As a new era of Conservative policy initiatives looms, perhaps Michael Gove’s ongoing plan to redraft the Human Rights act is one of their least mouth-watering propositions. Conversely, in the current climate of economic uncertainty, wouldn’t a move towards establishing an Economic Bill of Rights serve as a more attractive offering for both the electorate and political parties? At the very least, it would display a commitment to public interests and not private ones. A politics for the people, surely not?
This idea is far from revolutionary, but to find it crafted into a genuine policy proposal you need to wind the clock back to 1944. An endorsement by Franklin Delano Roosevelt at his State of the Union address. So, what did he call for?
“We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.”
Current statistics show there were 3.7 million children living in poverty in the UK in 2013-14. That’s 28 per cent of children, or 9 in a classroom of 30. Estimates for 2015-16 expect to be higher. A culture of zero-hour contracts and increasing costs of living. Highest levels of wealth inequality since records began. Rising usage of food banks. Decades-long wage stagnation.
Add all of this together and what you get is a society that is more unequal than in the days of the Great Depression. Yes, that was over 80 years ago but, yes, this is the reality of modern day Britain. And to solve the Great Recession a ‘good deal’ was not given to the people. A bailout for the banks, has kept the public imprisoned. ‘Trickle down’ economics is a cruel joke. Granted, time may have moved on, but the economic security of your everyday person? It’s regressed, massively.
“We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”
So what do we need?
Here’s what Roosevelt originally outlined and things that are certainly still applicable to the needs of people today:
• “The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
• The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
• The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
• The right of every family to a decent home;
• The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
• The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
• The right to a good education.”
All of these rights spell security, and if presented to the public as a ‘buy it now’ option, who would resist?
Basic rights that would ensure a level of economic security, where so far, political rights have proved inadequate in serving the well-being of British people.
“Necessitous men are not free men.”
Amidst another five years of Cameron’s dismantling of the welfare state and further public sector cuts imminent, times will, undoubtedly, get harder. Osborne’s age of austerity takes no prisoners and the casualty count comes not from private sector groups and companies, but from under the roof of normal working people. You and me.
Gordon Brown, the architect of tax credits, has warned the chancellor’s proposed cuts will “plunge almost another million families into poverty”. The lowest earners bearing the biggest brunt, confirms that, under a Conservative government, the price paid still remains with the many and not the few.
So all in all, we’re left with the toughest of times yet to arrive. And as unappetising as they sound, these measures will be force fed to the public, with little room for manoeuvre. The after-taste will be felt for decades to come and the sweetener of an Economic Bill of Rights is surely needed now more than ever. It’ll guarantee a safety net for those who’ll indefinitely be left worse off. And as for Gove’s plan to introduce an idealistic ‘British Bill of Rights’ to replace the Human Rights Act? Well, quite frankly, he can stick a fork in it.