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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 August, 2003, 23:27 GMT 00:27 UK
Tackle consumption, urge Fabians
Supermarket shelves
Shoppers have more choice than ever
Too much consumer choice is damaging the quality of life for society as a whole, a Labour think tank has argued.

The government must tackle the political "taboo" of over-consumption if the majority of British people are to enjoy a better quality of life, said a report by the Fabian Society.

The study, A Better Choice of Choice, says policies aimed at improving sustainable development have not succeeded in addressing issues such as congestion, carbon dioxide emissions or waste.

The society challenges the assumption that economic growth is good in itself because it increases consumption choices and individual freedom.

The taboo on political discussion of consumption needs to be broken
Roger Levett
Report's co-author
It argues rising GDP in developed countries, including the UK, may now be associated with declining quality of life.

Michael Jacobs, general secretary of the Fabian Society and co-author of the report, told BBC News Online: "The argument for giving consumers what they want should be weighed up with the quality of life and sustainable development available to the rest of society."

In practice, this could mean depriving motorists of more roads, introducing more congestion charging and increasing waste disposal fees.

Mr Jacobs said the wide choice of foods all the year round in supermarkets had a negative impact on the environment because they were transported long distances.

"We are paying the full environmental costs generated in that process," he said.

Clean air

In public services, the government is mistaken in thinking greater consumer choice means a better service, Mr Jacobs argued.

Some schools had improved and others had become worse since parents were given more freedom in where to send their children.

Shoppers on Oxford St
The government must act on consumption, says the Fabian Society
The report says that however many brands of toothpaste, sausages or cars private consumers can buy, individuals are not free to choose public goods which require regulation or public provision.

These include clean air, uncongested streets, sustainable agricultural systems, safer communities and good comprehensive schools.

Public goods often provide greater quality of life benefits, as well as being more environmentally sustainable, it adds.

Roger Levett, the report's co-author, said: "The taboo on political discussion of consumption needs to be broken.

"Improving the quality of people's lives does not automatically mean increasing their consumption."

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05 Jun 03  |  London


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