Wednesday, 19 December 2018

How can we reduce inequality?

First posted on Liberal Democrat Voice.

I want somebody to take away from me what I have and give it to other people.

I’m a pensioner in a comfortable place in the most comfortable part of the UK, the south-east. Our incomes are high relative to every other region of the UK; more of us own our own houses than any other region. Government policy persistently works to protect us and boost us more than any other region. One of the most important considerations for Liberal Democrat policy on inequality must be to reduce the very substantial difference in income, wealth and comfort between the south-east and everywhere else in the UK.

I do not ignore the substantial inequalities within this region as well as between it and others. The village I live in is very comfortable indeed. However, it has its own food bank. The nearest town to me, Lewes, is decidedly affluent. However, it has three food banks. Nevertheless, the more pressing need, I believe, is to fix the massive inequalities between regions. There will be no substantial growth in the near future to enable a pretence that everybody can win. So that means that, if others are to do better, I, and people like me, will do worse. That is as it should be.

There will be many ways to do this. I focus here on two: infrastructure and general spending. In each case, I focus on one aspect out of several possibilities.

For infrastructure, there should be a primary criterion in the consideration stage of projects: how does this spending benefit the regions or the nations? This should apply, even if the project is in London or the south-east. The presumption should be that whatever money is available for infrastructure projects should go to the regions first. Some might object that London and the south-east still need money spent on infrastructure projects. Yes, they do, but for too long they have taken precedence over spending in the regions. That priority should be reversed. If that means I have to wait longer for an upgrade to my railway line, so be it.

We also need to be clear that any examination should concentrate clearly on what is the actual benefit to the region concerning jobs, income and the reduction of poverty. Hinkley Point, for instance, will cost a fortune, but only a small proportion of that spending will find its way into the pockets of local people. So there must be a robust and realistic measure of what the benefit to people in the region will be.

For general spending, I suggest the measure we need is simple, although sure to cause vibrations in high places. That is to re-establish proper and realistic funding to local councils. If money is tight, then it should go first to councils in the regions and nations. I will have to wait longer for my recycling to get up to scratch, and social care will still be stretched here, with painful consequences, for longer than it needs to be. So be it. My comfort has been bought at the price of misery in other parts of the country for far too long.