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Good idea: Starting from scratch

As the jobless count continues to rise, it has been predicted that bank bonuses could reach £6bn. Is this the sign of recovery, or is there an alternative? According to The Great Transition, a report from the New Economics Foundation (, there is.

Making the case for nothing less than a complete restructuring of society and the economy, it expounds the numerous problems of the old system. We were producing too much CO2, consuming too much and working too hard, despite growing inequality. Tying together climate change and social inequality, it predicts that a return to "business as usual", or a finance-driven society, will come at great expense, with up to £2.5trn in costs related to climate change and £4.5trn to social problems by 2050.

This is where it gets utopian, outlining drastic measures by which we could achieve a more equal society and save the planet in the process. Policy proposals start with the "great revaluing": "we need to make 'good' things cheap and 'bad' things very expensive", bringing environmental value to the centre of all decisions.

There is also the "great redistribution": a plan to give everyone a £25,000 community endowment to ensure equal opportunities. Funding would come from taxing inheritance by up to 67 per cent, thus reducing inherited inequality in wealth. If that isn't socialist enough for you, there are distinctly Marxist overtones in the suggestion that "company shares are progressively transferred to employees in a resurgence of mutual and co-operative ownership forms". It argues that markets must reflect social and environmental costs and be rebalanced against the public sector, making the state into "'us' and not 'them'".

Emphasising local production and community life, it suggests that a four-day week should be instituted to allow people to spend more time in their communities and reduce job losses, which will be inevitable as society becomes less profit-driven.

It's nice to see a bit of optimism in these austere times. The Great Transition's proposals are extreme, but that should not detract from the value of its message, which is that to ignore the two ticking time bombs of climate change and global inequality is dangerous and wrong. The report sets out steps that can be taken straight away (in the event that policymakers aren't keen to restructure the entire economy) and recommends that the government agree a global deal on climate change, reduce working hours, and introduce an eco-friendly tax. Well, you've got to start somewhere.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 02 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Mob rule

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.