Inequality is at the root of our most serious social problems; it offends our desire for fairness and impedes the efficient use of human resources. One aspect of disadvantage leads to others in a vicious spiral and countries that perform badly in material equality also perform badly across a range of quality of life measures.
Without strong policies to actively promote the interests of the disadvantaged, inequality becomes self-reinforcing. Wealthier people live in areas with better schools; they can help their children through education and skills development and in the housing market and support them in helping the following generation in the competition for opportunities. At the other end of the scale, poverty traps young people, with family and friends who see education as a chore and schools that are struggling in the face of enormous difficulties. Wilkinson and Pickett assessed 21 advanced economy countries in terms of the health of society and found a clear correlation with equality. The UK came third from bottom on both their equality and their health of society measures, with only Portugal and the US performing worse.
Such disadvantages pursue an individual from the cradle to the grave. Office of National Statistics figures show that in 2013-15, life expectancy at birth was 10 years lower in the most deprived parts of England and Wales than in the least deprived. The difference in years that an individual could expect to stay healthy was even greater, at just over 50 in the most deprived areas compared to almost 70 in the least deprived, reflecting a pattern of geographical disadvantage unequalled in other parts of Europe.
The Radical Party Proposes:
- A National Programme for a Fairer Britain
- Giving Children the Best Start in Life
- Increased and Better Targetted Public Spending
- Decent Housing for All
- Tolerance and Personal Autonomy
- Freedom from Addiction and Dependence
A National Programme for a Fairer Britain
The Party believes that tackling inequality should be made the object of a national strategy with the aim of bringing the UK over a five year period from being the second worst of the 20 largest OECD countries to being one of the ten best. This should be led by the Prime Minister, should embrace all areas of ministerial responsibility and be subject to an annual report to the nation.
The strategy should address the economic causes of inequality and focus on empowering disadvantaged and vulnerable people by tackling low pay and exploitation; eliminating discrimination on grounds of gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation; ensuring decent housing for all; promoting tolerance and personal autonomy; and combating addiction and the dependence it creates.
Empowerment should be promoted at the level of the individual, through improvements to the education system and access to information, and by helping people to work together for their betterment through local authorities, community organisations, trade unions and locally-rooted media outlets.
Giving Children the Best Start in Life
Ensuring access to good quality nursery care is a key element in giving children a fair start in life and in creating conditions where mothers and fathers have access to employment, career development and training across their working lives. This is especially important in economically disadvantaged areas, which are often poorly served.
The cost of nursery care imposes a heavy burden on many parents just at a time when finances are most stretched. Meanwhile, support for nursery places for the children of parents on low incomes is generally insufficient to allow them to work full time. The Government’s “30 hours free childcare” initiative has encouraged parents who already have children in nurseries to increase their hours but has not done enough to encourage new families to send their children to nurseries, which highlights the need for better funding.
The Party considers that the UK should move as quickly as possible to a situation where nurseries are available free or at modest cost for all children, with priority in the roll-out going to families in areas of deprivation. The benefit to the economy of enabling young parents to return to work would offset the extra cost to the public purse and would bring far-reaching benefits in terms of equality of earnings and career development as between men and women. At the same time, measures should be taken to raise the terms and conditions and status of childcare workers to help address the severe problem with recruitment which the sector faces.
Increased and Better Targeted Public Spending
The Party believes spending on support for vulnerable people should be increased and that the impact of public services enhanced by focusing resources more effectively on those most in need. A substantial proportion of such people live in areas which face high overall levels of deprivation and face disadvantages which go beyond those captured by the criteria determining access to benefits, including poor physical environments, high levels of criminality and anti-social behaviour, and poor public transport access to work, hospitals and shops.
To help offset these disadvantages, additional spending should be made available for NHS facilities, education, nursery care and social services in such localities, with the emphasis on human resources, community leadership, cohesion and integration. A serious problem facing disadvantaged areas is a high turnover of staff, such as health workers and teachers, which hinders the development of local knowledge and trust. Increased funding should include resources to provide incentives to encourage such workers to maintain a longer-term commitment to the communities concerned.
Decent Housing for All
Formerly, local authorities under Labour and Conservative Governments built millions of houses, making it possible for poorer families to move into homes of a guaranteed standard on secure tenancies at affordable rents. Mrs Thatcher’s arrival to Downing Street put an end to this cross-party consensus. The capacity of local authorities to borrow to build was restricted and the number of council houses built fell from an average of 130,000 a year in the 1970s to 2,500 since 2010. As a result, there was a shortfall of over half a million units coming onto the market from 2010/11 to 2016/17, once conversions of existing buildings are taken into account. Right to Buy legislation further eroded the social housing stock, trapping many poorer families in cramped and sub-standard accommodation.
The failure of successive Governments to tackle this problem has played a large part in growing inequality. For example, according to Shelter, the shortage of houses and flats is the main reason for the rise in the number of people facing the hardship and danger of living on the street.
Initially, giving council tenants the right to buy their homes led to a rise in home ownership. But the promise of a home-owning democracy which was used to justify selling off public housing, was betrayed as prices rose, leaving increasing numbers of young people unable to get on the housing ladder and putting increased pressure on the existing stock of accommodation available for rent.
The root causes of Britain’s housing problem are a rapidly rising population, especially in the South East, and failure by the construction industry to build anything like enough affordable homes. Governments Left and Right have failed to tackle the problem because those most in need tend not to vote; because neo-conservative “public is bad, private is good” ideology has prevented local authorities providing social housing; and because the powerful construction industry prefers to hoard land in a rising market or build high-margin luxury dwellings. According to a recent study by Civitas, 80% of new homes in London are currently only affordable by 8% of the population.
Despite the shortfall in construction, the major house building companies have enjoyed super-profits in recent years, illustrated by the £100 million long-term bonus recently paid out by Persimmon to its Chief Executive. These profits are basically not the result of risk-taking or innovative construction technology, but result from two factors which fall within the ambit of public policy.
The first of these is the increase in value that results when local councils grant planning permission. A hectare of agricultural land is currently worth an average of £21,000, according to the Financial Times, but if consent is granted for housing, the value rises to over £2 million. Since 2012, local authorities have responded to the crisis by increasing the number of planning permissions by 40% but house building has increased by only 25% – to 164,000 in 2015-16, about half the number needed. Currently, local authorities claw back some of the added value by requiring developers, through ad hoc negotiations, to provide infrastructure and low-cost housing as a condition for granting planning permission. However, this does nothing to discourage the developer from delaying construction in the hope of speculative gain.
The second factor is that the Government has pursued a policy of subsidising house buyers with the professed intention of stemming the decline in home ownership through the multi-billion pound Help to Buy home equity loan scheme. While popular with key voters, the main effects of this have been to push up house prices and inflate construction industry profits. Moreover, while sold as a means of helping young people on modest incomes get onto the housing ladder, figures published in August 2018 show that some 20% of these loans have actually gone to second-time buyers who, in London, have an average income of over £70,000 a year.
The Party believes that the state should accept a fundamental obligation to ensure that the national housing stock is sufficient to meet public needs, as it is does for schools, hospitals and prisons. Three immediate steps are needed to resolve the problem:
- local authorities should be required to provide social housing for all who need it and be given the power to borrow to do so (as has recently been done for housing associations), taking advantage of the current low cost of borrowing;
- planning procedures should be reformed to ensure that sufficient sites are available (for example by making it easier for redundant commercial sites to be used for housing) and that they are actually used to provide housing. To address this situation, planning authorities should be empowered to prevent developers from hoarding land by giving councils the power to buy back housing land at its original price, should the developer delay unreasonably; and,
- cease to subsidise house-buying and use the money saved to address the needs of those who are facing the most acute housing needs, including homeless people and parents bringing up children in insecure and sub-standard accommodation.
The Radical Party is strongly in favour of increasing the proportion of the population that can buy their own homes but using scarce resources to subsidise house purchasers, is not the right way to achieve this. The best way to help all categories of home seekers is to concentrate on increasing the stock of affordable houses, thus tackling the problem of those who are in acute need of housing to rent while helping to contain rising prices.
The housing shortage and changes in the law have weakened the power of tenants vis-a-vis private landlords, leaving many at risk of being exploited or forced to leave their homes. Urgent steps should be taken to increase the security of tenure of vulnerable tenants. Consideration should also be given to how best to encourage innovative building techniques and the re-emergence of small builders to increase flexibility and choice in the housing market.
The system of tax-free Winter Fuel Payments paid tutomatically to all who are over 60 costs the exchequer approximately two billion pounds a year. Introduced to tackle hypothermia among elderly people, it is not tied to expenditure on heating and in reality serves as little more than a Christmas bonus for all who are over sixty – rich or poor. Meanwhile, excess winter deaths, which fell steadily from a five-year rolling average of 69,000 in 1961-2 to 24,000 in 2002-3, have since been on an upward trend, reaching 30,000 on the same measure in 2014-5. Some 2.4 million people, predominantly elderly people and poor families with children, now live in fuel poverty, causing increased mortality, respiratory disease and other forms of ill-health.
Reform of the system has been repeatedly discussed since it was introduced in 1997, but nothing has been done for fear of upsetting better-off voters. The system should be reformed as a matter of urgency to target the full amount on warming the homes of those most in need, thus making a substantial impact on the well-being of poor and vulnerable adults and children in the dark, cold days of winter.
Tolerance and Personal Autonomy
The Party believes that, where possible, the approach to inter-personal problems should be based on preventing harmful behaviour before it occurs, empowering potential and actual victims and balancing respect for public sensitivities with minimal interference in private life. Welcome progress has been made in addressing long-standing injustices in the law in relation to the rights of LGBT people. But in other areas, laws have been introduced and police and court practices changed, without clear evidence that these changes are proportional, will increase safety, or reduce offending. An example of this is the publication of the addresses of offenders, which has led to attacks by vigilantes and to ex-offenders going to ground, cutting them off from professional support which could help them avoid further offending.
An End to Discrimination
The Radical Party is strongly committed to equal rights on grounds of gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation and welcomes the progress that has been made, after a long struggle, in the passing of legislation permitting people of the same gender to marry. But women, members of ethnic minority communities, supporters of minority religious groups, immigrants and LGBT people continue to face widespread discrimination. They also face an enhanced risk of threats and violence, which appears to have increased as a result of rising nationalism associated with Brexit.
The problem of addressing discrimination is not now primarily one of inadequate legislation. Rather, it is a matter of empowerment, of education, of successfully challenging deep-rooted prejudice and fears, and of providing for the existing law to be enforced, to ensure that offenders are apprehended and do not re-offend. The issue of discrimination is complex and multi-facetted and calls for a holistic response, which evolves to meet changing circumstances, expectations and understanding. In developing its own response, the Party will endeavour to follow the evidence and take account of the views of representative organisations in the areas concerned.
Equal pay for work of equal value is a legal right for all employees and an essential element of a fair and just society. The slow progress made in achieving equal pay for women has been brought to public attention by revelations of gross anomalies across a range of areas of employment. The fact that the UK performs badly in this regard compared with most European countries highlights the need for better information and stronger action.
Public awareness is increasing and case law is clarifying how the equality of value of different jobs should be interpreted. Greater transparency over pay and speedier investigation and enforcement procedures are are needed together with measures to make sure women have appropriate opportunities to join trade unions. Consideration should also be given to introducing a kite mark for all employers who can demonstrate best practice, which should be taken into account in public procurement.
The right to a private life
The Party believes that adults should be allowed to live their personal lives with a minimum of involvement by politicians, the media and the courts. Changes in the law should made on the basis of evidence, not introduced as a knee-jerk reaction to media campaigns and should be informed by international best practice and not based simply on models imported from Florida and other right-wing evangelical-dominated parts of the US. The Party opposes censorship and vigilantism and supports a statutory protection for individuals from interference in their private lives by the media. Britain’s antiquated censorship laws should be reformed so that, as far as possible, activities involving consenting adults are treated as a matter for the individuals concerned.
The Party supports the call by Amnesty International for the decriminalisation of sex work and believes that those who choose freely to support themselves by providing personal services should be treated with respect and not persecuted by the law or automatically treated as victims. Legislation which makes it illegal for sex workers to share premises should, with appropriate safeguards, be removed, legitimising a range of alternatives to street work, which puts sex workers at greater risk and impacts the surrounding community. At the same time, efforts to tackle trafficking should be stepped up, along with measures to encourage sex workers to access support services, pay taxes and national insurance and integrate with society.
The Party is opposed to the suggestion that paying for personal services should be made an offence. Such a measure, which is strongly opposed by organisations representing sex workers, would aim to deny over 60,000 individuals who (according to the Treasury) currently support themselves and their dependents by providing personal services. It would also put them at risk, as it has done in Northern Ireland and France, where it has had the effect of pushing commercial sex underground, endangering the safety of those concerned and made it hazardous for clients to come forward if they encounter evidence of exploitation.
The principle of innocent until found guilty, which has been undermined in some drug and sex cases, should be respected. The practice, which has grown up in imitation of US procedures, of releasing details of individuals accused of sex crimes has a devastating effect on families and on the lives of people who may turn out to be completely innocent. The Party considers that suspects who have not been charged should have the right to anonymity, as recommended by the Home Office Select Committee. Consideration should also be given to the case for changing the law to make it possible for individuals who feel that they may be at risk of committing offences to seek professional advice without automatically being reported to the police.
The age of consent
The age of consent was raised to 16 in Britain in 1875 in an attempt to control child prostitution, which was a pervasive problem in big cities, and to reflect the moral assumptions of the time. In 2016, the Faculty of Public Health (FPH), a division of the College of Physicians, which exists to advise government on health matters, reviewed the evidence from Britain and around the World and found that the age of consent varies in Europe from 14 in Germany and Italy to 17 in Ireland and 18 in Romania. Research indicated that about a third of boys and girls in the UK had had sexual intercourse before 16. The FBH study found that, on average, teenagers started having sex later and the incidence of unwanted pregnancy and venereal disease was actually lower, not higher, among young people in countries where the age of consent was lower.
On the basis of this evidence, it recommended that the age of consent in the UK be reduced to 15, arguing that this would give teachers and other professionals who work with young people a firmer legal footing for giving honest guidance and would improve access for teenagers to professional advice on contraception and relationships. While the NSPCC responded that it intended to consider the Faculty’s recommendation, the Conservative Prime Minister, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party’s Shadow Health Minister all categorically rejected the findings of the report within hours of its appearance.
The Radical Party does not have a position on what the age of consent should be. It does, however, consider that a law that makes it a criminal offence for 15-year-olds to engage in petting, increases the incidence of teenage pregnancy and disease, and puts parents and professionals who seek to protect young people at risk of prosecution, should be urgently reviewed. It also considers that the Government and opposition parties should listen carefully to the advice of competent professionals on the issue and not simply use it as a means of currying favour with reactionary sections of the press.
Freedom From Addiction and Dependence
Addiction to dangerous psycho-active drugs, such as heroin and crack cocaine, and the misuse of prescription medicines and so-called legal-highs, is a complex world-wide issue. It causes enormous suffering and plays a central role in many health, social, economic, security and law enforcement problems. In the long run, the hope must be that pharmacological solutions are found, but the present pace of progress suggests that, if indeed such a breakthrough is ever achievable, it is likely to take many years.
In the meantime, the Party believes that Britain should follow a research-based response, which starts from acknowledging that the current punishment-centred approach is not working, understands that valuable lessons can be learnt from experience in other countries, and recognises the crucial links between social deprivation and inappropriate correctional policies and drug-related criminality.
Unfortunately, in the present state of knowledge, there is no single silver bullet which will solve the problem of the drugs trade and drug abuse, as legal restraints on the use and sale of dangerous drugs have both negative and positive effects.
On the negative side, they create an opening for criminality in consuming and in producing countries. But at the same time, the evidence shows that they reduce consumption, both by pushing up prices on the street and by stigmatising drug use. In this way, they do reduce the incidence of the physical and psychological effects that addiction can have on addicts, their families and the surrounding communities. The Party believes that while the supply of currently illegal drugs should continue to be a matter for the police, using them should in future be treated as a medical and not as a criminal matter (see Objective 5, below).
At the same tome, tackling social deprivation and enriching the opportunities for vulnerable young people should be brought to the centre of strategy for tackling drug abuse. The impact of initiatives to relax controls on the use of drugs in other countries should be periodically reviewed and lessons applied. More resources should also be made available for evidence-based initiatives to persuade young people to abstain from experimenting with dangerous substances and for research to establish which approaches are most effective.
Problem and addictive gambling is an issue that is little discussed but which has a devastating impact on victims and their families, with authoritative estimates putting the number of victims in the UK at approximately 400,000. The social consequences of the problem are particularly serious because a high proportion of victims are poor people from disadvantaged backgrounds, who can be severely affected by the economic burden it imposes. In addition, the impact of problem gambling is often exacerbated by other handicaps, including unemployment and dependency on alcohol and harmful drugs.
The refusal of both the Conservative and Labour Parties to acknowledge the seriousness of this problem is highlighted by the Blair Government’s astonishing espousal of a plan by US-based gambling interests to establish a network of super casinos in seaside towns (which, to his credit, Gordon Brown blocked when he became Prime Minister). Recent proposals to tackle the scandal of high stake machine betting, which research indicates is linked to addiction, are to be welcomed but need to be further tightened and accompanied by stricter controls on the promotion of gambling.
The failure by politicians to face up to the problem of addictive gambling is directly linked to the laxity of our system of governance, which helps the gambling industry put pressure on ministers and MPs both through direct lobbying and also by funding research by ostensibly independent bodies. Such research dominates much of the literature on the subject and tends to stress that the number of victims is stable and in line with the situation in other countries, rather than the devastating impact it is actually having on hundreds of thousands of victims and their children and partners.
Many people at one tme or another engage in one or other kind of gambling and it is clear that for the great majority of participants it is simply a form of recreation. It is also true, as the industry regularly points out, that the existence of the internet means that controlling some forms of betting would be virtually impossible. On the other hand, it is clear that there are steps that the Government could take which would, while not eliminating problem gambling completely, considerably improve the situation.
With this objective, the Party considers that the Government should ban high impact advertising and cash inducements, such as free plays, designed to encourage new customers into gambling and should consider further reducing the maximum stake allowed in high-frequency machine betting to £1. It should also require promoters to provide clear, realistic and readily accessible information on the likely costs and returns of gambling to customers.
SUMMARY OF PROPOSALS
Programme for a Fairer Britain
- develop a five year national programme to bring the UK from being the third worst major OECD member country in terms of equality to being one of the ten best;
- publish an annual review of progress in all relevant areas;
- decant the strategy to local authorities and public agencies;
- build empowerment into all aspects of the strategy.
Getting the Most From Public Spending
- increase public spending on NHS services, education and nursery care in regions, districts and wards which face the worst levels of deprivation;
- bring benefits not now liable to tax into the income tax net and use the additional revenues raised to enhance benefits for those on low incomes.
Decent Housing for All
- oblige local authorities to provide housing for all in need and give them the power to borrow to do so;
- empower councils to purchase land with planning permission at its unimproved value if development is delayed;
- let planners allow conversion of redundant High Street premises to residential use and relax restrictions to meet housing needs;
- encourage the re-emergence of small builders and the introduction of innovative building techniques;
- expand home ownership by increasing the supply of homes to avoid stimulating price rises and further indebtedness;
- increase the security of tenure of vulnerable tenants;
- ensure that bus fares do not discriminate against poor people who live in peripheral estates;
- replace universal tax-free winter fuel payments with energy-saving improvements to help vulnerable people out of fuel poverty.
Tolerance and Personal Autonomy
- tackle discrimination, empower, challenge prejudice and fears, and ensure the law is enforced effectively;
- follow the evidence and the views of representative organisations in the areas concerned.
- balance security and respect for public sensitivities with minimal interference in people’s private lives;
- decriminalise sex work and change the law to allow sex workers to share premises;
- tackle trafficking and encourage sex workers to integrate with society;
- restore the principle of innocent until found guilty and give suspects who have not been charged the right to anonymity;
- allow those at risk of committing offences to seek help without automatically being reported to the police;
- ensure the age of consent reflects the safety of young people on the basis of the best available evidence.
Freedom from Addiction and Dependence
- continue to treat supplying illegal drugs as a crime but treat their use as a medical, not a police matter;
- bring tackling social deprivation to the centre of policies for tackling drug abuse;
- increase resources for evidence-based initiatives to persuade young people to abstain from experimenting with drugs;
- periodically review the impact of drugs policy in, for example, Portugal, the Netherlands and progressive US states and explore how they can best be applied;
- ban high impact advertising and cash inducements designed to encourage new recruits into gambling;
- require promoters to provide customers with clear, realistic and accessible information on the true cost of gambling.