Instead of Going Back to Victorian Times, Let's Go Forwards to a New Age of Common Good

Monday, 11 December 2023

During my 32 years of campaigning, I have worked with numerous people and organisations, irrespective of their political hue as collaboration is the key to success.

One such organisation was The Centre for Social Justice whom I worked with on two poverty and social justice reports, the modern-day slavery campaign that paved the way for Mrs May’s Modern Day Slavery Act 2015, and their CSJ Alliance network of charities, social enterprises, and other organisations. Whilst I left after five years, I still closely follow and respect their research and reports.

On 10 December the CSJ published one of the most shocking reports I have read for years. It was not the issues that the report uncovered that was shocking, but the depth of what their research found. The report found that the UK is in danger of sliding back into the “Two Nations” of the Victorian era marked by a widening gulf between mainstream society and a depressed and poverty-stricken underclass.

Our country, the sixth-largest national economy in the world measured by nominal gross domestic product (GDP), ninth-largest by purchasing power parity (PPP), and twenty-first by nominal GDP per capita is declining at an alarming rate with 13.4 million people leading lives marred by family fragility, stagnant wages, poor housing, chronic ill health and crime.

COVID exposed what many of us feared, that inequality, lack of opportunity and an increasing wealth gap were leading to the rise in populism, and division fuelling an emergence of right-wing politics. The State of Poverty In The UK Report - argues that the most disadvantaged in Britain are no better off than 15 years ago. Their findings are stark and are having a "catastrophic effect" on the nation's social fabric. 

During lockdown:

• Calls to a domestic abuse helpline rose 700%
• Severe absence from school jumped 134%
• 1.2 million more people went on working-age benefits
• 86% more people sought help for addictions
• Prisoners were locked up for 22.5 hours per day.

Amongst our children and teenagers, there is an epidemic of mental health and self-harming. Twenty years ago, just one in nine children were assessed as having a clinically recognisable mental health problem. That figure is now one in five - rising to nearly one in four for those aged 17-19.

Amongst the working population, over 2.6 million people are economically inactive because of long-term sickness, an increase of nearly 500,000 since the COVID-19 pandemic with over half of those signed off (53%) reporting depression, bad nerves or anxiety. According to the report "The most disadvantaged view mental ill health as the biggest factor holding them back, which only comes fifth for the general public."

With some 7.8 million people on the NHS waiting list, the workforce on its knees and an aging population, we need to think very differently about the funding and functioning of the NHS.

True & Fair Policy Proposal:

Some £10.5bn a year could be generated by placing a 10p transaction tax on online purchases. This plan would see business rates scrapped in favour of a tax that applies equally to online and bricks and mortar stores.

True & Fair proposes earmarking the funds from online transactions to revitalise struggling high streets and foster local economic rejuvenation by transforming town centres into ‘health and happiness environments’ where shop fronts would be used to combine job search facilities, legal aid provision, retraining, respite care, debt counselling, walk-in therapies, and assistance to access.

state support such as pension credit, universal credit and top-up credits that go unclaimed. Places that become the heart and soul of communities.

Resting on our Laurels Fuels the Rise of Right-Wing Politics

With the UK declining more than our peers due to poor leadership and the unique effects of Brexit, we are experiencing a shift towards right-wing politics akin to what we are witnessing in Western democracies with very similar economic models and social structures. This political shift has ushered in policies that prioritise market deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, and reduced social safety nets.

While proponents argue that these policies stimulate economic growth, they tend to disproportionately benefit the upper echelons of society and exacerbate income inequality. They are not just taking us back to Victorian times, but a feudal society where those who own land (modern equivalents also include data, communications channels and commodities.) Them and us is not just a feeling, it is a deliberate strategy and an economic model that is an affront to basic human values.

The Looming Threat of Technological Disruption and Climate Change

In addition to income inequality, the widespread adoption of technology poses a significant threat to the job market. Automation, artificial intelligence, and other technological advancements have the potential to displace a substantial number of jobs, particularly those in routine or manual tasks. This shift in the employment landscape could further exacerbate income inequality and create a host of economic and societal challenges.

Climate change is also expected to have a wide-ranging impact on work and the workplace in various ways. From a shift in industries and job markets to increased demand for skills related to environmental management, sustainability, and green technologies, necessitating significant retraining and education for the workforce. Rising temperatures and extreme weather events will make outdoor work more challenging and hazardous, potentially leading to changes in working conditions and hours to ensure safeguards against increased health risks, leading to higher healthcare costs for employers.

A study conducted by the Place-Based Climate Action Network (PCAN) found that the transition to net zero could impact around six million jobs in the UK and have a huge impact on international supply chains.

True & Fair Policy Proposal:

Develop more local supply chains, especially in food, water, and energy.

Put in place incentives to encourage increased corporate responsibility and ethics to encourage companies to adopt sustainable practices, impacting their operations, and staffing policies that are more than tick-box exercises. Boost collaborative, partnership projects and working between the private, public and charity sectors.

A True & Fair Vision - a Kindness Economy

I have detailed a few of our policy ideas, within a True & Fair vision and plan for a kindness economy that prioritises health and happiness that places cohesion and care at the centre of communities, strengthening local economies, partnerships between businesses, public services and charities centred around welfare and well-being, equitable distribution of resources, and an emphasis on fairness.

Proactively addressing the potential job displacement caused by automation and technology by investing in reskilling and upskilling programs to ensure that workers can transition into new roles. Encourage innovation that focuses not only on productivity but also on environmental sustainability and societal well-being. Reforming and investing in education, healthcare, and mental health services to empower individuals to adapt to changing economic landscapes and lead healthier, more caring and fulfilling lives.

Progressive taxation policies that can ensure that the wealthiest individuals and corporations contribute their fair share to support essential services and social safety nets. Encouraging a triple bottom line of people, profit and the planet.

We are facing a confluence of challenges as we shift rightward politically, witness growing income inequality, and grapple with the looming threat of technological disruption. Transitioning towards a kinder and more responsible type of economics is crucial to address these challenges comprehensively. By re-evaluating economic priorities and prioritising the well-being of all citizens, we can forge a path to a more equitable and secure future. If politicians and leaders do not act, the social foundations we have taken for granted for decades will continue to crack and who knows where we will end up.

True & Fair Policy Proposal

To attract young people to work and remain in our public services, we propose a Student Loans Write-off Scheme where 50% of student loans are written off if someone stays in a public service organisation - NHS, civil service, teaching, care sector - after five years. And a 100% write-off for those who remain for over seven years.

One of the most damning lines in the CSJ Report is that “No political party appears to have a plan to match the scale of the issues.”

In truth, the road ahead will be challenging because so much has been neglected in our country, but with the policies and discussions True & Fair is passionate about engaging the public with - a collective commitment, we believe can navigate these challenges successfully. That is why we have come together to form a movement for truth and fairness where we are not afraid to break the rules, speak out against the status quo and instigate great conversations, ideas and actions.

In summary, our policies and suggestions are a collection of pragmatic stepping stones to get us to the other side of the biggest conversations and actions required since the Second World War. A necessity we believe we must embark upon as the stewards of the future for our children and grandchildren.

Please have a look at our policy work to date, and tell me your thoughts at [email protected]. If you agree, join us and help build a movement passionate about preparing our country for a future of possibilities, not problems.

Gina Miller – Leader of the True & Fair Party and Parliamentary Candidate for Epsom and Ewell.