Wednesday, 21 March 2012 8:30 AM
Eight steps towards a fairer society
by Bob Tindall, Managing Director of United Response, and member of the Campaign For A Fair Society Steering Group
Did you know that, based on the Government’s own figures, 24% of the spending cuts made in the last two years are falling on just 2% of people – those who require require social care, probably the most vulnerable members of our society? What’s more, 58% of all cuts fall on disabled people, older people needing support and people living in poverty?
It was realisations like this which led to the creation of The Campaign For A Fair Society, which launched is first ever manifesto in the House of Lords last week. The campaign was born in 2010 out of a growing concern that the difficult economic circumstances we are all living through is not having the same impact on all of us. Many people felt, in particular, that deep spending cuts and the plans for welfare reform were likely to have a damaging impact on disabled, older and poorer people.
Many people were involved in the initial meetings of the Campaign For A Fair Society, including disabled people and disability organisations who were deeply concerned that the economic decisions being made at the time were likely to reverse the progress made over the last forty years in giving people with disabilities a fair chance in life.
Those early members were soon joined by influential thinkers and activists working on behalf of older people and those living in poverty, ensuring the Campaign is not just a single “special interest” pressure group but a broad representation of the many people who feel that our society is becoming less fair by the day.
The goal of the Campaign and the manifesto in not merely to protest against spending cuts but to positively propose a better, fairer and more effective way of doing things as a society, one which will benefit everyone. Not only do we believe that the course we are on as a society is unfair, we believe it will not help us economically.
To give one example, more and more social care services are being restricted so that they are only provided to people who have “substantial” or “critical” needs. Those who have “moderate” or “mild” needs are being told that they are not disabled enough to receive social care. But it is in just such cases that a small amount of support can help people stay physically and mentally healthy, and manage their condition so it does not become a “crisis” which requires a far more costly state intervention, whether that be hospital treatment or more expensive emergency support services.
Our alternative is outlined in an eight point “living manifesto”, one designed to evolve as more people join the Campaign and add their voices to the discussion. It argues that the government’s cuts are unfair because they target disabled people and those living in poverty. It explains that the cuts are inefficient and will create more crises and new costs. Finally, it makes some positive recommendations for a better future for our society. Our eight recommendations are as follows.
1. Human rights. A fair society is built on a foundation of human rights. The law and welfare systems should be judged by their success in upholding these rights. The current Human Rights Act should be strengthened, not weakened, and it should become easier for citizens to hold the system to account.
2. Clear entitlements. It is difficult to know what money, care and support we can get because the system is confusing. We need a new system with clear entitlements. It must be easy for people to know what money, care and support they can get. They must have enough money to live on and be active citizens.
3. Early support. If we need help from services we often can’t get it until we reach crisis point. This is a bad way of spending money. It causes problems like family breakdown and health crises. People must get help as soon as possible. It is a better use of money because people can deal with problems when they are smaller. Families are more likely to stay together. More people can get help for the same money.
4. Equal access. Services for older and disabled people are often not the ones everyone else uses. Separate and institutional services cut people off from ordinary life, friends and neighbours. We want all people to have the same opportunities – in work, housing, education, leisure and relationships. Then people will be a part of their community. They will get a chance to put something in as well as get support.
5. Choice and control. Often, people can only get help if they give up their independence. We need a new system that helps people to keep control – to make their own choices and control their own life.
6. Fair incomes. People who are entitled to benefits can be trapped in poverty. It can be difficult to break out and get a job or get involved in the community – especially if you are disabled. We need a new system that gives everyone a reasonable income. We need a system that makes it worth getting a job, saving money and getting involved in community life.
7. Fair taxes. The tax system falls hardest on people who need social care. Complicated rules hide this fact. Local authorities and the Independent Living Fund charge for services and, often, you can’t get help if you have modest savings. We need a system that doesn’t have hidden taxes that fall on older and disabled people and people living in poverty. Services must be free to people who use them. Taxes would fund these services - paid for by everyone equitably.
8. Financial reform. The banking and finance systems have not worked in favour of the whole of society. A new system must change how banks and financial institutions work. They must offer value and benefit to everyone and bear responsibility for the common good. We need a system based on fairness – one that is sustainable for all.
There is more detail on these eight recommendations available on our website, www.campaignforafairsociety.com. Some readers may see other ways in which we can make society fairer, or disagree with some of the points made. That’s why we need as many individuals and organisations who care about a fair society to join with us and help us to develop our manifesto and add their strength to the Campaign so that we can begin working towards a better future for all of us.