Welcome to the second edition of Fair Comment.
We couldn't leave out partygate from this week's edition, seeing as the debate always seems to turn around fairness. But we also take a look at at the fairness aspects of an issue that will have a much more direct bearing on people's lives over the coming months - the cost of living crisis. And there's a quick poll on the fairest way of paying for the BBC - do let us have your views.
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Thanks and best wishes,
Chief Executive Fairness Foundation
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"The value of fairness matters to people"
Partygate: popular anger when principles of fairness are violated
We wrote in The Fair Necessities that "an innate sense of fairness is hardwired into us because humans evolved by building large social groups that depend on fair co-operation and rewarding positive behaviour". By the same token, we punish negative behaviour, such as when some people don't play by the same rules as everyone else. So it was interesting to hear Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi using fairness as a defence of the Prime Minister on Radio 4 this morning. His argument? That Johnson was right to apologise because "he recognises... the feeling of unfairness", and that "the value of fairness matters to people".
Writing in the Times, Danny Finkelstein argued last week that hardwired fairness depends on the idea of reciprocity - that "we do favours for people because we believe they will, in some form, return the favour", and that we call out those who try to undermine this norm through deception. Partygate is so politically potent, he argues, because it is a "classic breach of the fairness norm". And of course, Boris isn't the only person who has been accused recently of trying to ignore the rules that everyone else has to live by (step forward, Novak Djokovic).
Fairness and the cost of living crisis
Widespread fuel poverty in Britain in 2022 is the measure of an unfair society
Six million households could be in fuel poverty later this year - the highest number since records began. Many families are forced to choose between heating and eating. We hear stories of families clustering into a single, carpeted room with an electric heater to stay warm. Surely, the levelling up agenda should focus on ensuring that no one in Britain should be forced into this position? How can we talk about equal opportunities, and people taking responsibility for their own lives, when so many people can't even afford to meet their basic needs?
A fair society would never allow economic inequality - and its many manifestations, such as fuel poverty - to reach the levels where so many people are unable to keep warm, and would take urgent steps to address the situation. As the debate continues about the best policy solutions, the language of fairness comes through strongly. A fair approach would need to ensure that the support provided was equal to the scale of the problem, and that it covered everyone in need (not just those on certain types of benefits); a universal approach should also be considered. It would need to be funded in a fair way (for example, though the tax system, so that those with the greatest means contribute more than those with less, and over a longer timeframe, rather than everyone paying the same through their energy bills). And it would consider the long term, investing now in insulating our homes so that we can tackle the causes as well as the symptoms of the problem, and address the escalating climate crisis at the same time.
Statistic of the week
Inflation this year will hit those on lowest incomes hardest
This chart from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that inflation for the lowest-income households will be about 1.5 percentage points higher than for the highest-income households. The IFS notes that this is because "lower income households spend almost three times as much of their budgets on gas and electricity as the highest-income tenth on average (11% versus 4%)".
Poll of the week
What is the fairest way of funding the BBC?
Whatever you think about the timing, the government has chosen this moment to reopen the debate about how the BBC should be funded. What do you think is the fairest approach: the licence fee, general taxation or a subscription model?
Reads of the week
Sam Freedman in The Guardian reflects on whether we actually want to live in a meritocracy.
IPPR North suggest in State of the North 2021/22 that "two years on from the UK government’s promise to level up, the rhetoric has reached fever pitch, but its definition and the policies to deliver it remain elusive".
The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change analyse who is most affected by the living standards crunch, and how.
Fairness Foundation updates
Join us this Thursday at 4.30pm on Zoom for an event with Professor Sir Michael Marmot and four fantastic panellists to discuss why progress on tackling health inequalities remains elusive.
Listen to me in conversation with Tom Burgess on his podcast, The Real Agenda, talking about changing the terms of the public debate about fairness, promoting the benefits of a fair society and about inspiring citizens, the media and decision-makers.
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