The Community Links led Early Action Task Force has just published a new book One Hundred Days for Early Action: Time for Government to put prevention first: A collection of essays by a respected group of leading experts and thinkers with decades of experience of Government – as, civil servants, senior advisers or respected commentators.
In the collection they set out practical steps for the next Government. In the second of our posts serialising the essays between now and the General Election, this piece by Guardian Journalist Polly Toynbee, sets out the way in which a new government could claim some quick wins. Download the book.
Hit the deck running – that’s the advice given to every new prime minister. But running where, to do what?
Gordon Brown lost his blueprint somewhere on the short walk between Number 11 and Number 10. On stepping inside, David Cameron burnt his pre-election disguise as the nice-maker of his party: away went hoodie and husky-hugging as he embarked on his scorched earth austerity plan. But even those with a declared plan find themselves easily swamped by unforeseen events as the daily churn of minor crises overwhelms original intentions.
In the first 100 days some things need to be done fast to point the way, while other, slower things must lay down long-term foundations from the start for fundamental change. Signaling the direction of the Government, so every minister and civil servant understands the route march needs bright flags waved from early on.
Quick wins? Repair some damage first. Abolish the bedroom tax on day one to signify revival of welfare state principles: the housing crisis is not the fault of council tenants. Until the DWP chaos is sorted, automatically pay personal independence payments to all the hundreds of thousands of seriously ill and disabled people waiting for months, sometimes for over a year, for basic support: over 40% of applicants are waiting, with no help, due to DWP incompetence. Repeal Section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act to stop any more of the NHS being sold to a small cartel of private companies, some of them, Serco and G4S, already under investigation for fraud.
Start on the living wage from day one, showing how the earnings crisis is at the heart of the country’s economic instability, and the cause of soaring tax credit and housing benefit bills. Let no company bid for a Government or council contract unless they pay the living wage and pay all their taxes. Virtually every large company does Government work, so this spreads fair pay rapidly across most sectors – bringing in hefty sums from tax-avoiders. This time every company that ever hopes to earn a tax-payers’ pound has to contribute fairly to the welfare of their employees and the exchequer.
Make building homes a cornerstone of what good Government is for: families everywhere worry where their children are to live. Free local authorities immediately to borrow for investment in social housing: borrowing rates are low and they have huge assets to borrow against. Get building fast, with quotas for homes and quotas for apprentices to be taken on by every contractor using state funds.
Royal Commissions are traditionally mocked for “taking minutes and wasting years” but they can be useful if you know what you want from them. A permanent rolling Royal Commission on Inequality could act fast to spell out the alarming current trajectory and recommend remedies: all the research is there already. What’s lacking is the nerve and the authority to act on the obvious: half the population is underpaid, dragging down the economy while property is over-valued and under-taxed, council tax is derelict for lack of revaluation while many of the older generation acquire too, much leaving the young bereft. The Commission would make recommendations for windfalls – as on utilities in 1997 – to be taken from cartels and profiteers to pay for high quality apprenticeships, jobs for the young, a revitalisation of Sure Start and universal good childcare. Extend the Low Pay Commission’s remit beyond the universal basic minimum wage to pronounce on pay rates variable according to sector, as in the old wages councils: some sectors in some areas can afford higher pay rates for their staff than every local hairdresser or sandwich shop. Let them set targets for top pay too, suggesting the Government withdraws its custom from companies that overpay executives. Most of these banks and finance houses do business with Government.
Signal that this is a Government that will put the young first, from birth to first job. No wonder young people are detached and alienated from a political process that has abandoned them: in a vicious circle they don’t vote, so
they don’t count and resources pour upwards to better off home-owning pensioners. Devote resources first to nursery, schools, FE colleges, universities and gold-standard apprenticeships, not the shoddy courses posing as a route to work – and that way young people will see that politics makes a difference to them directly: Westminster decisions matter and they should get involved.
Summon the forces’ top brass to join a Defence Commission, spelling out the colossal defence cuts Osborne has already written in (though dare not confess). Ask them to decide if they really want a Trident replacement – or
to use the limited funds for a right-shaped army, navy and air-force able to dovetail with European allies’ capabilities.
Above all, at this eleventh hour, devote every effort to halting climate change, internationally and at home. Show that green investment creates green growth and green jobs in renewable energy and insulated housing. Take on the climate deniers and declare a green growth Government: real international strength grows the more independent we become in energy over the next decades.
The first 100 days can lay out the journey to a stronger economy through greater equality when even the Governor of the Bank of England declares escalating inequality is the greatest threat to long-term economic stability.
Fairer, greener, more generous-spirited, the country needs to learn to like itself better. That means an end to divide and rule, blaming and shaming the weak, the poor or foreigners: this time “Genuinely all in it together” needs to be reclaimed from day one.