02. 05. 2015

The Green Party on Poverty

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Caroline Lucas and Natalie Bennett, Green Party Leader, did a really good job in their interviews with Russell Brand. The only thing I was disappointed by was that they weren’t able to make a stronger case (to a man who makes a big deal of his fight against the super-rich and over-privileged) for one of the Green Party’s stand-out strengths: the commitment to address poverty strategically, both here in the UK and globally.

The strength of their case was reinforced last week when a group of leading academics, Academics Stand Against Poverty, released an audit of the main political parties. I was struck by how well the Green Party did - to the surprise, as I understand it, of many of the contributors to this research.

The Party defines poverty not as the absence of income, but as the absence of flourishing across many areas of life, drawing on the framework developed by the Mexican economist Julio Boltvinik a decade ago.

Poverty, in this well-established definition, includes the absence of physical and mental health, the absence of social security, the absence of opportunities to learn and develop, the absence of leisure time, and the absence of a sense of belonging and freedom.

Measured against this definition of poverty, the academics found the two main parties’ manifestos to be lacking in notable ways, while the Greens pulled ahead.

On housing, for example, the Conservatives offer numerous measures, from the Help to Buy programme to the extension of the Right to Buy to 1.3 million housing association tenants. Labour proposes a Future Homes Fund to help young people and families, and homes in on the scrapping of the Bedroom Tax.

However, it is only the Greens who are found to address structurally and systematically the long-standing structural peculiarities of the British housing market: an over-emphasis on owner-occupation; serious lack of investment in social housing; an inefficient, expensive and ill-targeted housing benefit regime; and an unduly permissive regime for the private rented sector.

On the need to respond to the reductions in Housing Benefit in the private rented sector, which amount to six times the reductions caused by the Bedroom Tax, for example, the only proposal comes from the Greens.

On health, again Labour and the Conservatives offer a raft of measures on the NHS. But only the Green Party goes beyond hospital provision and considers health policies in the round as they affect poverty in the UK. They stand out in their appreciation of the factors that contribute towards good health, from satisfying work and a balanced diet, to good housing, education and transport.

On disability specifically, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats score very highly, because of their comprehensive response to disability and their explicit commitment to disability rights. This stands in sharp contrast to the Conservatives, who focus in on scrapping the Human Rights Act, with potentially very dangerous consequences for the rights of people with disabilities.

On the banking sector, the academics assessed the degree to which the parties were willing to depart from today’s ‘business as usual’ - in terms of an utterly unacceptable situation in which the financial services sector is politically permitted to privatise gains and socialise losses onto tax-payers. They asked whether proposals in the party manifestos seek to ensure finance and banking operate as a social good and in the public interest, and whether proposed tax reforms ensure that the finance and banking sector contributes a more equitable share to the British economy.

Again, with proposals for new controls on lending, a formal separation of retail and investment banking, and a plan to abolish the special legal status of the City of London Corporation, the Greens were found to be the only party to propose comprehensive and systemic reform of banking to the benefit of those living in poverty in our society.

Across other sectors too, from education to immigration, the Green Party stood out. And this held true when their policies were assessed in relation to specific groups; there are strong indications that they considered multiple age groups, inter-generational effects, ethnic background and household composition far more than other parties when formulating their policies.

Of course there are questions about the ability of the Greens to implement these proposals in practice.

But when assessed on their commitments, it is hard not to argue that that they go furthest to address the structural causes of continued poverty in the UK, and will ensure impact for the poorest individuals and groups.

And that’s what matters, as the Green Party potentially brings its influence to bear on the make-up of the next government. Which is what Caroline Lucas and Natalie Bennett eloquently reminded Russell Brand of in their interviews. 

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04. 05. 2015
Neil Gardner

The devil is in the detail. It seems the Green Party has wedded itself to some idealistic (politically correct) humanist positions in a very unequal, over-consuming and mismanaged world reliant on large unaccountable multinationals.

While I'd certainly agree we should all be valued as human beings irrespective of ethnic origin or nationality, large population movements from poorer to richer countries inevitably drive up aggregate consumption and require us to import more from the rest of the world. A rising population in countries like the UK is bad for the rest of the world and sets a very bad example for sustainable development. However, the Green Party claims we have plenty of land to build more houses to accommodate newcomers. Yet these newcomers all expect to have clean water, electricity, fast and reliable transport links, services and jobs, all of which rely on big corporations, raw materials and massive infrastructure.

Only when we have a rebalanced global economy of small more self-sufficient regions engaged in sustainable fair trade, can we abolish immigration controls and promote a fair exchange of professionals (something we can do anyway online). Until then, mass migration will be used by the rich and powerful to undermine local democracy, drive down wages and promote unsustainable growth-led economics.

This is what you said in 2008: http://www.jonathonporritt.com/blog/sustainable-population

Here in the UK, we have adopted some extremely ambitious targets to reduce emissions of C02 and other greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050. On a per capita basis, that means going from around 12 tonnes per person per annum today to around 2.5 tonnes per person per annum by 2050 – if our population remains the same in 2050.

04. 05. 2015
Rowan Adams

Thanks Jonathan for reporting this. For all the talk of 'joined-up thinking' over the years it amazes me how most parties don't make connections between their policies and the results of the policies. But Green policy is 'joined-up' because Greens understand how everything affects everything else.

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