We need to campaign against poverty

The preamble to our constitution, to quote Adrian Sanders in Liberator 400 (April 2020), “starts with the eradication of poverty as the first action point”. Though both leadership candidates stated they wanted to achieve this, our party is not campaigning on it.

It’s not just that children from families receiving benefits need free school meals in the holidays. It is that 100,000 more children were living in poverty in this country in 2018-19 than in the previous year (DWP figures) and that an estimated 4.3 million children are living in poverty today (Social Metrics Commission).

Former homelessness adviser to the government, Dame Louise Casey, in a BBC interview (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-54545158) warned that the UK faces ‘a period of destitution’ in which families ‘can’t put shoes on’ their children. That’s happening now. A single-parent family living on Universal Credit will find it difficult to find the money to cover the cost of new trainers for two children who have grown out of their old ones, as children do.

None of this is new. More than 100 years ago, a progressive Liberal government introduced free school meals for needy children in 1906. History professor Dr Pat Thane, in researching her book, Divided Kingdom: A History of Britain 1900 to the present (2018), wrote in an article in the New statesman: ‘A serious cause of poverty, now as in 1900, is the growing numbers on low pay in insecure employment as employers evade the minimum wage and other obligations by imposing fake self-employment and insecure contracts. The IFS also emphasizes the impact of the 10% fall in the value of benefits and tax credits to working families since 2010. The substitution of Universal Credit for many benefits and the slowness and complexity of its roll-out, causing long payment delays, is increasing poverty and likely to do so further in future. The government argues that UC increases incentives to work, just as administrators of the 19th century Poor Law justified low, punitive benefits. Awareness that the Poor Law perpetuated poverty by driving people into low-paid work, damaging society and the economy, was among the early pressures for state welfare.’

There were more fortunate times between 1906 and today. Sir William Beveridge in 1942 demanded the remedies for his Five Great Evils of Want, Disease, Squalor, Ignorance and Idleness which the subsequent Labour Government acted on, forming the National Health Service and the modern welfare state. This was afterwards known as the Social Contract. Pat Thane writes, ‘The Second World War and after then the 1960s and 70s, saw the greatest decline in poverty … Income and wealth inequality was narrowest of the whole period since 1900 in the late 1960s and 1970s. Contrary to the popular denigration of the 1970s, this was when the range of state welfare benefits and services reached its peak (with benefit levels at a decent level), and there was no evident shortage of affordable housing to rent or buy.’

Pat Thane has told us that a new Plan “similar to that proposed by Beveridge, which goes beyond improving welfare benefits and includes reform of the labour market and essential services including NHS, housing, education, is desirable, indeed necessary.” She continues that revisiting Beveridge “is especially appropriate because these findings of poverty over 100 years ago stimulated his life-long interest in the labour market and his conviction that full employment with decent pay was the key to abolishing ‘want’ and creating a more cohesive, stable society.”

We agree and have explained how such a plan may be developed, to form the basis of a new national Social Contract. It will, above all tackle poverty, but also health requirements, housing, education and employment needs. It can be paid for as the economy grows.

Pat Thane concludes her article, ‘If past government action reduced poverty it could do so again, in a richer country, much more knowledgeable about the causes and effects of poverty, especially the long-term effects on children.’ Our party should agree and indeed needs to campaign urgently now, not only to maintain benefits but to demand that they be increased to at least the poverty level.

* Michael Berwick-Gooding is a Liberal Democrat member in Basingstoke and has held various party positions at local, regional and English Party level. 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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  • John Marriott 28th Oct '20 - 10:32am

    There’s a great analogous line in today’s Guardian courtesy of Marina Hyde. It concerns free meals champion 22 year old Marcus Rashford, wonderful footballer and student of the University of Life. Ms Hyde compares him with a 22 year old Boris Johnson. While Rashford goes from scoring stupendous goals to helping out with food parcels, a 22 year old Johnson was at the University of Oxford and likely to be throwing bread rolls (and probably other food stuffs) at waiters during one of the many Bullingdon Club restaurant trashing sessions that he (and probably his Eton buddy Dave C) attended. Says it all, doesn’t it?

  • Katharine Pindar 28th Oct '20 - 12:04pm

    Marco, thank you for your combative comment. You will see that we have an important new supporter for the principles of William Beveridge (not known to you, as your spelling indicates) in Professor Patricia Thane. Beveridge’s five great evils Michael and I have translated into modern equivalents – poverty, health and social care, education and training, homelessness, employment and underemployment. We certainly don’t regret the title of our piece: poverty in our country will be increasing by the day, as more and more people lose their jobs and turn to universal credit, which, increased as it has been by the Chancellor, is still inadequate to stave off poverty.

    As for the Social Contract idea, it was propounded by the UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Philip Alston, after his extensive visit to our country in November 2018. He found that our recent governments had shown an indifference and even callousness to disadvantaged people trapped in poverty and without the failing back-up services of cash-strapped local government, and said that the social contract understood to have been agreed by government and people in our country after the Second World War by the bringing in of the NHS and the welfare state, had evidently collapsed.

  • Katharine Pindar 28th Oct '20 - 2:11pm

    Great point, John, thank you! But can I add while I’m here for better understanding of the Social Contract idea by naysayers like Marco, a reference to the first article we published on LDV about it.

  • Peter Martin 28th Oct '20 - 2:16pm

    Instead of saying “we need to campaign against poverty” why not “we need to campaign against inequality”? Or at least to reduce it?

    The GDP of the UK is around £2 trillion. That’s plenty to eliminate poverty. It just needs sharing out more equitably.

    You also need to analyse why we had “benefit levels at a decent level” in the 70s and why the situation has worsened ever since. Is it because everyone actually wants more poverty or is it because they don’t see generous unconditional social benefits as either a solution or the alternative?

  • Sue Sutherland 28th Oct '20 - 2:46pm

    Of course we must campaign against poverty. If people can’t afford to feed their children that’s poverty in my book not just inequality. I’m a baby boomer and there are a lot of us who look back to the 60s and 70s with fondness. So why were we unable to maintain that more equal society? First of all Keynesian economics led us to stagflation and unfortunately the baby was thrown out with the bath water. Secondly, the unions became too greedy and too caught up with trying to create a revolution, so the public was subjected to rubbish on the streets and blackouts.
    This created the conditions in which Thatcher came to power with an unfeeling agenda towards the least powerful and a determination to break the unions. So the unravelling of the post war agenda began with the results we see today.
    I know that Katherine and Michael want to see a new Social Contract and I can see its appeal, because it does cover the provision of public services as well as the alleviation of poverty, but I think we need a new basis for these policies, which will replace the State and it’s relationship with individuals with a recognition that society is a series of interconnected communities, so power must be shared out in a different way.

  • Katharine and Michael are to be congratulated on their continuing campaign to implement the Alston Report on Poverty and Inequality in the UK. I do so wish Ed Davey would pick up his copy of the Alston Report (he’s got one – I gave it to him) and run.

    Two minor points which I hope Katharine and Michael will forgive.

    1. A “progressive Liberal government” (didn’t) introduce free school meals for needy children in 1906. It succumbed to pressure from a newly elected Labour M.P. – the saintly Fred Jowett from Bradford – to enable (but not fund) local councils to provide school meals for ‘necessitous’ children.

    2. Beveridge was a far from perfect individual who had difficult relations with his Berwick constituents who failed to re-elect him in 1945. He had some odd eugenic opinions which modern Lib Dems would not be happy with. Yes, he and others (including a young civil servant, Harold Wilson) produced the Report……. but it was the Attlee Labour Government which legislated for it.

  • Steve Trevethan 28th Oct '20 - 3:35pm

    Perhaps we might consider two approaches to the poverty-hunger problem?

    One is to supply/ enable the purchase of necessities immediately, for we can afford all that we can do, within the realities of human beings and the eco-system.

    The other is to effect monetary reform.

    Without monetary reform we face increasing deprivations, not least of which is hunger. We also face unpayable debts, unemployment, falling incomes, increased homelessness and civil unrest.

    With monetary reform we can move away from eco-system harming fossil fuels and towards sustainable energy.

    (See The Production of Money: How to Break the Power of Bankers by Ann Pettifor)

  • What was so terrible about Marco’s post that required deletion? His mis-spelling of ‘Beveridge’, perhaps?

  • Katharine Pindar 28th Oct '20 - 5:50pm

    Deary me, expats, you have found me out! I see that I was answering Martin and called him Marco, so he hasn’t been deleted! Senior moment, sorry Marco if you’re reading. Thanks everyone for all these interesting comments so far. I will reply again this evening, but leave it to Michael just now.

  • @ Katherine Pindar

    That’s quite alright, I agree with you completely as it happens. I take great encouragement that the Lib Dem manifestos of 2017 and 2019 were the most redistributive in terms of tax and welfare spending proposals. I hope this continues. Unfortunately despite this we keep gettjng bogged down in questions about the bedroom tax etc.

    Undoubtedly some of the policies agreed to in coalition such as the bedroom tax, benefit cap and localisation of Council Tax Reduction will have increased poverrty. However to some extent this will have been offset by free school meals, the Pensions triple lock and raising of income tax thresholds.

    The latter policies probably helped people who were not below the poverty line but just above and so not very well off but had missed out due tonghe very tightly focused means testing seen under New Labour. Therefore they were worthwhile policies.

  • Martin,

    I don’t think of the Beveridge Social Contract in the negative way you do. I see the Social Contract as the informal agreement between the people in a society for the rules of that society and its governance. It seems that for Rousseau the Social Contract provides the means for people to be both free and to live together “by submitting our individual, particular wills to the collective or general will, created through agreement with other free and equal persons” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy https://iep.utm.edu/soc-cont/ ). Therefore the Social Contract can be seen as a liberal contract to enable people to live together in a liberal society.

    Indeed, we need to point out that poverty restraints people from fulfilling their full potential and stops them from being as free as those not living in poverty. It is also true that if some people are living in poverty this affects others – it reduces total demand in the economy which can produce unemployment; the more people living in poverty the lower wages can be to attract them into a job and of course society suffers if people are held back from achieving what they could to benefit society.

    While you imply that no-one would campaign for poverty, many people are not bothered that 14.4 people in the UK are living in poverty. Therefore we need to campaign against poverty, that is against people living in poverty, to convince people that no-one should be living in poverty in the UK, one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

    We are not comparing poverty now with 1942 nor with 1906 or with 1900. What Pat Thane is comparing is the number living in poverty as defined at the relevant time, not across time. However, she does point out the similarities in the causes of poverty.

    Indeed, we should be advocating a liberal society in which is no-one is held back by anything, be it poverty, the lack of a home of their own, the lack of a job, the lack of the relevant training, or by poor health or by the availability of the health care a person needs.

  • Peter Martin 28th Oct '20 - 7:36pm

    ” ……….The other is to effect monetary reform. ”

    There’s nothing much wrong with the one we have. You could argue for some minor changes such as getting rid of the pretension the BoE is independent. But there’s nothing major needed.

    There is a need for a much better understanding though. On the one side we need to get rid of the ‘budgets must balance’ lobby. On the other we need to instill some better understanding into those who think the creation of lots of ‘sovereign money’ is the answer to all our economic problems.

  • Katharine Pindar 28th Oct '20 - 9:07pm

    Marco, thank you very much for that very kind and positive response, for your balanced view of major Coalition economic decisions and your welcoming of our present Manifesto commitments. I do want our policies on working towards fairer distribution to be enhanced, however, as you seem to suggest, with higher rates of benefit paid sooner, grants instead of loans when households need extra help, council tax reform and fairer taxation. I fear that the kind of handouts the Chancellor has rightly made in the past few months of crisis will be hotly contested by his party this winter, owing to their overall uncaring mindset.

    Peter (Martin), of course our country could eliminate relative poverty for most people, if the will were there. As to the causes, Sue Sutherland gives an interesting analysis of how the current situation came about. How comes it, indeed, that now consumption is not matched by sufficient wage payments, as Geoff Crocker I think it was pointed out was the case in an earlier thread? We are a consumerist society, but spending less will not help if goods produced (which really are good!) are not sold. I suppose too much wealth has been hoarded away, in offshore trusts and in buying property for profit, not to provide houses, but I am no economist and put forward no theory here. Sue, I wish you would define further your idea of how the state should be changed to accommodate the interlocking communities, which sounds very interesting.

  • Steve Trevethan 28th Oct '20 - 10:31pm

    On monetary and associated matters reform, or changes, (if that label is preferred)?
    – recognise that our economy comprises three economies which are the ecosystem economy, the real world economy and the financial economy
    – recognise that we mistakenly prioritise these three in the wrong order which should be care for the ecology first, the real world second and the financial should be serving these two and not the other way round (Please consider the 2008 crisis and austerity priorities)
    – bring off-shore dealings onshore
    – excercise influence/control over the ful spectrum of credit creation and pricing
    – encourage productive and “real world loans” and reduce/prevent them for derivatives and the like
    -remember the insight of Abraham Lincoln
    “Labor is prior to, and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital and deserves much the higher consideration.”

  • Peter Martin,

    As Liberal Democrats we do not believe everyone should have the same wealth and the same income which would mean the end of economic inequality. Reducing economic inequalities is fine, and ensuring no one is living in poverty will do this. However, living in poverty so restricts a person’s freedom that it is vital that no-one lives in poverty rather than just reduce inequality a bit.

    One of the reasons that more people are living in poverty now than in the 1970s is because no UK government since 1979 has had full employment as one of their economic aims. When unemployment was less than 2% of the working age population and there were not one million with health issues stopping them from working, people were less concerned about people playing the system. The current benefit system is not unconditional and while the Liberal Democrats want to scrape the sanction regime, it is not party policy not to keep unemployment and being too ill to work as conditions for some benefits. It is policy to pilot the provision of benefits to some single unemployed people. The party has agreed the principle of a UBI which is unconditional, but we haven’t decided at what level it should be.

    Do you accept that if every working-age adult received £48.08 a week this would help the poorest in society more than if only those with an income were allowed to receive the first £12,500 tax free?

  • David Raw,

    It is often said that the Education (Provision of Meals) Act 1906, which gave local authorities the power to provide free school meals, was passed by the Liberal government of 1905-15. However, I have just read that it was a Private Member’s Bill put forward by William Wilson a Labour MP (https://www.intriguing-history.com/school-meals-act/). However, it would have only been passed because lots of Liberal MPs voted for it. According to Wikipedia “the bill received the support of the government”.

    In the article we wrote, “which the subsequent Labour Government acted on” which tallies with your “it was the Attlee Labour Government which legislated for it.”

    Steve Trevethan,

    While you list some changes you don’t point out how any of them would reduce poverty. Higher wages is likely to reduce poverty, but you don’t suggest how this would be achieved.


    Raising the income tax thresholds benefited all tax payers and didn’t help those living only on benefits nor those who didn’t earn enough to pay income tax. Raising the benefit levels would have been much better. The extension of school free meals did not help people on benefits as their children were already entitled to free school meals.

    I hope our party will one day have the policy of revising the cuts caused by the “localisation of Council Tax Reduction” and restore Council Tax Benefit to their pre-2012 level for all working-age adults. A Parliament Briefing Paper (https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN06672#fullreport) states that for the year 2017/18 only 37 local authorities out of 326 have local Council Tax Support schemes which match the national Council Tax Benefit scheme which was abolished in 2013.” I expect this figure is even lower now.

  • Helen Dudden 29th Oct '20 - 7:56am

    I’ve commented on poor housing, as a form of poverty. I lived in a flat, in the centre of Bath with floor to ceiling mould, poor insulation and heating.
    As I now use a wheelchair, I wonder.
    How many social housing property’s do not meet the Decent Homes standard? Still quite a few.
    I can’t understand why there has not been more demands in the House to protect those living in difficult times. Depression, is on the rise that’s a fact. Alcohol dependency, documented domestic abuse is rising too.
    There are two petitions at present gaining momentum, one is the feeding of children, the other the feeding of MPs.
    I did read, one MP claimed expenses to heat his horse stables. If it’s true, then shame on him.
    Our children and grandchildren, will pay the price for the folly of this government for many years to come.
    I argue that all social housing be more wheelchair friendly. There appears to be concerns over safety of battery charging, by the way, there is no evidence to back this.
    So many problems, some children live in freezing and damp conditions, also hungry.
    I still insist a coalition government could be an answer. Time to balance the books!

  • Gordon Lishman 29th Oct '20 - 8:47am

    There are a variety of ways on which the concept of “social contract” can be interpreted. Rousseau’s is the most profoundly illiberal.

  • Peter Martin 29th Oct '20 - 9:40am

    Most voters will support the general concept of a Social Contract. We already have one- albeit unwritten. The functioning of our society depends on it. There has to be consent of the governed to be governed. But an extension along the lines advocated by Katharine and Michael probably won’t be.

    A contract has to be a two way process. But, all Lib Dem social proposals, including the UBI, are simply one way. The unconditionality of the measures being advocated will only find tiny minority approval. The argument is that those who do things and those who have done things should be forced by support those who unreasonably refuse to do anything. Unsurprisingly the majority do not see this as fair or reasonable. In other words they want to see everyone with a living wage job but they don’t agree with handing out money for nothing.

    Michael says that “no UK government since 1979 has had full employment as one of their economic aims.” So why not campaign on a platform of full employment and jobs for all?

    It’s disappointing to see such comments as ” the unions became too greedy” on LDV. The corollary of requiring everyone to make a contribution is that they should have fair reward for making it. A strong Trades Union movement is the best way to achieve that and reduce the incidence of in-work poverty.

  • Katharine Pindar 29th Oct '20 - 10:24am

    Helen, you make good points, thank you for commenting. You remind me of a personal sad story: how the son of a good friend of mine, obliged to use a wheelchair after a motorcycle accident, had to live in a hospital extension for many months, waiting for a flat to be found suitable for him. When at last he and his partner were suitably accommodated, late in the year, they enjoyed one Christmas together in the flat before he tragically suddenly died. It was of course devastating for my friend, who had been single-mindedly looking after her son as best she could for more than two years, as he was moved between hospitals and she moved too to be near him.

    The local Lib Dem ex-MP had tried to help, when I contacted him for the family. I think we obviously need more Lib Dem MPs again, and, whether there will be coalitions in future or not, we need a caring central government. We have had in the last ten years governments which were indifferent to the plight of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in our society. You may recall how, when the Lib Dem ministers in the Coalition government urged more social housing be provided, the answer was, ‘But social housing just makes more Labour voters!’ The Liberal Democrats need to campaign with like-minded politicians and public figures for this government to be obliged to keep looking out for the needs of the poor and the disabled, and Michael and I believe that if we take the banner of a renewed Social Contract to work under we shall have a distinctive voice and a central focus for our policies of reform and renewal.

  • I’m grateful to Michael Berwick-Gooding for pointing out the role of William Wilson, Labour MP for Westhoughton, in February 1906 in the introduction of school meals debate. He is correct that the Liberal Government (via Herbert Gladstone, Home Secretary) assented to this permissive legislation. It was one of the practical outcomes of the 1903 Gladstone-Macdonald Lib-Lab agreement.

    In fact it was a team effort by all of the 29 strong Labour Party M.P.’s. A close reading of Hansard shows this with Fred Jowett, Arthur Henderson and Keir Hardie all taking part. ….. it also shows the absurdity of some of the Tory M.P.’s who spoke.

    Now, in 2020, it is an example the present day Liberal M.P.’s could choose to follow as a team effort if they could decide to attack poverty in a serious way….. e.g. a debate on the Alston Report.

    Here’s the link :

    Mr Frederick Jowett
    1864 – February 1, 1944
    Summary information for Mr Frederick Jowett
    Meals to School Children—Parents’ Liability. Commons February 28, 1906

    Bradford School Children’s Meals. Commons February 28, 1906

    3 speeches — EDUCATION (PROVISION OF MEALS) BILL. Commons March 2, 1906

  • Katharine has given us a very moving and very important example.

    It would help if the eleven Lib Dem M.P.’s focussed on a team work strategy on a few well focussed issues relating to poverty and disadvantage instead of trying to cover the whole canvas of every department of government.

    It’s a pity Ed Davey didn’t seek out Marcus Rashford for a conversation about school meals when he was in the Stockport Fish and chip shop.

  • Katharine Pindar 29th Oct '20 - 11:07am

    Peter Martin. I hardly think that the ‘consent of the governed to be governed’ has been granted, in the last few years of austerity, Peter. In so far as there was agreement for what seems to me an extraordinary blinkered view that you put forward here, I suggest it has now disappeared. Quite simply, more than a million extra people having been obliged to apply for Universal Credit, they have sadly discovered, as a friend of mine put it, that it is all right to live on for a few weeks, but not at all for the long-term. I suggest there will be an outcry if the Chancellor tries to take away the extra £1000 he added to the UC dole next April, and Lib Dem pressure to shorten the five weeks’ wait, to end sanctions and to make grants instead of loans to cover emergencies (for example) may be broadly welcomed.

    Where are all the jobs to come from that will enable people to return to full working lives? More people are going to be realising the necessity of part-time work and the minimum wage, and understand the general iniquity of working in the gig economy and accepting what Pat Thane (herself not a Lib Dem) points out is fake self-employment. Liberal Democrats may in fact be knocking at an open door now in proposing many reforms. We are not asking for the moon! People in general, I suggest, may now accept the need for enhanced targeted benefits, for more affordable housing, for better health and social care, and for much more and focused training courses both for young people and for middle-aged people too young to retire, to help them find whatever jobs there may be.

    Have you not noticed the public demand for better pay for all the health and ancillary workers on whom we have depended and still depend, as the health crisis continues?
    We have a more caring society now, perhaps, even if a government for whom the practice of caring is a strange and dangerous philosophy.

  • Katharine Pindar 29th Oct '20 - 11:18am

    David, thank you very much for your support, your detailed research into those days of Lib-Lab co-operation which I hope can be followed up to achieve necessary results now, and your useful suggestions. Best wishes always with your and your wife’s work.

  • @Michael BG

    I would have to disagree with you as a social justice strategy should not just be focused on the very poorest but for anyone who is relatively disadvantaged.

    Raising tax thresholds was a good policy because many people on low incomes did not want to the hassle or indignity of dealing with the benefit system to receive a small amount, they just didn’t want to be taxed.

    As for free school meals, the threshold of household income to qualify is very low. At any one time there were families who would have been entitled to free meals but weren’t getting them whether because they didn’t know they could apply or filled the form incorrectly etc.

    Another point I would raise is that parties should stop competing about raising the minimum wage. There comes a point where the minimum wage does not address the problems people face in the gig economy such as lack of full employment rights and paid leave, as well as being redesignated as self- employed.

    Finally on social housing yes to building more but also to restoring security of tenure as surely the stability this brings is good for children’s life chances.

  • Steve Trevethan 29th Oct '20 - 11:40am

    On possible ways to reduce poverty?

    Perhaps this crucial matter could be stylised into a basic model of wealth input, wealth management and expenditure?
    Perhaps the tools to reduce poverty could be stylised to include attitude or paradigm management and regulation?

    In practice we might use the following:
    *recognise that the pay of too many workers represents too small a proportion of the wealth they create. (In America, pharmaceutical workers receive(d) some 5% of the wealth they created – from “Contrary Notions”: M. Parenti)
    *publicise such proportions
    *publicise the need to increase quality loans which either increase wealth and/or contribute to the quality the ecological and/or “real world” economy
    * reduce the avoidable wealth abstractions from the ecological and real world economies such as excessive patent protection, cartel overpricing and bank bailing out
    * increase the economic and financial knowledge of the public so that they know when they are being ripped off
    * recognise and act upon the fact that debts are subject to the laws of mathematics rather than physics and virology which profoundly affect the creation of real world wealth. (from F. Soddy)

    Perhaps there are two sorts of “Free Market”?

    One which is free from democratic governmental oversight and regulation so that the very wealthy gain increasing wealth and power. The other is free from needless but lucrative costs paid by the general public

    P. S. Some employers go to cost and effort to keep their people in a job.

  • Peter Martin 29th Oct '20 - 11:56am

    @ Katharine,

    You ask the question “Where are all the jobs to come from that will enable people to return to full working lives?” in such a way as to suggest that it won’t be possible. But we all know that local authorities aren’t able to do the things they used to do because they do have the same workforce they used to have. We know that schools could do with more teachers. Hospitals with more nurses etc.

    On the one hand Lib Dems say we can’t manage without EU workers and on the other you say we need a UBI because automation and the robots will take our jobs. So there does seem to be a level of contradiction in much of Lib Dem thought. It doesn’t seem to occur to you that instead of having 9 workers working pretty much as they’ve always done and the tenth being “kept out of poverty” by a UBI, and whatever other social measures you might want to put into place, that it might be better to reduce everyone’s working time by 10% but insist that everyone should work those reduced hours.

    This is not to say that we should require everyone to work regardless of whether or not they are capable. The sad story of your friend’s son shows that we do need to better help out those who genuinely need help. But is that help less forthcoming that it might be because recipients end up being dependent of a system of social welfare that doesn’t have full and popular support?

    On the question of public support for the levels of austerity we saw from 2010 onwards, you know very well that wouldn’t have been possible if the public hadn’t been conned into thinking that the country would have gone bankrupt otherwise. Those on the right of both the Lib Dems and Labour parties were just as culpable as the Tories in this respect. So the existence of a social contract doesn’t necessarily bring about correct Government policies. But, having said that, there is ample evidence that George Osborne changed tack when he realised that there was an election he needed to win!

    Our democracy might not be perfect but it does help to keep the b*****ds honest, as they say in Australia!

  • Peter Hirst 29th Oct '20 - 1:58pm

    I suggest tackling poverty should be part of a large scale restructuring of our society. We need more wealth taxation, more equal pay and to properly rewarding non-work jobs such as caring, agriculture related tasks and rewilding. This would lead to a social contract where some sort of work is done in return for a reasonable quality of life for everyone.

  • Sue Sutherland 29th Oct '20 - 2:52pm

    @Peter Martin. If you are suggesting that all Trades Unions just wanted what was best for their members I’m afraid you’re totally naive. I agree that Unions have benefitted their members and that those in jobs that weren’t unionised, like hospitality for example, did worse. As a teenager I saw Labour supporting the powerful miners’ Unions in Wales and the North but those in the West Country got no mention. It was only when the Liberal MP David Penhaligon was elected that the rights of the Cornish tin miners were taken up.
    Later I realised that it was all about power. Arthur Scargill used and manipulated the miners to oppose the government not to best serve their interests. I gave my baby clothes to the miners’ wives because they couldn’t afford to buy them. I believe he was more concerned to create a workers’ revolution than to help improve miners’ lives.

  • Peter Martin 29th Oct '20 - 4:24pm

    @ Sue Sutherland,

    The Daily Mail said much the same about Arthur Scargill.

    But AFAIK Cornish miners never joined up with the NUM so it’s a little unfair to blame AS or the NUM for whatever unfairness they might have suffered.

  • Katharine Pindar 29th Oct '20 - 5:35pm

    Steve Trevethan. Thanks for your comments, Steve, and I do like the idea of considering the tools to reduce poverty. You write, ‘Recognising that the pay of too many workers represents too small a proportion of the wealth they create’, for one way forward. I suppose it may well be possible for economists to calculate that, but I wonder whether it might be more productive to calculate the VALUE of the work they do. Concentrating on the value of all kinds of work, and considering how this could be calculated, might lead to proper recognition of the value of unpaid work, notably the rearing of children and the caring for disabled and infirm members of a household. Such long-term commitments of time from people of working age could perhaps be evaluated in terms of the hours they would otherwise be able to put into paid work, plus the value to society of children and adults being thus nurtured at home to allow them to begin or to continue their own personal contributions. Voluntary work outside the home should also be similarly evaluated, so that the idea of people being given ‘something for nothing’ which seems so much to trouble Peter Martin and his own circle regarding welfare payments could be squarely confronted.

    (Steve, I am aware I have not here made anything much of a reply to your latest comment, and I admit I have felt lost in it when reading on at times, but thank you for starting this thought train off!)

  • Katharine Pindar 29th Oct '20 - 5:59pm

    Peter Hirst. Thank you, Peter, I think it was first reading your comment before trying to answer Steve that probably prompted much of my own long comment above! Yes, of course I agree with you about properly rewarding non-paid work, as you will have gathered.

    You raise though an interesting extra point in writing that you can see a social contract (being acceptable generally, I suppose you mean) ‘where some sort of work is done in return for a reasonable quality of life for everyone’. Michael and I have held out for the obligation on people in the new social contract being no more than respect for the law and for each other. Yet I do personally hanker after asking people, when for instance in receipt of UBI eventually, to consider whether they feel they are making any non-economic contribution to society at all. It could be as little as trying to do a small good turn to someone each day (yes, I know, I was once a Girl Guide!), but it is the attitude I would ideally like people to have, just as I would like government to have the basic attitude of intending to care for and serve all our people. Anyway, I expect parents will say that they are making the contribution by bringing up their wonderful children, and why not!

  • Steve Trevethan 29th Oct '20 - 6:16pm

    Dear Katharine,
    Thanks indeed for your kind comments!!!
    Your suggestion of the valuing of currently unpaid work which enhances the ecological and real world economies is excellent and there seems to be no reason why it could not be done. It could also bring the benefits of improving the situations of carers and social benefactors and provide a much more accurate representation of the workings of our economies.
    Additionally, it highlights the need for us to have a lively awareness of the activities which contribute to Gross Domestic Product figures. One G.D.P. includes calculations of inputs from prostitution and recreational drugs because they have, fairly recently, been considered to be valid parts of that economy!
    Absolutely no need for apologies from you! Please accept mine for not being clearer.
    If I can attempt any greater clarification, please let me know.

  • Katharine Pindar 29th Oct '20 - 10:55pm

    Martin, I have not subscribed to Rousseau’s ideas, and I have long deplored the notion of Will of the people, which I hold is a false and pernicious idea which did great harm in the struggle against Brexit. I have derived the social contract idea purely, as I have explained, from the expression of it suggested by the UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty Philip Alston. I have also explained its value as an overarching vision for our party, bringing together our progressive policies under one banner. I suppose it is the fate of every good idea to have to be explained over and over again, but Gordon Lishman has absorbed this thinking of ours several months ago,, and affirmed that it would be helpful for our party to have a Big Idea. The Thornhill review also demanded an overall vision and strategy, which Michael and I offer the party.

  • I think the best way forward lies in drawing up credible policies that balance the books economically as well as deal with inequalities, instead of outdoing the socialists in their own ideology, or copy and pasting directly from Labour manifestos.

    A fundamental problem with the Lib Dems is that they are seen as deeply power hungry, in that they care more about getting into government and parliamentary seat share, instead of honestly trying to convince the public about how they can improve their lives. The Lib Dems would could go much further by sticking by their own sound principles, instead of going where the wind blows.

  • Peter Martin 30th Oct '20 - 1:28am

    ” the idea of people being given ‘something for nothing’ which seems so much to trouble Peter Martin and his own circle”

    A few points:

    1) Any policy you come up with has to be attractive to those who currently vote Tory. This is the first objection they’ll make.

    2) Also it has to be attractive to Labour voters. The demand on the left has always been for jobs and the Right to Work. Not a right to an Universal Basic income.

    3) The prevalent and mainstream economic theory holds that a certain level of unemployment is necessary to combat inflation. The term Non Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment is the technical term and naturally not much used by politicians. But they’ll know what it means.


    4) Lib Dems might want to take a look at the concept of maintaining a certain level of unemployment to control inflation. Is this a valid moral position? How will this fit into your social contract?

    5) Does it even work as claimed? Or does it create a class of long term unemployed who become increasingly unemployable as months of unemployment becomes years?

    6) What is “illiberal’ about requiring unemployed workers to retrain? This is something advocated by Beveridge. There’s more to the Beveridge Report than just the identification of the 5 Social evils.Lib Dems might want to read it sometime.

  • Helen Dudden,

    A coalition government is not an answer to the problems you raise. Looking at Coalition governments in the UK in the past they seem to be a vehicle for conservatism and not solving social issues. Even during the Second World War the Conservative Party was resistant to the social changes being called for. Perhaps the government of 1918-22 was an exception especially in the early years with the passing of the Housing, Planning Act 1919 and the Unemployment Insurance Act 1920.

    Gordon and Martin,

    It is a long time since I read Rousseau’s ‘Social Contract’. As Katharine points out we are not advocating the Rousseau Social Contract with its idea of the general will to which everyone has to conform and where individuals cannot be given liberty. But, I like the idea of working collectively for the common good, while not liking the idea of the dictatorship of the majority. The social contract is about what people should accept so we can live together as a society. This includes the rule of law, the acceptance of a representative democracy, the right of protest and the idea of democratic change. (I expect others can be added. Peter Martin adds “the consent of the governed to be governed”.) In the UK this include free education for children and free health care for all.

    David Raw,

    I think the website address you were referring to is:

  • Peter Martin,

    Indeed, lots of people believe every adult should work for a living except those rich enough not to, those over retirement age and possibly students. There are exceptions to this. Most people except that a parent should be able to stay at home to look after their very young children, or not work full-time if their children are of infant school age or possible junior school age. Most people except that people with health problems should not be forced to work. However, I do wonder if people really believe that those who don’t work should be treated worse than those convicted of a crime and given no help from the state. Is it right that people who refuse to work should be made homeless and forced to live and beg on the streets? Would people prefer that these people were locked up which would cost more than giving them benefits at the poverty level? (In “England and Wales, it cost an average of £37,543 a year to keep a prisoner in jail” in 2017/18.)

    In 1900 the expectation of who should have to work for a living is different to what it is today. During the twentieth century the expectation of who the state should support if not in work changed. Therefore public expectations can be changed. Changing public attitudes will not be easy, but should we be making the case that everyone should be allowed to fulfil their full potential and this might mean having the choice of not being in paid employment?

    Part of our Social Contract is to deal with unemployment and underemployment. The article quotes Pat Thane about her belief that full employment is needed to tackle poverty, and in the penultimate paragraph we say indirectly that, a new national Social Contract is needed which provides employment for people. Dealing with the problems of the labour market should be included in our solutions to end unemployment and under-employment.

  • Peter Martin 30th Oct '20 - 8:37am

    @ Michael BG,

    So you’re suggesting that those of us who aren’t in jail should be able to claim a proportion of the £37,543 that it would cost “the taxpayer” if it were otherwise?

    Or, maybe if we don’t require expensive heart surgery or ultra expensive drugs from the NHS……..

    our solutions to end unemployment and under-employment.

    There’s only one. That is to offer a Job Guarantee to anyone who needs it.

  • Helen Dudden 30th Oct '20 - 10:01am

    Katherine Pindar. With the Labour Party in meltdown, who can bring democracy and opposition?
    I was so saddened to read about the young man, and his partner, and their housing issue’s, more saddened to read about how short his life was.
    I personally, feel, unless we make a stand on the real problems, our country faces then we make no changes. It won’t be a good situation to have one major party, without any opposition.
    The Labour Party had comments that were rascist, I had remarks made to me. It came as a shock to say the least.
    I believe in a better society, I also believe in fairness and honesty. My family are Christian. I’m someone who practices Judaism, and needs a wheelchair. It was a serious illness several years ago, that has gone on to cause me problems, I am so grateful for everyday I have, trying to use it wisely.

  • Katharine Pindar 30th Oct '20 - 11:03am

    Helen Dudden. Thank you for writing again, Helen. I am glad you agree that we have to take a stand on the real problems, and that is what I and Michael want our party to do. The problems of poverty are far-reaching, as are the problems in health and social care. So, we need to try to make sure that there is sufficient provision of flats for people who have to live in wheelchairs, and they don’t have to wait for as long as my friend’s son had to. (Yes, that is indeed a sad story, with the young man dying at 27, and his partner left bereft. She keeps in close contact with my friend. One small good that followed the tragedy was that my friend’s oldest son, who had not been in touch for many years, contacted his mother, came to see her, and paid for her to travel to his home on the other side of the country and have a week’s family holiday there.)

    I was sorry to read that you have suffered racist comments. People can be very unkind, whether intentionally or just carelessly. I hope you will continue quite well, and that you can contact a local Liberal Democrat councillor with any problems in your area.

  • Katharine Pindar 30th Oct '20 - 12:00pm

    Goethe. (I suspect you also write great books!) One of your criticisms is telling. I do think we were wrong to seem ‘power-hungry’ in our presentation at the General Election, though it was well intended. But you seem to imply that the social contract idea is taking us away from the real work of ‘drawing up credible policies’ .

    Actually, Michael and I have been much engaged in trying to contribute to the party’s policy development, for instance on the policies of giving fair shares to all and on basic income. But there really isn’t any question of us ‘outdoing the socialists in their own ideology or copy (ing) and pasting from Labour manifestos’. The Social Contract proposal is not one that the Labour Party has envisaged at all, so it would be distinctive for us, which is fitting because we are distinctive from Labour.

    The practical point of the Social Contract, Pat and those unfamiliar with it as we view it today, is that it would give an overarching theme to our party, within which our many useful and progressive policies can find a place. Many attempts by members to list the most important principles and policies that define us, when people ask what we stand for, founder because there are several that are important. But with the Social Contract, we can say that we want to put right the social injustices that everyone is suffering, by tackling the problems of poverty, inadequate health and social care provision, insufficient affordable housing, poor education and training opportunities, and unemployment plus underemployment.

    They will be tackled under a Beveridge 2-type Plan. Of course, if the Labour Party gets into power and wants to carry out such great reforms, they are welcome to, just as the Labour Party of Clement Attlee put into effect the great reform plan of William Beveridge which he wrote during the Second World War! But progressives will need to pull together in the next few years to get some of these reforms carried out soon.

  • Steve Trevethan 30th Oct '20 - 12:57pm

    Thanks to Peter M. for raising the important matter of correlations between employment and inflation!

    A contrasting view is that unemployment is a tool/technique to depress pay and encourage/force employed persons to accept lower pay, terms and conditions.

    Might this view fit better with current socio-economic environments where there seems to be an increase in people working longer hours, in multiple jobs, for static or declining pay?

    Might taxation be a more financially and socially efficient to manage any combination of high employment and harmful inflation?

    Thanks again to Peter M. for his comment that a “Job Guarantee” is the solution to unemployment and underemployment!

    Might a Job Guarantee scheme reduce/remove poverty, improve the ecological and “real world” environments/economies and, in combination with inflation managing taxation, raise money for the state to further improve the ecological and “real world” economies/environments?

  • Peter Martin 30th Oct '20 - 2:48pm

    @ Steve,

    “Thanks again to Peter M. for his comment that a “Job Guarantee” is the solution to unemployment and underemployment!”

    Thanks Steve. I’d just like to emphasise, though, that I actually said it was the only way to end unemployment and under-employment.

    We can, once the Covid restrictions allow, get it tolerably low by conventional expansionary macro economic methods but it’s never going to get down to zero. The last few percent will be difficult.

    We can use the JG to scoop up the homeless and rough sleepers and give them another chance. The private sector will never do that. The JG should incorporate a large measure of training and education. So the “job” of those that society has written off will be to use the opportunity offered to write themselves back in again.

  • While I totally share the authors’ desire to reduce poverty, I doubt that a “campaign against poverty” as the title demands will achieve much because most poverty results from two linked causes – a weak economy and the unfair distribution of its output.

    To tackle the causes of the disease, not just the symptoms, we must first understand what is going wrong with the economy. A good starting point is Acemoglu & Robinson’s ‘Why Nations Fail: the origins of power, prosperity & poverty’. In it they distinguish two types of political system – Extractive and Inclusive.

    By ‘Extractive’ they mean one run for the benefit of the ruling elite, banana republics being the extreme case. Everything – education, laws, taxes etc. – is optimised for their benefit, monopolies & cronyism thrive but innovation doesn’t because it’s a threat to the establishment. Most scrabble round the edges in poorly paid and insecure work. Poverty and poor mental health are the inevitable result.

    By ‘Inclusive’ they mean one run for the benefit of all and for the long term. Laws, taxes etc. are optimised to prevent monopoly and cronyism. Conversely, ensuring plentiful opportunities for the majority plus the freedoms to pursue them are emphasised.

    The UK has always veered uncomfortably towards the extractive end of this spectrum. One consequence is that politics has been a low-grade civil war since the introduction of the universal franchise. Another is that its ruling elite simply doesn’t know – and doesn’t want to know – how to run a successful modern economy. One interpretation of Brexit is that it is a plot to force a shotgun marriage with the highly extractive US via an FTA and so achieve changes that could never be done by legislation while in the EU.

    The inclusive/extractive perspective suggests a narrative wholly in line with LD instincts and that in turn suggests politically powerful policies that would sum to a social contract.

    E.g. Every year or so the country is briefly convulsed by alleged unequal access to Oxbridge. Even if true this concerns only perhaps 0.0000001%. Meanwhile, devising top-quality apprenticeships for millions of the non-elite remains off the political radar.

  • Peter Martin and Sue Sutherland,

    The ‘winter of discontent’ I believe was a cause of Labour’s defeat in 1979 and the Trade Unions should have taken a more responsible attitude to the Labour government’s attempts to control inflation. In 1978 growth was returning and unemployment was falling. If the Trade Unions had agreed to wage restraint then there wouldn’t have been a ‘winter of discontent’ and maybe no Thatcher government which wanted to control wages by having a huge number of people unemployed.

    Sue Sutherland,

    Anthony Barber increased the money supply by liberating the banking system and this increasing the money supply by 25% in one year (this was not Keynesian economics). He also provided fiscal economic stimulus. These led to an increase in economic growth and inflation (over 9% in 1972). However, it was the 1973 the oil crisis which led to stagflation resulting in cost-push inflation, where in this period inflation was caused by the huge increases in oil prices and the restriction of the supply of oil. (I remember the ban on private driving – only essential petrol use for vehicles was allowed on Sundays, meaning the roads were very empty when I was riding my new bicycle in the autumn).


    Raising working-age benefits so a person not in work receives an income at the poverty level will not just help the poorest but will help those in work on low wages. I also believe that people without children should be allowed to keep the first £50 a week they earn before they have their benefit reduced. For example if a couple received £271 a week in benefit if not working, then when one of them is working and earning £233.50 (net) a week they would still receive £155.39 a week in benefits (271 – ([233.50 – 50] x 0.63).

    If a person on Universal Credit and earns more than £7,400 a year (after tax and excluding their benefits) their children are not eligible for free school meals. I agree this is too low. What amount do you think it should be?

    Increasing the minimum wages is a good thing and the issue of zero-hours contracts and people being called self-employed when they only work for on employer can be solved by legislation.

  • Steve Trevethan – You suggest: ” ’Perhaps there are two sorts of ‘Free Market’? One which is free from democratic governmental oversight and regulation so that the very wealthy gain increasing wealth and power. The other is free from needless but lucrative costs paid by the general public.”

    Yes, absolutely! These are very important points.

    The key mechanism behind the already wealthy gaining increasing wealth and power is little understood but surprisingly obvious. The standard economists’ argument is that markets, when free, will settle at an optimum price determined by the balance of supply and demand.

    But that’s nonsense. Price is determined by the relative POWER of the parties. Supply and demand may come into that, but large companies try very hard (and mostly successfully) to ensure they don’t. Wealth also confers political influence which supercharges this trend.

    One consequence of POWER is the ability to charge ‘needless but lucrative costs’ – what economists call ‘economic rent’. In the early 1800s that was largely agricultural rents – something that proto-Liberals campaigned against via their agitation against the Corn Laws.

    Nowadays it’s more complicated with many more opportunities for economic rents but the underlying issue is the same – the more paid in rents to the super-rich, the less remains to share among the rest – the people are poorer and the economy is less competitive.

    So where are the LD campaigns on this?

  • Katharine Pindar 30th Oct '20 - 6:52pm

    Gordon. I think the causes of present poverty levels in this country are wider than you suggest – perhaps look again at what Dr Pat Thane wrote, that we quote in our article, and the discussion above between Sue Sutherland and Michael. However, I rather like your recounting the ‘exclusive/ inclusive’ argument. Certainly we could see the Tory governments and their wealthy associates as being on the exclusive side, and our party on the inclusive, which, as you suggest, leads readily to ‘politically powerful policies’ within a social contract. We need to develop all the ideas further. I wonder, for example, how ‘reform of the labour market’ as advocated by Pat should be translated into our policies.

    William Francis. Thank you, William, for your support and for your ideas. It is helpful I agree to think in terms of a ‘poverty strategy’ which we should work out and commit to, within an overall Beveridge 2-type Plan. I agree with all you write in your second paragraph, and would press for still more reforms for Universal Credit: for instance, to include grants instead of loans in the policy where necessity demands, because people existing on such low incomes are hard-pressed to repay any loans, and mustn’t be driven into the hands of loan sharks, or be in danger of losing their rented homes.

  • The idea that those not in work should do something for their benefit is totally wrong. We should reduce the conditions that the unemployed have to do for their benefit and instead provide advice and support for them to do things which in some way benefits society or assists them to get back into work, or maybe both by doing some voluntary work. For liberals this has to be advice and support to convince them to do things which are in their best interests rather than forcing them to do things which they know are a total waste of their time.

    Peter Martin,

    Advising people that re-training or taking a guaranteed government paid job is in their best interest is liberal, reducing their benefit or removing all of it if they don’t do what they are told to do is illiberal.

    You haven’t answered the question I asked you on 28th October at 11.20 pm – do you think giving everyone £48.08 a week would help the poorest in society more than there being an Income Tax Personal Allowance of £12,500.

    Or the question I raised about putting people in prison if they refused to work.

    I am not suggesting that everyone unemployed should receive £37,543 a year as I expect you already know. I am suggesting that paying people at the poverty level is cheaper than locking people up and is much more humane.

    You know that Katharine and I have not rejected a job guarantee scheme. It is good to see that you do accept governments should try to achieve full employment. However, a guaranteed government funded job should not be necessary when there is full employment.


    A policy to “balance the books” would be wrong. At the moment we need policies to ensure people don’t lose their jobs or houses. In the future we are likely to need policies to stimulate the economy to produce economic growth and the jobs for the people who are unemployed, with regional polices to help those regions with the worse unemployment rates.

    Please can you point out by quoting and giving the page numbers of where we have copied directly from Labour manifestos?

  • Peter Martin 31st Oct '20 - 8:57am

    “reducing their benefit or removing all of it if they don’t do what they are told to do is illiberal.”

    If this is true then Beveridge was illiberal too. His view was that benefits should come from contributions:

    “benefit in return for contributions, rather than free allowances from
    the State is what the people of Britain desire. This desire is shown
    both by the established popularity of compulsory insurance, and
    by the phenomenal growth of voluntary insurance ..”

    And when the benefits ran out?

    “Workers …should be required, as a condition of continued benefit to attend a
    work or training centre, such attendance being designed as a means
    of preventing habituation to idleness and as a means of improving
    capacity for earnings”

    You are fond of quoting Beveridge, which is fair enough, but have you actually taken the trouble to understand what he was actually saying?

    “However, a guaranteed government funded job should not be necessary when there is full employment.

    It will. Because employers won’t want to employ those they consider the least employable. They would rather pay higher wages and hire someone they prefer.

  • Peter Martin 31st Oct '20 - 9:21am

    @ Micheal BG,

    This article is an interesting description of how attitudes to welfare changed in the late 20th century. Where I would disagree is that we have a Job Guarantee at a living wage, rather than “workfare’, and we use socialist principles to ensure fair reward for work done.

    There’s always an element of “illiberality” involved when it comes to ensuring people do what needs to be be done to keep society functioning. We’ve all had to do what we wouldn’t naturally do to earn a living, and so be able to feed our kids and pay the mortgage etc. Even Lib Dems shouldn’t have too much of a problem with that!


  • Martin,

    We do “appeal to liberal arguments for freeing people from the constraints of poverty”. We recognise that living in poverty holds people back and restricts their freedom (please see my second and last paragraph of my comment of 28th October at 7.00 pm). It is our liberalism which leads us to want to eradicate today’s social ills and we say that to do this we need a new social contract (implying there was one that came into being after the Second World War as implied by Philip Alston and others).

    Steve Trevethan and Peter Martin,

    I think after the Second World War working hours were reduced from about 44 hours per week (including working on Saturday mornings) to 40 hours and that now they are often 37.5 hours per week. I don’t think this happened because of legislation but I suppose it would be possible to legislate that no employment contract can require anyone to work more than 35 hours a week.


    Both the Labour and the Conservative Governments after the Second World War and before 1979 were trying to provide full employment and everyone did become better off and people were not being left behind until the unemployment increased in the 1970s and full employment was never achieved again. As liberals we want to help everyone to fulfil their full potential and we must have the social and economic policies to achieve this.

    We have a policy of replacing business rates with a land tax.

    William Francis,

    Thank you for saying you liked our article. We need to go further than our party policy on benefits. We need to restore all the cuts to benefit levels since 2010 and then at least link the annual increase to benefits to inflation or the increase in average increase in earnings; allow single people and couples without children to keep £50 of their income before their benefit is reduced; increase the amount people can have in savings before they lose some benefit and all their benefit; and as Katharine says provide grants not loans to those who only have benefits to live on (as in the past).

  • Katharine – I think you misunderstand what I was saying, perhaps because I should have been clearer in the first paragraph that, IMO, campaigning limited to a direct attack on poverty, necessary as that undoubtedly is, will ultimately fail unless it is embedded in a much wider campaign to address the economic forces causing poverty – some hiding in plain sight, some far more obscure.

    On my reading Pat Thane indirectly makes the same point, for instance when she discusses the role of high housing costs and quotes the Resolution Foundation who identify them as a big cause of poverty – “perhaps more so than at any time in the past.” So why did that happen? What needs to change to reverse the now 60-year trend of rising real housing costs? So, we need to cast the net far wider than just the labour market or even labour + housing – and in particular, rethink the role of finance.

    I like Acemoglu & Robinson’s distinction between ‘Inclusive’ and ‘Extractive’ (not ‘exclusive’ BTW) because it provides a useful framing and language for the deep cultural forces we neglect at our peril and which we should address head on.

    I wish I could agree with you that LDs all are on the ‘Inclusive’ side; its then leaders enthusiastic participation in the Coalition stripped away such pretensions (at least for that cast of characters) leading in large part to subsequent electoral disasters. I think the most of membership’s instincts are on the ‘inclusive’ side, but the party’s governance does not reliably deliver that as we have seen.

    So, one key waystation to tackling poverty is making the party a more reliable force for good and that in turn mean finding ways to immunise it’s leadership against the dazzling riches they will be offered to turn to the dark side if LDs ever get close to power again.

  • Peter Martin,

    I see you still haven’t answered the questions I asked you!

    I was aware of what Beveridge wanted. The Labour Government passed the National Assistance Act in 1948 which “abolished the Poor Law system … and established a social safety net for those” who hadn’t paid any national insurance contributions (Wikipedia) or were unemployed for more than 12 months. (I think I have told you this before.) It was planned that the rates would be at the subsistence level but less than those paid via National Insurance and they were means-tested.

    Currently if a person receives Jobseekers Allowance and they are sanctioned and all their benefit is cut they might be able to receive 60% of their usual benefit. So this hardship benefit could be seen as unconditional except for the means-test.

    I do support having very limited conditions for unemployment benefit and for those who are not well enough to work. (For unemployment benefit to be looking for a job and being available to start work within a week if they are offered a suitable job (a suitable job is one that pays at least as much as their previous one plus inflation and one they were doing before they were unemployed or one they have retrained for).

    There should to be support below these conditional benefits and I am wondering if these unconditional work-age benefits should be 60% of the poverty level for the adult part of the benefit. Those on this lower benefit should be visited to be given advice and support to get them on to the higher benefit by meeting the few conditions for receiving them.

    In the past large employers had to employ a certain percentage of disabled people. (Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 employers employing 20 workers or more had to have 3% of them on the disabled persons register. I think it was repealed in the 1995.) It is possible to bring this back and widen it to everyone who is disabled or has a health condition which restricts their ability to work. I would start with all organisations which employ 100 people must employ one person from the above group per 100 workers they have. It might be necessary to reduce the 100 to 30 depending on how employers respond.

  • Peter Martin 31st Oct '20 - 3:30pm

    @ Michael BG,

    Of course, if you unconditionally give someone an amount of money they are by definition better off. Temporarily. But I agree with Beveridge ( and I’m pleased to see that you now might have read a little more of the original source) that conditionality is necessary to convert a temporary benefit into a more permanent one and improve future earnings.

    £48.08 pw, or whatever you are suggesting handing out, is peanuts. It’s a starvation level of income. We should be looking for at least a factor of 6 higher but the condition is that it is paid as a living wage in return for work done plus a willingness to engage in education and training, again as suggested by that well known IL-Liberal MP William Beveridge.

  • @Michael BG

    Re Universal Credit – families with children already get a work allowance of £292-512 per month but yes no reason not to extend them to people without children and restore to at least the amount in real terms they were in 2015 before George Osborne cut them.

    Re Free School Meals – I would make them free for all children up to age 16. It would cost about £3bn a year so would pay for it with a £0.5% levy on the basic rate of income tax.

    Re Minimum Wage – raising it to ever higher levels does place a burden on employers especially small businesses and the voluntary sector. So in rather than placing unlimited burdens on employers I would think carefully about what we demand from them. There is clearly a need for flexible short term working in the economy but we should ensure that everyone has an entitlement to adequate sickness and maternity pay, protection from dismissal and flexible working whether they are employed or self-employed.

  • Peter Martin 31st Oct '20 - 4:01pm

    @ Michael BG.

    “…..the question I raised about putting people in prison if they refused to work.”

    Where does this come from? Are you confusing me with someone else?

  • Katharine Pindar 31st Oct '20 - 7:00pm

    @ Gordon. Insofar as the real causes of poverty continue to have weight, I am more concerned with dealing with their effects than analysing them now, but you are right of course in your suggestions. The Institute for Fiscal Studies drew attention in a June study to the fact that now more than half, 58% indeed, of those living in poverty are in working households ( I think I recall this meaning households where at least one person is working full-time) and attributed the considerable rise to more expensive housing together with weak earnings.

    So our idea of a Beveridge 2 Plan must undoubtedly include considering the costs of housing, with partial solutions ranging from land-value taxation to more provision of factory-built modular houses to council tax reform. We are also aware of the need to stimulate employment, full employment without exploitation by any employers and giving a living wage for the work done. All such reforms, together with enhanced training and retraining for the demands of the digital economy and of combatting climate change, need more detailed work to be done so that policies can be further developed and campaigning undertaken. ‘Rethinking the role of finance’, you may wish to suggest ideas on yourself.

    Yes indeed, we do want to make our party a more reliable force for good! I think the ‘inclusive’ instincts are also there in our leadership, but need encouraging into action. Michael and I suggest that to have this vision, to aim for a revived social contract which will embody the strategy of developing a Beveridge 2 Plan to right the grievous social wrongs of today, can provide the necessary impetus. And poverty, as many-pronged as the wretched virus, must be the foremost wrong to try to put right.

  • Katharine Pindar 31st Oct '20 - 7:24pm

    Peter Martin. We were aware of the Beveridge proposals, and their degree of conditionality. Pat Thane also wrote to me in a recent email, “It’s clear from Beveridge’s report that he was seeking a cohesive society which ensured full employment at decent pay for those who could work, secure benefits providing enough to live on for those who could not, in return for contributions. His plan would cover all of society.” I imagine therefore that Sir William would have been shocked to find the current conditions of inadequate pay and insufficient benefits driving some people into poverty.

    Pat also added in her email, ” Unfortunately Labour didn’t deliver adequate benefits. It prioritized reviving the economy and achieving full employment, as it did for the first time in peacetime, at the cost of paying lower benefits in the difficult post-war economic situation. They hoped to stay in government long enough to raise benefits but unfortunately they lost the 1951 election.”

    I am thinking, we Liberal Democrats can show the progressive way forward to Labour now, in the current situation.

  • Peter Martin 31st Oct '20 - 8:55pm


    I’m not quite sure what point Ms Thane is making. The first priority of the Beveridge plan was to achieve full employment. The post war Labour government achieved this at a difficult time when there was a severe danger of runaway inflation. This is essentially the reason that aggregate spending had to be artificially curbed by the continued imposition of rationing.

    They could have chosen the same deflationary policies as the post WW1 government, and with no rationing, but this would have meant higher levels of unemployment and consequently a lessened ability to pay unemployment and other social benefits.

    You don’t have to be an economics wiz to spot that the choice is not between full employment and a relatively high level of benefit. Ms Thane has this all wrong. They both go together. In other words, the lower the number of unemployed the more generous Govt can afford to be – especially when there are inflationary considerations due to a lack of supply.

    There is a second order effect, though, that probably took another 20 years to show up. Even though unemployment in the sixties was low an increasing number of people became dependent on welfare benefits. It probably worsened into the seventies. I have personal knowledge of people failing their uni exams and funding their resit years on unemployment benefit or supplementary benefit as I seem to remember it being called at the time.. Or taking longer than their allocated time to complete their PhDs. They’d sometimes add a note into their thesis thanking the DHSS for financial support! There wasn’t much follow up to ensure that recipients were genuine and this did lead to system being brought into disrepute.

    Of course we on the left would argue that the abuse was much exaggerated. And it was for political reasons, but it it was still there. The change of public mood led to what we have now and it is those who genuinely do need help who have suffered.

    See the BBC link I posted earlier.

  • Peter Martin 31st Oct '20 - 9:15pm

    PS. Just Googled ‘Pat Thane’ and I now realise I should be referring to her as Prof. Thane. Apologies for that.

    She’s still wrong though!

  • Peter Martin,

    I am glad that you accept that giving everyone £48.08 a week and scrapping the Income Tax Personal Allowance will make the poorest in society better off. However, I am sadden that you don’t think it should happen. As I keep pointing out to you an unconditional benefit to replace the Poor Law was introduced by the 1945-51 Labour Government for those not entitled to payments from the National Insurance scheme.

    Are you aware that there was an economic boom in 1919-21?

    If Pat Thane tells us the thinking of the Labour government we should accept it because she is likely to have studied the cabinet papers unlike us and is therefore very likely to be correct in setting out the thinking of the Labour Government. You are wrong to assume that the Labour Government could increase spending without any considerations of how much they are increasing it by, especially as you say there were inflationary pressures and supply issues. You even say that aggregate demand had to be kept under control. (Increasing benefits would have increased aggregate demand.) They had to make choices. Even you accept there are constraints on how much the government can increase its spending by each year. There were a great many demands on government spending at this time. For example in 1946 £4 million extra was allocated to education, £38 million to family allowances (child benefits) and £10 million for development areas. Defence spending was still over 16% of GDP. They were also concerned about the ratio of the National Debt to GDP and increased in it to 243% by 1947. Thereafter they were concerned about controlling the deficit and keeping it below the level of economic growth so the ratio would fall, which it did down to 199.6% in 1950 and 178.6% in 1951.

  • Peter Martin 1st Nov '20 - 7:10am

    @ Michael BG,

    Increasing the tax free personal allowance was probably the best policy the Coalition government came up with! Scrapping that wasn’t included in my comment. My point was that if you gave any individual an extra £48.08 they would, by definition, be £48.08 better off. Temporarily.

    You might be unhappy that I don’t consider it to be a good idea – in general. Others might be unhappy with you for being so stingy and not making it a living amount. I’m not happy that you allow your political ideology to get in the way of an effective solution. ie Your so-called ‘liberal values’. You don’t think it’s a good idea to attach conditions, give the poorest a job, at £250+ pw for say 30 hours, which would make them six times better off ! Have Liberals evolved into a different political species since Beveridge’s time? He didn’t have the same problem.

  • Peter Martin 1st Nov '20 - 7:20am

    @ Michael BG,

    “Are you aware that there was an economic boom in 1919-21?”

    If there was it wasn’t instigated by the Liberal led Govt policies of the day. It was a short lived bounce back due to the high level of wartime spending. There was no “roaring twenties” in the UK. The pressure was on workers to lower their wages and ultimately this led to a general strike.

    Unemployment was high. The wartime slogan of a “land fit for heroes” was mocked.


  • Peter Martin,

    When you say £48.08 a week is peanuts, do you not understand where this figure comes from?

    The context for my discussion of this amount is on top of the existing benefit system, so a single person instead of only receiving £94.59 a week, Universal Credit, (maybe being reduced by £19.23 a week in April) would have £142.67 a week to live on, which is much closer to the poverty line for single people of £157 a week (according to the Social Metrics Foundation).

    I really don’t understand why you think I don’t want everyone to have a well-paid job (if that is what they want). Both Katharine and I want the government to have economic policies to achieve full employment as happened after the Second World War. We both want people to be given the training they need to take up the jobs available and we support the idea of job guarantees. (I think I am clearer in saying that I want the idea piloted in North East England to discover if it can be rolled-out in a liberal way and not as workfare.)

    I don’t think a salary of £13,000 is enough for most people to live on. (I am not even sure about £16,777.28 {gross}.) Please look at what I wrote about someone receiving only £12,142 (net) a year on 30th October at 4.43pm to Marco. It is clear I didn’t consider this enough to live on. I was advocating that a couple should also receive £155.30 a week in benefit. (I don’t talk of paying people minimum wages for taking a guaranteed job because there will be many situations when the person on the scheme would need more money than this to live on.)

    According to an article “Unemployment statistics from 1881 to the present day” written by James Denman and Paul McDonald in 1996 the yearly average for unemployment in 1920 was 3.9%, (with only 2.6% unemployed in June) then it rose dramatically and then declined to 9.3% in May 1924 (in April 1926 it was 9.1%).

  • Peter Martin 1st Nov '20 - 12:37pm

    @ Michael BG,

    The point of the JG is that it should be at least as much about training as working. The details have to be worked out but the concept is that it pays a living wage in return for something . When I went to university I was fortunate enough to get a grant. That grant was conditional on my attending an approved Uni course and doing enough work to avoid getting chucked out!

    So why not extend the principle for everyone and particularly younger people to train and obtain the skills needed to enter the mainstream workforce. It may be different for older workers who might be happy enough being paid to do some light work such as gardening in the local park if they have just a couple of years to retirement. The details need to be discussed.

    Bu conditionality is part and parcel of everyday life. If I want my car serviced I can pay a mechanic to service it. ‘I don’t say here’s £200. You can service my car if you like.’

    If the State is going to involve itself in the issue of poverty it needs to do the same. Pay those who need to earn some money and only those. That way resources are properly targeted. But set some conditions . The expectation is that they will find something better in the future or move on to conventional retirement.

    Beveridge wouldn’t have had a problem with this would he? Why is it illiberal now but wasn’t in his time?

  • Peter,

    Beveridge accepted the principle that people should still have an income when they are unemployed. He wanted the economy run to provide full employment so there would be jobs available for people. I have pointed out that the Labour Government didn’t want to see anyone starve to death because they were not working, or that they should rely on the workhouse and the Poor Law. (In 1939 100,000 people were housed in workhouses!) You however imply that if someone is unemployed and they will not take up a guaranteed job they should receive nothing. In the past you have said your job guarantee scheme is voluntary and no one would be forced by having no money to join it. (Or did I misunderstood what you wrote?)

    It seems that you want to talk about setting conditions, but in the end you do accept that no one should be left with no money to buy food and shelter. I think your position is really closer to mine than you wish to admit. Or do you really believe someone should be left to die homeless on the streets of Britain because they didn’t meet the conditions set to receive benefits? That these people should be treated worse than those who have committed a crime?

    When you talk about the jobs being carried out under your job guarantee it sounds like workfare with you expecting them to do manual labour or low skilled jobs no matter what job they had before they were unemployed. Do you not accept that my vision for the work carried out while in a job guaranteed job is of greater benefit to the person?

  • Katharine Pindar 1st Nov '20 - 7:02pm

    Reviewing the debate above between Peter and Michael, I am afraid I don’t think it is worth pursuing further, despite Michael’s patient, thoughtful and detailed answers. Peter makes so many generalisations, that I do wonder if he is deliberately trying to monopolise the thread in order to put off other Lib Dems from joining in a worthwhile debate and developing useful ideas..

    Perhaps the plain fact emerging is that the Lib Dems are genuinely trying to tackle the great problems of social injustice in our country. Is Labour doing that, Peter? Please tell us of their plans. We know that Mr Corbyn felt strongly about inequality, but what is being put forward to right the wrongs now?

    Examples of Peter’s generalisations which distort the facts are, for example:
    (October 29, 9.40 am). ‘All Lib Dem social proposals including the UBI are simply one way.’ And, ‘The argument is that those who do things and those who have done things should be forced to support those who unreasonably refuse to do anything.’

    Same day, 11.56 am. ‘On the one hand Lib Dems say we can’t manage without EU workers and on the other you say we need a UBI because automation and the robots will take our jobs. So there does seem to be a level of contradiction in much of Lib Dem thought.’

    And sometimes Peter’s hidden aggression breaks out into rudeness, such as when he wrote, ‘There’s more to the Beveridge Report than just the identification of the 5 social evils. Lib Dems might want to read it sometime.’ How about advising us on how to tackle present social evils in a Beveridge-equivalent Plan, Peter?

    It isn’t worthwhile to go on detailing and further publicising Peter’s generalisations. But I will conclude with another statement of his that was also made on October 29.
    ‘We already have a social contract, albeit unwritten.’

    Tell that to the millions now struggling in this country, Peter, and see if many can believe that there has been a social contract apparent in the past ten years of austerity, when living standards stood still for the majority, underfunded yet vital public services withered and the poorest, the disabled and the disadvantaged hoped in vain for fairer treatment. We have much work to do, fellow Liberal Democrats, and we certainly can’t leave it to the Labour party to do it.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Nov '20 - 12:13am


    You ask ” How about advising us on how to tackle present social evils in a Beveridge-equivalent Plan, Peter?”

    Some things need changing in the old Beveridge report. The most glaringly obvious is the need to remove the sexism and modernise the somewhat antiquated language used in it. But fundamentally it’s fine. It’s not too far off the Job Guarantee system advocated by MMT it just maybe needs a few tweaks to make it totally compatible.

    But it seems to be Michael, and some others, who think that it’s workfare in disguise. No matter how often I say the purpose of the JG should be mainly about training he’s also going to claim “it sounds like workfare with you expecting them to do manual labour or low skilled jobs”.

    If I’m wrong is saying that you don’t get much further than the identification of the five evils in the Beveridge report please point me to some other quotes I might have missed.

    PS I hope this isn’t too rude in tone. You’re quite right about the Labour Party just now, BTW, but I’m sure you don’t want to get into all that.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Nov '20 - 9:10am

    @ Katharine,

    The abolition of poverty, and the creation of full employment with living wages, may or may not be included in any social contract between Govt and people.

    I’ve never read Rousseau’s Social Contract ( and I can’t summon up the enthusiasm to make start 🙂 ) but, from what I understand, it’s about the creation a better system of governance than was typical in the 18th century. It was, arguably, the inspiration of the French Revolution.

    Largely we do now have what Rousseau was arguing for. So in that sense we do have a “Social Contract” of government by the people, albeit, many would say a far from perfect one. But even through the last difficult years it has largely held. People tend, in the main, to obey laws including those on taxation.

  • Peter,

    When I write, “When you talk about the jobs being carried out under your job guarantee it sounds like workfare with you expecting them to do manual labour or low skilled jobs no matter what job they had before they were unemployed” you replying with “No matter how often I say the purpose of the JG should be mainly about training” does not address the issue. When I talk of a job guarantee I often link it to a guaranteed training to make it clear there are two alternatives, however I do understand you see people doing training schemes but it is the nature of the jobs you think people should be doing that is the issue I raised. You wrote about someone doing gardening, at other times you write about them doing jobs that councils might find it difficult to recruit people to do. (More than half of all jobs in the UK are not manual or low skilled.) Please try to address the issue by describing what jobs you hope would be provided for those people whose previous jobs were in an office?

    You also haven’t addressed the issue of the voluntary nature of your job and training guarantee scheme. If a person consistently says no to joining such a scheme do you think they should have their benefit cut and if so by how much?

    You haven’t addressed the issue that providing no benefit to those who you consider are not looking for work or not prepared to take a job is harsher than the way we treat criminals.

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Nov '20 - 11:39am

    To clarify what William Beveridge proposed in his great Report of 1942, he recorded that it had three main sides. 1) An all-in scheme of social insurance, providing for all citizens and their families cash benefits adequate for their security and lasting for as long as needed, in return for a single weekly contribution. 2) Children’s allowances, whether their parents were earning or not. 3) A scheme of medical insurance for all.

    The Labour Government then won the General Election of 1945 ‘on a platform that promised to address Beveridge’s five Giant Evils’, according to Wikipedia. They implemented the Beveridge Report through a slew of reforms, including the National Insurance Act 1946, the National Assistance Act 1948, and the National Health Service Act 1946, with the Opposition Conservatives voting against the funding of the NHS. There was also a Pensions (Increase) Act of 1947, and a Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Act 1949.

    So the Great Evils were tackled, with reforms and developments which became known as a social contract between the peace-time government and the people. And it is the deterioration of all-needed provision in the last decade which led a shocked Philip Alston, the UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, to declare in his Report of May 2019 (paragraph 11), ” Successive Governments have brought revolutionary change in both the system for delivering minimum levels of fairness and social justice to the British people, and especially in the values underpinning it. Key elements of the post-war ‘Beveridge social contract’ are being overturned. In the process, some good outcomes have certainly been achieved, but great misery has been inflicted unneccessarily.”

    That is why Michael and I want our party to adopt a new Beveridge-2 Plan, as part of a much-needed new national social contract. And the most pressing of the five modern evils that are the equivalents of Beveridge’s is the poverty of the 14.3 million people in this country, a number which shocked Philip Alston, and a number which now must inevitably be rising.

  • Jonathan Alexander 2nd Nov '20 - 1:20pm

    I think the idea proposed in this piece of referencing Beveridge (as well as Keynes, Mill, Taylor and others) and claiming his inheritance is very smart. Repositioning the party through interrogating our roots in proper liberal thinking, rather than simply through tactical political positioning, must be the way forward (not least because we frankly haven’t been very good at the latter!). I am also interested in the frame of a new “social contract” though not completely convinced that this is language for our times.
    My main challenge to the authors I think would be to draw on some of the best initiatives developing around the country and beyond as building blocks for their approach – and to reflect on the way that the best of these are citizen-led, co-creating their outputs with people in a way that Beveridge and Keynes arguably would not have recognised. I think in our times the process will be as if not more important than the output – HOW we develop a new “social contract”, or constitution, or set of rules, or deal, or whatever, must in my mind be a truly participatory process – and indeed that participation I think will matter more to the success of such an initiative than the exact structure of output it seeks to create.
    With that point in mind, I’d point the authors to initiatives like the Wigan Deal, which is in effect a local social contract; the work Graham Allen has been leading on a Citizens’ Convention on UK Democracy, which aims to crowdsource a written constitution; to Tortoise Media’s “The Rules” project; to digital participation projects in nations like Iceland and Taiwan…
    But it’s a great contribution!

  • Peter Martin 2nd Nov '20 - 1:31pm

    @ Micahel BG,

    I didn’t say that councils should use a JG scheme to solve their recuitment problem.

    At present the condition for receipt of the JSA is a willingness to look for work. That’s a condition Beveridge advocated too. I’m not proposing anything different to what we’ve had for the last 65 years! There’s no question of putting people in jail for not wanting to dig ditches!

    @ Katharine,

    With all due respect to your writing proficiency you won’t be able “to clarify what Beveridge proposed” in a couple of paragraphs. You could simply update the old Beveridge but, from what I gather, you don’t like the details. You don’t really like this sort of thing. You think its somehow become “illiberal”.

    “..should be required, as a condition of continued benefit to attend a work or training centre, such attendance being designed as a means of preventing habituation to idleness and as a means of improving capacity for earnings”.

    Whereas I’ve no problem with it. It fits in very well with the MMT advocacy of a Job Guarantee.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Nov '20 - 2:33pm

    @ Katharine

    “An all-in scheme of social insurance, providing for all citizens and their families cash benefits adequate for their security and lasting for as long as needed, in return for a single weekly contribution.”

    I don’t know where this has come from.

    You’re making no distinction between benefit funded by contributions, and assuming that contributions had been made, which were time limited to I think 6 months, and which was just often referred to as NI benefit and much less generous other benefits which were initially known as National Assistance and later Supplementary Benefit.

    We’ve long since lost the original idea of NI which has become just another tax to be levied. Beveridge said he wanted a definite two tier system so that those who had paid in most were paid out the most too. See his quote in the link below.


  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Nov '20 - 3:13pm

    Clarifying what Beveridge proposed in a few words was very simple, since they are his own words, delivered in a Pathe News interview in 1942 which I checked again this morning. I can cheerfully therefore ignore the denigration suggested by someone who has not listened to the recorded voice of the great man himself.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Nov '20 - 4:16pm

    @ Katharine,

    There was a war still going on it 1942 and, as we all know, truth is the first causality!

    It is simply not correct to say “cash benefits adequate for their security and lasting for as long as needed”. That was putting an ultra favourable spin on his proposals to say the least. The insurance component was time limited. The NA part was means tested.

    See the link in my previous post.

    The improvement in post war living standards was entirely due to rising wages in a full employment economy. That should be the main priority now as it was then. Again, from the previous link, we can see how social benefits, from insurance, were insufficient to raise families above the poverty line.

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Nov '20 - 8:27pm

    ” Repositioning the party through interrogating our roots in proper liberal thinking” is a very welcome expression of part of what we are about, Jonathan (Alexander). Thank you very much for your thoughtful and helpful comment. I like the idea of considering citizen-led ‘building blocks’, because as you say, and all Lib Dems should surely agree, “how we develop a new ‘social contract’ must be a truly participatory process”, so I will certainly look up the Wigan Deal for a start.

    I am all in favour of work towards a Citizen’s Convention in UK Democracy which can propose a written constitution, plus I would hope electoral reform and an elected Second Chamber, but beyond such projects for the politically aware, I would like to tap into the real popular feeling of unfairness which is evident in this health crisis.

    People are bothered about care staff and other essential workers not getting sickness pay because they are in self-employment, and so going into work because they don’t count in the national furlough scheme even though they can get sick by continuing to do their jobs. These are some new ‘disadvantaged people’, and it should not be too great a step then to point out to the more fortunate that there have been many others whose lives have been effectively swept under the carpet, disregarded if not scorned, who also in fairness deserve help. Then the ‘Beveridge 2 Plan’ can seem real, with all its dimensions of giving people enough to live on regardless of their circumstances, of health and social care, housing and job provision and enough ‘digital participation projects’, indeed (with the public libraries open again where people can go to them) to enable more people to cope with the demands of modern work. People can come to feel the need for a new social contract, I believe, even though just like most folk in the 1940s probably they would not recognise the words.

  • Peter,

    I am glad that you have read about the National Assistance Act 1948 which provided benefits for people not covered by National Insurance. This was unconditional and was means-tested. I see it as part of the post-Second World War Social Contract which I wish to see restored. I don’t agree that people should only receive benefit if they take up a guaranteed job or guaranteed training. This is because the state does not know what is best for an individual more than that individual. In the past there have been government schemes which were compulsory in the sense that if unemployed person didn’t attend their benefit would be stopped. Being on these schemes has been a waste of time for some people. Therefore it is possible that some individuals forced onto these scheme would have benefited more if they had not been so forced to comply.

    Do you think there should be a national assistance scheme for those who refuse to take up a guaranteed job or training place which is less than the standard benefit level?

    I never said you wanted to put people in jail for not complying with your conditionally for benefits. I said not giving them any money was worse than putting them in prison. I am asking you to address this issue?

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Nov '20 - 1:28am

    Last word for tonight. How to engage public participation in accepting a Beveridge 2 Plan? I suggest it has to be in Social Media – the freedom unfettered by Covid 19. How about an image of a hospital worker, all rigged up with full PPE, and the slogan, Let’s pay her more . Followed closely by an image of a young graduate throwing down his mortar board, with the slogan Let’s give him a job . Over to you, Young Liberals and all artists!

  • Peter Martin 3rd Nov '20 - 1:30am

    @ Michael BG,

    The JSA has always come with a requirement that recipients should be available to work and take reasonable steps to look for work. I don’t remember Lib Dems making any objection.

    The introduction of a JG won’t change anything except to add other possible options.

    Can you answer the question of whether you agree with Beveridge on conditionality of benefits or if you think his proposals are now “illiberal”?

  • Peter Martin 3rd Nov '20 - 1:34am

    @ Katharine,

    “How to engage public participation in accepting a Beveridge 2 Plan?”

    You’ll need to write one first.

  • Peter,

    From your post of 1.30 this morning should everyone assume that you don’t think people who don’t join your job guarantee should receive any money from the state because you mention JSA, rather than saying that a reduce amount is available which has strict means-testing?

    It seems that your JG is compulsory as you link it to JSA and its conditionality and its sanction regime. Are you really undecided about whether your JG is voluntary with no sanctions for refusal to join or if it is compulsory with those not joining it receiving no benefit?

    You are mistaken, it seems that Beveridge did support national assistance and therefore his proposals were not illiberal. The quote given on the Wikipedia page you provided the link for is from the Beveridge Report. Later in the report he clearly states that if a person does not comply with the conditions such as failing to “attend a work or training centre” they should be paid national assistance.

    As you are finding answering my earlier questions so difficult perhaps you can answer the following questions:

    Would you have opposed the National Assistance Act in 1948?

    Do you oppose people who have been sanctioned receiving any benefit from the state?

  • Peter Martin 3rd Nov '20 - 1:27pm

    @ Michael BG,

    So you’re saying that it’s acceptable, ie not illiberal, to reduce payments to those who don’t toe the line? Providing they aren’t reduced to zero?

    OK I’ll go along with that. In practice it’s not going to be an issue. Hardly anyone is going to reject a helping hand. I’m not saying Beveridge is a for all time authority on the subject of social benefits but it would be helpful if you’d provide quotes to support claims made. Like at the end of the third paragraph.

    The introduction of social benefits generally, including NA, was a progressive step. The problem was they became increasingly removed from Beveridges contributions based system of payments. If you’re going to resurrect Beveridge you’d have to be effectively scrapping what we have now and going back to the system as originally designed.

    What’s your opinion on a Beveridge Report 2.0? Has anyone thought of writing that? Or is the 1.0 report still current?

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Nov '20 - 9:14pm

    This long debate here about what Beveridge meant and conditionality of benefits payment seems unfortunately to have quenched broader discussion. Yet a headline in Sunday’s Observer presented another dimension of the present struggle of some of our fellow citizens to avoid falling into poverty. It read Benefit cap leaves 500,000 tenants facing rent struggle . The text written by Tom Wall began, ‘Almost half a million low-income tenants who are claiming universal credit – many of whom were forced to apply for the benefit during the pandemic – are struggling to pay rent because if only covers the cheapest third of rents in each part of the country.‘ (My italics.) An example given is that a typical rent for a two-bedroom flat in Manchester is £850 a month, but the most a family in the city can claim is £598. So renters on UC can fall deeper and deeper into debt and eventually are in danger of losing their home and become homeless.

    It’s a striking example of how housing costs can relate to poverty, and brings (appropriately) home to me again the sheer necessity of demanding increased benefits to save people from falling into or having worsening poverty. Generation Rent is calling on the government not only to suspend evictions for arrears but also to ensure that the housing element of UC covers median rents in each part of the country. Our party needs to back them up. This is a real part of the Beveridge 2 Plan that we surely need to be campaigning for.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Nov '20 - 11:08pm

    @ Katharine,

    “……the sheer necessity of demanding increased benefits to save people from falling into or having worsening poverty. ”

    So you’re saying that no matter how high the so-called free market pushes housing rents, the only solution offered by Lib Dems is for the “taxpayer” to cough up via the benefit system? What about those on modest incomes who aren’t in receipt of benefits?

    What about taking a look at the bigger picture and looking at how other countries such as Germany manage to control the level of rents? What about doing something about the high proportion of properties which are kept deliberately empty for speculative reasons?


  • Peter,

    When you write, “In practice it’s not going to be an issue. Hardly anyone is going to reject a helping hand”, you make this whole discussion pointless. I hope you never say again all our benefits have conditionally now or after 1948. I hope you recognise that Katharine and I are not advocating changing the current benefit system into an unconditional one. Your position is now much closer to mine and Katharine and Beveridge’s in that you now are saying it is fine for there to be a lower rate of benefit for those who don’t meet the conditions for the higher rate of benefit.

    Between 1966 and 1982 unemployed people who had paid enough National Insurance contributions would receive an Earnings Related Supplement (ERS) for six months based on their earnings of the previous tax year. The National Insurance link to benefits still exists today and people who have paid the necessary contributions can claim Employment and Support Allowance and Jobseekers Allowance for six months and this is not means-tested. However the benefit a person is entitled to from their national Insurance contribution is the same value as that a person receives if they claim the means-tested version of the benefit.

    As Katharine points out the amount of the housing element of the Universal Credit and Housing Benefit does not cover even average rent levels. They only cover rents up to the 30th percentile of local rents. Our party policy should be calling for them to be restored to the 50th percentile.

    I agree with Shelter and think we should be building 3.1 million more social homes over 20 years and it seems the party is moving in this direction. The article you link to suggests that we need to improve conditions for landlords so they rent their homes out long-term and not via AirBnB. So indeed we need to come up with policies which stop rents rising ever higher. I think Britain does need some rent control measures such as setting local caps to annual rent rises and which sets a way of determining fair rent increases following improvements.

  • Peter Martin 4th Nov '20 - 4:28am

    @ Michael BG,

    It doesn’t sound very Lib Demmish but the only way the housing crisis will be solved is to interfere in the workings of the housing market. So Govt has to do whatever it takes, including with the threat of compulsory purchase and the application of punitive taxes to prevent housing being kept empty or even greatly underutilised. The govt has the power to create the economic conditions such that it is only bought as a place to live rather than as a financial investment.

    In the short term there should be a continued ban on evictions until the Covid crisis is over. When it does resume we need to see a system of fair rents and longer leases imposed to prevent landlord abuse. In return Govt should offer guaranteed rental payments to the landlord. Any rental arrears can be recovered directly by Government via the courts and even the taxation system.

    The discussion of conditionality to benefits is important to obtain public support for any new system. Without that support you are wasting your time. There is a desire to help those who need help but there is no desire that Govt should be seen to be a ‘soft touch’. When you talk about a social contract there has to be a two way obligation. You are going to have to come up with something more substantial, on the part of those being helped, than merely obeying laws and returning library books on time. That goes without saying. That’s never going to be enough.

  • Peter,

    I would want people to be given sufficient time to get a house ready for selling or to be rented. Therefore if the sole occupier dies then no council tax should have to be paid for one year. I think some of the time limits my Borough Council provides are not long enough. I think unoccupied unfurnished properties should not have to pay council tax for six months, then 50% for six months and then 100% for a year and after two years 200%. After five years my borough increases the council tax to 300%. Perhaps the higher rates should be increased with the 300% rate being applied after three years, a new 400% rate after four, a new 500% rate after five, and possibly the council could compulsory purchasing it after six years with the money being borrowed from the government and having to be repaid over 25 years. These rates should also have to be paid on unoccupied furnished properties. However, I am not sure what should happen with second homes. I also think that any unoccupied property which is being repaired, renovated or decorated should not have to pay any council tax during the first year that it is unoccupied. Do you consider these higher council tax rates punitive? In my area a band C property costs in the region of £265,000 and has to pay £1505.08 a year in council tax. 500% would be £7,7525.40.

    Lots of people believe that the current amount of benefit unemployed people receive is too low, even at the new temporary higher level of £94.59 a week as well as thinking that the £95.85 a week Statutory Sick Pay is too low. People are not currently bothered about people having had paid enough National Insurance contributions to receive help from the government. Some people are even saying that 80% of their wages is not enough. There is growing support to increase the amount unemployed people receive. We need to tap into this.

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