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Damian Hinds MP and Andrea Leadsom MP: New Tory thinking on social reform

Andrea and Damian outline some of the ideas starting to emerge from the 2020 Conservatives’ Opportunity Society project.

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Andrea Leadsom is the Member of Parliament for South Northamptonshire. Follow Andrea on Twitter.

Damian Hinds is Member of Parliament for East Hampshire.  Follow Damian on Twitter.

The arrival of David Cameron as party leader marked a new optimistic, compassionate Conservatism.  The election of 2010 gave the party half a chance to show what that means.  Only half a chance – because of the overwhelming priority of the fiscal emergency and the realities of coalition.

The social – as well as the economic – challenges for the next generation are huge and coming closer to 2015 the party needs to present its distinctively Conservative policies for dealing with these issues.  Conservatives need to paint a picture of the sort of society we want to see and believe can, in time, be achieved.

There are five big challenges.

As Conservatives we believe strong families are the fundamental building block of society.  Support for families should be explicitly at the heart of any Conservative programme.

We need to be ambitious for everyone.  We must widen opportunity, boosting social mobility, even in the face of new pressures from international competition and the ‘hollowing out’ of the labour market.  The ‘global race’ that the Prime Minister speaks of is the context of all policy: we owe it to the next generation to equip them to compete against the new economic superpowers – even as those countries continue to raise the bar.

Further creative thought is needed on welfare and support systems.  The whole welfare system must be focused on helping the transition to a better life: a safety net with bounce

Soon, fully half of the average lifetime will be spent outside of today’s ‘normal working years’.  The implications of ageing are not just for long-term care and pensions but for housing and healthcare and the design of work itself.

Finally there is the Big Society.  Define it how you will, but Cameron’s key phrase really is at the heart of Conservative beliefs.  A new Conservative government must find new ways to leverage the latent power of local communities and society as a whole.

There is no simple set of quick fixes for these five big challenges but we need to know and to show the destination we have in mind.  So, what eventual vision for an ‘opportunity society’ could Conservatives be presenting?

Britain should be a place where your destination in life is not dictated by where you started; where all roles are valued and respected; where everyone is expected to contribute to society and the economy, but is effectively supported when things go wrong.

In this vision of a true opportunity society:

  • Resources are transferred from remedy to prevention.  There is a revolution in early intervention programmes right across the life cycle, enabled by social impact financing of both the public and independent sectors.
  • There is massive focus on the very earliest years to build the lifelong emotional capacity of the infant.  Children’s Centres prioritise mother/child attachment and there is more support and advice for parents at home. 
  • School children learn Mandarin, Portugese or Russian – not just for the language skill but for the cultural awareness.  Craft skills are valued highly alongside academics.  In Higher Education we no longer just count the number of people studying post 18, but benchmark their courses against the best in the world and ensure they are supporting Britain’s competitiveness.
  • Entrepreneurship is an increasingly common career choice, with microfinance widely available.  Britain is a world leader in adaptive technologies, enabling more people with disabilities and able-bodied colleagues to work alongside one another.  There are all sorts of job models now to reflect all sorts of lives.  Job sharing is made easier with the advent of ‘job application buddying’ services.
  • Incentives to work are strong.  Effective and tailored into-work support, pioneered by the Work Programme, is developed further and universally available.
  • House prices are steady – because of an increased building rate and a focus on in-town living and making high-density attractive.  Longer mortgage repayment terms are available.
  • The health service is a health and wellbeing service.  Modern jobs are less dangerous but may involve greater stress.  So now there are more talking therapies, and priorities rebalanced towards the mental, as well as physical, health of the nation.
  • There is no longer a set retirement age and people draw down their retirement savings as it suits them.  There are many part-time jobs especially suited for people in their 70s.  Others dip in and out of work – some taking on deskwork contracts remotely, or giving specialist lessons and careers sessions in schools.

David Cameron and the Conservatives can win an outright majority in 2015, but to do so we need to recreate that sense of excitement, of ambition for our nation, of can-do.  Tough economic times will be with us for some time but as we start to turn the corner we have to show that it isn’t just about money.  Conservatives haven’t lost the zeal for social reform, but we need to crystallise again what we mean by it.  We hope that through developing some of these ‘opportunity society’ ideas, the 2020 Conservatives group can make a contribution to that.

> Harry Phibbs has reviewed some of the 2020 Conservatives' main recommendations.

> Adam Afriyie MP has written about the 2020 Agenda's prosperity thinking.

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