Shoestring manifesto (4): Immediate progress on social justice
So far in ConHome's 'Shoestring manifesto' we have examined ways of celebrating Britain, improving our democracy and creating a fairer media environment. In today's fourth chapter of this cost-free manifesto we examine immediate steps that will deliver more social justice.
David Cameron will probably keep reorganisation of Whitehall to a minimum but he might create one new department to focus on social justice. A hot tip to lead this would be Iain Duncan Smith although it's just as likely he will chair a powerful Social Justice Select Committee as proposed by Peter Luff MP on these pages. In today's Spectator James Forsyth notes speculation that Oliver Letwin might become Energy & Climate Change Secretary in government and that portfolio's current holder, Greg Clark, would get the Social Justice role. Either IDS or Greg Clark would be convincing choices given their long-held interest in poverty-fighting policies.
Most of the big action on social justice will remain in the existing departments (charitable tax relief in Treasury for example... education reform with Michael Gove... prisons reform at Justice... eliminating the couple penalty in the benefit system at DWP and so on) but the 'DfSJ' could focus on delivering some of the compassionate pledges that require no or little extra money. Here are some:
- A £50m fund for relationship and fatherhood education and a £25m fund for financial education of 14 year-olds (to be fully financed by getting more National Lottery money to good causes).
- Divorce law reform that would see a cooling off period introduced before couples could separate.
- A right for looked after children to sue failing local authorities as proposed by Ryan Robson.
- The Austrian system of special needs assessment so that families with disabled children get the help they need from one quick source.*
- Longer-term contracts for voluntary and community organisations so they can plan with confidence.
- New guarantees for faith-based groups to receive fair access to funding from all public grant making agencies.
- A new Unfair Competition Test that will limit governments expanding into fields already served by voluntary groups.
- The establishment of 'Community Growth Trusts' so that small poverty-fighting groups can earn recognition from the state if they pass progressive thresholds. A group that, for example, spends a grant well could receive a loan guarantee facility and then a right to apply to run an under-used public sector asset and then to run a local health centre and so on.
- Encouragement of councils to establish charitable partnership funds of the kind Boris Johnson has established in London.
- Enactment of the Right-to-Move (as proposed by Policy Exchange and accepted by Grant Shapps) for social housing tenants.*
- A progressive switch of treatments from ineffective drug substitution programmes (eg methadone) to full rehabilitation programmes so that people become genuinely drug-free. Scottish Conservatives have pioneered this in their budget negotiations.*
- The establishment of a nationwide prisoner mentoring scheme as proposed by Jonathan Aitken.
- New rights to protect the very poorest from loan sharks.
* Denotes existing Tory commitments. Most are recommendations from the Centre for Social Justice or my own.