We are constantly lectured by people who live with the advantage of signifiant inherited wealth. There was George Osborne telling us how we needed austerity to make everything well again in the economy, Ian Duncan Smith saying how disabled and other vulnerable folk needed to be ‘encouraged’ or ‘incentivised’ back to work and Jacob Rees-Mogg banging on about how the Victorians would not have stood for all this welfare nonsense, They extol the virtues of hard work, thrift and standing on your own two feet while easing back on significant assets culled from someone else’s hard work which was simply handed down to them.
I am assuming the assets were gained by hard work, but as we know this is only occasionally true. The Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Estate for example, was established by Hugh Audley, a kind of seventeenth century asset shark and rip-off merchant. Strangely these people are not keen on developing schemes which would give everyone these sort of advantages, no matter how small, initially. So I suggest levelling up the playing field a little.
Take the Children’s Trust Fund (CTF) set up in 2002 by Gordon Brown. Until the Coalition Government scrapped the scheme in 2011 this provided a tool to make a start. The idea behind the CTF was simple, when a baby was born a fund was set up with the Government putting in £250, additional private contributions being allowed but limited to about £4000 per year. At age 18 the fund was turned over to the young adult. Of course the scheme was ended by just those politicians from privilege backgrounds who said we couldn’t afford it, but the Money Advice Service have a brief description of the scheme.
So the ideas are already there, we just need to bring them back, but this time make it meaningful. Lets start with the Government giving starting each account with £2000 and adding a further £2000 at age 14. Additional private payments should be strictly limited. The whole scheme could be funded by increasing inheritance and other forms of wealth tax. By the way, in the USA authors Ackermann and Alstott in their book The Stakeholder Society suggesting paying each American $80,000 at age 18! Even allowing for growth of assets we would be struggling to get our initial £2000 anywhere near the equivalent in 18 years but it is an aspiration. If there is any doubt about whether someone will act responsibly with the fund, bear in mind that no-one assesses whether the Duke of Westminster, Duncan Smith or Rees-Mogg were ‘responsible’ enough to control significant assets?
Is this post simply based on jealousy?.No. It has long been understood (since at least the 17th Century) that freedom is inextricably linked to the availability of sufficient personal economic and social resources. Financial domination and oppression can be equally as damaging as political domination and are frequently interlinked (as we can see!). These issues are, of course, tied in with the traditional radical concerns with greater equality and inclusion in society. Basically, to be genuinely free and allow an exercise of citizenship you need assets.
The re-establishment of a ramped up CTF is a very small start and politics will not be suddenly full of people from normal backgrounds elbowing the likes of Cameron, Osborne and Rees-Mogg aside. It should be part of a range of actions including the increasingly popular Citizens Basic Income for one. The fact that even small schemes to provide the sort of help enjoyed by the wealthy boys and girls are trashed the very people who already benefit is, sadly, no surprise. But that does not mean we should put up with it!