Thatcher and increased the requirements that need to be met before someone receives unemployment benefit. In your new social contract what are you requiring people to do?

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Feb '20 - 5:53pm

    There hasn’t been much growth in the National Economy in the recent years of Tory government and Brexit uncertainty, as I understand it, and after the temporary boost of the decisive election result and the breathing-space of this transition year, it’s not expected to do well in the following years. Ordinary people expect, therefore, that jobs will fail and prices of everyday food and necessary products will rise.

    It is a bleak look-out for the poorest and the most disadvantaged under this uncaring government, and that is why I wish our party to commit to putting their needs first, and indeed demanding better for those who need it most. The concept of the Social Contract would give us focus, and distinguish us from Labour. Though hopefully we will do some vital campaigning in common with progressives from all parties, I suggest we develop a distinctive Liberal Democrat focus and image, to win publicity for our commitment to fairness and our progressive policies.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Feb '20 - 6:28pm

    @ Michael BG,

    There an awful lot of contradictory nonsense talked about the jobs market. On the one hand we can’t manage without an army of cheap immigrant labour. On the other we’ll all soon have nothing to do because the robots will have taken all our jobs. Other than spend our UBI money on video games and Netflix subscriptions!

    If and when we don’t have quite so much to do, how about reducing the working week for everyone instead?

    An alternative and more realistic view:

    http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=37422!

    @ Katharine,

    The idea of a social contract is possibly a good one. As you say, the term was coined by Rousseau in the 18th century, and various parties have suggested using it for what they have in mind.

    I remember it being used in the early 70s by the Labour Party. The idea was that the Labour govt would offer certain goodies in exchange for the Unions backing off with wage demands. It didn’t work very well and wasn’t at all popular. Therefore you will need to make sure you have more than just a name. It will have to contain some radical stuff and at the same time be seen to be realistic. Not an easy task!

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Feb '20 - 6:31pm

    Michael, I don’t fully understand your comment, since ‘universalism’ is not a concept I recognise as something we have had. Working people still have to pay into National Insurance. But you are right, I believe Beveridge expected people to contribute where they could, and it is a fair question, what is the obligation on the people, their part of the possible new Social Contract?

    I think such a contract might expect people who can afford it not to accept Basic Income! We already agree as a party that the considerable benefits now allocated to the retired could be reduced for wealthier pensioners ( Mending the Safety Net . Brighton Conference 2016), and so I think there would have to be means-testing. Everyone would be expected also to contribute to society by working in some way if able to, either by paid or voluntary work or by caring for other individuals. In this predicted world of robots, it would be fair I suppose to demand that people use their education, skills and training to full capacity for contributing to society.

    Interesting idea to explore, thank you! But I can’t by the way see how the country can have the three per-cent growth you want in order to pay for the benefits that are needed. Not after Brexit, not with this government at any rate, unfortunately.

  • Stephen Hesketh 2nd Feb '20 - 7:42pm

    Thank you for raising this topic Katherine. Just checking my current status before attempting to post anything longer 😉

  • Peter Martin 2nd Feb '20 - 9:26pm

    @ Michael BG,

    “One of those elements was the idea that people would pay ‘National Insurance’ so they would be looked after if they were unemployed, ill or when they retired. This was replaced with universalism, there was no longer any requirement to have paid into the system first.”

    It really doesn’t matter whether you call NI a tax or an insurance contribution. I don’t remember any time that the unemployed were denied benefits because they hadn’t paid enough in.

    There’s still nothing universal about the aged Pension BTW. Your pension depends on your contributions. Not that the Govt saves up those contributions. It’s impossible for anyone to save up their own IOUs. ££ being just an IOU of govt.

  • Peter Martin,

    I don’t think I shall be able to persuade you, Peter, and that must be either because I’m plum wrong, or because I’m incompetent at explaining my point. But I’ll move on from that to try to say again, “let’s talk bacon, not livestock”. What I mean is that it would help us all if the language used in the media to talk about economic matters is obscure to most people, including most voters. Michael Gove was spot on when he said something like
    “people are tired of listening to experts”. What he meant by that was not that people do not care to know, but that their experience is that the ‘experts’ talk and write a language that is incomprehensible to them.

    And some parties know that and exploit it, with silly homely talk like ‘no magic money tree!’ and ‘you don’t get out of debt by borrowing more’ from across Aunt Maggie’s kitchen table. If we LDs want to get anywhere we must listen to people, and listen to parties that get through to them, even with implausible blandishments, and learn to talk like them — but truthfully, of course!

  • Katharine, 8.55pm 1st Feb.

    I think that’s a bit rich, Katharine! Guy Standing does also say, on p58, that “We need to rebuild the welfare state on new universalistic principles.” And i believe that his universalistic welfare state would be something very much like your Social Contract. Nobody for a moment would take a ‘universal’ benefit of any kind to be available as holiday spending money for visitors, or a permanent source of income for pukka Brits who choose to live overseas. The very paragraph whose concluding sentence is the one I cite above begins just five lines up : “The alternative direction is one that would give *equal* freedom to all” ‘All’ is pretty universal!

    You mention that “In previous discussions of Basic Income on this site, provisions like Housing Allowance and Retirement Pensions have been seen as possibly requiring separate arrangements.” Why not? UBI does not claim to be all-inclusive, abolishing other benefits: some benefits — such as sickness and disability — would still make sense, added to UBI as distinct and separate — but quite different essentially, in that the recipient would need to claim it and provide evidence of need.

    Tomorrow I shall try to comply with your request for comments on you list, and on your Social Contract .

  • Peter Martin,

    I am not convinced looking at industrial progress over the last 100 years or more is useful with regard to humanoid robots. We can see that over the last 40 years some people have had difficulties from working in the old industries to working in the new industries. By 2060 there may be few unskilled jobs in the economy and fewer skilled jobs. I don’t believe everyone can do any job. I believe each person is suitable for only some types of jobs. I support the idea of a shorter working week. It seems odd that progress on this has stalled. In the 1930s, 40s and I think early 1950s it was normal to work five and a half days a week. In the nineteenth century factory workers were working six days a week and some days were 12 hours long.

    The original system of unemployment benefits was based on one’s contributions. Even today there are two types of unemployment benefit, one contribution based and one means-tested. The entitlement to income support was developed a little latter than the 1944 report, it came into force with the National Assistance Act of 1948, not the National Insurance Act of 1946.

    Pensions are a difficult area. In theory they are contributions based, but on top for some there is Pension Credit (Guarantee Credit) which I think provides a minimum pension.

    Katharine,

    Lots of benefits are paid out without regard to the amount of National Insurance contributions the person claiming has made. This is what I meant by ‘universalism’ as opposed to those receiving benefit only if they have paid enough contributions.

    To expect everyone to contribute to society is fine so long as there is no enforcement. Once there is enforcement and sanctions for failure to meet the requirements we are back into the problems of our existing system where claimants have to do certain things which they would prefer not to do just to get the money they need to live on. It takes away their freedom to do what they think is best for themselves. As liberals we believe in allowing people the freedom to do what they think is best for themselves.

    Perhaps the only obligation on people should be to be law-abiding.

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Feb '20 - 9:33am

    Empowering people is fundamental to Liberal Democrat thinking, Roger, and that is why, I believe, that I cannot support the idea of Basic Income as central to a national Social Contract. We would surely like people to stand on their own two feet, not, as Tories think, because each person must just get on by him or herself without expecting to be looked after, but because standing on your own two feet as far as you can will be fulfilling and satisfying for you. The weakness of Lib Dems is that we (I include myself) may be too apt in practice to rush into trying to care for others directly without trying to assist them to find that satisfaction of self-help. (The discussion of community politics on another thread is relevant to this thinking.)

    So what I think I am saying on BI is, basically, don’t just give people money they may not need, though try to ensure that everyone is given what they can’t provide for themselves.

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Feb ’20 – 6:31pm………. and so I think there would have to be means-testing…………..

    ‘Means Testing’, in almost every situation, costs far more to administer than it saves. Peoples’ stuations are changing far faster than they ever did and, as someone with a disabled daughter, my experience of ‘Bureaucratic flexibility’ is that it is an oxymoron.

  • David Evans 3rd Feb '20 - 11:30am

    expats is absolutely right – means testing is at best a mess, at worst an abomination and also a totally unjustifiable expense. Make as many benefits as possible universal and taxable and increase tax rates to remove the excess gain those who don’t need it. After all it works for the Old Age Pension.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Feb '20 - 12:13pm

    @ Roger,

    If you could provide a link to the kind of discussion/argument you have in mind I’ll take a look. At the moment I’m not sure what, if anything, we’re in disagreement over! But having said that, there is a general misconception that economics is about money whereas its really about ‘things’! ie Products and services of which we can only supply so many of – at any one time. Humans are naturally inventive and so we do always find more efficient ways of doing the same thing and inventing ways to do new things.

    That is why economies can grow over time. So maybe that is the source of the confusion? Politics comes into the picture in that there is always a dispute about how those ‘things’ are shared out. Just making more and more doesn’t seem to ever solve that.

    @ Michael BG,

    In any sensibly organised society then it’s surely advantageous that we have internet banking, online shopping, ATM machines at banks etc. But because it’s not so sensibly organised we worry about bank tellers and shop workers losing their jobs. I suppose when traffic lights were invented there would have been some concern that some policemen, who specialised in point duty, would also lose their jobs. The robot worry is just a continuation of all that.

    The problem with a UBI or a BI , or whatever you want to call it, is that it is conceding the argument to the neoliberals that we can’t provide jobs for all. I’ll never do that until the required working week comes down to 20 hours and we have 10 weeks holiday a year! A reduction in hours for all workers has to be the way to go if there is less need in the economy for human labour.

    I very much agree with Katharine (Sorry Katharine 🙂 ) that we all, or at least most of us, do feel we need to be making a positive contribution to society. There is no reason we shouldn’t be able to do that and still have enough leisure time to do other things.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Feb '20 - 12:34pm

    @ Michael BG,

    “To expect everyone to contribute to society is fine so long as there is no enforcement.”

    I think only a Lib Dem could come out with something like this!

    Anyone who has brought up children will know how difficult it can be to get them to do just a few household chores now and again. If you tell them they don’t have to do anything they probably won’t! On the other hand we aren’t going to starve them or physically beat them into submission. But we do say that if you want that mobile phone or those totally unnecessary branded trainers then they have to stack the dishwasher and keep their room tidy etc etc.

    That’s how it would, or should work, with a Job Guarantee too. We don’t let anyone starve but if they want a bit extra……….

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Feb '20 - 2:29pm

    Peter. pleased to find that we are in so much agreement! 🙂 By all means let there be shorter working weeks and more holiday, if there comes to be a shortage of paid jobs, but let the expectation be that everyone will contribute to our society, and if possible to the national economy, and that should be seen as contributing to the individual’s welfare too.

    I suppose the question would arise, would people expect the same rate of remuneration for working fewer hours, and could the economy afford it? Well, we already have top-up benefits for working people, little though they provide, and I suppose the state would have to offer more. We also want the state to help provide jobs. A healthily growing national economy will be needed to pay for it all, inevitably.

    Expats and David E., that sounds like a good point, but surely the Inland Revenue closely considers people’s means if they make tax returns?

  • Katharine,

    Universal benefits are better than means-tested ones. Means-tested benefits are not all claimed by those eligible for them. Child Benefit is universal but those earning more than £50,000 pa have to pay more income tax until it cancels out the benefit. In the same way those earning more than £100,000 pa have their personal allowance reduced by £1 for every £2 above £100,000.

    Peter Martin,

    People who are unemployed are not children and should not be treated as children. The state should not treat adults as children. With regard to means-tested unemployment benefit I do think it should be conditional, and the condition should be the one we had in the 1980’s – a claimant must be looking for work and be available for work. I would keep the requirement for a claimant to keep a record of what they doing to find work and for them to produce it every two weeks when they sign on. The problems start when we think about what sanctions to apply for failure to look for work. How little should the benefit be reduced to if the claimant consistently fails to meet the condition? Having a UBI would sort this issue out.

    In the past unskilled people have been able to transfer to other unskilled jobs if their job no longer exists. The issue with humanoid robots is there will be no unskilled jobs left, and if only high skilled jobs are left not everyone can do them, no matter how well educated and trained they are. The question arises what type of roles will need a human to do them rather than a robot. I can think of only a few – politics and law making, inventing new things, designing (maybe), producing art and music etc.

    If robots are doing most of the work we will have to find other means than work to give meaning to people’s lives. I suppose those who inherit huge wealth have to deal with this issue today and in the past.

  • I very much agree with the sentiments in Michael BG’s first paragraph, but the trick would be to devise a scheme which would avoid the nonsense of paying it to top rate tax payers with some sort of taper system.

    Bearing in mind all that went wrong with Universal Credit this is going to be fiendishly difficult. I wouldn’t appoint Sir Ian Duncan Smith to supervise it..or his former Lib Dem junior Minister, Sir Steve Webb, to be his assistant.

    It’s worth looking up ‘TheyWorkForYou” to look at the then Mr Webb’s voting record showing he almost always voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits, and on 11 Feb 2014, voted not to halt further spending and welfare cuts and not to investigate the impact of austerity measures on the incidence of poverty and inequality.

    There’s a huge credibility gap to be bridged by Lib Dems, Michael, but good luck with your attempt at a damascene conversion.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Feb '20 - 7:27pm

    @ Michael BG,

    I don’t believe the unemployed, and adults in general, are children but that doesn’t mean they are all socially aware and responsible . My daily walk is often up and down the local canal and I also often take a shopping bag with me to pick up an assortment of litter in the form of empty plastic bottles, crisp packets, tin cans etc.

    Now, you can’t tell me that the people dropping it, because they are too lazy to carry it to the next litter bin, would give anything back to society at all unless they were ‘compelled’ to do it. I may well be socialist in my viewpoint but that doesn’t mean I view people’s behaviour through rose tinted spectacles. There are lots of people around who would take anything you had to give them and voluntarily do SFA in return!

    They’s spoil it for everyone else too. The majority opinion would be that there is no way that they’d want to pay their taxes to support those who are all take and no give.

  • David Raw,

    I believe austerity was the wrong policy and we need to advocate policies which ensures no one in the UK lives in poverty, increases economic equality and provides the environment so everyone can fulfil their full potential. Therefore as a party member I try to do what I can to convince people of this. To have credibility with the public our next leader must not to have served in the Coalition government so they will have no voting record in support of the cuts carried out by the Coalition.

    Peter Martin,

    Just because after Thatcher and Blair people think some people should be allowed to starve if they don’t jump through the hoops required to get their benefit does not mean we should agree with them or have policies which enshrines the thinking that there are the deserving and undeserving poor.

    You haven’t addressed my point about the lack of jobs in the future if humanoid robots are developed to do most of the work. When humanoid robots can do most jobs what jobs will be left for humans?

  • @ Michael BG I share your view of austerity, Michael, and also to have “credibility with the public our next leader must not to have served in the Coalition government so they will have no voting record in support of the cuts carried out by the Coalition”.

    I’d go further and say the lack of response to attempts to discuss and consider the Alston Report (attempts made by our colleague Katharine and others) by the then policy spokesperson suggests a wider limitation than that.

    At the moment it’s not obvious to see where a qualified and competent candidate is going to emerge from.

  • Peter Martin 4th Feb '20 - 4:44pm

    @ Michael,

    My local park could do with some care and attention. I’d suggest recruiting a couple of real human gardeners or park keepers. But you think it’s just a matter of waiting a few years and we’ll get a couple of robots which will be programmed to do the weeding and planting? They’d need to be tough and able to not take any nonsense from local kids who have been known to indulge in a spot of vandalism from time to time.

    I can’t see these ‘cyborgs’ coming along in my lifetime!

    I’ve already said that we don’t let anyone starve and the JG would be in addition to what we have now. I’m not sure Guy Standing understands or has even given any thought how it might work. He seems to think that it wouldn’t work because workers would simply qualify for a new Guaranteed Job if they didn’t do any work in their old Guaranteed Job and so got themselves fired! Life can be tough sometimes! Most of us don’t get sacked but that’s because we have the basic understanding that there are limits to what we can get away with.

    I admit the details of the JG program would have to be worked out. Obviously there would have to be a period of time before anyone qualified again after losing a Guaranteed Job because of misconduct. Not all jobs are JG jobs so anyone being fired would still be able to go and get one of those. Just like they can now. They wouldn’t be at any greater disadvantage.

  • David Raw,

    Those elected for the first time in 2017 are not very appealing, perhaps those elected for the first time in 2019 will be. Perhaps putting off the leadership race was to give these new MPs the opportunity to find their feet and think about being leader of the party. (Would Daisy Cooper make a good party leader?)

    Peter Martin,

    I stated that I think it might be 40 years before most jobs are replaced by robots and humanoid robots would be common-place (like computers are now). I expect to be dead by then too. Robot technology is quite well developed and humanoid robots have been developed. What makes you think that in 20 years’ time they can’t be produced to do most jobs?

    You have not made it clear what happens to those people who fail to meet your requirements. Are you now saying if someone chooses to stay unemployed they can still receive their benefit?

  • Katharine Pindar 5th Feb '20 - 12:27am

    Having seen only the second half so far of the night’s BBC2 programme on Universal Credit, I am ever more convinced of the need for a new Social Contract between government and people. What the footage showed overwhelmingly to me was the continuing hardship of so many of our fellow-citizens’ lives. They seem locked in an inexorable system, unfree, without personal agency. Whether it is the man who may now have a flat but can’t have electricity in it, because he has already had two loan advances and that’s the limit, or the one who keeps on with a job he dislikes because in the end sanctions forced him to it, or the chap sitting for the first time in a food bank, admitting to his embarrassment at this begging – there seems no way out, no real way forward for any of these clients.

    It’s not the fault of the Job Centre staff; those filmed were trying to help, sorry they couldn’t offer more. What is needed most of all, it seems to me, is a change of attitude in the government and its agency, the DWP, which is not likely to happen, however much Amber Rudd may tinker. This is a situation with which we Liberal Democrats surely must not put up. We need to campaign to change the attitude and the system it has generated. A new Social Contract, its details yet to be finalised, may not be a perfect solution, but it is a concrete, comprehensible plan to start to deal with the problems, and it is one which would attract publicity and help the public understand what the Liberal Democrats stand for, in the post-Brexit age. The situation of the poorest in these dark times is one in which our Demand Better slogan should shine out.

  • Peter Martin 5th Feb '20 - 9:37am

    @ Michael BG

    You ask what I’m saying. To recap: “The Robots are going to take all our jobs narrative” is a neoliberal excuse for the failure of sovereign currency issuing government to provide full employment. The suggestion of a UBI is regressive as it doesn’t address the core issue of an individual’s relationship with society and the desire of most workers to make a positive contribution. It won’t do anything to solve inequality. It won’t do anything to help disabled workers find jobs and so help them feel valued members of society. There is the not so small problem that the wider electorate will never embrace the concept anyway. Any UBI will be begrudgingly small.

    If increased automation reduces the requirement for manual labour, as it always has, we look at other ways to utilise that labour. We can always reduce the length of the working week as we have done since the 19th century. If HS2 ever gets built we won’t use armies of navvies as we did when the original railways were built.

    We don’t base current employment policy on what we think might happen in 40 years time. We’ll cross bridges as we come to them.

    Currently benefits are available to those who declare they are available for work. I don’t see that will change. I don’t see that public opinion wants it to change. But I would say we should treat people fairly. If individuals do have a problem holding down any kind of job, including a guaranteed job, we don’t give up on them. This doesn’t mean the JG is compulsory and more than any job is compulsory now. Having said that, many of us know, if there are children to house and feed, that not working isn’t really an option unless we are lucky enough to have been left lots of money at a young age!

  • Peter Martin,

    I didn’t ask you what you were saying. I asked:

    ‘What makes you think that in 20 years’ time they (humanoid robots) can’t be produced to do most jobs?’

    And

    ‘Are you now saying if someone chooses to stay unemployed they can still receive their benefit?’

    The unemployed once only had to declare they were available for work, now they have to provide evidence they are looking for work and must not turn down any job offer. They also have to apply for any job their ‘work coach’ (Job Centre staff) thinks is suitable.

    You assert that a UBI would be unpopular. Guy Standing states it wouldn’t and he provides evidence for this – a social psychologist experiment, a European-wide survey which included the UK, a Royal Society of the Arts commissioned survey known as the Populus Survey (pages 37-38) and his claim that where and when there is informed debate popular support for a Basic Income grows considerably (page 44).

    I think if you read the Guy Standing report you will discover that he believes that a Basic Income would have a positive effect on people’s relationship with society and everyone who receives it would feel they are valued members of society. I am not sure most people think that having a job means they are making a positive contribution to society. They see their job as a means where they don’t have to accept charity, where they feel they are a provider for their family and as an identifier (e.g. I am a builder, I am …). A UBI should not affect the desire for most people to work. There is no evidence that people who received a UBI in the pilots give up work. Of course if everyone receives a UBI and the richest have it removed through the tax system like the income tax personal allow this would reduce inequality.

  • Katharine Pindar 5th Feb '20 - 10:08pm

    Michael, I wouldn’t claim that having a job makes workers in general feel they are contributing to society, but I do think that the work we choose to do is part of our identity and self-evaluation. Of course recipients of a Basic Income could indeed choose to spend their time in ways they feel is valuable, increasing their self-worth; but yet to many of us I believe the affirmation of somebody giving us a job and paying us to do it does affect our valuation of ourselves. I am also wary of anything that seems to make our society more unequal and more divided, and I am afraid there probably would be a societal distinction between, and different valuing of, people of working age who only had a Basic Income and those who had paid work.

  • Katharine,

    If the Basic Income is less than the current benefit level then it is unlikely anyone would try to live on it rather than have paid employment. In the short term Basic Income is a way of giving some more freedom to people so they do not just have to rely on having a full time paid job. I am more convinced today than last year that we as a party should be supporting a Universal Basic Income. We should be advocating that we would replace the income tax personal allowance for those who turn 18 with a UBI of the same value. It would cost less than £3.3 billion a year, depending on how many of each year group pays income tax. The UBI should increase as the personal allowance is increased. Rolling it out one year group at a time would take 49 years for everyone of working age (assuming the retirement age isn’t increased above 67) to receive UBI. As it starts with those aged 18, it would increase the freedom of the young when introduced in this way.

  • Peter Martin 6th Feb '20 - 12:11pm

    @ Michael,

    20 years or so ago there was a lot of talk about the leisure society. The idea was that computerisation would displace workers and we’d have all he time in the world! It didn’t quite turn out like that, did it? So who knows what will happen in 20 years time? Let’s not assume anything when we don’t need to.

    The details of the JG have to be worked out. If someone is determined to not do any work with the guaranteed job they are given, and is determined to get themselves fired then, sure, they are going to cause a problem. Probably drug dealers and other criminals would do exactly this. They’d be happy to pick up £80 per week pocket money for doing nothing but expect them to do some work for even a much larger amount and they won’t want to know.

    They can be given a couple of chances but after that they are on their own and we can direct the police to look into the source of their income. Life can be tough sometimes! Just how the system will work will depend on what public opinion, and not my own, considers reasonable in the circumstances.

  • Peter,

    I don’t recall anyone saying 20 years ago (in 2000) that in 20 years’ time people would not have to work. There was talk of robots replacing people but the technology had not been developed. A lot more now has. So you are sayings that you just don’t think humankind will have developed the humanoid robot sufficiently that humanoid robots could do most jobs. (Note I have estimated that it would take a further 20 years for them to actually replace most human jobs.)

    As your JG is voluntary someone with other income would just not take up the offer of a JG. I am asking what happens to an unemployed person who has no other income but their benefits who refuses to find a job?

    Do you really believe than an unemployed single person over 25 receives £80 a week?

  • nvelope2003 6th Feb '20 - 3:37pm

    Michael BG: What does a 25 year old single unemployed person receive ?
    There are massive numbers of job vacancies which cannot be filled by local people. What is your answer to this problem ? Apart from social and care services it is very difficult to get anyone to repair things or do building work now that the Poles have stopped coming.

  • Congratulations to all those still on your feet! I was absent yesterday, visiting a new grandson 40 miles away by train.

    Before the 50th contribution, on 31st Jan , there had been only one mention of UBI — and that derisive: but it was important, because derision is, I believe, the immediate response of most people, when they hear of the idea. And that attitude will have to be overcome before much progress can be made. In LDV it keeps cropping up and then getting lost. So I was delighted that when Guy Standing’s Report was mentioned, the idea gathered momentum in this wonderful thread of Katharine’s.

    But my impression now, not having been able to keep up beyond scanning, is that the flow though vigorous is beginning to spread, delta-like, into separate relatively minor channels. I cannot go back, because I am having to keep other balls in the air, like preparing my home of 35 years for sale. I dohope to be able soon to summarize what is more or less agreed, and go on from there to offer my own view of how UBI ought to be introduced and operated — and how I hope Katharine and all Lib Dems might accept it as a worthy New Social Contract for our times. And work towards it!

    (This is, I believe, the 102nd contribution to appear in the thread, incidentally.)

  • Peter Martin 6th Feb '20 - 5:57pm

    @ Michael BG,

    Guy Standing states it {a UBI} wouldn’t {be unpopular} …

    In the immortal words of MR-D, he would say that wouldn’t he? He’s been spruiking the idea of a UBI for the past 20 years. It’s going to be hard enough getting enough support for the concept of a JG. Don’t take anyone’s word for it. Go down to your local pub. Explain the concept. Gauge the reaction.

    On the question of robots replacing people why not just wait and address the problem if and when it happens?

    “what happens to an unemployed person who has no other income but their benefits who refuses to find a job?”

    What happens now if a person with no income refuses legitimate job offers? The situation won’t be any different with the introduction of a JG.

    The Jobseekers allowance is £73.10 for a single person over 25. With a JG we could put that up but on the other hand we don’t allow people to stay on it more that a few months. If anyone has lost a well paid job through no fault of their own then arguably they should be entitled to an earnings related payout. Many countries do this and are much more generous than the UK in this respect. Displaced workers should be allowed a reasonable period of time, say 6 months, to find a similar job.

  • Katharine Pindar 6th Feb '20 - 10:41pm

    Roger, thank you very much for keeping commenting, despite distractions at home, and for your very worthwhile contributions. But I’m afraid I still don’t see Basic Income as part of the new Social Contract which I would very much like to see adopted by our party in the near future. Please do have a look at the new article that Michael BG and I have entered today, which is in the Op Eds – A New Social Contract -putting flesh on the bones.
    Best wishes for your house move, which sounds rather onerous!

  • Roger Lake 2nd Feb ’20 – 11:10pm:
    Michael Gove was spot on when he said something like “people are tired of listening to experts”. What he meant by that was not that people do not care to know, but that their experience is that the ‘experts’ talk and write a language that is incomprehensible to them.

    Not that. His full sentence…

    I think the people of this country have had enough of experts from organisations with acronyms saying they know best and getting it consistently wrong.

    – Interview with Faisal Islam, Sky News, 3d. June 2016.

  • nvelipe2003,

    I do wonder why vacancies are not filled. It could be that those unemployed don’t have the relevant skills and/or experience and the employer is not willing to take someone on to train them. I think this change in attitude might have happened sometime in the noughties.

    Repairing things is a problem because 1) people are not trained to do it, and 2) it is cheaper to buy new than get the old repaired. There might also be an issue with spare parts.

    If there is a shortage of building workers in the UK, I expect it is due to the lack of apprenticeships in the past.

    Peter Martin,

    Asking people down the pub is not a good method of discovering public opinion. The surveys that Guy Standing refers to are much better evidence on public opinion.

    I think the government should consider future problems and take step early to prepare for them rather than just waiting and seeing.

    My question was not about what happens now it was about what you want to happen in the future.

    It seems you are back-tracking on your JG being voluntary. It seems you even want the benefit system to be worse so people can only receive unemployment benefit for 6 months, then they have to either go on your JG scheme or have no income and starve. I wonder if there was once an earning related element to unemployment benefit for a fixed term in this country. I have the impression there was once. (Maybe in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.)

  • Peter Martin 7th Feb '20 - 2:38am

    @ Michael,

    It’s very easy to set up a poll to give you the answer you want. You start off by asking people if they are worried that there will soon be driverless cars on the road. You ask how they feel there that will be less need for shop assistants. You generally paint a picture of a dystopian future and then ask the question of how we all you going to live. Maybe it’s time for a UBI?

    But ask a series of different questions, paint a different picture, and you’ll get a different answer. So maybe you’d prefer the doorstep or your church to the pub, but wherever you do it you do need to be able to trust your judgement on what is the general state of public opinion
    .
    It’s easy to fool yourself into thinking it is what you’d like it to be. Ask Jo Swinson about that..

    If you offer someone a job on a living wage but they don’t want to do it, what do you do? Try sounding people out on that one. I doubt many would suggest that we just pay them their wages anyway. But that doesn’t mean the job is compulsory. They can do something else if they prefer.

  • Caught red-handed! Thank you Jeff for that illuminating correction: I must be more careful in future. I’ve used Mr Gove before, so your citation is very welcome.

    All the same, I do believe the point I was rather negligently making is an important one — that we must all remember to try to talk the language nearer to the pub than to the ivory or skyscraping tower. That is why I believe it would be better for most people if we could all discuss the Economy by reference to the National Income rather than the Gross Domestic Product — especially on the doorstep. Leave the Gross and the Product to Bosses and HMG.

    I’ll step in deeper, now my feet are wet, and propose (not for the first time, but nobody noticed) that we Lib Dems ought to drop the term UBI, and start calling it the National Income Dividend. All three words ring positive in everyone’s ears, I suggest; and in the way I hope the old “UBI” will work, NID does actually describe it. Here comes my Pie-in- the-lower-atmosphere, still just above the cloud cover:

    When in years to come the Chancellor gets to her feet with the Budget script, what everyone will be waiting for will be her announcement of the National Income for the year recently ended, as computed by the ONS. Then he will propose that for the next financial year, the National Dividend will be raised by x%; or, if she is a Conservative, lowered by y%. And everyone will immediately know what his or her inalienable slice of NID will be for the next twelvemonth. Much guff then about tax rates (or in other words how the Niddy packet is to be financed) will go unheard for a day or two everywhere but in the towers.

    PS I don’t believe the Chancellor will be a Conservative by then. Not for quite a number of years, anyway.

    PPS And I shall be very pleased if it helps comprise the kingdom’s New Social Contract.

  • Peter,

    I don’t believe that Guy Standing is talking about push polls (which I believe were used for the 2015 general election). I believe the data he is using is properly collected.

    I have stated my view on the conditions for someone to receive unemployment benefit in an earlier post. The problem for me is what level of sanction should be applied if a claimant fails to meet these conditions. This is why I think the party is right to want to scrap all sanctions and instead pay extra money to the unemployed if they meet certain conditions.

    You still seem to be taking about your JG. At the moment an unemployed person has to take any job they are offered on the minimum wage for their age, even if this makes them worse off. I don’t believe anyone should have to do that, and I think most people would object to the idea if it was them being forced to take a job where they are worse off than when on benefits.

    You still seem reluctant to actually state what you would want. You just keep referring to what you think the public wants. Please can you be clear?

    When there is a JG scheme would people only be able to claim unemployment benefit for six months? If a person refused to take part in your JG would they be denied unemployment benefit? When claiming unemployment benefit what conditions would the claimant have to fulfil if you were setting the conditions?

  • Katharine Pindar 8th Feb '20 - 11:14am

    Roger, my first thought on reading your idea for a National Income Dividend instead of an UBI for everyone was, what if the National Income hasn’t grown and can’t support a Dividend? All too likely, I fear, in our country after Brexit!

  • Katharine, many thanks for your question: I believe it brings us to the very heart of the matter. It is a bit embarrassing, because it exposes my complete failure to recognise how bizarre my approach seems to be — not to a few, but to everyone! So I’ll start (if I can without offending) with my goal, the UBI or NID for the UK (or any more or less self-contained society or economy). Then I’ll explain how I hope to get there from here. Or 2016, anyway. Why 2016? Because I have found an eye-opening graphic in the ONS figures for that year. I regret that I do not know how to give you a url, but its title is “Figure 3: The effects of Taxes and Benefits on household incomes by quintile groups, all households, financial year ending 2016”

    I begin to simplify, and now quote the ONS text summarising what is shown by the graphic — six bar-charts in blue and yellow; one for each quintile or fifth; and one for all five compounded, to show the entire economy. That last one, of course, shows that in the economy as a whole the Average Original Household Income before B and T equals the Average Final (or Disposable) Income once B and T have been imposed and distributed (That, of course, is arithmetically inevitable!)( but it can come as a surprise. Well, to me, anyway)

    On this simple fact, obvious once made visible, hangs all my argument. I now quote the ONS explanation of what Figure 3 shows; it gives the bare bones, as follows:

    “3 Taxes and benefits lead to income being shared more equally . . . .
    Before Taxes and Benefits, the richest 5th of Households had an average original income of £84,700 pa compared with £7,200 for the poorest fifth — a ratio of 12 to 1 (Figure 3)
    After cash Benefits and Taxes the richest fifth of households had an average disposable income that was around 5 times the poorest fifth ( £67,500 and £13,100 respectively.”

    Continues below hope

  • Katharine Pindar 9th Feb '20 - 11:29am

    The inequality nationally shown in your research, thank you, Roger, is still grave, I expect you will agree. Though the fact that in 2016 the disposable income of the richest fifth of households was around five times that of the poorest after tax and benefits, where it would have been twelve times as great but for tax and benefits, does show some attempt by government to level incomes generally, but the result is still disappointing. I am reminded, in any case, that our party is very concerned about wealth inequality, believed to be twice as severe as income inequality, and proposed equalising the tax treatment of income from wealth and income from work in the policy
    Promoting a Fairer Distribution of Wealth passed at the Brighton Conference in September 2018. That was a significant proposal which enhanced our long-standing advocacy of raising a greater share of tax revenue from wealth, and if such proposals were eventually translated into law, inequality could be reduced significantly.

  • Katharine, I have just posted a short reply to yours (above).
    I now, again, try to post the second (and still unseen) half of the morcel you saw:

    [continues]: “In other words, the simple intervention of bestowing Benefits financed by Taxation very greatly reduced the gap between the richest and the poorest.
    That could be done differently. And that would be a political matter. Different ideologies would make different choices as regards the taxes levied and the benefits handed over. One choice, I suggest, would be to make very radical changes in both the scaling of Income Tax rates, and the distribution of the IT revenue. The LDs’ UBI (aka ‘NID’) would be one possible way.
    The vital thing to note, here, is that B and T overall cancel each other out. Payments of a UBI could be met by abolishing some Benefits and issuing the money thus saved as a UBI. There would be cost savings because the cost of getting the money to recipients would be next to nothing, since all get the same, and no inquisitions need be inflicted.
    I recognise that I have explained all in terms of Households, not individuals. That simplification does not affect the basic principle I have tried to elaborate, though it does, of course, increase the volume of management arithmetic, though not the complexity.And I recognise also that any change so radical would cause all sorts of consequent unintended effects raising economic and political questions and adjustments. But those are not tonight’s story.

    Katharine, I have not answered your question! My answer would be, I think, to say the Exchequer is not a business, needing a profit. The exchequer gets the money it wants, and spends it as it chooses. And in the case of UBI I think HMG would only very cautiously consider reducing it: voters will be watching closely to see how last year’s national fortunes are about to affect their own this year.

    I have twice been told to shorten this, and have. I WILL say more somehow, soon!

  • Roger Lake,

    Using the tax and benefit system to redistribute money from the richest to the poorest is nothing new. And if a political party wanted to reduce economic inequalities it would do so. Our benefit system works on households, but UBI does not. Therefore one of the disadvantages of a UBI is that those people who do not currently work and do not need a means-tested benefit because their household income is too high would be the main beneficiaries from the introduction of a UBI, especially if existing benefits were reduced by the amount of the UBI. For an individual it is possible to increase their tax so they pay more tax that equals the amount of UBI they receive. But would it possible to increase the tax of a person so they pay extra tax equal to the amount their partner gets in UBI?

    There are about 43.1 million working age adults in the UK. If we set the UBI at £2600 a year the cost would be about £112 billion. If everyone in the bottom three-fifths got the full amount and those in the second highest earning fifth did not benefit, just paying back the £22.4 billion they received the top highest earning fifth would have to pay a further £67.2 billion on top of what they receive. This is about £15,592 per household and about 23% of their current net average income.

  • Michael — apols for the delay. I expect we’re the only two left — or I’m alone, because you’ve a new thread to respond to! Hey ho.
    Yours is an interesting and pertinent question, but at this level perhaps not an important objection to the overall notion I am trying to promote: I think the short answer is yes. But please don’t think I’m oblivious to today’s Real World. Nowadays I believe husbands and wives are Income Taxed separately. ( My wife cannot now sign to get the CAF relief on charity donations, because she pays no IT, having only a state pension.) But not so long ago we were taxed as a couple. So I think the nitty-gritty answer to your question is probably ‘Yes — they’ll manage that ok, will HMRC’. Another ‘household’ of five law students sharing a house with parking for five might be more vexing!.
    But on a more liberal line, I would say two things in favour of UBI. The first is that if it weren’t too often, in our complicated world I would merely shrug ruefully if a few comfortably off people found themselves a bit better off, in the way you describe — so long as nobody at the wrong end of the scale found herself financially worse off as a consequence of UBI.
    The other thing (big L this time) is that I consider the single most important benefit associated with and promoted by UBI/NID is the liberation of the individual from the bondage of means-testing and the anguish of having to dance to the tune of front-of-shop inquisitors paid to niggle out reasons to deny Benefits to hapless supplicants. That situation is appalling for both parties in the degrading contest. And reducing it to a minimum would be part of any credible Social Contract, surely?

  • nvelope2003 10th Feb '20 - 5:31pm

    Michael BG: Why do employers not want to train workers ?
    Maybe it is because they often leave as soon as they have completed their training and made all their mistakes so they can work for someone else. The Government prefers to import skilled workers from abroad rather than contribute to the cost of training.

  • Roger Lake,

    There would be an administrative cost for non-working partners’ UBI to be taxed away from their partners who have a certain income (perhaps £125,000 pa). However, this might be quite small compared to the total cost of a UBI especially if you set it at the poverty line so no one has to have their income topped up with means-tested benefits.

    It seems you think it would be easy to increase the tax liabilities of the richest fifth households by 23%. I am not convinced it would be.

    I agree a UBI is a liberal measure, but we have to discuss how it will be financed. People might agree with the idea of a UBI in principle but they are not likely to support one in practice unless we can solve how it would be financed.

    nvelope2003,

    I agree that the government should contribute to the cost of training. If a person leaves a company after being trained it is likely to be to get a better paid job. If a company does train a member of staff they should have good staff retention policies.

  • Gordon Lishman 11th Feb '20 - 11:26am

    I’m a bit sorry to see the emphasis on specific policies as the basis for a “new social contract”. The point which a lot of commentators make is that the welfare state was the result of the sense of social cohesion rather than the cause. Both in the US and the UK the solidarity of war was a key factor (I find Paul Krugman interesting background on this). The other factor, going back to the beginning of the twentieth century was class solidarity – a potent concept which, however, doesn’t work any longer as a cross-society binding force or a political base.

    Essentially, I see “social contract” as a political project rather than a set of policy ideas. The underlying problem is that the Conservative/tabloid narrative has undermined any sense of shared solidarity and indeed has demonised the poorest and most in need – with the acquiescence of Labour leadership. The breakdown in trust across society, accentuated by internet politics, prevents any sense of a shared contract. In my own corner of the debate, I have been vey concerned about the pressures on the “inter-generational contract” although it has held up remarkably well. This analysis leads me to see building trust from the bottom up as a more important priority than developing top-down policies.

    That said, I am also strongly of the opinion that our Party needs a small number of big ideas rather than an infinite number of small ideas! Renewing the social contract in policy terms is worthy of inclusion in that list along with such themes as making work good and creating a new politics to replace a broken system.

  • Katharine Pindar 11th Feb '20 - 6:01pm

    I don’t see how there can be ‘social cohesion’ again, Gordon, until we have a government which cares for and tries to serve everyone. How can trust be built from ‘the bottom up’ ? Our councillors seem to do a great job, and that was reflected in our gains in the May elections. But people despise and dislike the current national political leaders of our country, opposition leaders included. We as a party surely need to say to them, really, that we are sorry they have no trust in any of us, but we believe future governments must take that to heart and promise to fulfil their duty better, and, to prove sincerity in that, they should accept a Social Contract which sets out their most important tasks..

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