Talking Points: August 2018
The government’s new Civil Society Strategy …
August has seen the launch of the government’s new Civil Society Strategy. Civil Society Media quotes Jeremy Wright, the culture secretary: ‘Our plans stand side-by-side with the Industrial Strategy, supporting its drive to grow the economy, while creating an environment where people and communities are at the heart of decision-making. … These ambitious plans will harness the expertise of volunteers, charities and business to help people take a more active part in their local areas.’
… and collapsing local government
The new strategy has been launched against a backdrop of collapsing local government. Northamptonshire County Council has more or less thrown in the towel, with more councils set to follow suit, as reported by Aditya Chakrabortty. A ‘silent crisis’ in the care system has left more than 13,000 children with unacceptable levels of support from local authorities, according to the Social Market Foundation thinktank.
Chakrabortty lays the blame for all this on austerity and outsourcing – what he terms ‘pulverism’ – while Simon Jenkins blames a ‘degree of centralised government unparalleled in any major democracy’. While 95 per cent of British taxation is controlled by the centre, the figure is 60 per cent in France and 50 per cent in the US. A wide range of local services should be supplied through local decision making, he says.
… and an avalanche of bad news on poverty and life expectancy
Research by the Child Poverty Action Group suggests that low-earning parents working full-time are still unable to earn enough to provide their family with a basic, no-frills lifestyle, even if they are paid the National Living Wage. Citizens Advice reports that households have fallen behind on essential bills like council tax and electricity by almost £19 billion, and ‘families are living in fear’ of bailiffs turning up. The Guardian reports that the four-year freeze on housing benefit is leaving low-income tenants facing ‘heat, eat or pay rent’ choices. The New Statesman reports an increasing number of private landlords and letting agencies refusing to rent to people on housing benefit, putting people at risk of homelessness, while the Independent reports at least 651 previously unaccounted-for food banks operating across Britain. Finally, in the US and parts of the UK, the rise in life expectancy has not only slowed down but actually reversed, owing to what Will Hutton terms ‘shit-life syndrome’.
Yet again, people in poverty need more power
Whether government or charities are involved, they don’t do enough to give people power, says Julia Unwin. ‘From housing to regeneration to community cohesion,’ she writes, ‘often they [people] feel they have the wisdom, collectively, to solve the problems they face. But they do not have the power to do so.’ Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Claire Ainsley echoes the need for people in poverty to have more power if we are to open up democracy.
A similar point is made by Leila Patel and Marianne Ulriksen, writing about Doornkop, Soweto, in South Africa. Often missing from conversations about ‘solutions to poverty and social exclusion’, they say, is ‘a perspective that privileges the knowledge, experience, capacities, aspirations and efforts of citizens and communities to improve their lives.’
What is behind the rise in poverty?
Gordon Brown, speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, attacked Britain’s failure to tackle growing child poverty, laying the blame on ‘deep cuts to tax credits and benefits’. Meanwhile the Guardian reports that the government has secretly drawn up plans to investigate whether the government’s own policies, particularly the move to universal credit, are to blame for the sharp rise in the use of food banks – a possibility they have always been reluctant to accept. At the same time the United Nations is carrying out its first investigation into extreme poverty in the UK.
Universal basic income or universal basic services: the debate continues
This is the title of an article by Anna Coote of NEF, one of a spate of articles on UBI and UBS that appeared in August. She quotes Luke Martinelli: ‘an affordable UBI would be inadequate, and an adequate UBI would be unaffordable’ and makes the case ‘for more and better collective services’. ‘Will this put us all on a slippery slope towards more state control and an increasingly passive, patronised population?’ No, she says, but we need to take a more collective approach, so as to ‘enable people to gain control over decisions and actions that matter to them’, reserving ‘a vital role for government, to ensure equal access, guarantee standards and distribute resources’. The State of Nature blog brings together a range of voices in response to a single question: Do we need a Universal Basic Income?
The case for UBS – in developing and developed countries
Professor Himanshu of India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University distinguishes the drivers for UBI in developed and developing countries. ‘Unlike in the developed world,’ he says, ‘the clamour for UBI in developing countries, particularly India, has been not as much due to a fear of automation and unemployment but a response to “inefficient” public spending on social sector schemes.’ He makes the case for UBS: ‘What India needs at this moment is not an expensive adventure like UBI at the cost of all other government expenditure but a push towards universal access to basic services by all sections of the population provided by the government. Such a proposal for universal basic services (UBS) should be a pre-condition before UBI can be considered.’
A blog called ‘Dyna Mick: Thoughts about the world’ makes the case for UBS in developed countries. ‘How do we solve the coming decimation of jobs through automation?’ Mick asks. Arguing that ‘the practical and political issues with the UBI mean it will only serve as a temporary salve for the underlying problems’, he concludes that ‘progressives must argue for Universal Basic Services, drawing on the history of publicly provided health and education services to build a state fit for the 21st century’.
All this discussion and more is brought together by the UBS Hub.
‘Talking Points’ is collated by Caroline Hartnell, who convenes the Rethinking Poverty blog.
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