The Fairness Foundation is launching today with the publication of The Fair Necessities, an ambitious attempt to define the slippery but crucial concept of fairness and to build a new consensus about what a fair society should look like in Britain, challenging entrenched positions on both sides of the political divide by finding common ground between the two.
“We don’t have a common understanding of fairness, and this is holding us back as a society,” said Will Hutton, author and chair of the editorial board at the Fairness Foundation. “British society has become palpably less equal and more unfair, in terms of both regional disparities and access to wealth. We can and should do better.”
Experts have given The Fair Necessities a warm reception. Professor Bobby Duffy, Director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London (and member of the editorial board), described it as “excellent… combining a deep understanding of the theory with the reality of where the public are… a really valuable framework for action”. Torsten Bell, Chief Executive of the Resolution Foundation, said that its “focus on clarifying what fairness means and asking whether Britain lives up to it is an important new contribution to this much older debate”. John Penrose MP, Chair of the Conservative Policy Forum, described the Fairness Foundation as a “new, fresh voice… asking an absolutely central, essential question: what, precisely, do we think is ‘fair’?” Margaret Hodge MP said that “now is the perfect time for a project like the Fairness Foundation. Their guiding principles could provide a beacon that will point us towards real fairness.”
The document sets out five ‘fair necessities’ that the foundation believes are the building blocks of a fair society, as the starting point of a broader conversation about fairness:
- Proportionality: Everyone is rewarded in proportion to their effort and talents (exceptional rewards are only fair if they correspond to a universally accepted exceptional performance or contribution)
- Equal opportunities: Everyone has the same substantive opportunities to realise their potential (which requires radical steps to remove the structural barriers that face people who are born into disadvantaged circumstances)
- Reciprocity: Everyone contributes to society as far as they can, and is supported by society when they need it
- Basic needs: Everyone has their basic needs met so that no one lives in poverty
- Equal treatment: Everyone is treated equally in terms of due process, respect, social status, political influence and public services (but some people need to be treated differently to have the same opportunities as everyone else)
It argues that we need to pay more attention to the role of luck in influencing life outcomes, and that the only way to ensure that everyone has genuinely equal life chances is to ‘design out’ bad luck, using the way in which the NHS provides a universal ‘collective insurance’ system for health as inspiration for other sectors of society.
The Fairness Foundation’s mission is to change the terms of the debate around fairness in Britain, and to inspire citizens, the media and decision-makers to create a fairer society. Plans for the future include an assessment of the government’s levelling up white paper in terms of how well it delivers on fairness, and an annual scorecard measuring how fair we are as a society, looking across a range of issues (democracy, education, the environment, health, housing, justice, taxation, wealth, welfare and work).