Baroness Claire Tyler writes….A Liberal Britain has equality and social justice at its heart

Your Liberal BritainThree facts reveal starkly to me that we don’t yet live in a ‘liberal Britain.’ First, overall income inequality hasn’t fallen since the early 1990s, but share of income held by the top 1% has soared. Shockingly, the richest 1% of UK households have more wealth than the bottom half of the population put together. Second, at the top end, the majority of the Cabinet, senior doctors, judges and journalists still come from independent schools. And at the bottom end, 17% of Britons lived in absolute low income households in 2014 ( 23% after housing costs), while 19% of children still live in absolute low income households. Finally, new figures show that the zero hours workers now approaches one million.

My contention is that in a Liberal Britain we’d revolutionise policy by refocusing our party on equality and social justice and use the concept of individual wellbeing as a way to find new solutions to longstanding social problems. The preamble to our constitution sums up our fundamental and enduring values of liberty, equality and community.  My key message is that we mustn’t forget equality – and tackling inequalities – and need to talk more about it.

Being liberal means we have an ambitious idea of what freedom entails, the sort outlined by liberal thinkers such as Thomas Green and Leonard Hobhouse, which sees real liberty as a positive freedom—being empowered to make meaningful choices about the sort of life you want to live as well as contributing to the common good. It also means showing real compassion for the worst off. High levels of inequality in housing, education, employment and a sense of financial security are at odds with a society in which everyone is free and are bad for our health and well-being too As Wilkinson and Pickett demonstrated so powerfully in The Spirit Level, societies with the largest inequality between the rich and the poor tend to have higher levels of crime and less trust and social cohesion. In short, inequality damages our whole social fabric and sense of belonging.

For me, Liberal Britain is a country where we improve people’s lives by tackling the growing inequalities in our society. We should look at the detrimental effects of inequality on individual well-being, and come forward with policy responses such as:

  • Helping young people to get their first foot on the jobs ladder and access to decent and affordable housing so that younger generations aren’t worse off than their parents and feel they have reasonable prospects for the future;
  • Requiring large firms to publish information about the ratio between their highest and lowest paid, and taking action on the gender pay gap;
  • Tackle zero-hours contracts and low-pay for the most disadvantaged. A good way to start would be to increase the threshold for paying National Insurance – a more targeted and effective response for the low paid than simply raising the personal tax allowance;
  • Righting some of the obvious wrongs in recent welfare reform like the bedroom tax, or reducing benefits for disabled people and focus instead on designing effective work programmes which actually help people to find suitable, stable employment;
  • Properly funding good quality mental health care and ensuring it is accessible to everyone who needs it in a timely fashion;
  • Proper funding for social care as well as supporting families and friends acting as carers for loved ones – a role that 60% of us will play at some point in our lives.

Not only is this the right thing to do but polls and surveys increasingly tell us that the majority of British people support these type of goals. Indeed quite a few people support an increase in government funding for programmes that help the young, the poor and the unemployed, even if this might raise their taxes. Now there’s something to think about!

This piece is part of the Your Liberal Britain series of posts here on Lib Dem Voice. Everyone can take part – why not send in your own vision for Liberal Britain? 
Your Liberal Britain is a grassroots initiative launched and run by new members of the party, inviting every Lib Dem to help explain what the party stands for. We all know we want to build a fair, free and open society – but what would it actually look like? And why should anyone care?
To take part, simply write 500 words in response to the question ‘What would a truly Liberal Britain look like, and what improvements would it bring to people’s lives?“, and send it to [email protected], mentioning ‘Liberal Britain’ in the subject line.
To get inspiration for your post, read others in the series, and take a look at all these ideas that other members have submitted to Your Liberal Britain. You can also get involved by hosting a simple discussion evening with your local party – everything you need to run one is right here.


* Claire Tyler, Baroness Tyler of Enfield, has been in the House of Lords since 2011, taking an active role in the areas of health and social care, welfare reform, social mobility, well-being, children and family policy, machinery of government and the voluntary sector. She is the Liberal Democrat member of the Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility, and co-chair of the APPG on Social Mobility

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  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Mar '16 - 12:55pm

    Good article.

    Tackling real inequality ie: economic and structural economic inequality which blights the lives of so many in the UK, is what this party should focus on in my view. The list in the article of the harm being done by this government (and the last ie: bedroom tax) is sobering.

    In addition, we should not underestimate the detrimental effects of slashing local government funding (during the coalition) and now the plan by Osborne to remove education from local community governance with his forced-academies plan.

    The effect of this plan is not just about a vague sense of the loss of ‘well-being’ .This is about long-term community cohesion, stability and quality of life, especially in rural areas, which could be forced to close their small village schools to create larger ‘more efficient’ primary schools run by carpet magnates like Harris.

    It would be great to hear the Party talk about issues like this one rather more and a lot less about identity-politics, which so obsessed centrists like Harriet Harman in the last New Labour government. They were obsessed with it to cover up the gross increase economic inequality that government presided over. Let’s not make their mistakes.

  • An excellent article full of good – and vote winning – ideas. What a refreshing change. The party seem to be short in other areas, but they do have a decent pool of first-rate peers.

  • Thomas Shakespeare 18th Mar '16 - 5:22pm

    Great article. I would add that wealth inequality is enormous, and only set to rise as the housing crisis escalates.

    First of all radical steps are needed to deal with the housing crisis (creating a bank of state-owned land selling it on to developers with very specific planning permissions, for example). House building needs to be invested in like never before, but only with a rounded, evidence-based approach can the crisis be dealt with.

    Secondly wealth needs to be taxed to a much greater extent. A ‘mansion tax’, with proceeds preferably invested in education and housing, is a great step in the right direction.

  • I also agree but with a caveat.

    The policy responses suggested are highly desirable but they are symptoms of a deeper malaise. There is a case for treating spots as a palliative measure but a good doctor would tackle the underlying fever and it’s the same here.

    Take zero hour contracts for example. No-one on one has any chance of building a life, stable income, getting a home etc. It’s the same as the day labourers waiting by the roadside in hope of work that you see in many countries – but done with mobile phones. Of course outlawing zero hour contracts would have an effect – but only briefly before something equivalent came roaring back. Spots not fever.

    The Lib Dems’ difficulty is twofold. Firstly, they have lost any properly liberal understanding of how the economy actually works and, in its absence, have to a large extent adopted a Tory analysis which really isn’t an analysis at all so much as an elaborately constructed fairy story to justify looting. So, we need a different paradigm, a new understanding of liberal political economy in the modern age. Secondly, the policy-making process simply doesn’t work and hasn’t done for a quarter of a century so we collectively have no way of getting to that better paradigm.

    Good strategy doesn’t start with a plan to conquer the world but with a way to make ones own company/organisation/whatever fit for purpose.

  • These are not policies, they are aspirations that mostly involve spending money that does not currently have. To achieve these lofty aims we would need more taxation or growth from somewhere. Assuming we are taxed enough, then where does this growth come from? The answer to that would be real policy! In the final analysis the voters respect economic common sense, not a shopping list of desirable items financed by yet more borrowing.

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