Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The National Safety Fund explained

Every country needs to pool sufficient resources to deal with those challenges that its citizens cannot tackle individually on their own. But increasingly politicians have embraced the view that they must pool less rather than more resources for the good of their country, because people have apparently become very reluctant to contribute to safeguard their common wellbeing. Some of them have adopted this stance because their prime concern is to ensure their wealthy friends and families pay as little as possible towards helping other people. But there are those who also sing the same tune because, out of naivety or timidity, they dare not believe people can be persuaded to share more of their resources with others, even if that would improve life for them as well as their fellow citizens.

It is time we rethink how the true value of pooled national resources is made much clearer to the public. For too long, state institutions have taxed and spent without giving any adequate explanation to citizens why and how better outcomes for all have been achieved. We should reverse this neglect and rebuild a real sense of democratic solidarity by doing five things.

First, the fragmented and complex information on tax revenue and public expenditure should be integrated into a single accessible website that explains what is essentially the country’s National Safety Fund (NSF). The Fund is there to make the country safe from a series of key threats (economic instability, lack of productive capacity, hunger and malnourishment, homelessness for the vulnerable, health problems, military and paramilitary attacks, theft and violence, ignorance and prejudice, abuse of people who cannot defend themselves, riots, environmental degradation, destructive climate fluctuations, etc). What resources are pooled together and how they are allocated to tackling these threats should be set out in a clear and interesting way for all to see.

Secondly, every NSF transaction notice should flag up what the money involved is contributing to or how it has been raised. For example, every payslip or bill referring to ‘tax deducted’ should indicate that a democratically agreed amount has been contributed to the National Safety Fund with a link to more details about how the threats in question are being dealt with; and every recipient of support from the Fund – from corporate subsidies and social security to public-funded hospital treatment and environmental safety checks – should be informed where the money has come from via the contributions of citizens to the fund.

Thirdly, just as there are public fund-raising days that help to remind people of what the money collected by charities can do in saving people from preventable suffering (e.g., Red Nose Day, Children in Need, and many others), there should be a National Safety Day to promote awareness and support for NSF, which helps many more people on a far larger scale but is often underrated for the vital protection and improvement it gives to countless lives. On each occasion, it should set out what has been achieved and what major shortfalls still exist, encourage people to make additional donations, and conclude with a review to indicate if more funds still need to be raised fiscally beyond the donations given.

Fourthly, while attention is routinely given to tackling people who attempt to defraud benefit payments, the substantially greater problem of people not paying their share of contributions to the NSF should be addressed with a sustained and high profile Support Our NSF Campaign. The dodging of payments due to the NSF should be presented as unpatriotic attempts to deny the country of the necessary funds, and the public should be routinely reminded of the harm involved, and be encouraged to report perpetrators to an NSF hotline. Citizens can debate what laws and public finances are required, but once these have been decided on by democratically elected governments, any non-compliance ought to be exposed.

Finally, the on-going development of NSF should be guided by a series of NSF Deliberative Weekends taking place across the country where people can select the sessions that interest them and join in deliberative discussions about what funds are raised for tackling particular threats to our country’s wellbeing, how they are used, and what changes should be made. The findings from all the sessions will then be summarised to inform the thinking of politicians inside and outside government.

(The name, ‘National Safety Fund’, is a generic suggestion. Each country can adopt its own preferred name to reflect its own identity and associate it with its own symbols such as flag and emblem.)


Kimon Roussopoulos said...


Interesting concept, and something similar would be a Good Thing, I think.

I'm not completely clear about the details - does the NSF include the whole of the tax (and in UK NI) system? I.e. does it pay for roads, schools, airports, pensions, etc as well as "safety" (military, health, etc)? If so that note on the payslip explaining how it is used will be awfully big!

I can see that there is a problem, especially post-Thatcher, of people regarding tax as "stealing" their money without considering the benefits they get from it. But this will still be prone to the problems of the affluent saying "I don't use state schools, why should I pay for that".... And public discourse does not always give rise to liberal or "fair" outcomes - qv some recent Swiss referenda, for example. Remember, in the US, everyone believes they will be a millionaire one day, so supports tax cuts for them!

Henry Benedict Tam said...

Successful charities know how to highlight the value of the work made possible by donations and draw out the impact of their activities all over the world. Conglomerate corporations rise to the PR challenge of assuring their investors through showcasing an attractive portfolio of success stories. Governments should learn to communicate the value of public resources, from headline references, through brochure-style positive features, to more details expressed in plain English.

Public discourse needs to be facilitated as an inclusive and deliberative process if it is to build shared understanding, and not just polarise uninformed views. Not easy, but the evidence suggests it can be done. Referendum, alas, is rarely a deliberative process.