Now is the time to talk about a good society, argues Compass paper
Compass last week published a paper Towards a Good Society, written by Ruth Lister, Labour peer and the outgoing chair of the Compass board. Cries of ‘we cannot go back to normal’ can be heard across the political spectrum, with a unified progressive call to #BuildBackBetter. The editorial board of the Financial Times calls for ‘radical reforms’ and notes that ‘policies until recently considered eccentric, such as basic income and wealth taxes, will have to be in the mix’. As Lister says, ‘now is absolutely the time to talk about how we envision a good society’, setting out what she sees as its ‘main building blocks’.
‘Each individual should have enough money and access to decent public services to ensure material security as part of a fairer and more equitable distribution of society’s resources.’
People should ‘be able to count on a decent wage’ and ‘if they cannot contribute through paid work … they should be able to rely on decent benefits’. All citizens must have ‘the means for a dignified life … regardless of employment status’. Lister quotes the economist J K Galbraith: ‘there are many visions of the good society; the treadmill is not one of them’, and touches upon the calls for a shorter working week. She notes that the ‘growing support for some form of a universal basic income speaks to these questions of time and material security’.
Lister then turns to ethical and democratic building blocks and ‘the need for time to care, a fairer distribution of caring responsibilities and a rewards structure that attaches greater value to care work – both paid and unpaid’. She also calls for a culture of human rights to be embedded within policy-making that ‘challenges intersecting inequalities associated with race and ethnicity, gender, disability, sexuality and age’. This can be seen in the Scottish government’s legislation which states that ‘respect for the dignity of individuals is to be at the heart of the Scottish social security system’. The new system also includes ‘user-involvement’, acknowledging calls for people with experience of poverty to be treated as ‘experts by experience’. The report talks about the need for:
‘45 Degree politics i.e. bringing together the vertical axis of mainstream politics and the horizontal access of more informal forms of politics, with an emphasis on participatory deliberation.’
In terms of cultural building blocks, the report argues that ‘we should all be able to enjoy culture and beauty … including the beauty of the natural environment’, recognising its importance to mental health. A good society would also allow people to flourish throughout their lives, ‘with special emphasis perhaps on childhood and older age as periods when people are more likely to be dependent on others’.
Finally, Lister argues that a good society must be ‘outward-looking, demonstrating solidarity with and fulfilling its responsibilities to the wider world and also the planet’. This would involve ending the hostile environment that underpins immigration policy and developing ‘a more inclusive approach to asylum-seekers and refugees’. The report acknowledges that of course any good society has to be a sustainable one. As stated in the Green New Deal, ‘environmental policies cannot be divorced from socio-economic inequalities’. It is therefore imperative that ‘the transition to a more sustainable future is a just transition that protects marginalised groups’.
Lister notes that this kind of thinking already informs the approach of Scotland’s Just Transition Commission, the Welsh Well-being of Future Generations Act, and New Zealand’s Wellbeing Budget. She concludes that:
‘What we do now, during this terrible crisis, will matter for what comes next. Through our everyday actions, supporting each other with care and kindness, we can sow the seeds of a good society.’
Read the full report here.
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