Paxton and White, The Citizen’s Stake

Will Paxton and Stuart White with Dominic Maxwell (eds.), The Citizen’s Stake: Exploring the future of universal asset policies, Policy Press, Bristol, 2006, 212pp, pbk, 1 86134 699 9, £19.99. Order this book

‘Market economies are crucial for efficiency. But market economies also tend to generate significant inequality’ (p.1). Whilst the editors’ presupposition might be better rephrased as ‘market economies are one important means for achieving efficiency’, their subsequent diagnosis is accurate, and their collection of essays is an exploration of one means of tackling the problem of inequality: a generous ‘citizen’s stake’, i.e., an endowment for every citizen. They argue for this policy on the basis of natural (property) rights, freedom, welfare, and equality of opportunity, and they locate their exploration in a particular recent government initiative: the Child Trust Fund (CTF).

Chapters 2 to 5 discuss different means of funding a citizen’s stake: inheritance tax, common assets (i.e., water sources), and land tax.

Chapter 6 (which doesn’t really belong in the ‘funding’ section) discusses different motives for establishing citizens’ stakes and suggests that ‘the scope for capitalizing existing welfare provision is very limited’ (p.103), the most likely candidates being higher education, social housing and pension provision.

Chapters 7 to 11 discuss different forms of citizens’ stakes: capital grants for children (such as the CTF); use-restricted capital grants (e.g. for higher education); capital grants for parents; care accounts (for anyone with caring responsibilities); and time assets (a ‘time’ account into which employees can contribute salary and paid leave in order to accumulate paid leave).
In the concluding chapter the editors employ ‘social investment’, ‘libertarian’, ‘post-productivist’ and ‘egalitarian’ perspectives to evaluate the citizen’s stake idea, and they also discuss social policy and policy debate in other countries. They argue that support for the CTF is grounded in egalitarianism, and that therefore every child’s fund should have the same amount in it when they reach age 18. At the moment a family which can afford to pay into the fund can create a fund of £31,580 whereas a family which can’t will leave their child with only £2,300. Unfortunately, the remedies recommended rely on means-testing or bureaucratic discretion rather than on simply isolating the account from additional saving.

The editors are surely right to believe that through the CTF ‘the policy, and the underlying principle of a citizen’s stake is likely to become more embedded in popular thinking’ (p.190).

An interesting parallel is surely unconditional benefits for children. One might have thought that after 60 years of such a successful policy we might have seen more examples of universal benefits, such as a Citizen’s Pension or a Citizen’s Income – but we haven’t. It would appear to be easier to implement such universal provision for children than for other demographic groups – in which case we might see limited use of the citizen’s stake concept for higher education, but not necessarily more widely.
The editors have collected a diverse and interesting selection of essays which will contribute positively to the debate about a citizen’s stake.