Our society has failed to protect the poorest and most disadvantaged of our citizens. This has to be stopped now.

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In the most expensive care homes, recent TV footage showed, both staff and residents have been protected from the virus, and nobody died. But in the run-of-the-mill homes shown, as our party leaders have been protesting, staff have not had the personal protective equipment they needed. With old people returning from hospital to their care homes, and care workers coming in and out without adequate PPE, what chance was there of the weakest being saved? We all know now the awful figures of mortality from the care homes.

Meantime the Office for National Statistics has shown that deaths from the virus are highest in the poorest areas of the country – where life expectancy had stalled anyway, as the recent Marmot Review recorded. (See my article here)

In crowded houses and flats, cooped up together with no gardens, housebound for weeks except for essential shopping, what chance have poor families had for healthy exercise and keeping separate from their neighbours? If they escape the virus – and the least healthy among them will be fortunate to do so – their children are falling behind with little chance for school work in the crowded family space, and mental ill-health is growing with the strain.

Now that people are urged to go back to work, it is the poorest and ethnic-minority people who are crowding on to the buses, trams and trains. The cleaners and handyworkers will be going back to the rich houses, while anyone on zero-hours contracts will struggle on as they have been doing, so that quiet deaths continue among maintenance workers and security guards.

Meantime those of us privileged to work from home have been able to enjoy the unusual peace and quiet, the freedom from having to go out in the evenings, and the chance to enjoy our gardens and good walks in the lovely spring weather. I now feel survivor guilt (as experienced by people narrowly escaping from war or disaster) but this has also made me determined that our party must shed its middle-class comfortable culture and before anything else commit to ending destitution, absolute deprivation and poverty in our country.

This is more than just ending austerity, which even this government is now apparently embracing. It is a commitment for everyone to have better homes that they can afford, with immediate housing for the homeless, and jobs for ordinary people that last and have a fair rate of pay. It is a commitment to raise benefits sufficiently to end relative poverty in a very few years, abolish the need for food banks, and have schools where every youngster has equally good education and skills training for new job opportunities. It must enable local authorities to have all the funding restored which they need to provide desperately missed back-up services, including opportunities for people to mix again and form communities and reduce loneliness and mental problems in every locality.

We will join and foster the inter-party commitment to much better health and care services with sufficient funding, and the retention and proper pay of the now-appreciated health workers. But I want our leader, whoever he or she will be, to commit to the vision above, which will amount to demanding a new social contract between government and people.

* 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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20 Comments

  • Peter Martin 23rd May '20 - 11:05am

    ” It is a commitment for everyone to have better homes that they can afford, with immediate housing for the homeless, and jobs for ordinary people that last and have a fair rate of pay.”

    We should really be in the same party!

    I’d put it that this will only happen when we make it happen. Those better houses won’t just build themselves while those we have written off as unemployable sit in their substandard housing living off a UBI. The problem of the lack of good jobs and the extent of a substandard housing stock has an obvious solution.

    It also means getting away from the idea that there is some silver bullet in some new magical tax which will put the economy to rights.

  • Katharine Pindar 23rd May '20 - 3:40pm

    Thanks, Peter. Are you suggesting that the unemployed should where possible be building the needed houses and so finding jobs, contributing to solving two big problems in one?! well, just maybe, for a very few! Certainly, solutions to rising unemployment and shortage of social housing – both contributing to poverty – can only be found by determined action, hopefully co-operative action, spurred on by government financing and both local government and individual enterprise initiatives. Pressure for land and business taxation reforms as proposed by our Lib Dems, but at the same time actions backed and generated from our council cabinets. I hope everyone is working on plans. As you say, there aren’t any silver bullets to fire.

  • Katharine Pindar 23rd May '20 - 8:08pm

    That’s interesting, thank you, Joe. Self-build can evidently grow community spirit as well as houses! It’s a grand idea, especially if it can tick as many boxes as the Lewisham scheme evidently does.

    But it is as you say only on a small scale, which can only be developed by a few people with determination and aptitude. I suppose if we want thousands of social houses to be built quickly, we should rather look to factory-built houses which can be erected easily, once the land is obtained at existing-use cost. Moreover, self-build can’t be an answer for jobs provision – the scheme you describe was set up by people who had and kept their existing careers.

    Where are all the jobs needed to come from? We know where they are at present – in the farms to pick the fruit and vegetables, and in the people-starved care services. Not enough Britons want these jobs, and we miss our EU workers. Will Britain’s young people have to knuckle down to care jobs in the end? Once, in their Cultural Revolution, the Chinese leaders sent educated people out to work in the fields. We could do better, perhaps, if enterprises were established that allowed working part-time, and partly by hand, partly by brain.

  • Katharine,

    yes, these are small scale but there are efforts at scaling up e.g. Graven Hill https://acarchitects.biz/graven-hill-self-custom-build-home/ that has space for 1900 custom-built homes. A serviced plot is provided i.e. utilities are brought right up to your plot boundary meaning that you are ready for the connection to be made when the time comes.
    Additionally, Graven Hill’s optional ‘Golden Brick’ package takes care of the foundations, drainage, substructure walls, ground floor slab, and utility connections, which most people would require. With these foundations in place factory-built homes can be quickly erected on-site.
    As you say, such schemes are only viable where land can be obtained by councils at pre-planning consent prices.

  • Peter Martin 23rd May '20 - 11:12pm

    @ Katharine,

    I didn’t mean to suggest that anyone looking for a decent job should have to learn to lay bricks or pour concrete. Although I do remember earning pretty good money in my younger days working on building sites. I think I actually took a pay cut when I started off on a my first career job after leaving uni. We usually think in terms of ££. So when we say we want smaller class sizes or better health care we work out how much tax we might need to pay.

    In actual fact we need more teachers, more nurses, more builders etc. It doesn’t make sense to have unutilised labour power of any sort. And of course that just creates another problem that we think in terms of the ££ it would cost to solve.

  • Katharine Pindar 24th May '20 - 12:38am

    Of course we must aim for full employment once again. I think I have just found the slogan that our party should adopt this summer, which encapsulates what we believe in and will work towards. ” We are living in a society that has become sick. Liberal Democrats are aiming to restore it, to have a healthy society once again.” Or, in brief, “Lib Dems stand for a healthy society.”

    We can help to restore our own ailing party in campaigning for this. Peter, I think you should join us and help achieve these aims! Many thanks to you and to Joe for your inspiration tonight.

  • Peter Martin 24th May '20 - 11:04am

    @ Katharine,

    Thanks for the invitation, but I’m not sure many on this blog would be quite so welcoming.

    I’m not entirely at home even in my own party! I sometimes think I’d have to create one. I don’t know if you’ve looked at Labour List recently. They stopped allowing comments last year without any discussion. A bad move IMO. I have thought of starting up a new one similar to LibDemVoice! Labour Voice maybe?

    We’ll have to see if that ever happens!

  • At conference last autumn I spoke to I think our Housing spokesperson in the House of Lords and he rejected Shelter’s plan for 3.1 million new social homes in 20 years (including building 209,000 new social homes a year) because he said it meant building high-rise flats! Building this number of homes would mean we would need more construction workers, either home–grown or from abroad. Keynesian economics states that these new workers would provide more demand in the economy and result in more people being needed to be employed in other industries and sectors. Moving towards 300,000 new homes a year over a parliament would help to achieve full employment. As would the government and the Bank of England having a target of 3% annual economic growth each and every year, while at the same time keeping control of inflation near to 2%.

    Peter Martin,

    I expect those members who you think wouldn’t be so welcoming are not Social Liberals. You would fit in well with Social Liberal members. You might also be welcomed by the Social Democrats amongst our party members.

    I did visit Labour List in the last 6 months and noticed there was no way to comment any more. I think it is important to allow comments and I can’t imagine me visiting Lib Dem Voice as often it there was not a comment section with lively discussions taking place.

  • Katharine Pindar 24th May '20 - 7:18pm

    We have a sick society where the sickening lack of consideration for others and refusal to obey his own necessary rules of the lockdown shown by the Prime Minister’s main adviser and enforcer is apparently now upheld by his boss. Liberal Democrats must indeed urgently campaign to restore our healthy society. Among our other aims must be the building of the thousands of new houses needed, which will indeed both help the necessary increase in employment and with it the growth of the economy. The healthy society we aim for will be one where the needs of all are considered and urgent action is taken to see that all are provided for.

  • Katharine Pindar 24th May '20 - 10:08pm

    “When we emerge from this, we need a response that’s among the lines of 1945 when we created the NHS, rather than a repeat of post 2008….” This conclusion from Tax justice UK emerged from a Survation poll for them of 3000 people in March. The poll found that 78% of respondents said that poverty now is either the same or worse than before, 67% said homelessness was worse, 64% said foodbank use had got worse, and 63% that inequality was worse. They wanted to see the wealthy paying more tax ((74%, including 64% of Conservative voters.) This poll was referenced by Joe Bourke in the Michael Meadowcroft thread yesterday evening – thanks, Joe.

    If such a poll is replicated, I believe our call for a new Social Contract to put right the ills of our sick society will be like knocking on an open door. And, correction to my last comment, advances such as building thousands of new houses, providing employment and boosting the national economy should be part of, not additional to, our aims to restore healthy society through the proposed Contract.

    But Boris Johnson’s defence of the conduct of Dominic Cummings shows, once again, that we cannot expect his government to begin the post-Covid healing process. We and other progressives have very much work to do – hopefully with public majority backing.

  • John Littler 24th May '20 - 11:26pm

    Yes Katherine, that is on the scale of what is needed.

    Not another Osborne prioritising Treasury borrowing numbers over all else, creating misery and cutting the economy into dysfunction, by cutting too fast and the patient consuming its own pound of flesh

    The endless property appreciation and consumer credit doing a magic trick on housing values; or buy to let people taking everything left; all has to end.

    A land value tax ( not on home gardens), including on foreign owned, would be taxing what cannot move and what people will always want and you could add second or unoccupied homes/buildings to that. The focus should be on taxing that and less on the productive exportable areas of the economy and less on the poor.

    The money has to come from somewhere eventually

  • Catherine well said. As I think you know, I agree with almost everything you say, including your Social Contract — but without the capitals!

    But I am still hoping that someone will expose what must be an insurmountable and obvious reason why we should not go one step . . . well, one leap, then: further. I believe we should aim straight for the ‘social contract’ that would make the first thought of every Chancellor preparing a Budget: I mean the National Income Dividend.

    By this I mean that the nations and the economists and HMG ought to reorientate their standpoint or viewpoint, and consider everything not in the orthodox or perhaps merely habitual terms of the revered GDP, but in the more illuminating consideration of the National Income.

    Briefly, crudely, I believe that:

    1. The Chancellor and Government should consider first and foremost how to ensure that everyone has Enough. That much shall be distributed to each adult. Call it a UBI if you must. A better name would be the National Income Dividend. The main thrust and newsworthiness in the Budget statement would be the total figure per adult — derived as the chosen and stated percentage of the previous year’s National Income.

    2. Once the NID has been determined and set aside for distribution, what remains of the National Income can then be distributed to the kingdom as the Government (elected of course by PR) sees fit and arranges in the structures of taxation and of other Government spending, to reward or encourage or enable as appropriate.

    3. Much else will have to be revised, of course. The substantial redistribution of personal Disposable Income will cause equally major changes in Demand, and therefore Employment. It would have to be done over five or more years.

    4. That is a sketch. I hope to amplify it; but I shall be mightily obliged if someone will kindly and frankly expose what I cannot help believing is a ghastly bloomer of crackpottery, to collapse the whole notion in a heap of humiliation, and enable me to retire to my little garden for ever.

  • Peter Martin 25th May '20 - 9:27am

    “The Chancellor and Government should consider first and foremost how to ensure that everyone has Enough. That much shall be distributed to each adult. Call it a UBI if you must.”

    This is fine of course, but Lib Dems might want to extend their thinking to contribution as well as distribution. Ideally everyone should make some contribution and ideally everyone should then receive their fair share of what has been created by those contributions.

    Many oil-rich countries have taken the line that there is no need for their indigenous population to actually do anything very much. Anything can be imported and that includes foreign workers to do most of the menial work. Everyone can live on a National Income Dividend or a UBI or whatever you want to call it. Anyone can form their own opinion on how well all that works. I’d say not very well. Norway is possibly the exception but they have taken a more sensible view than most. I think they know that reserves of fossil fuels aren’t going to have the same relevance in the 21st century.

    But we’re not like Norway anyway. We don’t have huge oil revenues in comparison to our population size. On another thread Joe B has tried to show, with reference to a paper by Prof Torry, how a UBI of £3120 pa is just about affordable. Maybe, maybe not. But would it would be democratically popular or a big vote loser? And would a UBI of £60pw do much to solve poverty anyway?

  • Katharine Pindar 25th May '20 - 9:34am

    John Littler. Yes, John, I am sure you are right to remind everyone of the hardship and misery caused to people by the government economic policies of the last decade, and the need for our party to press for Land Value Taxation, with I suppose reform of the 1961 Land Compensation Act. I hope also the views which the Tax justice UK found on taxation. such as 87% of respondents wanting tax loopholes closed for corporations and individuals, and 80% finding it morally wrong even if legal to use tax avoidance, can be followed by stricter governmental measures. As Joe has pointed out, people will support social justice measures even in ‘austerity times’ such as immediately post-war.

  • Katharine Pindar 25th May '20 - 10:15am

    Roger, thank you for your views on a National Income Distribution. It reminded me that the party has passed a motion calling for a Citizens Wealth Fund,, but I think that was more about distribution of gradually built up national reserves than a here-and-now sharing of what is currently available.

    I’m sorry but I don’t personally agree with these suggestions for universal distribution now, other than in the way of saving companies and jobs the current Chancellor is pursuing, and as Peter suggests, what about assessing people’s contributions to national wealth as well as its distribution? You see, Roger, these universal schemes do not address directly what I believe is the most important issue, eliminating poverty in this country: remove destitution first, relative poverty gradually but determinedly (I think Michael BG once suggested it to be eliminated within 14 years). There isn’t in our minds anything more important for our party to campaign about. As Sue Sutherland proposed, in a comment last month on the Marmot review thread, we should “campaign for our party to be as loud about poverty as we were about Brexit”. I agree with Sue.

  • With all respect, Peter and Katharine, you are ignoring my plea for a new way in which we might consider the National Income, to rehash stuff sensible but dull. Can you see no radical difference between the bosses’ and the Tories’ GDP spectacles, and the alternative National Income perspective? The money is the same, but the mind-set is different. Ignore the rest of my piece above, and consider that and what it means, please!

  • Peter Martin 25th May '20 - 10:58am

    @ Roger Lake,

    It’s easy enough to say that GDP isn’t the be all and end all of economic wellbeing. And of course it isn’t. I’m lucky enough to be living somewhere I can hear the birds singing in the garden. How do you put a value on that?

    The difficulty is coming up with someone meaningful and acceptable definition of what National Income actually means. Or your “National Income”. Actually there is one already but you probably don’t actually mean that.

    https://www.economicshelp.org/blog/3491/economics/difference-between-gnp-gdp-and-gni/

  • Katharine Pindar 25th May '20 - 2:29pm

    Roger, setting aside these terms familiar to economists, I agree with you that the first principle of the government on the economic front must be to ensure that everyone has ENOUGH. There is no sense however in my view in giving everyone a small basic income except in emergencies. Such a policy as you propose might surely be relevant to those running semi-permanent refugee camps, but I don’t believe it is relevant to our advanced economy, where giving everyone a small basic income would then involve clawing an equivalent amount back from the millions who did not need it.

    No, there is just no substitute in my view from looking at the people who really do not have enough – the destitute and the perpetually poor and people so disadvantaged that the slightest crisis plunges them into poverty. And the way to help them is to pay enhanced welfare benefits, and reduce the waiting times which are so crucial for so many living on the basis of a weekly pay packet when they can get it.

    I care about everyone’s wellbeing,and that means ensuring that everyone has enough to live on, as well as a home to live in and adequate health and social care. I hate foodbanks, and the ancient idea still privately held by so many of us middle-class people, that the poor are always with us. NO THEY NEED NOT BE, and we must fight to ensure that their income, and therefore their freedom, is enough for them as for us.

  • Katharine Pindar 26th May '20 - 9:35am

    A final thought on this little thread, connected with the Cummings story. It’s about having agency. He had agency, he could do what he liked, and despite the outcry is still doing so. The people newly restricted in their care homes, unable to have the joy of their relatives’ visits, and the people stuck in flats with their children, with nowhere nearby to go out and play in the sunshine, are having a protracted miserable time. They have no agency, no way to help themselves, no power or freedom. I think one of our tasks as Lib Dem politicians must surely be to remain vigilant about that, and try as far as we can to try to extend the agency, the personal power and freedom, of all disadvantaged people. I hope you will feel like me that this is a right aim.

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