Launch of the moral case campaign for adequate minimum incomes and truly affordable housing - The good health and well-being of every UK citizen in or out of work must become a national priority.

23 November 2018

For the health and wellbeing of low income men, women and children to flourish the minimum household income must be enoughto buy ahealthy diet, water, fuel, clothes, transport and other necessities, AFTER the rent, council and income taxes are paid

The launch of  the moral case campaign for adequate minimum incomes and truly affordable housing took place at the Houses of Parliament on the 1st November 2018 in the Attlee Room, Portcullis House, chaired by Debbie Abrahams MP.

A few days later Professor Philip Alston, special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, began his tour of the UK and produced his unsurprising but devastating statement describing the suffering of impovershed people he met.  

The time has come for the anti-poverty lobby to set our own national objectives to relieve the debt, hunger and ill health of impoverished UK citizens.

  1. The good health and well-being of every UK citizen in or out of work must become a national priority.
  2. The level of the statutory minimum wage, unemployment benefits and pensions must be set by referring to minimum income standards research, with particular attention given to maternal nutrition.
  3. Rents must be controlled.

Such policies for preventing poverty-related mental and physical ill health, infant deaths and shortened lives, with adequate minimum incomes and truly affordable housing can be paid for by capturing for the public good a small percentage of the large increases in the value of British land. That ought to lead to the abolition of council tax and business rates, and even to a reduction of income tax. Land value is currently captured only for private benefit, much of it by national and international speculators. 

Below are the links to the slides presented at the launch of the campaign setting out how adequate minimum incomes and truly affordable housing can be achieved and paid for. 

The index of nine relevant blogs on health equality is on our website by Dr Angela Donkin of the Institute of Health Equity, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett of the Equality Trust and Carl Walker, of the University of Brighton and of Psychologists Against Austerity, Madeleine Power, of the University of York.  

20 years after the publication of the first modern UK research into minimum-income standards 

Rev Paul Nicolson, founder Taxpayers Against Poverty ​& Zacchaeus 2000 Trust

Nick Sagovsky, Visiting Professor, Department of Theology & Religious Studies, King's College London

Land and housing

Fred Harrison, executive director, Land Research Trust

Ted Gwartney, appraiser and consultant in municipal finance, US government
 

The ethics of professional institutions

Stephen Hill, director, C2O Futureplanners

SUMMARY

Pat Jones, CBE,– Formerly chief operations officer of Depaul International

TAP launch of Moral Campaign for Adequate Minimum Incomes and truly Affordable Housing. 

Paul’s brief to me was to sum up and comment. This is clearly impossible as we have heard a wealth of arguments, backed up by data, and proposals for change. I’m going to pick out four threads from the presentations and discussion and see if we can construct connections and questions.

The first concerns what’s broken in our society and who is paying the cost.

We began from Paul and Nicholas both providing analysis of the impact of inadequate incomes and a failing social safety net. Two points struck me as particularly crucial: Paul’s insistence that we’re talking about social security for all, whilst it is the most vulnerable groups who currently bear the cost of inadequate or dysfunctional systems; and Nicholas’ diagnosis of a crucial question, about the gap between benefits levels and low wages, and how this is justified.

Fred, Ted and Stephen came from different angles, analysing the structural economic and fiscal policies and systems that operate to produce these social realities, and arguing a powerful case for the remedies and alternatives that we need to pursue.

This is not a complete set of perspectives; we’ve skimmed the surface. We miss, for example, a gender analysis of poverty. I was glad that an audience member drew attention to the impact of broken systems on women who are mothers. We have not looked in any detail at destitution or conditionalities. The recent JRF work on destitution is significant here[1], and the Welfare Conditionality Project involving six UK universities.[2] These are only three of the other areas relevant to this campaign. There are others. But we have enough to get a purchase on the focus of this campaign.

What we see here are three intersecting social and political instruments that are fractured:

  • The first is the social contract around welfare. As a society we need to recover a sense that welfare is a contract or covenant in which we all have a stake, not just the vulnerable or those who are poor. I wonder if we need to rediscover and re-interpret the Beveridgean concept of social security or social insurance, which is more strongly communal and inclusive of all than the concept of welfare which is increasingly degraded by ideological battles.  We may be reaching a tipping point in recognising that the security we thought we could rely on as a society is now no longer what we want or intend.
  • The second is the social contract around taxation. As with social security understood in its true sense, this is not just a state function but a shared enterprise, aimed at the social good of all. Its ethical base has been over-politicised, reducing the choices available to us. Ted and Fred have shown us clearly that alternatives exist. It’s no small matter to propose re-structuring the base of taxation. But in regard to a land value tax, perhaps this is a tide that’s beginning to turn. Larry Elliott in the Guardian described it as ‘an idea whose time has come’.[3] The IPPR Report, ‘The Invisible Land’ makes a detailed case.[4] So does a recent Institute of Economic and Social Research report by John Muellbauer of Oxford University.[5]
  • The third is the way in which as a society we treat housing and the housing market. Stephen has diagnosed some of the pathologies here. Successive governments have failed to use the levers they could employ to resist the financialisation and commodification of housing. When real social costs are factored in, this is costing us all. Leila Farhani, the UN special rapporteur says governments are ‘far too deferential’ towards global capital markets.

We have also recognised some of the knots and dilemmas to be unpicked: the complexity of agreeing what is adequate; the loss of trust in professions and politics; the fact that the current systems have made my generation too comfortable, beyond any of the aspirations of our working-class parents. There are others, such as the hollowed out local authorities forced to sell assets resulting in situations like the Liverpool tower block filled with families in receipt of Housing Benefit in which 80% of the flats are foreign owned.[6] Danny Dorling said a couple of years ago that we have more housing than we ever had before; we just share it out more unfairly.

The second thread is about staking out common ethical ground

In different ways, our speakers have staked out ethical frameworks, and propose these as common ground.

  • Paul is unequivocal in his starting point; we are making a moral case for the unacceptability of what’s currently happening to families threatened with homelessness and for the imperative to enable adequate minimum incomes and truly affordable housing for all.
  • Nicholas located the moral case not just in basic levels of need which a good society should enable people to meet, but also in the more significant concept of capability, the potential to flourish. There is much to discuss here. Working in the charity sector, I’m struck by how deeply the concept of ‘need’ is embedded. I find helpful the work of Lansley and Mack and others re-defining need as ‘enforced lack’, in other words, deprivation, which means someone or something is depriving. There are structures and policies that create need. The creeping sense that need is personal misfortune or failure needs to be called out. How we conceptualise what happens to people matters. People should not be made to bear responsibility for social and economic forces that act upon their lives.
  • Ted and Fred’s moral ground lay in proposing a taxation base and system that expresses greater social and ecological justice.
  • Stephen also staked out a further area of common ground in his discussion of professional ethics and the concept of public interest. He proposed an ethical focus of ‘being for the other’. I would go further, and draw on the concept of the common good to propose ‘we are all really responsible for all’.[7]This concept asserts that for all of us, our well-being and flourishing is bound up with the well-being and flourishing of everyone. Inherent in this is the principle that the test of a good society is whether we enable the flourishing of what one political thinker calls ‘vulnerability classes’.

The question being asked of all us here is whether we can own this as ethical common ground, take is as an example of John Rawls ‘overlapping consensus’. We come from different life-stances; faith-based, political, ethical. We desire outcomes that need the widest possible recognition and ownership. We make a moral claim. This is a challenge in a plural, uneasy and insecure context, and a fragmented and noisy culture.

The underlying intuition we’re aiming to trust is that people have a moral instinct which will open the doors to what we propose; that people can discover an innate sense of justice, some better angels of their nature. And that together we both construct and discover the common good, which is larger than the public interest.

We have to find the ways to help that happen. We have to re-create the social imaginary, the sense of a shared moral horizon, that is still held when we talk about the NHS but fragmented and at risk when we talk about social security.

The third thread is what I’m calling passionate reasoning.

Here I’m asking a question of all of us, and perhaps particularly of Paul, whose initiative started this. In launching a campaign, do we intend to provoke and energise a genuine national conversation; or is our aim to lobby as expertly and powerfully as we can for particular political reforms? Charities today all have to have a theory of change; what’s ours? I don’t mean what are the social outcomes we desire – but how do we get there?

The many lessons of Brexit debates lurk here. There’s also a tension between the desirability of wide engagement in pursuit of social or cultural shifts and the urgency of achieving something now, because people are dying. At least 440 people died on the streets last year, according to The Guardian a few weeks ago. The number has doubled over the past five years. Lives are being shattered; the current case of the boy left to live in a tent is just one shocking example.[8]

But the analysis we’ve begun is fairly fundamental. It’s not about small improvements to Universal Credit or more help for homebuyers. It’s about the long arc rather than the quick fix; about moving beyond short-termism. Perhaps it’s both kinds of campaign. A wider campaign, combining both multiple strands of lobbying and social and cultural conversation has a bigger task; to extend the ethical common ground, by inviting many more people to stand on it, and by making it stronger by adding other insights, models and commitments.

A wider campaign of this kind is tricky in an era in which political debate so often seems to have caught the post-truth syndrome. If it’s truly a conversation about communal social and political ethics and choices, it has invite people to re-discover a kind of practical and honest reasoning that is barely visible in much political rhetoric. It needs passion, too, and hospitality to a range of personal commitments and worldviews; what William Galston names ‘value pluralism’. It’s the kind of conversation that Citizens groups engage in; that organisations like Together for the Common Good promote, that think tanks resource.[9] It’s a conversation that re-builds the trust that Stephen diagnosed as lost. Ultimately of course, this challenges the individualism that liberal states are prone to promoting.

The point here resonates with Martha Nussbaum’s account of capabilities which Nicholas quoted. A campaign of this kind does not just talk about the change that is needed; it enacts it, by inviting people to participate and take - perhaps not control, which is pretty illusory - but responsibility. Stephen also talked about this. It’s no more and no less than, in his words, ‘re-building democracy’, from the bottom up.

So part of the ground we’re staking out here is about restoring ethical reasoning and wider participation in politics. It’s about re-discovering reasoning, not just slogans or ideology, not even just competing truth claims, whether dodgy or otherwise; but a process of conversation.

The fourth and final thread is refuting TINA.   

It’s not true that there are no alternatives. One of the striking messages of what we’ve heard is that there are alternatives; there are other models. There are identifiable and achievable strategies, political levers and fiscal tools, to tackle and re-build the broken structures. These are found not just in those set out by speakers here, but in many other institutions, social movements and campaigns. There are many people already working at participative democracy, housing alternatives, reform of land ownership through CLTs, and detailed and viable proposals for legislative and fiscal change. Even the state is trying some new things, dipping toes into Housing First and creating new local authority partnerships with not-for-profits to build social housing.[10] There are social entrepreneurs and local politicians driven by desperation to try new things.

There’s also something significant here in the scope of Ted’s proposal. The scope of what we’re talking about isn’t just reform; it’s re-thinking the fundamental assumptions.

So in regard to social security, it’s about re-constructing the debate, to focus on communal and reciprocal flourishing; getting beyond the moral hazard argument to something more important.

This is not just about what the state does or about the size of the state. It’s about the multiplicity of social actors, corporates as well as communities, civil society as a whole. But within that, this campaign requires being clear about the specifics of what the state must do. Stephen stressed the state’s role in creating conditions that reduce volatility. Getting clear what conditions we expect the state to engineer is part of the task ahead. Julian Baggini talked in a recent article about giving people the resources they need to live better; not cash handouts but facilities, conditions; we know what many of these are; libraries; bus passes; social housing; and the new ones; car pools; real sharing economy; it’s about access rather than ownership.

 

[7] Drawn from Catholic Social Teaching, Pope John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 38.

Pat Jones, CBE,– Formerly chief operations officer of Depaul International. 


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