I was in Kampala last week at a conference on local government and the Millennium Development Goals. I also visited Jinja which is in southern Uganda, at the source of the White Nile. I was representing Cities Alliance at the conference, the speech I made is here.The major point is that the poor of the world are urbanising very rapidly and that this is going to transform the politics of poverty.
The visit to Jinja was organised by Cities Alliance and Slum Dwellers International; they are both working in four cities in Uganda to try to combine the efforts of central and local government and people living in slums, to improve their living conditions
The overwhelming sense I came away with, is that the slum dwellers are some of the bravest and most entrepreneurial people in the world. They find a bit of land, build their shack and find a way of making a living in the informal economy. And thus they create a home and living for their family with little help from anyone. Most of us in these conditions would collapse into hopelessness.
I think there are also important lesson to be learned about our benefit system. If anyone on benefits in the UK, does a little work for a neighbour or makes and sells something, they are a cheat committing a criminal offence. And thus our system undermines initiative and increases dependency. The answer is surely, a universal income set at a decent rate,that would be equal to the personal allowance in the tax system. Then everyone could keep what they earn on top but of course also pay tax on their earnings. I haven’t looked at the figures, I suspect it would also reduce inequality
The beauty of autumn
As I have got older, I have been more moved by the seasons and the sheer beauty of nature. I love this time of year as the trees turn orange and brown, and the light is purer and whiter. It is not yet cold but the evenings are cooler and one can feel the promise of darker evenings and sometimes lighting a fire.
I prefer universal benefits because then everybody is a recipient and shares in the comfort of the welfare state. But both new Labour and the coalition are determined to keep taxes low. The real answer is not to ask the better off with children to contribute to savings but to ask all the better off to contribute by paying a bit more tax. But if tax rises are inconceivable, then taking benefits from the better off is the inevitable logic.