The Charter of the Commons, 2019
The commons are our collective heritage, our common wealth, our collective knowledge and our traditions of sharing in society. They are of most value to those on low incomes, the ‘property-less’ and the precariat. Shrinking the commons lowers their living standard and worsens inequality. To reduce inequality and strengthen citizenship It is vital to revive the commons.
The Hartwick Rule of inter-generational equity – the principle that future generations should benefit from the commons as much as current generations – should be respected. Policies must promote and support equitable sharing, while seeking to prevent and reverse ‘contrived scarcity’ arising from the encroachment, enclosure and privatisation of the commons, and the neglect by government.
To revive the ethos of the commons, we should strive to create, and bequeath to coming generations, new commons based on communities of interest and communal forms of management that respect customs of sharing and preserving natural, social, cultural, civil and knowledge resources.
The commons can only be safe if there is strong democratic governance. All spheres of the commons should have identified stewards, responsible for their management and preservation, and adequately funded gatekeepers, without which the stewards may not be held to account.
1 Ownership of all land in Britain should be registered with the Land Registry within a year of the order being made, with penalties for non-registration that could include taking land back into common ownership.
2 A new Domesday book should compile a comprehensive record of the public and private ownership of land, including a map showing all commons and open-access land.
3 Farm subsidies based on the amount of land owned should be abolished.
4 Local authorities should be re-empowered to acquire land for rent to small-scale farmers.
5 In keeping with the spirit of the Charter of the Forest, the Forestry Commission should be obliged to preserve the nation’s forests as commons. This means halting and reversing privatisation and commercialisation, and maximising public access consistent with conserving the environment.
6 The Charter for Trees, Woods and People, as drawn up by the Woodland Trust in 2017, should be supported by all levels of government.
7 National Parks should be preserved as zones of biodiversity, and commercialisation should be reversed.
8 The time-honoured right to roam must be preserved. The period for registration of paths and footways should be extended beyond the existing 2026 cut-off. Maps of all open-access greenspace should be freely available to the public.
9 Public parks must be protected and properly funded.
10 The privatisation of roads and squares in cities and towns should be stopped. Privately-owned public spaces (POPS) should be rolled back and common rights of use restored. All urban public spaces, including POPS, should be mapped and made publicly available.
11 Urban trees must be preserved and increased in number. Mature trees should not be felled unless they endanger people or property. Privatisation of tree maintenance should be reversed.
12 Privatised water companies must be restored to common ownership.
13 The skyline is part of our commons. Those who block or blight the urban skyline with billboards and advertisements should pay a commons levy, as should factories, mass distribution sheds, supermarkets and other non-agricultural constructions that scar our open countryside.
14 Air pollution is a severe subtraction from the commons. It must be regulated and taxed.
15 Wind power is a natural commons that should be converted to common ownership.
16 All resources in or under the ground or sea should belong to the commons and be exploited according to commons principles for the benefit of all commoners.
17 No fracking or other resource extraction should take place in or under any public commons such as national parks.
18 A carbon tax should be imposed to slash greenhouse gas emissions, at a level that will enable the UK to fulfil its pledges to combat climate change. Those on lower incomes should be compensated for the higher energy prices.
19 The Natural Capital Committee must be abolished. Nature is not capital
20 The right to a home must be restored. The ‘right to buy’ and the compulsory sale of social housing must be scrapped, and more social housing built. Local authorities should have the power to requisition unoccupied housing. The ‘bedroom tax’ should be abolished.
21 Local communities must have more say in the planning and design of local housing, including community ownership.
22 Student accommodation must be affordable for all and comply with normal rules for social housing, including safety, liveable space and access for those with disabilities.
23 We must combat the homelessness epidemic. Conventional hostels and shelters should be replaced by ‘housing commons’, places where people are assured of shelter and food and can recover a sense of basic security.
24 Cuts in spending on public services and amenities must be reversed. Privatised and outsourced services should be brought back into common ownership or strictly regulated in the interests of users, the commoners.
25 People with physical or mental disabilities should have equal access to public spaces and facilities, including POPS, and equal rights of use. All public spaces and facilities must be made accessible for those with disabilities.
26 The number of allotments should be preserved and expanded. Sites must be protected from privatisation or conversion to other uses.
27 Local markets selling fresh and local produce should be encouraged and protected.
28 Policies must ensure food security for all, as part of the right to subsistence. Hunger has no place in an affluent society.
29 The commons traditions of the guilds must be regenerated by reviving occupational communities and encouraging accreditation-based practices in place of licensing.
30 Private owners of public spaces should be required to display prominent notices of any restrictions on use of the space and what if any ‘penalties’ exist for contravening them. But private owners of public spaces should not be allowed to impose restrictions and penalties that are not in force in publicly owned public spaces.
31 Legal aid as a right must be granted for both criminal and civil cases. This should include cases brought against the alleged unlawful plunder of the commons by corporations or individuals, who can otherwise exert legal advantage by hiring expensive lawyers and indulging in costly litigation.
32 The probation service must be restored as a common public service. The privatisation of prisons and policing must be reversed.
33 If any private social policy provider wrongly denies a claimant some benefit or service to which they are entitled, the provider should be fined, with part going to compensate the wronged claimant. Claimants should not be sanctioned without a fair hearing; there must be no sanctions without due process.
34 The BBC has a unique role as a public service broadcaster. Its governance must be made more democratic and funding through the licence fee must be made independent of the government of the day.
35 The erosion of the cultural commons represents a concealed form of impoverishment and inequality. The public sphere must be revived and funding for the cultural commons restored.
36 To assist in the revival of commoning, in activities involving shared creative activity, fledgling cultural cooperatives should be supported.
37 Data must be owned by the individuals who generate them and used only for purposes to which they agree.
38 Regulation is needed to protect privacy and require tech companies to meet democratically-decided standards, including removing and barring false or malicious content.
39 The principles in the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations should be integrated into any UK post-Brexit trade deals.
40 Intellectual property rights are too strong and are depleting the knowledge commons. Patent applications should be more strictly vetted and their duration shortened.
41 Copyright protection should end with the death of the author or artist or, reverting to the old rule, last for 14 years after creation of the work if the author or artist dies within that period.
42 The privatisation and commodification of all levels of schooling and education should be reversed. All stakeholders, including students, teachers, parents and the local community, should have a governance role, along the lines of the multi-stakeholder cooperative model.
Commons Fund and Commons Dividends
43 A Commons Fund should be set up, primarily sourced by levies on the commercial use or exploitation of the commons. The Fund should invest to generate and preserve ecologically sustainable common wealth, and Commons Dividends should be paid out equally to all commoners.
44 Recalling the Charter of the Forest’s constitutional commitment to the right to subsistence, the Commons Fund should be a means of introducing a basic income as an economic right, paid as Commons Dividends.
With thanks to Guy Standing who proposed a ‘Charter of the Commons’ that all political parties entering a General Election should adopt in one form or another. Plunder of the Commons: A Manifesto for Sharing Public Wealth, Pelican Books, 2019.