Politics can be alienating to those it most acutely affects, so this year at the ASI we want to give some more attention to the everyday things in life and try and solve some of the problems, barriers, and government inefficiencies that are affecting people up and down the country.
We’ll be looking at the whole life cycle, from going out on the tiles, to simplifying marriage laws and reforming sperm and egg donation, to childcare legislation getting women who want to work back to work, opposing meddling food laws that make us poorer and fatter, and bringing back the atmosphere at football grounds with safe standing terraces and cheaper tickets too.
Childcare costs in Britain are the highest in the Western world, with parents spending over a third of their income on nurseries and childminders – three times as much as in France and Germany. Some recent moves to subsidise childcare have been ill devised, driving up costs for middle income families by subsidising the industry rather than giving the money directly to the parents who need it.
Sky high childcare costs means that both parents going back to work often doesn’t make economic sense, and more often than not it’s women who end up staying at home. Philip Hammond has vowed to slash red tape surrounding childcare this year, and we’ll be keeping a keen eye on his progress, but an immediate improvement that we’ll be pushing for is the relaxation of the legally required staff-to-child ratios.
Currently in the UK one adult is required for every three babies, four toddlers or eight children over three years old – driving up staffing costs for crèches and consequently the financial burden on parents. In countries like Germany and Denmark there is no mandatory requirement, and they still manage to produce world standard childcare. It’s a small reform that could save people an awful lot of money and make it easier for women to return to work after having children.
The UK has had an effective ban on standing sections in top tier football since the Hillsborough Disaster, but as the inquest came to an end last year the fault was found to lie with poor management and policing, not with the fans on the terraces.
Research consistently finds that fans overwhelmingly support the reintroduction of standing sections in football stadia as a way of increasing atmosphere both in the ground and for those watching televised matches. Standing can also increase densities meaning that a broader range of ticket prices can be offered by clubs, giving more variation between the cheapest and most expensive ticket. Premier League clubs offering the levels of standing apparent in European clubs could cut the average season ticket by 57% - a potential saving of hundreds of pounds a year for avid fans.
The paper we released in 2016 with the help of the Football Supporters Federation, urged the Minister for Sport, Tracey Crouch, to intervene and lift the ban - a ministerial act that requires no additional legislation. It had a great reception in the press and with fans alike, and since then the likes of Manchester United and West Brom have started to consult fans on the issue. It's looking increasingly likely this might be an early goal in 2017, we’re certainly hoping to get it in the back of the net. (sorry)
Reforming Noise Laws and boosting the nighttime economy:
In 2015 London lost a third of its small clubs, the intimate venues that incubate touring talent, leaving the city with just 88 in total according to the Music Venue Trust. Last year we saw nightlife stalwart Fabric shut down because of drug misuse, only to be allowed to reopen again based on adherence to 32 new conditions and payment of Islington Council's £320,000 legal fees. The UK's nighttime economy is being strangled by red tape and regulation.
In cities the pressure to build more housing has caused a surge in venue closures with the spaces above being turned into residential flats. Despite the venue predating the apartments, it can make evening performances impossible at standard sound levels because of noise complaints by new residents, and generate noise-abatement notices that can cost thousands of pounds to contest.
This year we’ll be looking at practical policy solutions to address the rapid closure of London’s nightlife, from letting the burden be on developers to soundproof new builds next to venues, to root and branch noise law reform.
Liberalizing marriage laws:
If you managed to hold on to your partner through an unquestionably divisive 2016 you may be thinking of getting hitched to this political soul mate. Well let’s hope you’re not planning on a garden wedding as under the current UK law you must wed indoors, or at the very least in a pagoda. The Law Commission have been looking into sorting out the mess of UK marriage law, that limits not only where you can marry but what time of day and all sorts of erroneous other elements, but have been making limited progress. This year we’ll be pushing the idea that you should be able to marry whoever you like, wherever you like and leave the experience in the certain knowledge that you are in fact legally wed – which is currently not the case.
Liberalizing fertility laws:
Despite a steep increase in the number of women having children later in life (perhaps hoping to get far enough in their careers that they can afford the eye watering child care costs in store for them), a stark increase in same sex partners looking to conceive following the legalization of gay marriage, and one in seven UK couples having fertility problems, the UK egg and sperm donor market is…drying up.
Britain’s first national sperm and egg bank, backed with taxpayer money, has stopped recruiting new donors just two years since opening, but not because they’re full to bursting. The bank found that despite their best efforts to attract donors through altruism alone, people weren’t coming in and increasingly UK couples were looking abroad for donors and even on sites like Gumtree.
In 2017 we’ll be looking at ways we can liberalize sperm and egg donation to make having children more accessible for the increasing numbers of desiring couples. From raising the money offered to donors to help stimulate some altruism, the £250 offered to sperm donors for two visits to the clinic a week for four months isn’t pulling them in shockingly, to relaxing regulation to allow one man’s sperm to be used for 10+ families.
Those born through sperm and egg donation since 2005 will be able to know the identity of their donor parent come their 18th birthdays in 2023, and this will significantly alter the current discussion around incest risk from repeat donors.
These may not be typical areas for an economic think tank to tackle, but we think they're important. We hope that by the end of 2017 you'll be able to stand at the football on Saturday afternoon, dance till dawn on Saturday night, marry whoever you please in a night-time open air affair if you so wish it, have your pick of a wide array of affordable donor choices, and be able to pay for someone to take the resulting baby away for a few hours a day so you can maintain your sanity and go back to work. That's the dream for 2017.