Repairing our society


This report from UK think tank the Centre for Social Justice provides a Social Justice manifesto for a thriving Britain.

The next Prime Minister faces an unenviable in-tray of urgent domestic challenges. Stuttering economic growth. Public services gripped by backlogs. Soaring energy prices tearing household budgets apart. These are the immediate policy challenges any new leader must face. Yet the pandemic and ongoing cost of living crisis have also exposed – and exacerbated – foundational weaknesses in our society. Many who were just about managing are no longer coping. The next Prime Minister must take equally seriously and address with equal energy the long-term repair work our country so urgently needs. Yet there is cause for great optimism.

For there is unlimited potential in our country. Today, there are 1.3 million vacancies – and businesses are hungrier than ever to harness the talent in our communities. There are 600,000 fewer children in workless households than a decade ago, with thousands more young people reaping the lifetime advantages of growing up seeing their parents go to work. And in the years leading up to the pandemic, the incomes of the poorest households were boosted by the rise in employment. In the turbulence of the last two years we have witnessed the strength of our small charities, as community organisations served at the very heart of the local response to the pandemic – reaching vulnerable people the state could not get near – providing food parcels, human connection, and so much more.

While some parts of the state strained under the demands of unprecedented pressure, Universal Credit delivered, and is widely recognised as one of the most advanced and sophisticated social security systems in the world. It is the duty of the next Prime Minister to unlock this potential. Crucially, while tax cuts have emerged as a focal point of the ongoing leadership contest, it would be a profound mistake for our future leaders to look at the social breakdown in our nation and view this as a second order priority. Indeed, reducing the overall level of demand on the state depends on it. On the mend: a plan for a stronger society In light of diminishing fiscal headroom against existing targets, some have suggested that the Government will either need to cut public services or increase borrowing to account for multibillion-pound tax pledges. Others argue that an ageing population and rising health and social care costs spell an inevitable upwards creep of the tax burden. Given this, any incoming Prime Minister must take the financing of any tax cuts, and the question of where budgetary restraint will fall, very seriously. But it is wrong to view this as solely a contest between cutting people’s taxes and funding immediate spending requirements.

The UK as a nation continues to devote eyewatering levels of public funds to filling the empty gaps in our society. If an incoming Prime Minister is serious about tackling these deep – and costly – social challenges, there are huge gains to be made in reducing the overall size of the state long-term. Tax reform and social repair are not, after all, mutually exclusive. We believe there to be an extremely strong case for the next leader to undertake a wholesale review of the relationship between the family and the fiscal system. In the short term, tax allowances for couples with dependent children should be boosted to 100 per cent of the personal allowance. And our system of childcare subsidy should be reformed to give greater choice to parents in how they balance work with parenting. A family-focused tax policy would be popular: over half of adults polled on this manifesto supported tax reforms which provide more financial support to married couples with children, compared to just one in five who disagreed. But the next Prime Minister should go further. In this manifesto we set out a vision that would transform the prospects of those who are struggling most in our society.

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