All the parties are concerned about affordability. However, none seem to be focusing on the affordability problems of the poorest - fuel poverty gets a mention, but none of the manifestos consider the 21% of people who are ‘housing poor’: poor once they have paid their housing costs. None of the three manifestos comments on the fact that the Department of Communities and Local Government capital budget is less than half what it was in 2010, or say if this “new normal” level is going to be enough to fix the problems.
Mental health is a focus for all three manifestos; committing to give mental health services parity with physical health. The Conservatives will encourage the public to enrol on a new basic mental health awareness training programme and recruit 10,000 more mental health professionals, but no supporting funding details are provided. While the Conservative manifesto focuses on the NHS, the Liberal Democrats and Labour manifestos explicitly discuss the importance of wider services such as public health, illness prevention and health promotion. In addition, the Lib Dems explicitly state the importance of the wider determinants of health such as housing and clean air, committing to “publish a National Wellbeing Strategy, which will put better health and wellbeing for all at the heart of government policy”, proposing the most holistic vision of health of all three parties. Labour commit to tackling the link between child ill health and poverty and will set aside £250m for a Children’s Health Fund.
And the differential matters. The case of US economic policy since the nineties is instructive. Even as the domestic distribution of wealth and income has become more unequal and the poor both absolutely and relatively poorer, our government drained resources from the poor through “welfare reform” and gave away resources to the rich through tax cuts. On the foreign side, when financial crisis hit the Pacific Rim in 1997, Washington encouraged the IMF and World Bank to impose draconian reforms that only made the poor worse off. As poor-house arrangements offer no rights, the poor lack structures or resources with which to defend themselves. Greater economic equality – both between rich and poor countries and between rich and poor in poor countries – is the only way to assure that people can hang to and improve upon their gains.
In any case, the world changed, and Port Clinton changed with it. “Most of the downtown shops of my youth stand empty and derelict,” Putnam writes. In the late nineteen-sixties, the heyday of the Great Society, when income inequality in the United States was as low as it has ever been, the same was probably true of Port Clinton. But in the nineteen-seventies the town’s manufacturing base collapsed. Standard Products laid off more than half of its workers. In 1993, the plant closed. Since then, unemployment has continued to rise and wages to fall. Between 1999 and 2013, the percentage of children in Port Clinton living in poverty rose from ten to forty.
That said, though the Millennium Project is the most robust and progressive aid-related development program around, and laden with suggested practices that would alleviate the direst poverty. Yet its focus on poverty reduction, not equality, enables economic and political systems to judge themselves by means of a counter-factual of not-poorness. Semantic ambiguities and measurement problems are compounded by rule of thumb judgments that states and their bureaucracies deploy. On a practical basis, greater economic equality provides a clearer goal and standard than does ‘not-poorness,’ and also is more in line with the growing trend to link development aid to clear-cut outcomes.
The Conservative manifesto is very short on detail in this area. It states that we can expect a continuation of its current record. The Conservatives celebrate public service and will fund schemes “to get graduates from Britain’s leading universities to serve in schools, police forces, prisons, and social care and mental health organisations.” However, it is not clear how this will create change. What we need is a diverse workforce with an understanding of how real people lead their lives, often in poverty. It is unlikely that this going to be achieved by using highflying graduates as an elite taskforce. Labour and the Liberal Democrats both argue for the public-sector cap on wages to be relaxed, which is more likely to enable the recruitment of staff who will stay in post.
Third, despite the Millennium Project’s acknowledgment of the need for state planning, and notwithstanding their admission that key Asian tigers long protected their industries from competition, there is a disappointing paucity of industrial ideas that Sachs leave poor states to ponder. Justifiably leery of letting “the market” decide – if markets functioned efficiently, poor countries would be awash in capital as investors chase higher margins associated with cheap labor and cheap start-up costs – Sachs urges poor countries to pursue export-oriented, labor-intensive, “light” manufacturing, typically focussed on shoes, textiles and apparels, which are the traditional first steps. The success stories of Bangladesh and Taiwan are cited. The problem with this solution is that everyone is doing it, and onrushing giants like India and China have just begun to exploit these niches. Due to the phasing out of the international textile agreement, these two producers threaten to wipe out manufacturers in Africa, Central America, Latin America, Bangladesh. The United States and Europe are mindful of the damage to their own producers and seek protection for them. So the question for poor countries is what kinds of new export markets at the lowest end of the manufacturing process can support their development. If Bangladesh, among 15 other poor countries, must appeal to the U.S. Congress to protect their garment production from being annihilated by China and India, what room at the bottom of the industrial ladder is left for a Togo, Chad, or Mali?
The White House is having to contend with televised images each day that reinforce an image of constant carnage, along with public remarks from military leaders reporting an increase in the flow of foreign fighters and no letup in the pace of attacks on American forces.
Third, the rebalancing of the British economy. The overreliance of the UK economy on a prosperous financial services sector, and the failure to generate high quality employment opportunities in other sectors and other parts of the country, has contributed to both poverty and economic inequality in recent years, and likely played a part in leading to the leave vote in the referendum. Once more, however, the manifestos are strikingly silent on the opportunities Brexit might present to address this long-standing difficulty. Labour does accuse the Conservatives of wishing to utilise the great repeal bill to deregulate the financial services sector still further, and to undermine employment rights, but there is scant evidence for that desire in the Conservative manifesto itself. Labour also outlines the possibilities of using a national investment bank to support local industries across the regions in the UK, in ways that might have previously been proscribed by EU state aids rules, but all manifestos privilege vague aspiration over concrete plans.
Ending extreme poverty is a necessary but not sufficient step toward global justice. Moving up to two-dollar-a-day poverty is a great but finally mean achievement. From an ethical standpoint, how can one be at ease when many people’s lives are so disadvantaged? There is also a practical matter of power: How can poor people inside poor countries defend their gains, however slight, against their own predatory classes, let alone ours? The abyss between rich and poor countries will persist under Sachs’ scheme, as will the power differential.
Second, trade. There has been much debate among economists and anti-poverty campaigners on the economic consequences of free trade deals and the difficulty in striking them. For some, the Brexit vote itself indicates a repudiation of the kind of open trade associated with EU membership, and with the broader globalism of the last few decades. For others, Britain’s likely withdrawal from the single market, and the trade possibilities that it guarantees, presage a potential severe dislocation for the British economy, likely to cause difficulties at least in the medium term for British workers and consumers in general, and especially for those struggling in the hardest parts of the labour market. Others still see Brexit as an opportunity to reorient trade away from the stalling EU economy towards emerging powers. Again, the manifestos are strikingly largely silent on this question. Each makes a commitment to seeking to maintain benefits akin to single market membership, while making little effort to explain either how such benefits are to be secured through negotiation or how such benefits could be maintained while the UK opens up to potentially contradictory rival trade deals with other major economic powers.