Architect of Society I

I’m going to start a series of posts to illustrate my ideas for a better future. I want people to comment on them. Basically what that means is that I don’t particularly want to stamp my opinion all over the place if my opinion is based in flawed reasoning and thus could be damaging. I’d rather publish what I think and then work with others to better calibrate my position and reach a point where I become reasonable.

Firstly, the housing crisis. Right now, there are a lot of people living in unaffordable accommodation, that the government is having to pay for, and there are also long waiting lists for homeless people to be placed in accommodation. The government is trying to manage the spend on rent by introducing benefit caps and trying to convince people to move. I would do things very differently. I would first introduce a rent cap. By doing this, I would mandate would-be landlords to get their homes valued and, depending on the value of the home, assign them a maximum rate at which they can charge rent on it. This would not take location into account. The cap would be just as high or low in Central London as it is in places further afield. Given how location affects property value anyway, there would be a variance due to location, but it would be solely based on property value, not ‘typical’ rent value of local areas. This measure would drastically reduce the amount of money the government would have to spend in housing benefit, as rent prices would be made more reasonable.

I would then recommend the government invest in social housing projects. As I previously stated in another post, I have a particular preference for energy efficient housing, and would definitely want to aim for something that is as closed a system as possible, with recycling and alternative energies being focal points of the estates, along with substantially improved building materials that reduce costs and improve durability as well as energy efficiency. With lower maintenance costs, these estates would be very likely to reduce the housing spends even more, even if they would cost more to plan and build.

The next thing I would like to focus on is the ongoing welfare situation. Again I’d like to spend a bit more, and expect much bigger economic returns. The current government wants to reduce the welfare budget by reassessing people for sicknesses that they are already well-documented as having, and subsequently shoo them off the welfare system if it is possible to understate their difficulties enough. This is not only costly in the short term, especially as the information required is readily available and unlikely to produce results (if used honestly), but it is also extremely inefficient, especially when counting in the fact that for many it only takes a long and gruelling (and above all, expensive) appeals process to reverse the decision. That, and it’s also inhumane, and has thus far cost tens of thousands of lives and an obscene amount of money.

What I would instead do is assess capability for work. This might sound exactly like what the government is doing, but it is in fact the opposite. I would allow people to remain on the benefits they are on, and my proposed work capability assessment would assess an individual’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of work. While sickness would usually preclude a person from having a typical job, which is a fact seemingly ignored by the current government, it would be possible to help people into employment that is perhaps not so typical, and better suited to them. This would be accomplished through careers advice and training where suitable. While receiving this help, their benefits are paid in full, until such point the claimant finds suitable employment. If indeed their sicknesses certainly preclude any employment whatsoever, then the assessment would determine how long this is expected to be the case, and arrangements made accordingly. Pre-assessments could be made without any direct interaction with the claimant, using evidence from doctors and other professionals.

The idea here is to recognize that the sick are on sickness benefit because they are sick, not because they’re somehow lazy. However, the idea is also to empower sick people and find ways in which they can escape from being forgotten at the bottom of the pack. Instead of shifting people around and trying to kick them into work, it is far better to come up with ways in which they can work without being stripped of dignity, and in full recognition of the challenges they face from sickness. Essentially changing the ethic from ‘you can work, therefore you can’t claim benefits’ to ‘you’re very ill, but not worthless. We have researched the job market, and wonder have you ever thought about doing <this job>? The employer has assured us that you won’t have to go to their premises to do the job, and we have allocated you an advocate who can make sure you’re treated fairly and not expected to do anything that you cannot. We feel that this career path will work for you, but you do have every right to say no, and your benefits will not be affected’

Job seekers, a different group, are not sick, but still face problems finding work. I feel that they too could benefit from a full assessment of strengths and weaknesses, as well as decentrelevant, and worthwhile training. The reason I emphasise those words is because I am aware that training has been available in the past. CV skills, first aid, and others. Most of which do not result in any meaningful qualification, leaving the jobseeker no more attractive to employers as before. Why not pay for jobseekers to attend universities and colleges and educate themselves towards careers that they actually want and can easily transfer between jobs in? In the short term, this would be very costly, but I’m not so sure. A typical jobseeker costs around £5,000 per annum, and that’s without any housing benefits or other costs. Sending them to full time education with their benefits would get them into work on a far more permanent basis and far sooner than the current system. I’m pretty sure the qualifications and subsequent jobs will pay for themselves after a couple of years. Not only would the government save that benefit money, but the newly employed claimant pays tax. Again, they’d be assessed as to what they can/can’t do, where their strengths and weaknesses are, and proper advice given to ensure a well-matched and rewarding career is paid for, rather than a course the claimant would not want to do, and drop out of rather quickly.

I mention potential jobs for everyone, but I have yet to make any mention of where these jobs will come from. For a start, there’s all the social housing being built, but I have other ideas. What I would do to create more jobs is make use of the Eurozone. UK citizens looking for work in the UK tend to only get employed in the UK. Yet we have the freedom to live and work anywhere in the EU. I would recommend programs be set up where someone could live and work in another EU country if the work is available there, without officially having to leave the UK. Essentially remaining a UK resident, paying tax to the UK, having gained employment in the UK, and having a home in the UK, but having an employment location elsewhere. There would be agreements between the governments ensuring that paid-for housing would be available in the area near the place of employment, so people would only have to pay rent for their UK home, not their EU home. This type of housing would be paid for by the whole EU, not just the UK. However, it needs to be stressed that nobody would be required to take a job in another country, especially if they’re sick.

Final thought for tonight: If the government pulls its finger out, it might be able to tweak the tax and enforcement system and recover the hundreds of billions of pounds dodged by big international corporations. Of course, it’s legal for the corporations to do that, thanks to loopholes, but it shouldn’t be. Why has the law not changed to make it impossible?

Crime and Punishment

I was recently in a debate about the role of detention in society. I started it by suggesting that prison is not enough. It rarely, if at all, changes the outlook for the person sent there. People do ‘clean up’, but I assume those who do are usually the ones who wanted to anyway. In countries such as ours (UK) and other places with similar approaches to imprisonment, I am curious as to what the re-offending rate is. I am willing to guess it’s pretty high.

But if prison is not enough, what options are there? I don’t see capital punishment as a viable option. If the point of punishment is to make someone see the error of their ways and change, capital punishment negates the entire point. Nobody can change if they’re dead. As for seeing the error of their ways… same deal. What about guilt? I would consider a guilty conscience a terrible thing to live with, and indeed seems to be the main reason why people actually end up reforming in the first place. Sitting in prison for years and feeling guilty about what they did is a pretty powerful way to make someone very sorry indeed. Capital punishment saves them from all of that.

So what’s wrong with what we have already? Prisons include having a little cell to yourself for your stay. You lose freedom. You get to mingle only with other ‘undesirables’ while there. It’s pretty much designed to be completely comfort-free, and a horrible place to be. Should be a good deterrent, no? The question of reasoning is something I’ve addressed in previous posts. I feel that the current system, albeit a good deterrent for crime, does very little to stop crime from happening. People who commit crime nearly always have some sort of reason, a root cause, for doing things that ultimately end with them going to prison. For some reason or other, the initial act is worth the high likelihood of going to such a terrible place.

During the debate I was in, someone raised the point of Norway having a very low rate of re-offenders. That person linked me to various sources about a Norwegian prison called Bastoy. I was very skeptical about it when I first read some of the sources. It seemed that Bastoy was a poor excuse for a prison, being pretty much a holiday camp. In their free time there, prisoners get to go horse riding, fishing, cross country skiing and can play tennis. Much of the rest of the time, they’re working on farms to feed themselves, and living conditions are pretty good. There’s even photos of inmates out sunbathing… in front of their own cottages. What’s the deal here? How can this be a prison? People will be committing crimes just to get in, surely. But no… this prison has the lowest re-offending rate in Europe.

I am willing to guess that the ‘secret’ is not about guilt, punishment, and people trying their darndest not to end up there. I think it’s likely that a stay at Bastoy involves integration. Things that motivate a person outside to commit crime, such as mental illness and poverty, are less of an issue if you know how to deal with them properly and legally. Instead of being caged up and given the very least respect, it seems inmates at Bastoy are given work, dignity and a chance to learn how to be a functioning part of a community, all while still sacrificing their freedom. Skills that they then take outside with them and apply in the real world. I can see how this works, and how it works so well.