You Can’t Get Champagne for Ginger Beer Money

Speech

You Can’t Get Champagne for Ginger Beer Money

The focus on Sustainable Development Goals in recent years has been pleasing to say the least. In an interconnected world we really do need to concentrate on what is really important. Using GDP as the sole measurement of progress, has largely been debunked and to make progress on tackling inequality and poverty the SDG’s do provide a useful challenge.

The issue of homelessness is a universal one and there still isn’t (yep, not even Finland) a country in the world that is not challenged by a housing and support shortfall for its most vulnerable citizens.

In the UK, we have seen increases in all forms of homelessness. In Scotland where I live and work, recent figures suggest another increase of homeless applications to local authorities, even at a time when the Scottish Government is committing effort and resources to tackling the problem.

So, why are we not making the progress that we’d like to see? Is it ineffective policy or a structural impasse?

I would contend it is more of the latter than the former.

In Finland where homelessness has largely been ended, the Housing First model of placing individuals who were homeless directly in tenancies with effective wrap-around support has been heralded as the ‘answer’ to tackling homelessness. The statistics would appear to show that to be the case, so I can understand why policy makers and lobbyists in Scotland would advocate for a similar approach. “If it works there, it’s gotta be able to work here.” goes the argument. I certainly agree BUT and it’s a big but. Finland and Scotland are not the same.

The tax base in Finland is wider and taller that the UK’s. In Finland, taxation increases rapidly from the base bracket of 25% of annual income at €13,000, up to 67% of annual income at €83,000 a year. This percentage decreases marginally to 65% of annual income at €127,000 a year.

That is why in Finland if you need to see a doctor you get to see one the same day, mental health services are largely waiting list free, the same for other support services including debt management and substance issues support. Public services are of a high standard and are available to all.

Compare that to the UK where public services are typified by long waiting lists, the longest sometimes for the most vulnerable in terms of mental health and substance misuse support.

I would contend there is an absolute and direct correlation between taxation levels and better public services. In Finland, taxpayers support better  and more universal services and according to polls are happy to pay for them.

In comparison, the UK’s, flatter tax structure is criticised as being too onerous in most polling. When you ask the British public who should pay more tax, they will answer, “Rich people.” Unfortunately when you drill into that, “Rich people” are then defined as people who earn more that they do.

However, if wish to hit the Sustainable Development Goals going forward there needs to be a change of approach. Policy makers need to make the argument and win the war of ideas, that it’s better to pay more and get more than pay less and get less.

If we wish to have first class public services then we need to stump up the cash.

In simple terms we can measure our society on progress on SDGs, on happiness or another measure of your choice but if we want a fairer, better, healthier society then WE have to pay for it.

Gavin Yates is the Chief Executive of Homeless Action Scotland. The national membership body for charities, and local government concerned with ending homelessness.