We need to make sure that every adult gets a fair deal, meaning that we reward hard work while protecting people against bad luck. Delivering real equality of opportunity will require us to reduce inequality and to help people who face greater barriers to realising their potential. We should aim to build a society in which everyone enjoys a broad 'equality of condition'. This will benefit everyone.
The second priority is to ensure that every adult gets a fair deal. We should recognise that this is unachievable for those adults who didn’t get a fair chance to succeed as children. But we should do as much as we can for people in this situation, while ensuring that future generations enjoy the same equality of opportunity in adulthood as they have done in childhood. Our approach to giving adults a fair deal is based on rewarding hard work while protecting against bad luck. Our vision of the ‘fair necessities’ for adults cuts across all ten of our focus issues:
Ensuring that everyone has an equal chance to make their voice heard and influence the national, regional and local decisions made on their behalf, during elections and day-to-day
Giving everyone equal opportunities to maximise their potential, and ensuring fair access to relevant further and higher education options
Ensuring that everyone has an equal chance to live in a healthy and safe environment, by doing more to protect those at greater risk from pollution and from the impacts of the climate crisis
Providing more resources for public health services to support wellbeing and prevent ill health, alongside curative healthcare services
Making sure that everyone is able to access affordable, secure and decent housing, whether in the social sector or private sector, and that housing is seen as a right and not a commodity
Ensuring that everyone has equal access to the law and receives equal treatment from a justice system that is better resourced and more focused on rehabilitation
Building a strong social security system to protect people from bad luck, which provides proactive support for those who lose their jobs or need to retrain, compassionate support for those with disabilities or illnesses, and a decent pension and affordable social care for everyone
Building a more effective tax system that taxes unearned income and wealth more fairly as well as reducing tax avoidance and evasion
Ensuring that everyone has enough wealth for a basic decent quality of life, and that financial rewards are proportional to effort and do not incentivise wealth extraction, speculation or failure
Ensuring fair and open competition for jobs and promotion (as well as fair wages and good working conditions and secure terms of employment)
The aim is not to impose a uniform equality of outcome, but instead to minimise the impact of bad luck, while ensuring that the good luck is shared around a little. This will ensure that people have genuinely equal opportunities at every stage of their life. In certain cases this will require society to treat some people or groups or regions differently – to pursue equity, not equality – by giving them more support and resources to enable them to overcome (and ultimately to tear down) the additional barriers to opportunity that they face. These barriers may have arisen because they have received less support than others in the past or for other, more fundamental reasons. This is the principle behind the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. If every adult is to get a fair deal, we need to pay attention to the additional barriers to opportunity faced by people on low incomes, the unemployed, ethnic minorities, women, LGBTQ+ people and disabled people. We need to recognise that ‘treating everyone equally’ without regard to these barriers is unfair, and also that we cannot achieve real equality of opportunity without reducing levels of income and wealth inequality in our society.
More generally, we must ensure that everyone can enjoy broad equality of condition. This means that everyone can choose how to live their life and is treated with respect and dignity, regardless of the amount of wealth or income that they have secured. And we must ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met, so that no one is allowed to fall into destitution, no matter what brought them there.
We must seize the opportunity offered by the COVID pandemic to build a fairer society. The pandemic has simultaneously laid bare how deep inequalities are, and how much these affect not just people’s quality of life but whether they live or die, while demonstrating that the state can play a much more interventionist role in the economy and can attract public support for doing so. The government’s levelling up agenda can and should be entirely aligned with the goal of building a fairer society. It needs to recognise that levelling up is as much about people as it is about places. There is scope to build broad public support for an ambitious effort to level up life chances for everyone in the country.
Building a fairer society will benefit everyone, not just the disadvantaged. Fair societies achieve better co-operation, social outcomes, political stability, opportunities, pooling of risk, security and prosperity. We will all lead healthier and happier lives if we can prevent social problems, such as crime, ill health and unemployment, rather than dealing with them after they have arisen.
These investments will pay for themselves in time, as most will deliver economic as well as social returns; even those that do not deliver direct economic returns will deliver indirect returns, since prevention is always cheaper than cure, and fixing social problems will reduce the amount that the state needs to spend on coping with them. Where additional spending is needed in the short term, public support for any extra tax contributions needed can be won by making the tax system more progressive and less vulnerable to tax avoidance, and by designing social programmes that are universal and contributory rather than being restricted to particular groups on the basis of need. We will always ensure that any policy proposals that we promote are fully costed and are accompanied by a realistic plan for how to pay for them, as well as a conservative estimate of the long-term economic returns that they will generate.
Investing in an ambitious set of interventions to build a fairer society will not only generate significant social and economic returns; it is also a moral duty of the state to ensure that everyone has equal life chances. The way to achieve equal life chances is to give everyone the ‘fair necessities’ of life.