Originally published in LabourHub on 30th June.
There’s growing interest in a new social settlement and understandably so. The Covid-19 crisis has ripped apart our flimsy social fabric and laid bare the deep rifts in our society. Today, a report by public health expert Sir Michael Marmot starkly laid out what we’d already known. A decade of dismantling public services and stagnant wage growth has led to widening health inequalities, declining quality of life for those in deprived areas, and a dramatic widening of the gap in life expectancy between rich and poor.
The worst part is that we already know this. Long before the pandemic, people foresaw what the effects of austerity politics would be. If we allow the services that people depend on to deteriorate, then their life chances will suffer. Similarly, the solution isn’t rocket science. Ensure people have access to the essentials that enable them to live fulfilling lives, and social outcomes will improve.
This is the essence of the Social Guarantee. The Social Guarantee starts with what we know people need. There has been a wealth of research over the last decades identifying fundamental needs that must be met if people are to participate in society.
These needs are not subjective ‘wants’ but are objective necessities without which it is impossible to live well. They include adequate shelter, food, health care, childcare, education, social care, transport and, in 2021, internet access.
It should also go without saying that meeting these needs can only happen on a stable planet. These are life’s essentials, and we believe that ensuring all people have access to them should be the primary job of any political and economic system.
We recognise that these essentials take different forms, and so must the ways in which they are met. Some services are far better suited to individual provision. Food, for example, is generally seen as a matter of personal choice based on individual preferences. We’re certainly not suggesting that the state rations out loaves of bread and sends them directly to everyone’s door. Rather, it is essential that people have enough money to ensure they can access nutritious food, and there must be an adequate supply of sustainably grown, healthy food options locally.
Healthcare, on the other hand, is much better provided collectively. Pooling resources to deliver free-at-the-point-of-use healthcare is not only vastly more efficient than using hundreds of private suppliers, it is also more environmentally sustainable – through the coordination of procurement and delivery practices – and more redistributive -as those on low incomes would have to spend a much larger portion of their income on healthcare.
The Social Guarantee aims to enable that life’s essentials be delivered in ways that are most appropriate to the specific need, service and locality. It supports an ecosystem of different providers, ranging from small businesses, community-owned enterprises and cooperatives, to national and local governments. Power must be devolved to the lowest appropriate level ensuring that service users have a meaningful say in how their needs are met. Importantly, the state has an essential role in enforcing social and environmental standards, collecting and redistributing funds, guaranteeing equality of access, and coordinating activities across different regions.
Meeting people’s fundamental needs must be the primary aim of our new social settlement. Tomorrow we launch the Social Guarantee in the hope that progressive organisations working on these issues will join us in developing this approach and putting it into practice. We hope it will be a collaborative effort and we offer the Social Guarantee as the foundation upon which we can build a fairer more sustainable world in which everyone can flourish.
Maeve Cohen is Project Officer at the Social Guarantee