A manifesto of social justice

Peter Townsend (1928-2009) was one of the 20th century’s great champions of social justice. In an earlier book (The Peter Townsend reader edited by Alan Walker et al. 2010) his work was celebrated, but there is now a need to look to the future and apply his analyses to debates going forward in order to achieve a more socially just society. Using Peter Townsend’s academic legacy of nearly 600 publications, it addresses the current unacceptable levels of poverty, such as seen in the recent BBC documentary “Poor Kids” and the need to shape new arguments and policies to combat them.

In Fighting poverty, inequality and injustice, the contributors draw on the work of Peter Townsend to make a compelling case against the pessimistic analysis of neoliberal policy makers and commentators, including many in the Coalition government, that the welfare state must be cut back and that better alternatives are the market and self-interest.  While this policy direction neglects the poor and vulnerable, the alternative one proposed would lead to a less fractured, more socially just society.  The key elements of this manifesto for social justice are:

  • – An adequate income, sufficient to allow people to live decently and with dignity, in work, out of work, in childhood and in old age.
  • – A concerted attack on damaging social divisions in society – based for example on class, race, gender, and location – which result in exclusion, ill-health and premature death.
  • – A universal child benefit and a universal basic pension paid at a level that enables full participation in society.
  • – A new welfare state, at the heart of British life, aimed at nurturing the self-realisation of everyone, providing support when needed across the life course, and actively preventing poverty, inequality, ill-health and exclusion.
  • – An international welfare state in which rich nations redistribute large portions of their income to the poorest.

The manifesto  does not simply state the case for social justice and list demands for policy action; it demonstrates the affordability of these basic demands.  First of all, by rebutting the claim of the present government that Britain is broke.  It shows that the debt threat has been blown out of proportion and that the size of the public sector is not out of step with other major European countries with more successful economic records.  It also illustrates alternative sources of revenue to public spending cuts, such as closing tax loopholes and taxing vacant housing.

Secondly, it is argued that social justice in Britain depends on a fair tax system.  At present the top 0.1% of taxpayers benefit by more than £50,000 each from tax reliefs. Their pre-tax incomes are 31 times the average and their tax reliefs 86 times the average.

The manifesto for social justice is realistic and realisable if policy makers reject inequality and choose to promote opportunities for every person in this country to live, at least, a decent and fulfilled life.

Alan Walker, co-editor of Fighting Poverty, Inequality and Injustice: a manifesto inspired by Peter Townsend, published by The Policy Press on 15 June 2011.

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