There is now not a single party in the UK that is not proposing a dramatic expansion of public services. The ship of state has turned, after decades heading towards the outer bounds of individualism, and begun a journey back towards the goal of common prosperity.
The preeminent role of Universal Basic Services in the Labour Party’s 2019 manifesto was just the most obvious sign of this new dawn. The Conservatives also made their commitment to public services, free at the point of use, central to their offer with promises on healthcare and education. The Lib Dems promised free childcare. Every other party had some component of Universal Basic Services as a leading part of their offer, often in the expansion of free public transport as part of a response to climate change.
We have moved from the unthinking acceptance of market dominance to the automatic promotion of public services in a few short years. At the IGP we’d like to think that we had some role in this shift with our 2017 report Social prosperity for the future: A proposal for Universal Basic Services. We have developed the ideas in that report with our subsequent literature review of current practice, our partnership with NEF in promoting the inclusion of childcare and social care, and now in The Case for Universal Basic Services book just released.
The proposal for Universal Basic Services is a response to our times, to the challenges of the 21st, not the 20th, Century. Freeing up people to adapt to inevitable changes is the why of UBS, and a multi coloured tapestry of place-based public service experimentation is the destination. No central government will be able to devise the multi faceted policies that enable different communities to adapt to climate change, automation, aging and sustainable economics. We will have to club together to free ourselves. We will have to establish a right to life that aims to banish fear of destitution, fear of change, and fear of the future.
Despite this dawning awareness the prevailing assumption of today is that we will be able to financialise our way through the coming changes. Some combination of private security, compensatory redistribution, debt financed investments and financial sovereignty will allow us to navigate climate adaptation, to sustain aging societies, and accept the benefits of automation — and that all of this will withstand the inevitable next financial crisis. Within this paradigm UBS can be used as the ameliorating what to the why of imperfection, a means of papering over the cracks in a system which is supposedly otherwise functional.
The real and radical why of UBS is that neither our financialised paradigm nor dreams of yesteryear’s socialist Utopia contain actual solutions to the challenges we face today. The real origin of UBS is that basic services exchanged between people within the context of a social grouping is the sustainable foundation of our species, and that when the current financialised paradigm is exposed we will have to revert to this more fundamental organization.
To grasp UBS properly you have only to imagine. Imagine a society in which the basic needs of every individual are satisfied, either through rewards for their contributions, or social provision, or a combination of both. A society in which the cost of basic living can be zero but in which rewards can purchase relative extravagance, in which fear of failure is emotional but not physical, in which change can be positively engaged because destitution is not a possibility. That is a society optimized for humanity’s greatest calling: communal decision making in the face of complex problems.
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