In an article by the The Telegraph on Ian Duncan Smith’s comment that he could live on £53 a week, we are given an example of how the welfare system has gone wrong and how the government’s reforms are right in principle, but wrong in practice.
The welfare system has, as most agree, done nothing to help the poor and has made it difficult for the unemployed to re-enter employment. The tax system has meant that the rich haven’t paid their fair share of tax, whilst those on the lower ends of the income-spectrum pay their tax and struggle as a result. Governments have failed to build enough social housing, making the cost of renting disproportionally high and housing lists over-stretched. Women are not able to progress in employment due to maternity leave. Childcare leaves many families in awkward situations to say the least. Benefit changes are meant to help but will hinder many.
But. Some of the changes that have been made are progressive changes, helping everyone to get on in life. There are many that are right in both principle and in practice. Others work only principle and their practice and will leave many treading a fine line.
Liberal Democrats in government have raised the tax threshold to £9,440 meaning that low income families will pay no tax at all, and low-middle income families will receive a £600 tax cut to offset some of their rising living costs. The richest in Britain will also pay more tax under this government than they have in any other, all but during the last month of the Labour government. Under Labour a cleaner would pay a higher rate of tax on their wages than a hedgefund manager selling their shares. And the tax cut will go up again next year for low and middle wage earners.
Personally, £600 in my back pocket will pay for nearly three months’ rent, allowing me to offset travel costs, living costs such as gas, electricity and food. It will mean that there’s less to worry about when things get difficult.
Liberal Democrats have changed parental leave, removing the glass ceiling in employment. The changes will deliver a long held commitment to make parental leave more flexible. It acknowledges the fact that fathers want to spend more time with their children and it reduces discrimination against women in the workplace.
Liberal Democrats have announced plans to introduce a new £750m scheme for tax-free childcare that will save the average working family with two children up to £2,400 a year. Thanks to the Liberal Democrats in government, the Coalition will also be extending childcare support under Universal Credit by a further £200m for working people on lower incomes.
The welfare reforms will now see a tapering off of benefits for those re-entering employment, making the transition into employment from benefits far easier for families and couples. The gradual reduction of benefits will allow families to adjust to their new circumstance, with the tapering Working Tax Credits meaning that an individual is able to earn more without the sudden drop-off of any benefit that they were in receipt of.
Welsh Liberal Democrats have called for an Empty Homes Strategy to begin to offset the low levels of social housing available. The Bedroom Subsidy or tax – whatever you want to call it – is attempting to do the right thing but lacks fairness, something that is enshrined in the Liberal Democrat constitution. Whilst it is fair to question why the taxpayer should subsidise people to live in homes which are larger than they need when there are so many families on waiting lists for adequately sized homes; it has to be fair. What will happen if the tenant simply cannot be rehoused within the community they live? There have been some welcome last minute changes to the policies. Disabled children will no longer be expected to share a bedroom. There are inconsistencies which will hopefully be met with sensible reform in the very near future.
Liberal Democrats have and are doing good things in government, some examples being:
the ending of child detention for immigration purposes;
shared parental leave, revolutionising the workplace and giving parents real choice;
extending talking therapies for mental health and including mental health in NHS mandate;
giving the biggest cash rise ever in the State Pension reforming the system to benefit many women;
giving extra money to disadvantaged children through the pupil premium;
expanding nursery education for the 2 year olds who need it most;
the Green Investment Bank and support for renewables;
investment in rural broadband;
Nick Clegg’s £1bn Youth Contract which is helping to get young people into work or training;
meeting our front page manifesto pledge of raising the tax threshold to £10,000.
There are measures which many are unhappy and extremely uncomfortable about, and there are others which puts Britain on the right track to building a stronger economy in a fairer society. We’re keeping a reign on welfare cuts, down from £10bn to £3.8bn. There are things to be proud of, there are things that have their hearts in the right places, but the implementation of some doesn’t meet the fairer society test.
By Rhys Taylor