By Anna Coote
Feb 17, 2015
How do we live together and relate to one another? How can we make sure that everyone has an equal chance to lead a fulfilling and secure life? What’s the best way to help each other when things go wrong that we cannot cope with alone?
These are just some of the challenges facing our society today. They raise wider questions about our relationship with each other and with the government, the role of the welfare state, and the quality of everyday life.
In a major new report out today, we set out proposals for a new social settlement. It defends and builds on the best of Britain’s welfare state but calls for urgent changes, because there are new risks that threaten our well-being and our future: widening social and economic inequalities; accumulations of power by wealthy elites; and the imminent danger of catastrophic damage to the natural environment.
Our new social settlement has three goals:
- Social justice – wellbeing and equality are essential for people to lead a good, fulfilling life, and to participate in society.
- Environmental sustainability – we must live within environmental limits to ensure that the natural resources needed for life are protected and preserved for present and future generations.
- A more equal distribution of power – people should be able to participate in and influence decisions at local and national levels, reducing current inequalities in power.
To achieve these goals, the report sets out new priorities for policy and practice. It highlights issues that tend to be overlooked by policy-makers and points to a new direction of travel. It represents NEF’s contribution to wider debates about what kind of society we want for the future.
For a start, we cannot rely on continuing economic growth to produce more and more tax revenues to pay for more and better public services. Instead, we must shift investment and action upstream to measures that prevent harm, rather than simply cope with the consequences. We must value and nurture the ‘core economy’ – all those everyday human resources and unpaid activities that underpin the formal economy. And we must reclaim and strengthen the idea of solidarity: understanding each other’s needs and interests, and sharing responsibility – not just in close-knit groups, but between groups of different kinds and across generations.
Building on this approach, the report outlines proposals for practical change:
Rebalance work and time:
- a new industrial and labour market strategy to achieve high quality and sustainable jobs for all, with a stronger role for employees in decision-making
- a gradual move towards shorter and more flexible hours of paid work for all aiming for 30 hours as the new standard working week
- an offensive against low pay to achieve decent hourly rates for all
- high quality, affordable childcare for all who need it
Release human resources:
- support and encourage the unvalued and unpaid assets and activities that are found in everyday life beyond the formal economy
- adopt as standard the principles of co-production so that service users and providers work together to meet needs
- change the way public services are commissioned to focus on outcomes and co-production
Strengthen social security:
- turn the tide against markets and profit seeking, developing instead more diverse, open and collaborative public services
- build a more rounded, inclusive and democratic benefits system
Plan for a sustainable future:
- promote eco-social policies - such as active travel and retro-fitting homes - that help to achieve both social justice and environmental sustainability
- offset the socially regressive effects of carbon pricing and other pro-environmental policies
- ensure that public institutions lead by example
- establish new ways of future-proofing policies
Seven decades on from William Beveridge’s ground-breaking report, it is high time for a wider debate about a new social settlement that meets the challenges of the 21st century.