How to build a public and political consensus for a fairer Britain
Fair Comment is a free weekly newsletter by Will Snell, Chief Executive of the Fairness Foundation. It is written for anyone who is interested in tackling inequalities in the UK, whether they are a politician, a researcher, a campaigner, a policymaker, a journalist, or in any other field. It’s designed to help them to make the moral, political and economic case for tackling inequality, with a particular focus on philosophy, public attitudes, and the evidence base on both the problems and the solutions. It is a mixture of comment articles and summaries of reports and events.
Inequality in the UK is returning to levels last seen during Edwardian times. Rising child poverty is causing spikes in under-five mortality, while the richest 50 families have more wealth than the poorest half of the population, and derive much of it from speculation and from extracting rather than creating wealth.
It’s a time of crisis, but also of opportunity, because almost everyone now recognises that inequality has gone too far. 85% of the British public are concerned about inequality, and even those on the right who are less worried about inequality in principle are concerned about its practical consequences: constraining productivity and economic growth, threatening social cohesion and democracy, and undermining a rapid transition to net zero. And fairness provides us with a language and a set of concepts that can build on this emerging consensus.
So some of the traditional barriers to change are starting to crumble. Belief in the small state is now a minority sport, despite the best efforts of the short-lived Truss government and of sections of the British media. Active opposition to tackling inequality has diminished, but there is still plenty of passive opposition, supercharged by the limited capacity of politics and of the national conversation in Britain to focus on what really matters.
The Fairness Foundation’s mission is to identify and attack some of these remaining, more passive barriers to tackling inequality. We focus on two barriers in particular:
Correcting the misperception that the public are less concerned about inequality, less supportive of action by government to tackle it, and more divided in their views about inequality than they actually are
Challenging the idea that inequality might be morally wrong but isn’t a first-order concern, by promoting evidence of the various ways in which different forms of inequality not only reinforce each other, but also stand in the way of achieving a broad set of political and public priorities, such as (sustainable) growth
As such, we are trying to make the political and the economic case for fairness, although the starting point must be defining what we mean by fairness and making the moral case. We aim to change both policies and narratives.
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Fair Comment is published by the Fairness Foundation, which is a UK advocacy nonprofit whose mission is to change the debate about fairness in the UK with the aim of building a fairer society.
We believe that fairness has the potential to unite people around a shared vision of what a good society looks like. More specifically, we believe that most people in the UK will support efforts to reduce inequality if the aim is to give everyone sufficient opportunities to maximise their potential. And fairness, properly defined and communicated, has a unique ability to build support for this shared vision, because it is hard-wired into all of us.
The stakes are huge, and urgent. Today’s incarnation of capitalism is producing rampant inequality, destroying our environment and undermining democracy. If we don’t take bold steps now to reform it, it could destroy itself and everything that we hold dear. Inequality produces huge economic, social and environmental costs, so there is a solid technocratic case for taking action now. But there are also compelling moral reasons for action. Millions of people, including children and disabled people, are in desperate poverty through no fault of their own, while millions more are denied the opportunities to realise their potential by a society that claims to be meritocratic but knows, deep down, that it is not. We need to build new institutions that will deliver a fairer society, and that will, in time, pay for themselves.
80 years on from the Beveridge report, we lack the consensus of the postwar years. And if we fail to build that consensus, we’re staring down the barrel of worsening political polarisation, economic decline, environmental destruction and social unrest. But that’s not to say that consensus isn’t within reach. Fairness can give us a shared ‘landing zone’ for debates between political opponents - and across other divides, for example between generations - on reforming areas such as housing, low pay, childcare, and a broken social security system.
This is not about ‘radical centrism’ or about watering policies down to their lowest common denominator. Instead, it’s about taking a ‘big tent’ approach to crafting bold new solutions that will work and command public support.
The time for building this consensus is now, before it’s too late. We urgently need people on the left and the right to step forward and engage with these arguments and with each other. Subscribe to Fair Comment and help us to make this a reality!