How the Social Contract idea can serve both our party and the country

It is easy to be high-minded about the Social Contract idea, which may be why it is not yet universally known or accepted. Yes, it is a vision of addressing the main social ills of this country, campaigning to have them put right. And yes, it gains legitimacy by assuming the mantle of William Beveridge, the Liberal who produced a great Reform plan during the Second World War, including a demand that ‘five giant evils’ of the time should be destroyed by following his plans.

What could be more appropriate for the Liberal Democrats to campaign on, than a plan developed during the current world crisis, to tackle the huge social ills which are modern equivalents of those which Beveridge saw? It can also meet the present mood in the country for major beneficial change, which is comparable to that felt by the British people suffering in that devastating War

To demand a new post-COVID Social Contract, the equivalent of the post-War Social Contract is not just poetic; it is practical and far-reaching. Just as in Beveridge’s time, the social ills here today existed before the present crisis, and are likely to worsen as the immediate remedial measures come to an end.

Beveridge’s ‘five giant evils’ were disease, want, squalor, ignorance and idleness. We reckon the equivalent ills are:

1. Poor health and health care. The NHS developed following Beveridge’s plans has been starved of sufficient funding during the past decade, and care for the sick and the old and of the carers themselves is inadequate in the present health crisis.

2. Poverty. Fourteen million people are living in relative poverty in this country, about 4.6 million of them children, and the numbers have been steadily rising. Now many more are suddenly dependent on Universal Credit, which even with the temporary increase provided is inadequate to raise them out of poverty.

3. Homelessness. The homeless need to be permanently housed, and there must be sufficient social and other housing built over the next few years to ensure that everyone who needs it is provided for.

4. Deficient education, skills and training. With the coming of the digital age and the demands of Climate Change, there will be far more need for relevant skills training and apprenticeships in the coming months and years.

5. Employment and under-employment. Too many of the care workers seen to be essential in this crisis are on zero-hours contracts and the minimum wage. Thousands of people are now newly facing unemployment.

These grave problems need an overall plan to deal with them. The UN Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, concluded after his fact-finding visit here in November 2018 that the former post-War Social Contract had broken down.  We should plan for a replacement for that broken social contract – a new post-Coronavirus Social Contract for our times, in which the government is obliged by the electorate to face its responsibilities.

The Liberal Democrats should take the lead in this. It is our natural heritage, looking back even before the Liberal Beveridge to the great reforming government of Lloyd George and Asquith from1905 to ‘15. The present Labour party cannot assume the Beveridge mantle – though perhaps they will be able to carry out matured plans in due course, just as the Attlee government did in 1945-51.

Our country needs a new national Social Contract to be understood and fulfilled. But so, frankly, does our party. We struggle in the national polling, barely making 10 per cent at best, and that is unsurprising when we fail to define clearly what we stand for. This plan will give us the vision, purpose and developing strategy which the Thornhill review of the General Election performance demands we develop. We recommend it to our members as the overarching theme needed for our party at this time, and we ask our future leader to take it forward.

* 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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64 Comments

  • A timely message from Katharine on two counts.

    1. Social justice …..(it should be a natural central core of the party’s message), and

    2. Enlightened self interest…. (poverty, inequality, homelessness, cheap labour conditions are natural breeding grounds for contagious disease…. from which we can all suffer… as seen in Leicester, Blackburn and some other areas recently).

    Katharine rightly speaks of history, and it was indeed the case amongst the more enlightened ‘New Liberals’ such as Charles Masterman in the Liberal administration over a century ago. A host of progressive legislation emerged :

    a) The Trade Disputes Act and the Workman’s Compensation Act of 1906,
    b) The Old Age Pensions Act of 1908,
    c) The Labour Exchange Act , the Children’s Act and the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909
    d) The National Insurance Act of 1911.

    Alas the War and internal division, but Beveridge was a legacy of that ‘New Liberalism’.

    It’s time modern Liberals rediscovered their heritage and their soul to tackle the very real social problems of 2020. Katharine’s proposals could be a focus if the modern Lib Dems commit to it. They should adopt it and demand that the new Leadership lead the way to demand a new 2020 Social Contract.

    Not only will it be relevant and right, but who knows, it might even persuade a few of the successful old campaigners, disillusioned by 2010-15, to return again to the fold. That is, if there is something positive to campaign for after the years of decline and slow drift.

  • We should be discussing the social contract as part of our vision for Britain at our virtual conference in September. At the Social Liberal Hustings on Saturday Layla said, “Just like Beveridge rebuilt Britain’s social contract after World War Two we must do the same.” Ed said he had advocated a Beveridge 2 to Federal Conference Committee to look at. There is momentum behind this idea and our party needs to grasp it now not in a few year time.

  • Nigel Lindsay 15th Jul '20 - 9:23pm

    Absolutely right, Katharine, our party needs a clear vision and it needs it now. That point has been made recently by the Thornhill report, by David Grace in Liberator, by Michael Meadowcroft, and in Scotland by the recent Liberal Futures essay. There is a developing consensus among so many members and activists about the need for a vision we can all unite to support. Your idea of a new Social Contract provides a basis for this.
    Professor Sir John Curtice recently pointed out the the LibDems are now the most class-bound party. All the others appeal across class divisions while we have withdrawn into a middle-class bubble, speaking to ourselves only about our own concerns. We need to re-engage with industrial and post-industrial communities as a matter of urgency. The issues you highlight represent a good roadmap for doing this. If those who direct our strategy have any sense they will take note of what you are saying and act on it.

  • Nigel makes a very valid point, and it’s encouraging to hear from Michael that the potential leaders are taking notice..

    It’s time Liberal Democrats looked outside their own internal preoccupations. Why should anybody listen if they don’t ?

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Jul '20 - 9:49pm

    It’s the focus, friends, it’s the focus on a central message, an overarching theme, that our party lacks today. Having attended the virtual hustings of our would-be leaders discussing jobs and the economy, I am left impressed but bemused – so many good responses from both Ed and Layla – you couldn’t say one of them ‘won’ this bout, I think – but what would the voters make of all this articulacy and bright ideas and caring and good Liberal sense?

    David, you are right to advise concentration on what we can do to restore social justice. It’s right, it’s what the country needs. There has been and still is a lot of suffering; people need help and hope. Thank you very much for reminding everyone of the progressive achievements of our forebears, and still more for that inspiring call to action, ‘It’s time for modern Liberals to discover their heritage and their soul to tackle the very real social problems of 2020. ‘ Yes! and I expect both Layla and Ed would say amen to that, though they don’t have your committed background and knowledge.

    There needs to be concentration and focus, and the Social Contract that Michael and I propose can indeed offer our leadership and our party something of that.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Jul '20 - 10:38pm

    Support Katharine and Michael, entirely here, and David, Nigel, agree too/ unity!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    We must see that mainstream issues continue, as well as others coming, going.

    The party must emphasise its own ways to solve common problems, but with common sense, others can really get and relate to.

    Class is not the concern. It is becoming out of touch. Gaitskell, grimond, were, by old standards, “posh,” but people never doubted their understanding was for each and everyone in our country, not forty eight or fifty two per cent!

  • Malcolm Todd 15th Jul '20 - 11:10pm

    “Beveridge’s ‘five giant evils’ were disease, want, squalor, ignorance and idleness. We reckon the equivalent ills are: 1. Poor health and health care. … 2. Poverty. … 3. Homelessness. … 4. Deficient education, skills and training. … 5. Employment and under-employment.”
    Those aren’t “equivalents”, fer pity’s sake, they’re the same thing! (Well, number 3 is a little squint.) Are metaphor and poetry no longer part of the liberal education? How very sad. I might call it one of the pimples on the face of the giant Ignorance, but I fear someone would feel the need to explain it…

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Jul '20 - 12:24am

    Malcolm

    You are correct, if what they meant was literally taken, part of the metaphor here, I reckon, is with regard to description, alternative language, is what they refer to, because we never say, squalor, or ignorance or idleness. Yes the same points as of before, you are accurate. But different ways to say it.

    Think of a minister saying, let us work to get rid of the squalor in peoples homes, the ignorance in our schools, the idleness of those unemployed!

  • Peter Martin 16th Jul '20 - 5:29am

    How about starting up a campaign to ensure that the minimum wage laws are actually enforced? There no point having a law that the minimum wage is £8.50 per hour, or whatever it is, if employers then redefine an hour to be 90 minutes or even 120 minutes work.

    This has been going on in the agricultural sector ever since minimum wage laws came into “force”. For want of a better word. Plus there have been other abuses such as making it a requirement of the job that overpriced rental accommodation, usually in on-site caravans, is accepted as part of the work contract.

    Not surprisingly, this doesn’t get much, if any, coverage in the National media. But the abuses have brought the system into disrepute. The local workforce sees what goes on and doesn’t want any part of it. They then are accused of being work-shy!

    This is what we now read has been happening in the Leicester sweat shops too. There will be hardly anyone in Leicester who wouldn’t have been aware of what goes on, but it is only now, with the Covid 19 problem, that the National media is taking any interest.

  • John Marriott 16th Jul '20 - 7:46am

    Here’s a simple message to start your campaign:

    IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS!

  • Kath:
    Great stuff, lets have more!
    But “ the great reforming government of Lloyd George and Asquith from1905 to ‘15”
    Please don’t forget Henry Campbell-Bannerman, was the driving force behind the 1906 landslide and what followed, much neglected as a social reformer and should be recognised as such.
    He would of easily seen off the current PM.

  • Antony Watts 16th Jul '20 - 9:20am

    Yes, but more. We need to do more than face up to existing issues. So yes let’s have a new Social Contract.

    But we need a broader spectrum A vision of tomorrow. Something very motivating. To bring us together as a nation and let people say “this is what we are”, “this is what we do”.

    For example Climate Change and everything that goes with it.

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Jul '20 - 10:08am

    It’s salutary to compare John Marriott’s bracing message with Malcolm Todd’s assertion that our social ills of today are the SAME as Beveridge’s! According to that idea, John, it DOES have to be like this. Of course I don’t accept that, because our party will focus on the problems, work out remedies and demand they be carried out.

    Our focus will have to be very different from the government’s, as the year progresses, and our messages very emphatic. The unchanging element which we will need to combat, in insisting as John suggests that ‘It doesn’t have to be like this’, is the government’s underlying attitude of indifference to the wellbeing of individual citizens, except when they can see where it is losing them votes. Already that attitude is displayed again in their bringing back sanctions for welfare recipients who fail in any stipulation, no matter the individual circumstances, and are then deprived for weeks of the payments they absolutely need.

    Welfare payments, labour conditions, job provision and job guarantees are all matters we shall need to campaign on, and we can do so with the comprehensive demand that the government has responsibilities it must accept, and it should do so under a post-Covid Social Contract for our time.

    Thank you for your support, David, Nigel and Lorenzo, and thanks to everyone who has so far contributed to the discussion.

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Jul '20 - 10:17am

    As I was writing, new comments arrived, thank you. ‘ A vision for tomorrow’ – yes, of course you are right, Anthony W

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Jul '20 - 10:48am

    The system suddenly jumped, that wasn’t my doing! I was replying to Anthony Watts, who wants ‘A vision for tomorrow’, and I am all for that, thank you Anthony. Yes, and I think that vision should emerge as we tackle the outstanding ills of today. It will be a vision of a caring society, where people take account of their neighbours’ needs and nobody is left out, where we co-operate with each other in facing the continuing huge problems, not least that of fixing social ills within the demands of climate change. I hope there will be much more discussion on the future vision even as we struggle to fulfil the present one.

    Martin, you have a point. Calling the Beveridge-inspired post-War reforms a social contract seems to have grown up as a national understanding, rather than ever being formalised. Perhaps other people can inform us on that. (Also on the history, I must look up Henry Campbell-Bannerman, thank you for that prompt, Andy Hyde.) My first knowledge of the social contract was when the UN Rapporteur Philip Alston concluded it had been broken. We have had the capitals for emphasis, Martin, rather than making any suggestion of its becoming a legal formulation.

  • David Garlick 16th Jul '20 - 10:54am

    Great stuff Katherine.
    Fits my idea of a clear and communicable message that would be welcomed by very many and begin to enable us (LD’s) to say what we are about.

  • If there was ever a time for the Liberal Democrats to come to the fore it is right now, I while heartedly endorse Katherine Pindars’ plea to the future leader of the party to take on board her proposals.

  • Sorry it should have read whole heartedly!

  • Peter Martin 16th Jul '20 - 11:19am

    The idea of a Social Contract is certainly worth pursuing. However you’ll need to get over the reaction of the cynical voter who’ll be thinking that they’ve heard all this of kind of thing before and it’s just a way of getting their vote.

    So you’ll also need something else to establish yourselves as being different. This was what I was thinking of when I suggested a campaign to ensure the existing law on minimum pay was upheld. It would all be perfectly respectable. You’d be on both the side of the establishment who have made the laws in the first place and side the working class who would benefit if the laws actually meant anything.

    So perfect Lib Dem territory.

  • Lorenzo is right. We have to watch the language here. It’s not just a matter of getting beyond the language used by Beveridge. It is also about recognising that the very phrase Social Contract has been abused. In Harold Wilson’s day it was not so much an endorsement of the spirit of Beveridge as finding a formula for sorting out problems within the Labour Party. But the numbers of us who can remember that one are steadily declining so perhaps we need not worry too much about it!

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Jul '20 - 12:54pm

    David Garlick and Barry Lofty. Many thanks for your heartening support. I hope indeed our party leader and their deputy will take the proposal fully on board, and it can be upheld at Conference too.

    William Wallace. I am sure you are right, William, to suggest that companies and their directors have a part to play in the general social contract that can be understood in this country. I think our policy on Jobs, Business and Community touched on that, suggesting that companies must contribute to all their ‘stakeholders’. But no, I can’t agree with you in your desire for a wider focus, sorry – please see my comment at 9.49 pm yesterday. We need to focus on a central message, that is concerned with the relationship of our government and its citizens.

    It is precisely our niceness, our wish to solve every problem with a myriad solutions, that in my opinion prevents us formulating a clear message for the voters. The Social Contract idea is a clear message. It is specifically about the Government’s duty to provide essential requirements to all its Citizens. For them to have a chance of personal fulfilment, within the context of health and work and income, home and education. So, Peter Martin, your wish for a campaign for the existing law on minimum pay to be upheld can be part of this – there will be many different strands to be developed, but the overall proposal and campaign should be clear.

    Geoff Reid, let our party be the leaders in developing this new understanding of the national Social Contract then: one beneficial to all our citizens.

  • John Marriott 16th Jul '20 - 2:05pm

    Before anyone gets obsessed with a Social Contract, or any other ‘contract’ for that matter, they might consider reading Martin Kettle’s piece in today’s Guardian. Anyone for compromise?

  • Sue Sutherland 16th Jul '20 - 2:32pm

    Well done Katharine! It’s wonderful that so many people are getting behind an idea of social justice for the party to pursue. It’s feeling like the good old days!
    As you know I’ve been thinking about our belief in community as a basis for our belief in social justice. The community as a whole suffers when parts of it are prevented from operating at their best. This belief can prevent us being accused of being left wing, or encouraging the state to interfere in people’s lives. In the sort of democracy Lib Dems want to achieve the concept of the state is irrelevant because, as you say, it is simply the democratically elected government putting its ideas into practice.
    I think you can move away from Beveridge’S 5 ills. It’s important for our young peoples’ future that we tackle climate change as an evil on its own and that’s something of which Beveridge was completely unaware. I think we also need the evil of racism and prejudice against minority groups in that list.
    Beveridge was writing from the perspective of a national government which included all parties. I think our new Social Contract is between the public and ourselves as a party, but I’m not entirely sure.
    It seems that this Social Contract will be a way of showing how we can create the kind of society we want, one in which compassion is valued and everyone has a positive role to play.

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Jul '20 - 3:51pm

    No, John, not compromise – distinctiveness. True, a decade ago we had 57 MPs where now we have eleven. But in the Nineties Labour had 49 MPs in Scotland and now they have just one. We are to some extent fishing in the same pool as Labour, for the votes of well-educated town and city dwellers. A Manchester University Professor of Politics, Bob Ford, wrote in Sunday’s Observer, “Debates over health, public services and job security are favourable terrain for Labour.” Just so – and equally for us.

    So we have to show ourselves distinctive, not bag-carriers for Keir Starmer. The Labour party is clambering back to significance over the incompetence of this government, but they have a long way to go to win back anything like the number of seats they need. We have the advantage of not being Corbyn’s progeny, but to advance ourselves electorally we need a distinctive message. And this I propose can be it.

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Jul '20 - 4:36pm

    Sue, t is the way we look at the other evils of society that makes us distinctive, I suppose, with a right to claim distinctiveness. All parties recognise the dangers of climate change and the need to take action to prevent its harms. It will be up to our party, within the expectations of the Social Contract, to demand that the poorest don’t suffer as a result of measures taken. The proposal of the government to offer grants for better insulation of their houses to people on benefits is a good one, and Liberal Democrats will try to ensure that the grants are sufficient. As for the evil of racism, I think Liberal Democrats want the freedom equality and community we believe in to be available to every individual – the same universality that Beveridge wanted, applied in today’s context. Thank you for your thoughtful response., which developed my own thinking.

  • It just doesn’t sound very Liberal. Many of our own voters don’t believe it’s the government’s responsibility to provide education, healthcare, jobs and homes. There’s also the problem with describing something as a “contract”. A contract implies there are obligations expected from people.

    If you say you will provide those things then you will be asked what you expect from people in return and how you plan to enforce those terms.

    I would feel uncomfortable trying to sell a “social contract” to people.

  • Peter Hirst 16th Jul '20 - 5:23pm

    A social contract is a great idea though the devil is in the detail. It should guarantee a decent quality of life, opportunity for betterment and an adequate safety net in return for reasonable behaviour, acceptance of life chances and engaging with society. It would be challenging to enforce though I hope welcomed by all generations.

  • John Marriott 16th Jul '20 - 5:37pm

    @Katharine Pindar
    Have you READ Kettle’s article? If you haven’t, you should. It might give you an idea of what most of the electorate seem to think of the Lib Dems. There’s a world out there that has never been to a conference, never voted for a motion and, quite frankly, is more worried about survival than social justice. As for BAME, LGBT and all the other causes the party espouses, they’re just letters of the alphabet to them. Most have never got past SDP. That’s what you’re up against.

  • Steve Trevethan 16th Jul '20 - 5:48pm

    Is it possible to have a set of policies which benefit the majority of citizens and their children without rejecting Neoliberal Economics?
    Might we consider militarism and oligarchical control of the media as targets too?

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Jul '20 - 6:22pm

    John Marriott. Yes of course, I immediately read the Kettle article in today’s Guardian when you mentioned it, John, and I have given my answer. I am sorry we don’t agree.

    Andrew T, likewise. But it is not enforceable, Andrew, as I said above – not a legal contract. As a lifelong Liberal, I have for instance been objecting to officious police action to enforce the lockdown. But as a Liberal, I do believe that our government has a duty to see that every citizen is provided with basic goods, as suggested – sufficient income, a job if they want one, a home, an education, and of course health and social care. Michael and I are Social Liberals, members of the Social Liberal Forum in our party. The duty of the citizen is to make a contribution where he or she can, but if they can’t, to have goods provided for them. It’s well put above by Peter Hirst – thanks, Peter.

    Steve, there are many evils to fight, certainly! I hope you don’t consider Neo-liberal economics as your friend, though.

  • Antony Watts,

    Climate Change is a very important issue and dealing with it should be part of our vision for Britain, but all the main political parties have policies to fight climate change and therefore we can’t be known for only this. To be known as the party which wants to have a new Beveridge-type social contract to deal with the social ills of today in the same way that liberals created the old social contract would make us stand out and make us relevant today.

    Andrew T,

    Social Liberals believe it is the role of the government to provide education, healthcare, homes full employment and to end poverty. We did discuss what obligations should be required from people, but concluded that just being law-abiding was sufficient. There should be no division into those who are deserving and those who are not.

  • Steve Trevethan 16th Jul '20 - 7:34pm

    Which school or classification of economic theory does our party follow?

  • David Garlick 17th Jul '20 - 10:05am

    @Steve T. Doughnut economics surely!

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Jul '20 - 10:20am

    Steve. I am no economist, but I understand our party follows Keynesian principles, and we reject the false thinking of the Coalition years, described as Neo-liberal thinking, when the prescription of austerity was not the correct one. The case should have been made for spending to increase demand and get the economy growing, not battening down the hatches. Of course the mistaken policy was brought in by a Tory Chancellor, George Osborne, in a government where we were a minority.

    Now we have a Tory Chancellor who has learnt better, apparently, and we agree with the spending to keep workers in jobs and businesses able to continue during the Coronavirus crisis. There is no need to restrain spending while borrowing costs are so low. However, as the months go by, our party will have to ensure that spending goes to the right objects. I think the country is with us in wanting the fairer, kinder share-out of national income that we want, having seen for instance how underpaid the care workers are. Our policies on land-value taxation, taxing wealth as well as income, and perhaps putting a penny on income tax to help pay for the NHS and social care, should not be unpopular.

    In short, I think tackling the social ills of today , working out ourselves the appropriate policies under the theme of the national Social Contract, should find favour with the electorate. We will want action on health and social care, on providing jobs and training and giving both the employed and the jobless a fair income, with far more provision of social homes, and we know how these goods can be paid for, The voters should see that the Liberal Democrats are offering what they themselves want and need.

  • Peter Martin 17th Jul '20 - 10:55am

    @ Michael BG,

    “……. just being law-abiding was sufficient. There should be no division into those who are deserving and those who are not.”

    Any party pushing this line will always have a problem. You may think this but it goes against human nature.

    It is interesting to see how people behave in communities such as house and flat shares etc. From my own experience of my younger days I can say that different groups will decide different rules but often it will mean something like everyone putting money into the kitty for the basics of bread, tea and milk etc and there might be a requirement that everyone cook from time to time.

    Nearly always problems will arise when someone isn’t pulling their weight, like not putting in to the kitty but drinking the milk. Or is happy to share the meals others have cooked but is never around when it is their turn.

    In other words there’s always a requirement that everyone should contribute something if they are able. In my case, we might have all had leftish views (even if some of them might have been LibDems 😉 ) but it didn’t stop us calling out anyone who needed it! On the other hand if anyone was sick we’d all be much more flexible and would do what we could to help.

    In a democracy you do have to understand and accommodate human nature to actually get anywhere.

  • Steve Trevethan,

    It is an interesting question and as I have pointed out in another thread we have not passed a motion on economics since 2015. I would hope we would advocate social liberal economics, where there is a large role for the state, doing the things best done by the state and managing the economy to maximise employment and encourage growth. I hope that we can get away from the idea that government revenue should equal day-to-day expenditure and I hope we reject any part of neo-liberalism.

    Peter Martin,

    There is an alternative part of human nature, showing compassion for people who need help. People show this compassion without asking how a person came to need help they just put their hand in their pocket and give it mostly to charities who provide the help. There is no expectation that only people who conform will receive this help. This help is provided to all who need it without asking if they are “deserving or not”.

  • @ Steve Trevethan Thanks for the kind words, Steve.

    By rejecting Katharine and Michael’s motion to debate a Mark2 Beveridge Social Contract, the FCC is guilty of a death wish for this party as any sort of radical reforming political force looking outside its own minority obsessions. As my Granny used to say, “they’ve put the tin lid on it”.

    No wonder it’s on 6% and in fifth place behind the SNP, Tories, Labour and the Greens in Scotland……. in fact I wonder if the FCC knows where Scotland is never mind the rest of the UK. Four million (and rising) children in poverty in the UK ! Does anybody care
    about that ?

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Jul '20 - 9:34am

    Four point six children in poverty in the UK, I think it is, David. You are so right to be vehement, thank you. Our leaders need to put fighting poverty first. As our Preamble says, ‘The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which … no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.’

    There is a kinder spirit in the country, as everyone endures this epidemic. Our party can represent the people, in calling out the fact of 14 million people living in poverty including 4.6 million children, and demanding action. The first of those actions needs to be ensuring welfare benefits for those who require them are adequate, so that people aren’t driven to the food banks again even when they do find paid work.

    The country needs us to campaign for the poor. And the frustration of our not doing so, of effecting for ourselves a social contract with the people, is that we miss at the same time a golden opportunity for our party. Show that we understand and are campaigning to meet the most essential needs of the people and our paltry opinion poll figures, 6% in Scotland, 8% in England, will surely rise. Surely we care enough!

  • @ Katharine Pindar I’m glad you drew attention to Food Banks, Katharine.

    Food Banks have seen a huge surge in need for emergency support during the coronavirus outbreak. The Trussell Trust reported an 89% increase in need for emergency food parcels during April 2020 compared to April last year, including a 107% rise in parcels given to children. The number of families with children receiving parcels has almost doubled compared to the same period last year.

    To put it into local perspective away from percentages, my own local food bank (which I Chaired) issued almost six thousand food parcels in 2019 – BEFORE the Coronavirus hit- a third to children – a third to low wage earners – and a third where benefits were delayed.

    Having voted for the benefit cuts and the associated sanctions regime between 2010-15 when they were in government, the very least this party can do now is to campaign to end poverty. Repentance, I’m told, is good for the soul.

  • richard underhill 18th Jul '20 - 11:25am

    David Raw 18th Jul ’20 – 10:40am
    Our ministers in the coalition did insist on feeding school children and persuaded the Tories to pay. They could have done better by insisting on breakfasts rather then lunches.

  • @ Richard Underhill “Our ministers in the coalition did insist on feeding school children and persuaded the Tories to pay”.

    Yes, and I supported the free school meals policy, Mr Underhill …… but your comment is more believable in leafy Kent than in the somewhat different industrial northern cities But you say, “persuaded the Tories to pay “?

    The cost of the free meals was £ 1 billion per annum (and not just the poorest children got them). Given the welfare cuts inflicted by the Coalition on the most needy in society amounted to over £ 26 billion I don’t think ‘the Tories paid’. Oh, and don’t forget the VAT hike and the top rate tax cut.

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Jul '20 - 1:19pm

    Thank you for the telling figures, David. The cost of free school meals was indeed paltry in comparison with the government’s saving on benefits. We have seen recently the problem of getting food to children in this extended break, and the attempt by the government not to pay for it, till frustrated by Marcus Rashford the footballer.
    This is classless – society wants people to have enough, for children to have midday meals, for care workers to have decent pay and conditions – and John Major joins us in deploring food banks. But the food banks are needed more than ever, as David records.

    I think some people’s suspicion of welfare claimants will fade away when the million-plus extra claimants for Universal Credit realise how little they are expected to live on for month after month. I think many people will have unfortunately experienced the sudden shock of no regular pay and how long you have to wait for the handouts.

    Then those newly on benefits will find how easily you can be penalised by the appalling sanctions regime and have your meagre income arbitrarily cut. People will indeed want a fairer deal all round, and we should be able to say that that is what Liberal Democrats believe in and are strongly campaigning for.

  • Steve Trevethan,

    Our 2010 manifesto is the last one where Social Liberals were still controlling economic policy with talk of an economic stimulus after the general election and not reducing the deficit until the economy was strong enough. In Nick Clegg we had a leader who thought he knew it all and there would have been no way during the Coalition he would have supported a discussion of economic policy which would have rejected the Conservative’s Party’s neoliberal economics. We did discuss economics during the Coalition and the members supported the leadership line of supporting the Conservative’s Party’s neoliberal economics.

    I think neoliberal economics is not deliberately obscure. It is deliberately easy to understand but wrong. It declares that government finance is like a person’s finance and therefore the government should “live within its means” i.e. reduce spending, reduce the deficit and ideally have a balanced budget or a budget surplus.

    Just like you wouldn’t expect physics to be simple, macro-economics has different factors all which have influence on the economy and have more than one way to change them. Getting the balance right is difficult.

    Perhaps we need to do something different with economic policy and get some economists to write some policy papers setting out what we could do and have them present them to conference and discuss them, so members can hear the case for and against difference economic policies and make an informed decision without the leadership having a position.

    The idea that the government just can’t increase spending seems to be embedded in Federal Conference Committee thinking. We need to change this.

    Katharine,

    It seems to me both leadership candidates pay lip service to the idea of eradicating poverty, with their support for a UBI (this is a much more expensive way to do it than increasing benefits). However, they seem to talk about reducing economic inequalities rather than eradicating poverty and making sure no-one in the UK lives in poverty. Is there space in their three topic areas for a fourth – eradicating poverty? I can’t imagine them wanting them to campaign on six – five social ills and the environment.

  • richard underhill 18th Jul '20 - 11:56pm

    David Raw 18th Jul ’20 – 12:14pm
    I wrote in the Liberal Democrat News about the Ribble Valley bye-election which led to the abolition of the Poll tax. My article was published as a letter and ended with the subtitle “formerly of North Watford”. A Lancashire county councillor, now a peer, was much amused. Despite the 19,000 majority which Tory central office advised the then PM could not be lost our candidate won and the Labour parliamentary party moved a motion of no confidence in the government, regretted by Deputy Leader Roy Hattersley.
    The Liberal Democrat News reported that many of our campaigners had placed bets with bookies, for which they were pleased to have been paid. I had rung around the local party and had been joined by our borough councillor for Paddock Wood.
    Mrs Thatcher had appointed a hanger and flogger to the Home Office, so my “letter” contained some jokes at his expense to which he tried to deal ineffectually before polling day. The tory candidate suffered a mental breakdown, but recovered to win the seat at the next general election.
    One of our MPs was shocked when I told him that he had brought to our conference an MP who was in favour of the poll tax. He is not an MP now. The Home Secretary complained to the Prime Minister that he had allowed the appointment of a Minister with whom she did not agree. He was one of those who lost his seat in the 2015 general election. He is still active in politics.

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Jul '20 - 12:09am

    To be frank, Michael – going on from what you wrote above – I think our leadership candidates exhibit the same characteristics as our party as a whole: a rather cautious inclusiveness of every worthy policy going. Knowing they have to group them in some way, the candidates identified three good topics each, because three works well in oratory.

    I don’t mean that Ed and Layla don’t believe in their topics, and the misplaced over-confidence of our last leader would be a warning to both to be cautious. But it is a characteristic of our idealistic yet not radical party to try to cover too much ground, as the selection of subjects for this September’s conference shows as usual.

    The public, if indeed wanting a fairer, kinder politics after the pains of the Coronavirus, should quite like our niceness. But actually to cut through we must, as I have suggested above, focus and be distinctive. Our proposal here covers the five main social ills, and there will be much to discuss about their dimensions and ramifications. But they are grouped under ONE overarching theme, ONE vision, ONE central purpose – the Social Contract. And by embracing this our leaders and our party can adopt the focus and distinctiveness that we so much need. Our conviction and our passion are necessary in addition to our niceness, and never more so than now.

  • Richard Underhill,

    I think your comment of 11.56 pm yesterday is very odd. Firstly, it does not seem to be a response to David Raw’s comment of 12.14pm which was about the cost of free school meals for children of a certain age compared to the total that working-age benefits were cut by.

    Secondly, you talk of people without naming them, which is a way to avoid people knowing who you are talking about, so why mentioned them at all?

    I had assumed your letter was published after the by-election result, but then you write, that the nameless Home Secretary “tried to deal ineffectually (with your jokes) before polling day”

    John Major was PM at the time of the Ribble Valley by-election, becoming PM in November 1990 and he appointed Kenneth Baker as Home Secretary also in November 1990. The by-election was held on 7th March 1991.

    Katharine,

    We are talking about five social ills, but even if you say they are one we are left with two topics – re-creating the social contract and the environment. This is why I talk of six. We will need to get our new leader to give up the idea of three, no matter that it “works well in oratory”. If five worked for Beveridge then six should be made to work for us.

  • Clive Sneddon 19th Jul '20 - 9:56pm

    As a member of the Fairer Share for All Policy Working Group, whose report was adopted as policy at the Autumn 2019 Conference, I would draw attention to the Right to Basic Services which the report contains. Most obviously a Right to food and water, but also to warm homes and to decent internet access. This right requires government to ensure provision, though it can obviously arrange for others to do the providing. The Working Group consciously rejected Basic Income, while proposing reforms to Universal Credit including no sanctions and paying out within five days of a claim, on the grounds that it would be expensive, with clawback through the tax system inevitable, and could easily fall victim to a stealth cut by a mean-minded Chancellor. And there is the broader point that pumping money in tends to put up the price if there is no extra supply, which is simply inflationary and does no one any good. We wanted everyone to have enough money to live on, the services that they needed in modern life, and the opportunity to find work that suits them. Within the group we also agreed that implementing this policy would have to be a community effort, and it could not be achieved without buy-in from all. Everyone would therefore have to feel it was of benefit to them. In terms of the themes in the comments above, a Right to Basic Services has the advantage of being existing party policy, not as far as I can tell containing the not always welcomed overtones of the phrase Social Contract (a phrase I personally like because it goes back to Rousseau), and deliverable along with a Green economy to address the Climate Crisis as part of the massive strengthening of the role of the state which the Covid-19 pandemic makes inevitable if we are to avoid the 90% economy The Economist fears.

  • Clive Sneddon 19th Jul '20 - 10:04pm

    Some of the discussion here involves how to secure buy-in to any new proposal. Though it never made it into the policy paper, the Fairer Share for All working party looked positively at securing community involvement through the idea of requiring stakeholders to treat each other equitably. Thus if stakeholders in a company are shareholders, staff, customers, suppliers and HMRC, none of these five should treat others unfairly, so no redefining an hour’s work or bonus schemes of limited application. In government generally that would mean delivering what that part of government was required to deliver effectively, efficiently and economically, so no Hostile Environment or culture of disbelief. The media in a democracy has a particular stakeholder, namely the voter, who needs full and accurate information both about today’s issues and the solutions proposed for them across the board, not a remit accepted by all parts of today’s media. On the question mentioned in the comments of whether general consent can be obtained for any Liberal Democrat reform programme, it may prove important to retain National Insurance as a gatekeeper to any benefit, so that people can feel that have contributed to any benefit they may have occasion to claim. The sums raised are obviously not enough by themselves, but continuing to require a stamp for access to unemployment benefit, health and pensions, especially if different levels of benefit are paid for different levels of payment as is the case in some respects still, is likely to make general acceptance more possible than would otherwise be the case. What we don’t want is for the Tories to say ‘you don’t get anything from this so why should you pay for it?’.

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Jul '20 - 12:28am

    The intention that “everyone shall have enough money to live on, the services needed in modern life, and the opportunity to find work that suits them”, held by your working group, Clive, and now I suppose part of our policy, are entirely relevant to our five-part proposed Social Contract. We have added, following the blueprint of Beveridge, the need to provide people with sufficient health and social care, with education and training relevant to modern requirements, and with affordable homes of their own. They are all great social needs, and can be grouped as I propose, to give us focus.

    I would suggest that ‘A Right to Basic Services’ (with its connotation of Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs) would not have power as a slogan, because everyone expects that right to be a given, and would probably think in terms of nobody being allowed to starve on the streets, and of all parties agreeing to prevent that. I believe we must have the stronger concept. Since as far as I can tell it became an accepted concept rather than ever being laid down or made legally binding, it should be possible I think to make it a popular concept now.

    You are right to mention however that National Insurance was expected to be part of the post-war social contract, and I agree that it is sensible to explain that the provision begins with contributions from those who can afford to pay. However, I think we could easily explain on the doorsteps the extra we would give to those who can’t pay, or are temporarily unable to pay. We might point out in our discussion the unfairness of the present council tax system, based on 1991 valuations as I understand, as a general reference to ordinary people not getting a fair deal, especially to the costs of living.

    I am glad that your working group declined to accept Universal Basic Income as the answer to poverty, for the reasons you state. Lifting people at least to the poverty level should be our first aim, and the way to do that needs a more direct approach, first by upping benefit levels, as well as removing sanctions and the two-child policy. I hear that both our leadership contenders are suggesting UBI, in their declarations that they will indeed fight poverty, and I think there is work to be done in suggesting the different approach to them both.

    Thank you for your really interesting and useful comments. I will come back to other aspects you mention, such as the need for ‘community effort’, after further thought.

  • Clive Sneddon,

    The policy paper “A Fairer Share for All” was timid and instead of firm commitments it talks of looking at increasing the child element of benefits, that we should look at providing the amount the benefit has been reduced by because of the benefit freeze, look at linking increases to median earnings. All it committed to was a return to annual increases in line with CPI.

    I was informed by a member of staff that it provided increasing the amount spent on working-age benefits by £5 billion each year of a Liberal Democrat government. Therefore it would have been possible to calculate how long it would take with these annual increases to increase the benefit levels to the poverty line. Was this idea even discussed?

    To build on what Katharine said, while it is possible to pass a law to make access to basic services a right it would make no difference unless the means to bring it about is laid down. I didn’t see this means actually being set out in the policy paper.

    Please can you answer a question for me? Do members of policy working group get to see the long submissions members make during the consultation phrase or do they just see summaries?

    There are very few working-age benefits where a person receives a higher payment if it based on their National Insurance record rather than being means-tested. The only one I can think of is Statutory Sickness Pay and Employment and Support Allowance. People often say I have paid my taxes all my life and this should entitle me to receiving help from the state when I need it. Only a few say I have paid my National Insurance!

    Philip Alston pointed out that it was in everyone’s interest for there to be an adequate safety net which ensured no-one ends up in poverty when they at hit by changes in their circumstances. Stating that “a majority of the UK population will use some form of benefits over an 18-year period”. We need to change how people think about benefits. We all pay our taxes so no-one should go hungry, be homeless, be untrained, be homeless, or can’t find a suitable job.

  • @ Michael BG Very much agree with your comments, Michael.

    Has anybody actually done any serious work analysing the cost and benefit of Universal Basic Income ? I tend to be sceptical I think like you and Katharine … but I detect a jump on the bandwagon in the party at the moment (including by Layla Moran) who seem to believe it’s a cure-all. Without serious analysis it may well not be compared with a serious look at existing benefits.

    I can imagine Ms Moran coming a real cropper at the hands of Emily Maitless, Andrew Neil and Gordon Brewer if it is flawed.

  • Universal Basic Income

    To answer my own question. Here’s a cautionary assessment by the very well respected Joseph Rowntree Foundation. I just hope Layla Moran reads it before rushing into anything without doing some research first..

    What is universal basic income – The Joseph Rowntree Foundation‎ http://www.jrf.org.uk/

    ‎What is universal basic income and what are the pro’s and con’s? Blogs. Housing. Data. Inspiring Social Change. Research. Highlights: Independent Social Change Organisation,

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Jul '20 - 9:12pm

    Thanks, David, I’m glad you have brought this up. We have to crack this myth of Universal Basic Income being the answer to poverty. The first answer to helping those beneath the poverty level is to have benefits increased to give working-age people the level of benefit recommended by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, for instance of £152 a week for a single person with no children and £262 a week for a couple with no children (2017-18 figures). The second answer is that these and the related costs would be manageable whereas the costs of a UBI are unacceptable. Michael has calculated that increasing the amounts of benefit to the desirable level would cost just over £63 billion. But a UBI of even £85.71 a week on top of benefits as they are at present would cost about £192.81 billion! It is disappointing to keep seeing well-meaning Liberal Democrats advocating a policy which is so shoddily easy to recommend without real thought or calculation.

    Looking again at Clive’s idea of community involvement in getting businesses to treat all stakeholders equitably, I think that just fits in with our party’s deep commitment to fairness, and everybody having a fair share, Clive. I suppose on second thoughts it does have a weakness – it allows us in our ‘niceness’ to want to give everyone the same basic income!

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 21st Jul '20 - 6:49am

    David Raw, Ed Davey now seems to support UBI too

  • Peter Martin 21st Jul '20 - 7:47am

    @ Katharine Pindar,

    “We have to crack this myth of Universal Basic Income being the answer to poverty.”

    Agreed. I’ve been doing my best!

    But neither can we think an increase in benefits is the simple solution. But I agree it’s time they were increased. Nor can we just shrug our shoulders and say there isn’t one. As you know I’m advocating the idea of a guaranteed job for the public purpose at a living wage for those who need it. So, if not that, what else is there?

  • Peter Martin 21st Jul '20 - 8:03am

    @ Michael BG,

    “We all pay our taxes so no-one should go hungry, be homeless, be untrained, be homeless, or can’t find a suitable job.”

    We don’t.

    People can, if they wish, donate voluntarily to all these worthy causes.

    We pay our taxes, and most people consider National Insurance as just another tax, because it’s a legal requirement that we pay them. We can end up in jail if we don’t comply.

    And the reason the State is so coercive? It needs to provision itself. To do that it needs to create a demand for its issued currency, giving it a value and itself some spending power.

  • Katharine Pindar 21st Jul '20 - 9:49am

    Peter. I expect you are correct in thinking that ordinary people don’t consider that they pay their taxes so everyone can have those basic goods. But Liberal Democrats (I don’t know about you Socialists) surely do expect these things to be provided. Michael repeated one accidentally: the list should read ‘No-one should go hungry, be homeless, be untrained, be without health care, or can’t find a suitable job.’ It’s because Liberal Democrats do want these basic goods for everyone that Michael and I propose the Social Contract that would demand the government see that they are provided.

    I am glad that we think alike on UBI not being an answer to poverty, and I hope our party will come to agree on that. I also as you know like the idea of a guaranteed job being provided, and I think Ed Davey would suggest it should be a job related to environmental needs, so-called ‘green jobs’. But, as you say, increasing benefits is not a complete answer to lifting people to the poverty level. It’s the one that is immediately possible for the government, and should be combined with Lib Dem policy proposals such as lifting sanctions, ending the two-child limit and also the five-week wait for Universal Credit.

    Beyond that, people need to be able to find secure jobs at a living wage, and subsidised housing which they can afford. Hopefully the current national mood for fairer treatment at least of essential workers, in the NHS and care services and actually in public transport too, should help prevent exploitation of working people, and oblige the government to rethink its callous attitudes of the last decade. Lib Dems should provide the helping shove to that change.

  • Peter Martin 21st Jul '20 - 10:16am

    @ Katharine,

    I’m sure you’d agree that Socialists, Liberals, and Tories alike are all ordinary people. There nearly always a mix of selfishness and altruism in everyone’s motivations. Possibly us more traditional Socialists and the Tories have something in common in that we don’t rely too much on altruism. It’s more that we have different class interests which I do appreciate doesn’t fit in too well with Lib Dem thought.

    I expect there will be lots of motions about a UBI at your upcoming conference. Are there any about Job Guarantees? Lib Dems don’t seem too much interested in that idea but I would have thought there should be at least some discussion. I can see a few problems myself with the JG, which could be difficult to resolve, so I wouldn’t want to see an over-reliance on it. I wouldn’t expect it to involve more than about 3-5% of the workforce. A level of 95% “normal” employment can be achieved through sensible macroeconomic regulation.

  • David Raw,

    Thank you for your positive comments. I think I found what you were referring to –
    https://www.jrf.org.uk/blog/universal-basic-income-not-answer-poverty

    It was written in 2018 and it states, “Compass, in research funded by JRF, modelled a range of different UBI schemes. These are all effectively ruled out as undesirable and/or implausible because it is not possible to raise the revenue needed to support them from taxation ¬– even by increasing the basic rate to 30% from 20%. The UBI schemes also INCREASE poverty for children, working-age adults and pensioners compared to the current tax-benefit system: child poverty rises by over 60%. This is because of the effects referred to above, namely that the middle/lower-middle of the income distribution pull away from those who are worst off – almost perfectly designed to increase relative income poverty!”

    It states a top-up UBI (on top of existing benefits) has better outcomes but says this “isn’t really a UBI system at all”. This is because the supporters of a UBI usually mean replacing all existing benefits with “an unconditional, regular payment made to every citizen of a country or territory, with some differences in amounts by demographic factors like age”.

    Peter Martin,

    Ending the benefit cap and paying working-age benefits at the poverty line for different household types would go a very long way in eradicating poverty. If more needs to be done then more should be done, such as ensuring everyone has a home they can afford to live in.

    Perhaps I was not very clear – I was trying to say we need to get people to change their thinking so they think, “We all pay our taxes so no-one should go hungry, be homeless, be untrained, be without health care, or can’t find a suitable job” (as corrected by Katharine).

  • Katharine Pindar 21st Jul '20 - 8:15pm

    No specific Job Guarantee proposal motions, Peter, but don’t forget the press release of July 16, when Ed Davey explained that we Lib Dems are calling for a major £150 billion Green Recovery Plan that will create millions of good-quality jobs. I think Ed is very keen on that. I hope we can persuade him to be more keen on the Social Contract proposal than the UBI idea, which when it comes to actual schemes has so many problems, as the above comments including Michael’s research so clearly show.

    Both leadership contenders claim that we are the party of business, I note, so we should ask for some flesh on that particular bone. Meantime, since I think we need to support local businesses (as I expect our local government colleagues constantly do), I just accepted for myself a trial run of a new door-to-door milk delivery business which has started up in nearby Workington. Shades of my childhood! Will blue-tits come pecking at the milk-tops before I am up once more? I daresay the rattle of the milk cart will wake me rather too early, the first sacrifice I foresee in this!

  • Katharine Pindar 22nd Jul '20 - 1:24pm

    “Child poverty could go up by 200,000 by the end of the year. An increase in child benefit would have a large impact on that, while also putting money in families’ pockets.” This statement from a spokesperson from the IPPR think tank was quoted by last Sunday’s Observer, which also recorded that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation charity has called for the child element of Universal Credit and child tax credit benefits to be increased by £20 a week.

    The same Observer article about what Rishi Sunak needs to do to foster economic recovery also points out that household finances will soon be hit by the combination of increasing unemployment and the ending of the furlough scheme. The article says, “think tanks have warned that Britain’s economic recovery will be far weaker if families have less money to spend”, and records that the Resolution Foundation has called for an additional £10 billion to be pumped into the universal credit system.

    Finally, the paper records that the Institute for Fiscal Studies is estimating that families falling out of work will get £1000 less on average in current benefits than they would have done without the decade of austerity imposed by the government. That last point is exactly what we have been saying: already the government owes an end to the benefit cap and an increase in benefits, just to make up for what families have already missed out on. The other points mentioned also show that informed opinion is coming to the same conclusions as we have – increases in benefits are needed soon to stave off worsening poverty. From the government’s point of view, this is an essential move to ensure that ordinary families have the spending power to help the economic recovery. From our party’s point of view, we need benefit increases as part of our campaign to reduce poverty, and such increases should be our foremost demand, much more urgent than any call for universal basic income, and a key part of our proposed new Social Contract.

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