Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Investing in the future

An interesting piece from Colin James today about Labour's new policy direction in opposition. Since being ejected from the government benches, they've gone back to basics, with a much greater focus on inequality (The Spirit Level is an obvious influence here, since its empirical case is pretty unambiguous). But this doesn't just mean the short-term stuff around progressive taxation and workers' rights - they're also looking at making a long-term investment in our future by investing in children:

The result, to be presented to Labour's conference next month, is a focus on children. The aim is to move from developing policy by way of separate adjustments to the various branches of social policy to devising policies to ensure a good start to life and a real prospect of getting well educated and thus a full place in the workforce.

The idea is that from that children-centred base policies will be reshaped for the education, health, housing, justice and welfare portfolios.

This has obvious implications for Working for Families, which leaves out children of non-earning parents -- that is, probably a large proportion of those who get substandard starts in life and then are more likely to end up in delinquency, addiction, mental illness and crime.

No amount of locking up criminals is likely to sort that out. And in an unequal society where there is much less scope for upward mobility than when baby-boomer King was getting her opportunity there is a real likelihood that dysfunction will be passed from generation to generation.

This is an obviously good idea. We know that the payoffs from such early investment are high (ECE is one example). And we're already seeing the traces of this approach in Labour's member's bills - e.g. Rajen Prasad's bill to require BORA-style reporting on children's welfare and rights, which would build such issues into the policy development process. Hopefully we'll see a lot more of it.