This week, fight for our values on social security 

As we enter one last push before the election, it’s important to remember why we’re doing this. It’s tempting to clamp down into an unhelpful, wearying “shut up and deliver leaflets” mode, but really the best way to get motivated and to motivate others in politics is to have something to fight for. For me, the Liberal Democrats’ social security policies are exactly such a motivator.

A good safety net that liberates people from poverty and the threat of income insecurity is an absolutely crucial part of a liberal society. One of the reasons why coalition-era cuts in this area were so damaging for us as a party is that it jarred strongly with our natural position fighting for a society that supports and enables and empowers people. As liberals, we believe in people being supported to choose their own paths in life, and few things disempower people like time and energy and health being absorbed by a lack of good living standards. Fortunately, five years on, we’ve responded to that challenge, and are now exactly where we should be, leading the two main parties in having the most progressive welfare system plans on offer according to a Resolution Foundation analysis.

First, we have a plan to fix the system so it’s fit for purpose. Our root and branch reforms to Universal Credit, reducing the waiting time from weeks to days and scrapping the two child cap and bedroom tax, would rapidly and significantly improve people’s lives. Simply spending more on raw benefit levels is also urgently needed, and something that our Liberal Democrat MPs will fight for in the next parliament.  Since 2016 we’ve also been committed to the even bigger step of abolishing the benefit sanctions system: it is unconscionable, no matter what the circumstances are, that people should be left with insufficient income to live on. 

One area we’ve talked about less, nestling among the wide constellation of official Lib Dem policies not explicitly mentioned in the manifesto, is the longer term future of the system. As of Autumn Conference, our long term plan is to pilot turning the standard element of UC into a guaranteed minimum income, removing all claiming conditions other than income level. This is a natural evolution of policy from the abolition of sanctions, and also fits with our policies on lifelong learning and providing living cost support for startup businesses: by piloting an unconditional minimum, we will be looking towards having a single, streamlined system that will provide people with new opportunities, as well as giving people the stability they need to take care of themselves and those around them.

Income and health are deeply intertwined: we know that income insecurity is bad for people’s health. Finnish trials of an unconditional minimum showed no negative effect on job-seeking and noticeable mental and physical health benefits. Giving people absolute income security gives them the stability and freedom necessary to plan ahead, which is immensely valuable in and of itself, and reducing stress and other issues could help take strain off other services. Whilst not a panacea to every problem, piloting a guaranteed minimum is something we owe to everyone who is currently struggling with income insecurity in our country, and I’m very glad that it’s party policy. Focused on supporting the individual, not leaving them on a right-wing scrapheap or dictating statist terms for that support, it is also a fundamentally liberal idea. 

Over fifty Liberal Democrat candidates, from across all nations and regions of Britain, have signed an open letter promoting our minimum income pilots policy, which you can find here. As the campaign has gone on, I’ve been excited by how many of our candidates have taken time out of their busy campaign schedules to express support for this – it goes to show how important social security is in building our empowering, liberal identity. That was on my mind when I filled out my postal ballot last week, and it’s that which will be keeping me going for the last stretch of this campaign. Those with the lowest incomes in our society deserve, and need, a brighter future. Let’s stop Johnson and make it happen this week.

* James Baillie is a member and activist from Breckland and a former chair of the Lib Dems' Radical Association. He is currently a doctoral student at the University of Vienna, where he works on digital studies of medieval Georgia. He blogs about politics at thoughtsofprogress.wordpress.com.

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9 Comments

  • Innocent Bystander 11th Dec '19 - 11:46am

    I understand the noble motives but the fundamental problem herein, as in all those aims of the liberal (small ‘l’) left is that they have no plausible plan for creating the wealth that will provide this largesse.
    The policy for regeneration has been endorsed by the New Covent Garden Soup Company. Yes readers, it’s as bad as that.
    No progress will be made until those who have their transmit/receive buttons welded on transmit confront the reality that will not go away.
    You can not force people to make themselves rich so you can tax them. You can not force companies to be innovative and prosperous, ditto.
    All the political parties, but especially the Labour and LibDem appear to believe that we have an inexhaustible reservoir of talented, energetic and ambitious people and companies eager to be taxed. Just look out of the window for the reality.

  • Joseph Bourke 11th Dec '19 - 12:39pm

    James,

    this is a welcome spotlight on the work completed in “A Fairer Share for All” policy paper and in particular the longer term vision for a minimum income guarantee.
    The policy is crucial to addressing the observation of the Resolution Foundation that while “Either the Labour or Liberal Democrat approach could be expected to halt potential increases in relative child poverty over the next parliament, but under none of these plans does child poverty actually fall.”

  • No matter what people have done wrong, taking all their income away so they starve to death is not a reasonable or fair punishment.

    Taking away (or delaying) benefits that people rely on is exactly that, and that’s why we are right to oppose benefits sanctions.

    Obviously, if it’s fraud – in the sense that people are claiming things that they don’t need – then that’s different. Someone claiming benefits for 40 people that don’t exist should go to prison. Someone filling a form in wrong, or only doing 30 instead of 35 hours of job-seeking should just carry on being helped.

  • Oliver Craven 11th Dec '19 - 3:34pm

    Thanks for all your hard work on this James, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near as far without you

  • Joseph Bourke 12th Dec '19 - 2:00am

    There is a good letter on UBI by an American filmmaker here https://medium.com/basic-income/class-reunion-a-letter-to-the-ultra-wealthy-7899d2cb49a2?. It is quite long, but worth a read.

  • There seems this time from all parties no connection between borrowing money and repaying. Yes we must have a more equal society, we have rules and regulations about taxation but very little enforcing of same why not? We were in government why did we not say this we must do, otherwise we are off? On another matter why is proper notice not given when a reduction in state help is propose to an individual ? London has told Uber no licence for them to operate in our capital, yet because Uber has appealled the licence continues. Why not the same system for those needing help from us ? Especially
    when appeals are consistently upheld, the damage being caused to individuals is immense.

  • We are promising to spend £1.03 billion more than Labour on benefits. The Institute for Fiscal Studies sees both parties only reversing around a quarter of the benefit cuts since 2010. The Resolution Foundation state that spending on the benefit system has been cut by £34 billion. Therefore James Baillie is wrong we haven’t responded to that challenge.

    It would have been much better if 50 of our candidates had come out to state that they support ending poverty in the UK within ten years by increasing the benefit levels to the poverty line rather than supporting a guaranteed minimum income which will raise no one out of poverty.

  • Peter Hirst 13th Dec '19 - 2:33pm

    Now is a good time to decide on our core message for the next 5 years that will resonate with the british public, fed up with the two main Parties. Will it be around liberty, equality human rights or something completely different? Competence might be a good one or internationalism if events show we can only win by working with others.

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