Every family with children under school age should have a right to high quality, genuinely affordable childcare. Norway sets an example, combining 'a legal guarantee to a place for all children with fees that are both low overall and income related'. Services are provided by a mix of public, private and voluntary organisations. The state covers 85% of childcare costs and limits fees to ensure affordability. It maintains high quality by regulating staff qualifications, limiting profit extraction and ensuring that parents sit on kindergarten boards. Among developed countries, Norway consistently ranks in the top 5 for child wellbeing.
Universal access to affordable, decent and secure housing involves much more than bricks and mortar. Public bodies and local communities must be properly resourced and empowered to ensure that housing stock is high quality, environmentally sustainable, and integrated with the transport links, amenities and spaces for recreation that bind communities together. It calls for stronger tenants' rights, an end to treating land and homes as financial assets, and a housing development model that responds to local needs. We can learn from Germany about sustainable housing, Austria about land ownership and socially mixed communities, Denmark about co-operative models of ownership and the Netherlands about rent cost control.
A Social Guarantee for transport means building a reliable, inter-connected, affordable public transport system that takes people where they need to go. Transport for London runs an integrated transport system with free passes for children under 12, disabled passengers and residents over 60, as well as discounts for students, claimants and others. It is a statutory body created by the Greater London Authority, operating in the public interest without profit extraction. Another example comes from Tallinn, Estonia, where free public transport is provided for all city residents. The scheme covers tram lines and trolley bus lines, a wide range of bus routes and some commuter trains. It aims to make transport more inclusive, stimulate the labour market, increase consumption of local goods and services, reduce private car traffic and attract more residents paying taxes to the city, to offset costs.
Adult Social Care
A Social Guarantee for Adult Social Care starts by acknowledging that this is an area of need where markets inevitably fail to protect all but the wealthy. So it must be dealt with collectively. Germany’s long-term care insurance scheme features universal social rights and strong cost-containment. It sees long-term care as a social risk requiring social protection and has cross-party political support. The overall budget, contribution rates, ceilings, benefit levels and eligibility criteria are fixed by Federal law. Membership of the scheme is compulsory. Over 25 years, despite population ageing, scheme expansion and rising benefits, members’ contributions have increased by only 0.8% of salaries.
Digital information and communications technology has become one of life’s essentials. Smartphones and laptops are included in the agreed ‘minimum income standard’ for the UK. The Internet is seen as a driving force in accelerating progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, internet access has been crucial for maintaining ‘normal’ daily life, including work, relationships, business and access to public services
For each of life’s essentials, there has to be a different package of measures. As well as service provision by governments or NGOs, ingredients include state regulation and investment, local initiatives and individual action. Details vary widely but in each case the package complies with the same set of principles.