Author Archives: Michael Berwick-Gooding and Katharine Pindar

We need to campaign against poverty

The preamble to our constitution, to quote Adrian Sanders in Liberator 400 (April 2020), “starts with the eradication of poverty as the first action point”. Though both leadership candidates stated they wanted to achieve this, our party is not campaigning on it.

It’s not just that children from families receiving benefits need free school meals in the holidays. It is that 100,000 more children were living in poverty in this country in 2018-19 than in the previous year (DWP figures) and that an estimated 4.3 million children are living in poverty today (Social Metrics Commission).

Former homelessness adviser to the government, Dame Louise Casey, in a BBC interview (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-54545158) warned that the UK faces ‘a period of destitution’ in which families ‘can’t put shoes on’ their children. That’s happening now. A single-parent family living on Universal Credit will find it difficult to find the money to cover the cost of new trainers for two children who have grown out of their old ones, as children do.

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Building a progressive alliance on the basis of the past, and now looking to the future

Clive Lewis, the Labour MP giving the Beveridge lecture to Liberal Democrats last week, admitted that some of his party believe that ‘labourism’ is the only progressive future. Certainly Lib Dems have to accept that Socialists who believe that Liberals will always defend capitalism against the workers will never accept us as a progressive party, and will consider any alliance as a mere tactical ploy. In a mirror image, there are plenty of Liberals who believe that Labour cannot shake off its Far-Left inheritance and will always aim for state control and management, with the soaking of the rich to enforce greater equality.

Yet if a majority of both our parties can focus on policies of social justice, full employment and moderate redistribution within the new challenge of climate change, we can surely begin to work together in more ways than is already happening in the All-Party Parliamentary Groups.

There is, as Clive Lewis said, a “shared tradition of the social liberal and the socialist”, based on “our common values embedded in our collective institutions… (and) our principled commitment to defend the human rights of all.”

For Liberal Democrats, the Thornhill General Election review instructed us that “we must reconnect with the electorate as a whole. We must give a fresh distinctive vision of a liberal Britain in the 21st century with policies that resonate with – and are relevant to – ordinary people.” Indeed, it must be the first requirement for both parties, to discover and strive to meet the needs of the electorate, among which measures of social justice and provision of jobs with fair pay will surely rank high.

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Liberal Democrats and Socialists: can we form a progressive alliance?

Last Thursday Clive Lewis a Labour MP was the first non-Liberal Democrat to give the Social Liberal Forum’s Beveridge lecture (you can access it HERE ) entitled ’21st-century progressive alliances & political re-alignment’. Clive Lewis called for ‘a progressive alliance of the mind’, involving individuals, campaigns and movements. After outlining the great challenges facing us all today, he said that there is a crisis of democracy in our country, with people turning to the wrong solutions such as Brexit and populism.

“Liberalism”, Clive continued, “is a powerful political philosophy with important things to say about individual freedom, democratic politics and the market economy and about how these interact” (time stamp in the video: 23.18). But he said that much conservative and liberal propaganda claims socialists want to snuff out the freedom of selfish individualism and mould it into a perfect collective (27.59), as a kind of Socialist ‘Borg’ (antagonists of Star Trek) wanting to assimilate liberalism. He said this was not true as “Most Socialists want to find ways of allowing more people to benefit from and have a say in the management of the co-operative processes in which they are already engaged in almost every aspect of their lives. That sounds remarkably like freedom and equality to me” (28.38).

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A sixth social “evil”?

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William Beveridge listed five ‘great evils’ (Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness) that he thought should be remedied by British society after World War Two, and they were addressed by the post-war government, in what has become known as a social contract between government and people.

In a February article, we suggested that the modern equivalents of the ‘great evils’ are poverty, poor health, lack of skills and training, homelessness and unemployment. These societal ills were in existence before the current health crisis, and should not be allowed to continue after it.  Just as after World War Two there was a national mood expecting change for the better, so a similar mood seems to be arising now. Must we stick to only five ills, because Beveridge did? Should there be a sixth and if so what should it be?

At their Spring Conference in 2018 the Welsh Liberal Democrats identified loneliness as a sixth evil stating “half a million people in Wales reporting feeling lonely”. In the UK there are over 9 million adults who are either always or often lonely (“Trapped in a Bubble” by the Loneliness Action Group led by the British Red Cross and the Co-op).  Loneliness can make a person feel tired, stressed and anxious so they have difficulties with daily routines, engaging socially with others and can make mental and physical problems worse.

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A new Social Contract – putting flesh on the bones

Nearly 80 years ago the Beveridge report, ‘Social Insurance and Allied Services’ was published. Last year Philip Alston concluded, ‘Key elements of the post-war “Beveridge social contract” are being overturned’. Beveridge wanted to fight five giant evils – Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. We need to modernise the language and fight poverty, poor health, lack of skills and training, homelessness and unemployment.

Just as the Labour government of 1945-51 rejected the idea of the deserving and undeserving poor with the passing of the National Assistance Act of 1948, so must the Liberal Democrats. We have taken the first step. Federal Conference Committee accepted as a drafting amendment to the Fairer Shares for All policy passed at Bournemouth last September our suggestion that we reaffirm our policy to “Scrap the sanctions regime and replace with a system of incentives”. We believe that people needing assistance must be treated with respect, and the attitude of respect must begin at the top, in government, as has not been the case under the recent Tory governments. Most people do not wish to be in receipt of benefits, nor to seem to be asking for help by going to the food banks.

The first requirement of government in a new Social Contract should be to ensure that no one in the UK lives in poverty. They must also ensure that everyone has access to the health care they need in a timely manner; everyone has access to the education and training they require throughout their working life to ensure they fulfil their full potential; that everyone who wants a home of their own has one; and that everyone who wants a job has one.

The only legal requirement for the people in a new Social Contract is to keep the laws of the UK. The social element desired is that people show respect to everyone and their rights.

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