Tory Welfare Reforms: Right Idea, Wrong Execution

After this weeks tax credit debacle, Worcester Lib Dem, Adam Warner offers his perspective on the controversial proposals

Many will remember the haunting image of Iain Duncan Smith cheering in the House of Commons as Chancellor George Osborne announced welfare changes that will see tax credits cut for millions of working families.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said that it is ‘arithmetically impossible’ for ‘no-one to lose out’ whilst the Resolution Foundation says the average family will be £1,350 worse off even with the introduction of the so-called ‘national living wage’. Even Conservative MP’s have criticized the plans with Boris Johnson saying at the Conservative Party conference this week that more must be done to ‘protect the low-paid’.

Many on the left have condemned the changes entirely and some have marched against them. This is despite the fact that the principle behind them seem reasonable. Conservatives have repeated many times that the changes are an attempt to move the UK away from a low pay, high welfare economy to a high pay, low welfare economy.

There is no doubt that this would be a desirable result. The current system of central government subsidising low pay from exploitative big business is not only inefficient but just plain wrong. Surely a system where work pays more – which it will with the national living wage set to rise to £7.20 next year and to £9 by 2020 – is a better one?

The problem lies with the scale of the proposed tax credit cuts. As aforementioned, the overall package of reforms will see millions of what the Tories call ‘hard-working families’ losing huge amounts of money. In a society where the poorest have borne the brunt of austerity these changes will look like another attack on the most vulnerable.

There are certainly aspects of the changes that are not only positive, but necessary. However, yet again the Tories have decided to appeal to the minority who reside in the right of their party by sending out a message that they are ‘tough on welfare’ and ‘scroungers’ instead of doing what’s right for the millions of low paid workers in this country who do not earn enough to sustain a reasonable standard of living.

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Worcester Lib Dem Policy Discussion – 09/09/2015

Last Wednesday, Worcester Liberal Democrats met at the Cap N Gown in Worcester City Centre to discuss some prominent issues both local and national. This is something we plan to do more of in the future – below are some of the things discussed.

Congestion

It was agreed that traffic congestion is one of the greatest issues threatening Worcester and its residents. With the multiple housing projects going on around the city the problem is only going to get worse. It was agreed that the proposed dualling of the Carrington Bridge was an idea we should get behind and it was acknowledged that the infamous Northern Link Road is something that will probably have to happen in the future – despite the huge cost.

There was also a consensus among us that an integrated public transport system is needed. The closure of the Perdiswell Park and Ride was condemned and the original council proposal of three park and ride sites around the city was supported. We also felt that the park and ride should have been publicised more effectively along with more encouragement for alternative forms of transport such as walking and cycling.

Housing

On top of the problems aforementioned we thought that housing developers ought to do more to contribute to the area in which they are building – i.e more local amenities and community facilities. We acknowledged that this already happens through Section 106 Planning Gain but still thought that their was room for it to be more effective. An example highlighted was the new bus lane near the Earls Court development on he west side of the city which has done little to improve traffic flow and is nearly always empty.

Refugees

We agreed with national party policy that we should be doing more to help with the refugee crisis than is currently being offered. We acknowledged that there are many benefits to accepting migrants such as the professions and skills they have which can benefit the UK.

Health

We are concerned about the state of our NHS. It was felt the government is not doing enough to cope with an increasing and ageing population. Worcester’s PFI hospital was mentioned as a particular concern along with the small size of it. Something will have to be done very soon to improve the service. We also thought that the amount of admin work hospital staff are required to complete is too high, contributed to worse care and worker stress. The cut in real terms to the mental health budget was also condemned.

Local Government

There was concern at the relentless government financial cut backs to local government. Some services are effectively rationed. Again this can be very inefficient use of funds as much organisational time is wasted in juggling budgets and prioritising services.

For more info on the party locally and nationally follow us on twitter @worcesterlibs and like our facebook page – its Worcester Liberal Democrats

NHS Sustainability in the Long-Term

The below article is purely an opinion based article and is NOT Lib Dem policy – any comments are welcome 

The NHS is one of Britain’s success stories and is the envy of the world. However, we are continually told that the NHS is in crisis and unless we have significant spending increases it will cease to exist as we know. With a growing and ageing population and a reluctance to fork out more money in tax it is clear that this problem will not go away without radical proposals.

It seems that finally we are getting somewhere. Yesterday (Wednesday 3rd June) Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of the NHS, said that it was a ‘no brainer’ to try and prevent illness rather than simply treating the effects. He said that the NHS needs to ‘pull out all the stops on prevention, or face the music’.

For years it has been clear that the lifestyle choices made by millions of ordinary people in Britain is getting worse. It is estimated that binge drinking costs the NHS £5 billion a year and with obesity levels rising sharply, the cost of conditions such as diabetes and heart failure, to name a couple, are only going to rise with it.

It is therefore time for some radical solutions, which I believe the Liberal Democrats should aim to be at the forefront of. One potential idea would be limiting the number of fast food takeaway restaurants. In Worcester there are many such outlets but the problem is far worse in more deprived areas particularly in inner city areas. Legislation to put a cap on the number of fast food outlets within a certain distance of each other may help solve this issue.

A so called ‘sugar tax’ may also be a solution. It has been the case for a long time that it is cheaper to buy processed foods than fresh foods. Reversing this may provide the incentive for many people to use fresh produce once again.

However, I think the main way to tackle the issue of poor lifestyle choices is through public education campaigns. From teaching basic nutrition to young children at schools to television adverts it is vitally important that people understand what constitutes a healthy lifestyle. As a country we have been far too passive on this issue. Look at smoking for example where a long campaign has seen numbers taking up smoking fall and the idea of smoking itself become far more socially unacceptable.

I realise that restrictions and taxes are not very liberal policies but I believe that if we are ever going to save our NHS this is the only long term option. Throwing more and more money at it will provide only a short term fix. The time to act is now.

For more info follow us on twitter @worcesterlibs and like our Facebook page – Worcester Liberal Democrats.

Trip to Leadership Hustings in Stratford-Upon-Avon (03/07/2015)

Worcester Liberal Democrats are planning to organise a trip for members old and new along with anyone who has a general interest in the contest.

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The event starts at 7pm and goes on until 9pm so a meet up at around 5:45pm on the Friday should give us enough time to travel. Lifts can be arranged if neccessary.

If you wish to travel yourself the address is the Stratford School, Alcester Rd, CV37 9DH.

If you are interested contact myself by e-mail at warneradam0@googlemail.com.

Hope to see some of you on 3rd July!

Tories Must Come Clean About Welfare Cuts

Interesting article in the Independent yesterday about the Conservatives proposed £12bn welfare cuts – difficult to see where they are going to come from.

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When the Conservative manifesto confirmed plans to cut £12bn from welfare, some senior Tories thought the party would never have to implement them.

They did not expect to win an overall majority and knew that the Liberal Democrats would accept only about £3bn of social security cuts in another coalition.

There was a natural deal to be done under which David Cameron backed down from £12bn of welfare savings and, in return, Nick Clegg let him have an in/out referendum on Europe. George Osborne could have filled the hole by raising taxes for the better off – and blaming it on the Lib Dems.

But now the Prime Minister and Chancellor have no excuses and must trim welfare by £12bn. It will not be easy. And it could revive memories of the “nasty party” just when Mr Cameron, with an eye on the 2020 election, is relaunching the Tories as a “One Nation” party which champions working people.

Indeed, one of the cuts already planned would undermine that. Mr Osborne announced last October that most working-age benefits would be frozen for two years from April next year, which is likely to hit 11 million families. It would save £1bn.

 The Queen’s Speech on 27 May will include a Bill to reduce the cap on benefits that can be claimed by one household from £26,000 to £23,000 a year. Opinion polls show that this headline- grabber is popular with voters, but it would not save very much – about £135m a year.

The plan to remove housing benefit from jobless 18 to  21-year-olds, who will be expected to live with their parents unless there are exceptional circumstances. This would save about £100m. They have also pledged to replace Jobseeker’s Allowance for 18-21 year-olds with a youth allowance limited to six months.

So Mr Osborne has found only about £2bn of the £12bn he needs. During the election campaign, Labour and the Lib Dems accused him of having a “hidden agenda” of cuts but Iain Duncan Smith, who has been reappointed Work and Pensions Secretary, was almost certainly telling it straight when he said the Tories had not yet done the work on finding the rest of the savings.

Their room for manoeuvre is limited. About £121bn of the £220bn welfare budget goes on pensioners and is protected. The state pension is covered by a “triple lock” under which it rises each year by prices, earnings or 2.5 per cent, whichever is highest (and 2.5 per cent is generous at a time of low or zero inflation). Mr Cameron did not join Labour and the Lib Dems in pledging to axe perks such as winter fuel payments and free bus passes and television licences from better off pensioners.

So what could the new Government do? According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the ring-fencing of spending on pensioners means the Tories will have to lop about 10 per cent off the budget for other benefits – most of which goes on working age households in the bottom half of the income scale. Hardly very “One Nation”.

The IFS said options could include saving £5bn by abolishing child benefit and compensating low-income families through universal credit, which will merge six benefits including tax credits. Reducing the child element of universal credit by 30 per cent could save £5bn. Although Mr Cameron promised not to cut child benefit and tax credits during the election campaign, Labour claims he did not rule out some changes. One option would be to mask the cuts by reducing tax credits instead of launching a full-frontal attack on child benefit, which could alienate middle income families. Mr Duncan Smith has floated the idea of limiting child benefit to the first two children. Mr Osborne is said not to be keen. This change might eventually save £1bn a year but would almost certainly not apply to existing children, which would be very controversial.

Housing benefit, which costs £19bn a year, is a likely target. Making all claimants pay at least 10 per cent of their rent would raise £2.5bn.

A more controversial option would be to pare benefits for the disabled. Taxing disability living allowance, personal independence payments and attendance allowance would save about £1.5bn. But Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne hinted during the election that the most vulnerable would be protected, and hitting the disabled would hardly chime with “compassionate Conservatism”.

The Prime Minister and Chancellor have played down the hard task ahead, pointing to £20bn of savings in the last parliament. But the low-hanging fruit has been picked. For example, about half the savings since 2010 have been achieved by curbs such as raising benefits in line with the consumer price index rather than the higher retail prices index. There are no soft options left.

Piece written by Andrew Grice for the Independent on Friday 15th May 2015.

For more info on the Lib Dems locally and nationally follow us on twitter @worcesterlibs and like our facebook page – it’s Worcester Liberal Democrats

Counter-Extremism Laws Will Be Anything But

Less than a week into the new government and we are already beginning to see the signs of a Conservative party moving sharply to the right now that the Lib Dem shackles are off.

Announcing proposals for counter-extremism legislation yesterday, Home Secretary Theresa May said that she would implement ‘banning orders for groups’ who are ‘actively trying to promote hatred ‘ and ‘undermine British values’. Prime Minister David Cameron added that we have been a ‘passively tolerant society for too long’.

A similar piece of legislation was proposed 3 times during the coalition but was rejected every time. Lib Dem MP Tom Brake today said that they were blocked because they were ‘ill thought through, illiberal and will not tackle the problem they are supposed to’.

For starters, the proposal is flawed in principle. It is undoubtedly the case that these proposals undermine the key British value of freedom of speech. Whilst the Lib Dems hugely disagree with the views of radical fundamentalists like Anjem Choudhry, we will always defend their right to say it. That is a fundamental principle of democracy. If you partially stop freedom of speech, as these proposals do, you set a very dangerous precedent which can border on censorship and risks allowing a government to silence any voice of which it does not approve.

Pragmatically it is also hopelessly flawed. It is common knowledge that if you ban something it sends it underground where it cannot be regulated so effectively. Extremist views are best defeated by free speech. The demise of far-right groups in the UK such as the BNP and the EDL was largely down to an increased media exposure which highlighted the bigotry and extremism of their views. Had we, as a country, allowed this to fester underground without confronting it, it would remain unresolved.

To conclude the proposals do absolutely nothing to tackle the root causes of the problem of radicalisation and are instead a weak attempt at regulating the results. They are wrong in principle and will not work in practice. Expect a lot more of this over the next 5 years!

For more info on the Lib Dems both locally and nationally follow us on twitter @worcesterlibs and on Facebook – Worcester Liberal Democrats

5 Key Questions: Federica Smith to the Worcester News

Here, the Lib Dem PPC for Worcester Federica Smith answers 5 key questions put to her by readers of the Worcester News:

How do we solve the city’s congestion problems?

I am surprised that, with the population of the city and with it being served by two motorway junctions and various main roads (including bus lanes) running through it, the city currently has no large-scale park and ride scheme in operation.

In order to change people’s habit and lifestyle, public transport needs to be accessible, including in financial terms, and operate seven days a week for long hours with commuters being able to park out of town.

Congestion is also apparent during the school run, so improved and subsidised transport to schools could also assist in alleviating the problem.

Reopening of the Perdiswell Park and Ride scheme would look to alleviate the commuter and visitor-caused congestion, though other initiatives need to be implemented, including better cycle routes and cycle storage facilities to allow a sustainable alternative.

What is your biggest concern for Worcester?

The biggest concern that I see for Worcester is the large- scale developments planned without the necessary infrastructure to support them.

By implementing mass housing development without holistically looking at the whole picture and the impact that this has on services (traffic, schools, healthcare services, etc), this development will have a detrimental impact on the current residents.

While housing will increase the population and look to grow the local economy, and while bearing in mind that there are areas for commercial development within the plan, one must be wary that the city does not become sedentary and just a commuter development for other cities, e.g. Bristol, Birmingham.

The city should be proud of its heritage and what its individual selling point is.

It should attract business to the area so that jobs are created in the city, and it should develop the high street so that it has a unique selling point with a mixture of national retail and independent shops.

All this would allow the city to thrive.

Is the answer to Worcestershire Royal Hospital’s challenges an upgrade of A&E?

The staff at A&E are doing the best job that they can do in a building that was never designed to see the number of patients that are currently using the facilities.

An upgrade of A&E is only part of the answer, but would help to alleviate the strains that are currently being faced.

However, this needs to go hand in hand with other healthcare initiatives around the city and surrounding region.

Investments in GP surgeries, so more unsocial hours are covered so that individuals can see their GP for minor ailments, and minor injuries facilities in locations throughout the city would both assist in helping to tackle the challenges.

Is it worth campaigning over Worcester’s Northern Link Road?

The development of the Northern Link Road is estimated to cost more than £100 million and it has to be considered whether the cost of implementing such a scheme would alleviate the problems of congestion and would it be the best use of such a large sum of money.

For this reason, I support the current emphasis on improving the southern bypass first.

A Northern Link Road would impact many people’s lives, cutting through large swathes of land, altering the countryside surrounding the city and having an impact on the environment.

All of this would, of course, need to be weighed up against what it is ultimately trying to achieve.

Is there – and should there be – an alternative to the South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP)?

Any development plan will have contentious issues in it for the residents directly affected.

However, a plan needs to be in place so developers are not completely left to their own control and not allowed to build just anywhere, and so that the growth of the city is managed from a bird’s eye view, with infrastructure put in place to support it.

Article taken from Worcester News

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