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.

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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!

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Worcester: A Green and Pleasant Land?

Our party’s constitution, amongst other things, holds the following. ‘We believe that each generation is responsible for the fate of our planet and, by safeguarding the balance of nature and the environment, for the long term continuity of life in all its forms.’

Now I have only lived in this city for 4 years, but having visited friend here many times before that I was well aware that I would be moving to what has to be one of the UK’s most pleasant city’s to live in. The architecture is dominated by the Cathedral and historic buildings that gives an air closer to a picture postcard market towns than sprawling industrial cities like London, Birmingham or Manchester. All of this framed in a landscape dominated by the river and the heart warming sights of tranquil fields and countryside that still lie on our very doorstep. Having seen a lot of our country I have no doubt in my mind that living in Worcester & St Johns is something of a privilege. But those of us who live here know it has it’s challenges.

Traffic here like anywhere else can be a nightmare at times but with the heritage of our city’s layout and the river it can’t be easy to plan a solution. To add to which the needs to develop housing, commercial and civil projects as our population grows all put pressure on the little space we have. Even during my short time in the city I have seen development around the edges of the city along Nunnery Way and Swinesheard Way. Furthermore I have recently heard rumours of attempts to develop farmland the other side of the M5 along the B4636 Pershore Lane. I have seen for myself that hedgerows have been cut down. To the gradual loss of our green spaces is heart rending.

So where do we go from here? How do we protect what we have while accommodating the needs of our people? It’s definitely something we need to look at closely. The city could maybe look at building a third bridge to ease traffic flows or carefully bringing in renewable energy generation schemes to add to other energy saving initiatives. We could look at improving public transport links and make it more convenient for people to leave their cars behind. Any development though would obviously costs money and with the election giving the Conservatives a majority it seams likely that they will push ruthlessly onwards with their version of austerity, hacking and slashing at public budgets in line with traditional Tory agendas, so I wouldn’t expect our council to have a lot of funds to spare any time soon.

Now, truth be told, we probably all know that we lost a lot of good people nationally in the last election and things may seam bad with little chance for us to affect change, but there is reason to have hope. As I am writing this in the latest count published by the party we have gained over 9000 new members since polls closed. We have recaptured hearts and minds and the party has regrown to 54,000 nationally. It’s amazing to see us rebound so fast and I believe we should look to try and capitalise on it. If we can bring more and more Lib Dems together within the city using our combined news letters, websites and social media to reach out and act along side our parties local officials then we have the chance to establish a firm presence in the city once more. Furthermore I believe that we should look outside our own party members cooperating with all our cities differing communities, find all those willing to work along side us for mutual ideals and aims so we have a stronger, shared voice. If we can manage this then, hopefully, together we can generate good ideas and plan carefully for the future to protect the cities architecture and environment as part of our legacy for generations to come.

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This article was written by Worcester Lib Dem member Steven Mather

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GE2015 : What Went Wrong

The 2015 election is certainly not one to remember for the Liberal Democrats. Losing many great MPs like David Laws and Vince Cable will certainly take a long time to recover from, but what exactly went wrong and why did we do much worse than forecast.

  1. Triumph of fear over hope.

There is no doubt that the Conservative tactics of pitting England against Scotland worked for them. The idea of a Labour-SNP coalition was too much for many centre ground floating voters who voted tactically for them. Instead of defending their record and talking about the real issues the Conservatives instead spent the campaign promoting English nationalism and spreading fear. This tactic did for many of our MPs in Tory-LD marginal in the southern regions of England. Whilst it has worked in the short term it will cause problems for David Cameron over the course of the next parliament as he governs a hugely divided country with little support north of the border.

  1. SNP Success

The unprecedented success of the SNP north of the border was too much for both ourselves and Labour. Swings of up to 39% (Portillo in 1997 was 17%) meant that virtually no one was able to survive the SNP tide. Huge credit has to go to Alistair Carmichael in Orkney and Shetland who managed to hold on to his seat. The Scots have inadvertently let David Cameron back in to Downing Street. The double whammy of a reduced opposition force of Lib Dem and Labour MPs and the aforementioned scare tactics employed by the Tories in England mean that the success of the SNP has directly led to a Conservative majority – ironically the thing they were trying to stop at all costs.

  1. Lack of campaign clarity

It certainly seemed at times that we were unsure of how to position themselves against Labour and the Conservatives. On one hand they were defending the record of the coalition government which alienated many of the left-leaning supporters who voted for us in 2010 and on the other we distanced ourselves from it which persuaded many centre-right voters to ditch them for the Conservatives. Whilst promoting the balanced and sensible approach is certainly a credible and sensible position to take, it left many not knowing what the party stands for other than limiting the excesses of the others.

In spite of the hammering we got last night we know that Liberalism and values of fairness and liberty will never die. It will take a long time to recover from this but there is no doubt that we will. Over the next parliament it will become apparent that much of the work done by Lib Dem MPs was sensible and worthwhile and a Tory government lurching off to the right will show the electorate that they made a mistake this time.

Letter to Worcester News – Published March 2015

Below is a letter published on the Worcester News website a couple of weeks ago. Written by Adam Warner it highlights the positive contribution made to government by the Liberal Democrats.

The Conservatives don’t seem too keen to promote their record in government – hence the highly negative campaign. Liberal Democrats are proud of their record in government and will continue to highlight this over the course of our positive general election campaign.

Sir – Over the last government, the Liberal Democrats have been much maligned. The coalition with the Conservatives and the tuition fees saga has damaged the party’s reputation. However, it cannot be denied that they’ve made a worthwhile contribution over the last 5 years.

Only now are we seeing the true extent of the Tory’s plans. £30bn of cuts; £13bn of which from welfare will do unnecessary damage to those most vulnerable. This would have happened already had it not been for the Lib Dems, anchoring Cameron and Osborne to a more central position.

Additionally, the party have punched above their weight in terms of passing legislation. With only 9% of the seats in the legislature you would think it would be a small percentage of Lib Dem policies becoming law.

Not so – from the pupil premium to raising the tax threshold for the lowest earners and ensuring equal funding for mental health, the Lib Dems have done well.

Some of these are long-term policies – ones of which we shall bear the fruit of in years to come, but for me a moderating influence in Britain is required. That is why the Lib Dems should be given a chance in May.

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Lib Dems Success on Pensions

In the last couple of week, the Tories have tried to take the credit for the work of the Lib Dem Steve Webb MP, on ensuring a better deal for pensioners.

David Cameron has portrayed himself as the saviour of pensioners; ensuring universal free bus passes, free TV licenses for over 75s and maintaining the winter fuel allowance.

In actual fact, it is the Lib Dems who have helped pensioners the most over the course of the coalition government, including the following policies that were included in the 2010 manifesto (see below)

  • Increased pension by £800 a year since 2010, thanks to our new ‘triple lock’ rule which ensures state pensions always rise with inflation, earnings or 2.5% – whichever is highest.
  • Planned to raise the state pension from £107 to around £144, protecting future pensioners with a fair, single tier pension.
  • Guaranteed 9 million people an automatic workplace pension, which their boss and the government pay in to, giving everyone the confidence to save.

Lib Dem proposals in 2015 only involve taking free bus passes and tv licenses away from the wealthiest pensioners; people who do not need it. There are many instances of wealthy pensioners sending their winter fuel payments back as they do not deem them necessary. The money saved will go towards paying for a discounted bus pass for 16-21 year olds. This is an example of the Lib Dems providing a fairer society for all.

The Gove Files : Why Britain needs a Liberal Influence in Government

The changes Michael Gove made to education during his four years as education secretary (2010-2014) will go down as the most catastrophic in recent times. Gove’s well publicised agenda of academies, free schools with unqualified teachers, and exam reform which encouraged the re-introduction of a ‘success or failure’ culture, have been deplored by teachers and those in the education industry.

The Gove Files – released by the Liberal Democarts yesterday (2nd Feb 15), highlight the policies of his which were stopped and the policies we have managed to implement despite him.

David Cameron’s announcement on education further highlights how the Conservatives can’t be trusted with our schools. He pledged that no further cuts will be made and the budget maintained. However, it is not set to rise with inflation, meaning that in real terms it will have reduced. Cameron’s attempts to mislead the public were foiled, as BBC political editor, Nick Robinson forced him to admit it during a press conference on the issue.

The Liberal Democrats have saved the system from being transformed for the worse during the current Parliament. The following have been implemented, despite Gove’s vocal opposition :

1) The Pupil Premium – A £2.5billion a year policy to help raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and close the gap between them and their peers.

2) Universal Free School Meals – All children in Key Stage 1 (Reception – Year 2) are now entitled to hot, healthy free school meal.

3) Duty for Schools to Provide Career’s Advice – Enabling young people to be more prepared for the world of work after they leave formal education.

Without the Liberal Democrats none of this would have taken place. Gove instead wanted to do the following:

1. Have profit-making free schools
2. Bring back the old O-level and CSE divide
3. Cut new nursery buildings
4. Rewrite history in the national curriculum
5. Axe climate change from national curriculum
6. Change the Early Years Ratio
7. Axe speaking and listening and human rights from the national curriculum
8. Politicise Ofsted

All of these were successfully blocked by the Liberal Democrats.

All the above examples highlight the incompetence of the Conservatives on education and show how the Liberal Democrats have fought tirelessly to ensure young people from all backgrounds have more equal opportunities.

The the full ‘Gove Files’ click on the link below.

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/7474/attachments/original/1422868675/Gove_Files_-_How_the_Lib_Dems_improved_education.pdf?1422868675