A fairer society: All in this together? Here's how

Specialists in 10 key areas tell how to share the cuts burden
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Indy Politics

Equality

Ceri Godd, Chief executive of the Fawcett Society, a campaign group for gender equality

"The coalition's deficit-cutting approach is putting women in jeopardy. Government should properly assess what its cuts will mean for gender inequality and take mitigating action. Cuts in public-sector jobs will hit women hardest and they make up 65 per cent of those employees. Even before the recession, women faced a 16.4 per cent pay gap. Women are heavy users of the services and of benefits to be hit. And who do you think will fill the social-care gap, as services are slashed? Women already form 89 per cent of adult carers and do the vast majority of childcare. It is a political choice to meet 80 per cent of the deficit by cuts and only 20 per cent by tax. A more balanced approach, with a greater burden on bank tax ,for example, would better protect women."

Executive severance

Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary

"Requiring remuneration committees to co-opt employee members would be a start. But it is the shareholders, particularly pension funds, who hold the real power. Tolerating wasteful pay-outs is no way to guarantee decent returns for pension fund members. Some tough words from key shareholders could end the gravy train in UK PLC very quickly.

"Government could do more. David Cameron believes in a fair society in which people get what they deserve. But he confines this to what he sees as undeserving benefit claimants, not the undeserving rich. Consistency requires him to talk about those senior executives – particularly failed CEOs with 'golden goodbyes' – who are paid well beyond what they can possibly contribute as one individual. The big society is meant to bind us together, but such inflated awards drive workforce communities apart."

Pensions

Richard Murphy, Tax Research UK

"We need to transform private sector pensions so they are not simply used to speculate on the stock market but create new jobs, schools, hospitals, businesses and trained people. The rate of contributions is almost irrelevant if the money is misused. The private sector takes state pension subsidies and pays City bonuses. Why should we beat up the public sector because the private sector made mistakes?"

Unmotivated claimants

Julia Unwin, Chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

"We must protect those who are most at risk – low earners as well as no-wage earners. We must not demonise them with caricatures and simplistic suggestions that there are easy answers.

"Society recognises that everyone benefits from providing a safety net for those with no other income. The current moral panic, based on caricatures of benefit claimants and contrasting benefits with average incomes, makes little suggestion it is incomes which are too low rather than benefits too generous. Our Minimum Income Standards research shows millions of people, both on benefits and in work, exist on incomes well below what is needed to provide a basic reasonable standard of living."

Executive pay

Sunder Katwala, General Secretary of the Fabian Society

"The pay gap needs to narrow; not through a maximum wage – both unworkable and unfair – but by making changes in our culture. In the Sixties you wouldn't see top directors getting paid whatever they could, because they would be worried about the social and political climate. Transparency about pay and taxation would go a long way to returning to that culture. Another approach would be to pursue voluntary codes of best practice – but insist firms seeking public contracts participate. The public make distinctions between the 'deserving' and 'undeserving' rich: J K Rowling is fine, yet there is little evidence that bankers' pay or mega-mergers reflect the creation of economic value. Windfall profits, which do not reflect business risk, should be heavily taxed."

Telephone number salaries

Richard Wilkinson, Co-author of The Spirit Level

"Make people's tax records publicly available, as in several Scandinavian countries. That would be a restraining influence. TV presenters, pop stars and footballers give an impression of being in touch with the public, but they don't realise they are living in a different world. The need to reduce the deficit is a huge opportunity to increase fairness if it is done by collecting unpaid tax, filling tax loopholes, and dealing with non-doms. As much as £100bn in tax goes uncollected. We need to divert more resources to combat this, and instigate a change in attitude to make greed at the top unacceptable. People must realise inequality isn't just about pulling up the bottom, it is about pulling down the top."

Universal benefits

Emma Boon, The Taxpayers' Alliance

"We need a cheaper, fairer, benefits system, with a simple, negative income tax replacing most benefits, including universal, paid to working-age households. It would mean the lowest earners receive supplementary benefits in proportion to their salary and there would be no need for universal benefits, from child benefit, to free bus passes and winter fuel allowance. We all want the welfare system to help the poorest people, and universal benefits don't do this. But it is a difficult problem to combat. If you introduce rules and means tests, the system becomes more expensive to administer and you get diminished returns on your cost-cutting."

Immigration

Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Director general of the Royal Commonwealth Society

"We need a system that guarantees basic rights and entitlements of all newcomers, and political leadership that takes the venom out of the public debate on immigration. Our society is blighted by the fact that some categories of immigrants – such as asylum seekers or undocumented migrants – face severe curbs that risk undermining their ability to live a decent life. The system could be made fairer by offering fuller protection to refuge seekers and a regularisation programme to bring the vulnerable out of the shadows. We need our political leaders to avoid the pitfalls of anecdote and prejudice. A truly fairer system – as the European experience shows – is to promote freer movement."

Baby boomers

Frank Furedi, Professor of Sociology, University of Kent

"It seems to me that we've got to get away from language of fairness because 'fairness' assumes, somehow, that there is this way of equitably distributing the cake, rather than understanding that, no matter what slice of cake you might get, some people will always resent their share and will feel put upon.

"I think the key thing is not to worry about the size of the cake but to think how we can make that cake a little big bigger, focusing on the future of society and the way that society positions itself to take advantage of new opportunities.

"I do think there's a kind of myth about how good the old days were and how bad things are now."

Bankers' bonuses

Max Lawson, Spokesperson for the Robin Hood Tax campaign

"A tax on bank transactions would generate tens of billions for the fight against poverty and climate change, while curbing the riskiest elements of casino-style trading. A Financial Activities Tax, as proposed by the IMF, would be a big step. At 5 per cent it would mean £4bn, though we think the sector can afford as much as £20bn. Europe has united behind the proposal. The bank bailouts cost each person in the UK £31,250 and yet, having precipitated the largest financial crisis in a generation, the average banker's bonus this year is set to be £70,000. The government cannot claim we are all in this together unless the bankers are made to pay a fair share."

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