Opinion: A radical, liberal vision

Liberal democratsNick Clegg has set out his Liberal vision and I think it is inadequate as I see his vision as mainly about pursuing less pure liberal economic policies and education. Education policy has been a big part of our appeal. A penny on income tax for improvements to education was a good policy. It resulted in the Labour government putting a penny on National Insurance to pay for improvements to education. The pupil premium in 2010 has been implemented by the Coalition government. However we shouldn’t reply on education policy alone.

We should be idealist. We should want to create a better society, where everyone who wants to work can; where everyone can live in a home of their own. Where people are not forced to visit food banks; where people are not forced to join government schemes that don’t help make their lives better. Where everyone is valued.

I believe that scrapping Universal Credit, Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, Job Seekers Allowance, Working Tax Credit, the current State Retirement Pension, Pension credits, the National Insurance threshold, the Personal Allowance for Income Tax, the higher tax relief on pension contributions and their replacement with a Citizens Income set at the current levels of the Pensions Credit, Income Support and Child Benefit would help to bring this about.

We could then scrap Job centres and the Universal Jobmatch computer system and give the money to district local authorities to use to have a local economic plan, and for them to see those working age people claiming housing benefit and council tax benefit (which needs to be restored) regularly but not to make them apply for a certain number of jobs, but to discuss with them what they want to do and to assist them to do it, whether it is to improve their health, care for their children or elderly relatives, to do voluntary work, to get a job, to re-train or do an educational course. To build a relationship with that person and to value that person as a human being and reject the Jobcentre approach to those who sign on. Give district local authorities the power to run an employment agency to find jobs to suit people looking for work. Give them to power to borrow and to build council houses to meet local need and the power to invest locally to stimulate their local economy. Set up an entitlement for every working age adult to a place on a job guarantee programme (paying the Minimum Wage) or a retraining programme and for the programmes to be run locally and not by huge national companies.

We should include in our radical Liberal programme increasing the Minimum Wage to the Living Wage assisted by increasing the Citizens Income in line with our current commitment to increasing the Income Tax personal allowance. We should keep our commitment to 300,000 new homes a year, but make sure it is a high priority with a cast iron commitment that after five years in government over a million new homes will have been built.

I expect others would want to add things like Single Transferable Vote for local elections, no nuclear power stations, home improvements to increase the energy efficiency of all housing stock, grants towards the cost of having solar energy installed on the roofs of houses, to name but a few.

If we implemented these things we would be nearer to a society where everyone is valued, where everyone who wants to work can work or is given the right help and assistance for them to be able to work in the future, where everyone can have a home of their own, where people are paid a living wage, where people have lifelong opportunities.


* Michael Berwick-Gooding is a Liberal Democrat member in Basingstoke and has held various party positions at local, regional and English Party level.

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  • Daniel Henry 18th Jun '14 - 12:08pm

    Very bold proposal.

    Do we dare do it? 🙂

  • Daniel Henry 18th Jun '14 - 12:27pm

    I’d like to add to this vision a land tax, which add well as providing an alternative way of funding the CI instead of scrapping the tax free allowance, would also incentivise more effective use of the limited land supply including sites that are currently derelict.

  • Simon McGrath 18th Jun '14 - 12:27pm

    ” whether it is to improve their health, care for their children or elderly relatives, to do voluntary work, to get a job, to re-train or do an educational course. ”
    But what if they simply want to sit about all day doing damn all. Do they still get the money ? Good luck selling that to the voters who pay their taxes and work hard

  • Radical Liberal 18th Jun '14 - 12:34pm

    A Citizens income use to be party policy up until 1994 I think. It would be a wonderful policy and we should campaign for it. It’s also one of those policies which both those on the left and even the right have a record of supporting – surely that means it must appeal to the centrists!

  • Daniel Henry 18th Jun '14 - 1:17pm

    Simon, we already kind of do that though.
    For someone who wants to sit around all day, jumping through the hoops to get JSA isn’t difficult. If anything, the people getting extra money that they don’t already get are those who already work.

    Apparently there’s evidence that this system would motivate people to find work, i.e. if they did odd jobs, rather than having to report to the jobcentre and lose benefits as a result, any work they do do they’ll keep all the pay from. The current system is very “all or nothing”, either find a stable full time job or it’s barely worth leaving JSA. This would make work pay more so would be much more motivating.

  • Daniel Henry 18th Jun '14 - 1:18pm

    I say “apparently there’s evidence” – hopefully someone else here has links to the evidence… anyone?? 🙂

  • There’s at least some evidence:

    Personally, I’d expect more people who don’t currently work to do so. Because there would no longer be a benefits trap, they’d always be better off through working.

  • Mmm I think most who read this would react badly the 10% poll you have now may well become 3%

    Scrap my pension after putting in for years will not sit well or is the proposal for riots

  • Allan – if you set the basic income at the same level as the current pension then you’re not scrapping it – you’re just extending it to the rest of the population.

  • Yes, if you really believe that NO-ONE should be enslaved by poverty (including the lazy) a citizen’s income (at a very basic subsistence level) is the answer. It would become a legitimate (and perhaps even positive) lifestyle choice to engage in pursuits which offered little prospect of remuneration while living at subsistence level. (I’m thinking of those who want to devote themselves to art, for example). And I agree that more would achieve paid work, because the marginal benefit of work would be significantly higher than now for those at the bottom end: they would keep what they earned, and only start paying income tax at a level set to make the whole system revenue neutral with the current one.
    At it’s root, this is just ‘re-inventing’ the system we had in the brutal past, except that the minimum income for those who did not work would be a subsistence minimum, rather than zero, as it would be without any poor relief.

    However, there is a big downer for the elite. They would lose the ‘feckless scrounger’ tag they currently use to persuade ordinary poor folk to vote for low taxes on the wealthy, against their own economic interests. So, though it has a certain logic, it ain’t gonna happen, I’m afraid…

  • Matthew Huntbach 18th Jun '14 - 3:57pm

    Daniel Henry

    Apparently there’s evidence that this system would motivate people to find work, i.e. if they did odd jobs, rather than having to report to the jobcentre and lose benefits as a result, any work they do do they’ll keep all the pay from.

    Indeed. There’s huge amounts of bureaucracy involved in doling out relatively small sums of money.

    Simon McGrath asks about people who want to “sit about all day doing damn all”. Well, do we think such people and their children should starve to death (or more likely be forced into crime to survive), or perhaps hygienically disposed of? If not, then we have to give them a minimal level of support.

    There are huge numbers of people in this country who are genuinely desperate for jobs and just can’t get anything. If we can get jobs for all those people, then perhaps we can start worrying about those who really don’t want to work. Otherwise, the problem is that there is always going to be a big bunch of people who are very low in ability, and no-one would want to employ them, not when you could just as well take on someone with middling ability from a poorer country. Having a huge bureaucracy dedicated to making them go through the motions of searching for jobs that they are never going to get strikes me as a waste of resources.

  • Fully support the idea of a Universal and unconditional Citizens Income (supplemented by continuing disability benefits and carers allowance) replacing unemployment benefits, personal income tax allowances and employee NI thresholds.

    I also support the introduction of voluntary job guarantees at the legal minimum wage and administered at a local authority level. At full employment levels, employers in the private and public sectors would likely need to pay slightly above minimum wage (i.e. closer to a living wage) to attract low paid workers.

    One caveat I would have is with respect to the grant of new social housing tenancies and qualification for housing benefit. Once a voluntary job guarantee program is in place – for those not retired, disabled, unemployed due to ill-health or caring for them, qualification for housing support (social tenancies or housing benefit) could become contingent on establishing a record of regular employment. This would aid in allocating scare social housing, reducing housing benefit fraud and address the concern that Simon McGrath expresses above when he says “Good luck selling that to the voters who pay their taxes and work hard.”

  • @Andrew Ducker

    So we all get the same does that mean it will be backdated to when we all left school

    Still doubt many will go for it

  • Michael Berwick-Gooding 18th Jun '14 - 9:54pm

    Thank you everyone who has commented. Some points raised have been answered by later comments.

    @ Daniel Henry
    If we don’t dare to do it, the Conservatives and Labour will not.
    A Land Value Tax should be our policy too.

    @ Simon McGrath
    Everyone gets the Citizens Income, those in work and those not in work. This is fairer than the current system where general taxation funds benefits to some and nothing to others, with a Citizens Income general taxation is used to fund a Citizens Income for everyone including those who currently don’t receive any state benefits. It gives everyone a stake in society. Until we try to convince people that it is fairer we will not know how many we could convince.

    @ Radical Liberal
    It was removed from party policy at the autumn conference of 1994.

    @ Daniel Henry, Simon McGrath, Andrew Ducker
    I haven’t seen any research, however as Andrew Ducker states the Citizens Income would reduce the benefits trap and make marginal jobs for people currently receiving Jobseekers Allowance more appealing because there is no withdrawal rate for the Citizens Income. There is research that shows that in India “basic income” for villagers gave them more control of their lives and additional growth effects such as increased income-earning work. http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/17702/1/India%27s%20experiment.pdf

    @ Caracatus
    I am not sure exactly what you are asking. However as with increases to income tax allowance and national insurance thresholds as the Citizen Income increases the level of the “Living Wage” falls. The extra benefits for the disabled would continue as at present.

    @ GPPurnell
    You are correct that with a Citizens Income the social stigma from receiving state support would be removed.

    @ Matthew Huntbach
    Good points.

    @ Joe Bourke
    With regard to your caveat. At the moment local authorities have a duty to house certain people and I wouldn’t like to see this responsibility removed. However if it were, the council may still see it as its duty to house those who have children who are unemployed because the cost of not housing them is greater financially and/or socially.

    @ Allan
    You are correct single pensioners would get the same, but those who receive the marriage couples pension would receive more. It would not be backdated.

  • Michael,

    I don’t think that the Local authority duty to house certain people should be affected. Local authorities will only assist with temporary accommodation at best if you are considered intentionally homeless.

    If the council decides that you intentionally caused your homelessness, it only has a duty to provide you with short-term accommodation, usually for 28 days.

    If the council decides you are intentionally homeless and you have dependent children, you will probably be referred to social services for assistance and resolution.

    Housing that comes with a job is known as tied accommodation – it’s particularly common in farming. If you leave a job that came with housing and, as a result, end up with nowhere to live, you’re considered to be intentionally homeless.

  • Michael Berwick-Gooding 19th Jun '14 - 12:41am

    @ Joe Bourke

    Therefore if someone with children is intentionally homeless it is the Social Services department of the local council who have to house them and their children or just their children.

    Local authorities manage the housing waiting list and usually use a points system to determine who gets the available accommodation. It is right that it is managed locally and there is not a national diktat to allocate negative points to unemployed people to ensure they can’t get social housing. I still believe that there would be social costs if unemployed people where denied social housing and there might be financial cost for the Social Services department of local authorities. Also denying social housing to unemployed people might be more difficult if Jobseekers Benefit is replaced by a Citizens Income.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 19th Jun '14 - 1:15pm

    Surely, the most important summary of this thread is to shake up our manifesto, in typical LD ways, by thinking widely. , David Laws asked all members: ‘ how do we build opportunity for all?’ as the single question for our manifesto.

    I take this to mean we will actually think from bottom up for society – as we have always done. We are not the party who, like the Tories, puts every issue as financial gain. People need full life chances for themselves and their family – not only financial but for living a happy life. We don’t expect, nor want to be millionaires. Being rewarded fairly is what we want – can any party say that is not the aim for everyone? But only an LD way should be quite obviously the way to achieve it.

    Don’t get bogged down into losing ideals of any kind – after 2010 debacles, we learn to do better. Our vision has to serve ALL citizens, including all minorities, or we should not back it. So ‘ how do we build opportunity for all?’

  • Michael,

    if you get some free time, you might find this documentary of interest – The Great Estate – The Rise and Fall of the Council House http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0109dvs.

    The author, Michael Collins argues that council house allocation first to the prosperous working classes and then up the income scale were what made council housing a success – a step up rather than a step back.

    By the 1970s a third of us lived in council housing but the rot was setting in even as it was reaching its peak. Collins blames the subsidy policies of the 1950s and 1960s that encouraged shoddy high-rise construction and two products of the late 1970s:

    – the homelessness legislation introduced by Labour in 1977 and ;
    – the right to buy that followed the Conservative victory in 1979.

    That’s because priority for the homeless helped make people see council housing as a step back at the same time as home ownership became the step up.

  • Michael Berwick-Gooding 20th Jun '14 - 1:21am

    @ Tony Rowan-Wicks – “People need full life chances for themselves and their family – not only financial but for living a happy life” Yes indeed.

    @ Joe Bourke – Unfortunately the programme you link to is no longer available on BBC iPlayer.

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