Race and disparities. A report so commonsensical but consensus-challenging that we’re surprised it was allowed to happen.

31 Mar

“The Conservatives, ethnic minority voters, and the election. Next to no progress”: such was the headline we wrote for Sunder Katwala’s post-poll piece on this site in 2019. The sum of his article was that Tory hopes of a breakthrough among Indian and Chinese-origin voters had not been realised.

The party had made “only modest progress” with them, mirrored by “a modest decline” elsewere – from 24 per cent of the ethnic minority whole to 20 per cent. His piece opened with a stark sentence: “not being white remains the number one demographic predictor of not voting Conservative.”

Henry Hill’s study of the new Tory intake in the Commons painted a similar picture: “at under five per cent of the new intake, the share or black or minority MPs in the Class of 2019 is lower than 2017 or 2015, and the share elected for safe seats is a third of what it was two years ago”.

One response to that last figure might be: don’t look at the share, look at the number – which shows that 22 such MPs were elected in 2019 compared to 19 in 2017.  That figure could be a starting-point for how the Conservatives might do better come the next election than “next to no progress”.

In short words, aim for evolutionary rather than radical change.  Dig in at local level, deploying pavement politics to win council seats in areas with high concentrations of ethnic minority voters.  Find new candidates from among them.  Make progress in Mayoral contests. Build up to challenging for the local Commons seat.

Take up and campaign on causes that matter to such voters: sickle cell disease, among people of an African or Caribbean origin; religious burial among those with a Pakistani or Bangladeshi background. Stress values: family, work and education.

Above all, take the Party’s approach to climate change as a model: just as it doesn’t dispute the challenge of global warming (far from it), don’t quarrel with that of institutional racism: the doctrine that institutions can be judged guilty of it even if individuals within them may not be – especially given the new context of Black Lives Matter.

And alhough while no individual within an institution may be racist, his actions can be recorded as such if they are “perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person”.  That’s the legacy of William Macpherson’s culture-shaping report in the wake of the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Whatever may be said for or against such a softly-softly approach, some of the new generation of Conservative ethnic minority MPs strain against it – most notably Kemi Badenoch, whose Commons speech against critical race theory last year made waves.

And just as there is a new generation of ethnic minority MPs, so there is a new one of ethnic minority intellectuals, academics, writers, educationalists and police – in terms of approach if not always of age.  One of them is Munira Mirza, Head of the Downing Street Policy Unit.

Others include some of the commissioners of the Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic disparities, such as Tony Sewell, its chair.  Or, elsewhere, business people, like Trevor Phillips, who has contributed to this site.  Or doctors such as Raghib Ali, another contributor, and an adviser to the Government on Covid and disparities.

Raghib’s thinking foreshadows that of this latest report, published yesterday.  “Racism still blights too many lives today,” he wrote for ConservativeHome last year, and the Commission takes up where he left off.  The first of its 24 recommendations is: “challenge racist and discriminatory actions”.

Others include “teaching an inclusive curriculum”; “investigate what causes existing ethnic pay disparities”; “create police workforces that represent the communities they serve” and “increase legitimacy and accountability of stop and search through body-worn video”.

So far, so conventional – and none the worse for it.  But just as Raghib went further, acknowedging ethnic disparities but dismissing systemic racism, so this report goes further, too, as it comes to similar conclusions.  The picture it presents is one of a slow, attritional but persistent advance.

Above all, it dismisses the view of ethnic minorities as always disadvantaged compared to the white majority – to be bundled together under the acronym BAME: a homogeneous lump in which the African-origin and Chinese-origin experience, say, are treated as much the same.

Here is an extract from the report which gives the flavour: “education is the single most emphatic success story of the British ethnic minority experience. The Commission notes that the average GCSE Attainment 8 score for Indian, Bangladeshi and Black African pupils were above the White British average”.

No wonder, in the context of its findings as a whole, that the Commission joins the list of those who find that BAME label conceals more than it reveals: British Future, of which Sunder is the Director, says that “it is better to use words, rather than acronyms”.  The Centre for Social Justice wants the term dropped.

But it goes almost without saying that opposing racism, and suggesting ways of combatting it, won’t be enough for those whose commissions, jobs, sincures and votes are founded on the doctrine of social regress, rather than social progress; on victimhood rather than agency; and on institutional racism rather than persistent racism.

There is a Victimhood Blob just as there is an Education Blob, and it fears that where new thinking goes today, the electorate will go tomorrow.  No wonder the attack on the commissioners is already turning, in some quarters, personal and unscrupulous.  The stakes are too high for it to be otherwise.

We wonder whether their assessment is correct.  It may be that this report marks a historic turning-point in race relations in Britain, with the Tory-voting white plurality is especially receptive.  Or it may be that the structural racism narrative is too well entrenched, too dug in after 25 years, to be shifted by a single Government.

Without the commitment of Mirza herself (already a target of Far Left unreason), we doubt if the report would have been commissioned.  Boris Johnson’s technique is to wait for Woke to over-reach, as in the case of the Churchill statue assault, before committing himself, rather than strike questingly into its intellectual territory.

Perhaps the best way of looking at the report is to shake oneself free of these political, tactical considerations, and simply ask: is the Commission right – for example, in saying that unconscious bias training should be scrapped?  In its view that all ethnic minorities don’t move forward at the same pace?

In essence, the report argues that the three biggest determinants of life chances are family, education and work.  This seems to us to be so unrebuttable as, ultimately, to be certain to win through.  Which doesn’t mean that the report is perfect: we are not sure that it has got to the heart of the problems for black people in relation to crime and justice.

Nor does it follow that because a report has analysed a problem accurately, the Government will act appropriately.  British governments are notorious for being among the most indiiferent to families in Europe, with the noxious consequences that Miriam Cates described on ConservativeHome earlier this week.

Perhaps the “review to…take action to address the underlying issues facing families” recommended in the report will turn the tide.  At the level of words, perhaps with deeds to come, this is the most consensus-challenging, bold and implication-rich Government initiative to date.  We can’t help being surprised that it was allowed to happen at all.

Profile: Danny Kruger, defender of Christian conservatism and traditional ideas of virtue

31 Mar

Who now dares to talk about the virtues? Danny Kruger, MP since December 2019 for Devizes, is one of the few parliamentarians who ventures to do so.

In his latest declaration, jointly launched with Miriam Cates, who in 2019 took Penistone and Stocksbridge from Labour, Kruger begins by denouncing the facile assumption that we are all born good:

“What is the job of society? There is a modern delusion that we are born pure, and then corrupted by an unfair world. But surely the plain truth is that we are born greedy, narcissistic and violent. That’s why laissez-faire doesn’t work any more than big government. Left entirely to ourselves, individuals will exploit, slack off, rent-seek, and cheat.”

So we need to be educated:

“The job of society is to teach us to temper these impulses and to train us in a different set of habits. What habits are these? The old times called them the virtues: the practices that human beings are uniquely good at, like courage, temperance, fortitude, creativity, compassion and shrewdness. The virtues make us happy and great, and make life better for everyone else.”

Kruger calls for “a New Social Covenant”, under which “the family, the community and the nation” become our “schools of virtue”, and goes on to enunciate 12 propositions, including:

“The state should safeguard the customs of the country.”

“We need a new ‘economics of place’ instead of the failed doctrine of economic mobility.”

“Marriage is a public institution and essential to society.”

He proceeds to defend these propositions in a reasonable and erudite tone, for he has been working on this for a long time. Kruger was the author of David Cameron’s “Hug a Hoodie” speech, delivered in July 2006 to the Centre for Social Justice.

Cameron had become Leader of the Opposition in December 2005, and needed to show that after three general election defeats, the Conservatives were at last undertaking the fundamental changes that were required.

In April 2006 Cameron signalled the modernisation of environment policy by going to Norway to hug a husky, and three months later he proclaimed, at the Centre for Social Justice, founded by Iain Duncan Smith, his commitment to understanding rather than condemning young people who wore hoodies, an item of clothing which had recently been banned, with Tony Blair’s approval, by the Bluewater Shopping Centre.

Not everyone was impressed by this exercise in compassionate conservatism. According to Kruger, reminiscing in The Spectator in June 2008:

“The day of Boris’s election [as Mayor of London on 1st May 2008] was also the day I stopped work as David Cameron’s speechwriter to go full-time at the charity my wife and I founded two years ago to work with prisoners and ex-offenders. My main claim to distinction in my old job was drafting the speech in which David said something capable of the construction (though not the words, not the words themselves) that the public should all get out there and hug hoodies.

“This speech has gone down in Tory lore as a terrible blunder, but I am still rather proud of it. The nub of it was, that while we should certainly punish people who cross the line into criminality, on this side of the line we need ‘to show a lot more love’.

“Love is a neglected crime-fighting device. But the need for it is powerfully proved in Felicity de Zulueta’s important book From Pain to Violence: The Traumatic Roots of Destructiveness. She argues that violence and hatred are not motive forces of their own: they are the terrible expression of wrecked relationships, of thwarted love.

“Men and women seem to have a yearning for agency, for the ability to affect things. As de Zulueta puts it, the sense of helplessness is ‘a state tantamount to annihilation’; we will do anything to avoid it. Hence self-harm, and what youth workers call ‘self-sabotage’ — the apparently wilful screwing-up of opportunities, the no-show, the walking-away at the moment before achievement. People who feel incapable, feel the need to prove it: failure, at least, is something they can author.”

One sees that for Kruger, all this really matters. Cameron spoke about it as if he too cared deeply about it. But somehow the Big Society, as this strand in his programme became known (Steve Hilton is credited with inventing the name), never quite achieved lift-off.

There are, after all, serious difficulties in proclaiming a manifesto derived from Christian teaching. Fewer and fewer voters regard themselves as Christians.

Nor does any politician with half an ear for public sensitivities wish to adopt a holier-than-thou tone of voice. Piety would be insufferable. The present Prime Minister makes every effort, in his daily proclamations about the pandemic, to avoid sounding preachy.

And the Big Society, with its support for voluntary work in support of civil society, seemed to lack ideological content. Surely a socialist could believe as devoutly in it as a Conservative? Kruger himself suggested as much in an essay which appeared on ConservativeHome in October 2014, lamenting the dropping by Cameron of the idea:

“The Big Society elevated the national conversation to something approaching a moral discourse: what sort of society do we want? What are our own responsibilities, what are others’? What is the condition of my community, and what can we do about it?

“If these weren’t two ridiculous words for a Conservative leader to adopt I would have advised David Cameron to call himself a ‘new socialist’. Old socialism was about using the power of the state to advance the interests and wellbeing of the working class. New socialism is about using the power of society to protect minorities, defend and promote local communities, and create opportunities.”

Essay question for aspiring Conservative candidates: “Is Boris Johnson a new socialist? Discuss.”

Kruger is not a socialist. He is a politician with the moral courage to think for himself.

This he inherits from his father, Rayne Kruger, who rather than do the conventional thing, liked to back his own judgment, as the admirable and admiring obituary of him in The Times made clear.

The elder Kruger, who was born in South Africa and moved while still a young man to London, married first an actress 16 years older than himself – in Pygmalion she had played Eliza to his Professor Higgins – and secondly a young South African woman who had arrived in London intending to make her way as a Cordon Bleu cook.

She was called Prue Leith, and their son, Danny, was born in October 1975, three days after they married. She has since achieved fame and fortune as a restaurateur, with her husband running the business side of things; and is now yet better known as a presenter of The Great British Bake Off.

A friend says of Danny:

“He’s more like his mother than he thinks he is. She just gets stuff done by energy and determination. He’s turning out like that.”

He was educated at Eton, read history at Edinburgh, at Oxford wrote a doctorate about Edmund Burke, and was more inclined to lie in the bath thinking great thoughts than to do the washing up.

He was liberated from this perhaps rather stuffy, old-fashioned mode of life by falling in love with his future wife, Emma, a teacher. She was an evangelical Christian and prayed that he would be converted, which he was. For a time they lived on a council estate. They have three children.

Kruger became the guy who would do the washing up, and in 2005 (after early stints as director of studies at the Centre for Policy Studies, Conservative policy adviser, and chief leader writer on The Daily Telegraph) he and Emma set up Only Connect, a prison charity which they ran for ten years, and which concentrates on helping offenders not to reoffend.

Also in 2005, Kruger was obliged to stand down as the Conservative candidate in Sedgefield (Tony Blair’s old seat) after The Guardian reported that he had declared: “We plan to introduce a period of creative destruction in the public services.”

He is a good friend of Dominic Cummings, and backed Vote Leave.

In the summer of 2019, Cummings brought Kruger to Downing Street as Johnson’s Political Secretary, charged with maintaining relations with Tory backbenchers during the exceptionally turbulent months when the new Prime Minister was striving to get Brexit through.

When I met Kruger in the Palace of Westminster on one night of high drama, he seemed in his imperturbable way to be enjoying himself.

In November 2019, Kruger won selection for the safe Conservative seat of Devizes, after CCHQ had intervened to cut the short list from six to only three candidates.

At the end of his maiden speech, delivered on 29 January 2020, he returned to the Christian roots of our politics:

“I finish on a more abstract issue, but it is one that we will find ourselves debating in many different forms in this Parliament. It is the issue of identity, of who we are both as individuals and in relation to each other. We traditionally had a sense of this: we are children of God, fallen but redeemed. Capable of great wrong but capable of great virtue. Even for those who did not believe in God, there was a sense that our country is rooted in Christianity and that our liberties derive from the Christian idea of absolute human dignity.

“Today those ideas are losing their purchase, so we are trying to find a new set of values to guide us, a new language of rights and wrongs, and a new idea of identity based not on our universal inner value or on our membership of a common culture but on our particular differences.

“I state this as neutrally as I can, because I know that good people are trying hard to make a better world and that Christianity and the western past are badly stained by violence and injustice, but I am not sure that we should so casually throw away the inheritance of our culture.”

On the morning of Saturday 23rd May, just after the story had broken of the visit during the first lockdown to County Durham by Cummings and his wife Mary Wakefield, Kruger leapt to their defence on Twitter:

“Dom and Mary’s journey was necessary and therefore within rules. What’s also necessary is not attacking a man and his family for decisions taken at a time of great stress and worry, the fear of death and concern for a child. This isn’t a story for the normal political shitkickery.”

In the days that followed, Kruger stuck to his guns, telling other newly elected MPs:

“No 10 won’t budge, so calling for DC to go is basically declaring no confidence in PM.”

To make this stand amid such a storm of protest showed fortitude. One of the advantages of believing in a moral tradition is that it may render one less liable to be swept hither and thither by one moral panic after another. Here is Kruger speaking a few days ago in a debate on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill:

“Our culture historically taught men that they had a duty to honour and protect women. It is a difficult thing to say, because it may appear that I want to turn back the clock to a time when men chivalrously protected the weaker sex, but of course, as I have said, that is not how it always was in the old days, and even if it had been, we do not accept the idea that women need protection by men; they just need men to behave themselves. So let me say emphatically that I do not want to turn back the clock; however, we do need to face the fact that our modern culture has not delivered all the progress it was supposed to. I wonder whether that is because our modern culture has a problem with telling people how to behave—it has a problem with society having a moral framework at all.”

Many voters, not all of them Conservative, will agree with that. Kruger’s arguments are sometimes described as communitarian, but that pallid label does not convey the force of the challenge he poses to an intellectual establishment which supposes it can dispense with traditional ideas of virtue.

Cristina Odone: How to help poorer mothers – and become a family-friendly government by doing so

11 Mar

Cristina Odone is Head of Family Policy at the Centre for Social Justice.

“They shouldn’t have children if they can’t afford them.”

I heard this familiar refrain often, when I was growing up, directed at lone mothers raising a brood of kids on welfare. Why should hard-working tax-payers shell out so someone could slob about the house in pyjamas and curlers, children at their feet?

That was America, in the 1970s. But a spirit not dissimilar is at work in twenty-first century Britain. The state sees no reason to help mothers who don’t work.

Yes, the Government, which offers up to 30 hours of free childcare for three and four-year-olds to families, will extend this to mothers who have been furloughed.

The policy has packed a less than powerful punch for low income families: at a recent extraordinary witness session of the Early Years Commission run jointly by the Centre for Social Justice and the Fabian Society, participants reported that because there “is no norm of pre-school offer” and the offer is too complicated, the share of childcare spending on low-income families has fallen by close to half, from 45 per cent to 27 per cent.

The aim was to promote female participation in the labour market. Successive governments from New Labour on have regarded this as a priority: more taxes raised, less benefits paid. It makes financial sense when you calculate that £16.7 million is lost every year in potential tax gains and benefits paid to mums who have not returned to work.

A tax system that treats us as single units seems equally sensible. We may be parenting the same children, but we regard ourselves as autonomous individuals, judged on our own merit.

This mindset suits many women. High-profile and professional, they regularly take to social media and the airwaves to hail free childcare for liberating women, and limit their asks to equal pay for equal work, flexi-time at the office, more part time opportunities – and maybe a creche at work.

These women have a well-paid career – or a wealthy partner or spouse. They can afford to spend the first years of their children’s lives off work, or to hire a nanny or au pair. They will still multi-task crazily, taking on maternal and professional tasks. They will still bridle at the glass ceiling that persists across almost every industry. But they can afford a family.

Slide down the earnings ladder to the woman for whom work amounts to a job, not a high-flying career. How can she afford to raise a family? She would love to stay home to care for her children, provide a role model for them, share with them her own parents’ values and traditions. She senses what neuroscience confirms: that those first 1001 days from conception are key in a child’s development. And even later on, schools may offer a great deal – but until they are 14, a child spends 84 per cent of their time at home.

This working mother loses out on every front. After tax, her spouse’s income is not enough for the family to survive on, so she must work too. Neither partner can afford to work part time: anything less than what they earn now would spell penury. She can’t do overtime, though, without worrying about leaving her children vulnerable to gang-recruitment or child sexual exploitation.

The couple work all hours just to break even, and arrive home stressed and exhausted. Money worries and job uncertainty (McKinsey reports that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable during the pandemic than men’s) rock the relationship. The family risks breakdown – with all the damage that this entails.

It need not be this way.

The Treasury could transform this mother’s fate by adopting a simple, tried and tested, approach: tax parents on their combined income, and offer them tax credits for each child. With this one move, the Chancellor would recognise the value of the family, and the important role parents play in forming the next generation.

Championing this fiscal model is a high-profile mother – the Miriam Cates, the recently-elected MP for Penistone and Stockbridge. Cates is socialising the idea at Westminster – and getting traction among women both sides of the House.

The present system, Cates points out, ignores total household income and parental responsibilities. A woman on £30,000 a year will pay the same amount of tax and national insurance, regardless of whether she is living on her own, without children, or is a lone parent with three dependent children.

Cates was inspired by the way the German tax system takes into account the significant costs, in terms of time as well as money, of raising children. By taxing couples on their combined income, Germany promotes rather than penalises single earner families. In this country the opposite is true – so that a one earner couple with two children in the UK pays nine times the taxes that their counterpart in Germany will pay. The child tax credit – in Germany, this is £2500 – further contributes to a more family-friendly fiscal system.

For Cates, representing a Red Wall constituency, this is a key part of any levelling up agenda: why should raising children become an elitist pursuit? She has a point: a government willing to subsidise restaurants and pubs can surely subsidise children, too.

Being seen as a family-friendly government would prove popular – and not only among the socially conservative Red Wall voters. A recent CSJ survey found that 88 per cent of parents and 82 per cent of adults thought that more should be done to help parents who wish to stay at home and bring up their children in the early years.

The benefits of incentivising one-earner families extend well beyond the home. The present system, which steers everyone into paid work, undermines the other kind of work – the unpaid, altruistic volunteering that has proved key to the country’s resilience during the pandemic. Mothers are not the only ones who have, or should, volunteer; but again and again, they ran the PTA, helped with the church bazaar, offered to shop for the octogenarian neighbour. Help them to be in a position to raise their children and they will be in a position to help the rest of us too.

The Chancellor should stop treating us as atomised individuals, freed of any relational moorings. Families cannot be ignored, nor should they be punished. They could even, dare I say it, be encouraged.

Budget 2021: Think tank response round-up

3 Mar

Centre for Policy Studies

Robert Colvile, Director – ‘Should help business and the economy rebound powerfully’

“The combination of business rate reductions, investment incentives and other measures should help business and the economy rebound powerfully in the next few years – and we are pleased to see our proposal for free ports at the heart of the Chancellor’s speech. But there is the danger of a cliff edge later on as support is withdrawn and taxes increased – or that businesses will anticipate higher taxes and fail to invest.

“Britain still has a huge problem with its long-term growth rates – as the latest OBR figures show only too clearly – and the tax burden is set to increase inexorably. We appreciate that the Chancellor needs to balance the books. But the great challenge facing the Government is not just to put the economy back on an even keel in the short term, but put in place permanent pro-growth measures that raise growth rates for good.”

Institute of Economic Affairs

Mark Littlewood, Director General – ‘A barrage of short-term costly measures’

“After months of damage inflicted by the pandemic and lockdown measures, the Chancellor had the opportunity to deliver a pro-business, pro-growth Budget by lowering and simplifying taxes and slashing unnecessary regulations.

“Instead, we received a barrage of short-term costly measures which risk depressing economic growth, reducing employment, hampering entrepreneurialism, and ultimately harming the long-term economic recovery. Dialling up taxes was a mistake, and our economic growth will be less impressive as a result.”

Adam Smith Institute

Matt Kilcoyne, Deputy Director – ‘The most serious attempt to rebalance the economy a Chancellor has made’

“Rishi Sunak’s super deduction will induce investment into Britain’s factories and help businesses bounce back and Britain’s economy boom as we leave the pandemic behind. We’d estimated at 100% full expensing would be worth over £2,214 per worker, going beyond that is a bold move to help the private sector build the recovery. It will benefit most those areas that have been left behind in recent decades. It is the most serious attempt to rebalance the economy a Chancellor has made and it is truly welcome.

“Rates relief and employment support will be welcome while the ability to operate and raise revenue remains suppressed even as we leave lockdown. But the success of vaccines means the economy will reopen and activity will return; the government cannot continue propping up our economy indefinitely. Moving forward, the strategy should be to get the state out of the way, by lowering taxes to encourage investment and cut red tape that hurts entrepreneurs.

“The Chancellor was right to say that the state should not be borrowing to pay for everyday public spending. But it’s hard to square that circle with a new commitment to guarantee mortgages of first time buyers. This is a Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac guarantee to boost the demand side — without a credible plan to boost supply of new homes in the places people want to live we’ll just end up with another housing bubble and the risk of boom and bust.

“Keir Starmer was right to remind the Conservative Party that the proper basis on which to make tax decisions is economics not the political cycle.”

TaxPayers’ Alliance

John O’Connell, Chief Executive – ‘Big tax hikes risk choking off the recovery’

“There were some wins for taxpayers today, but it doesn’t gloss over the fact that this was a tax-raising budget.

“The chancellor is helping to rescue struggling sectors but £30 billion worth of tax increases will hit hard-pressed households and businesses already under the highest tax burden in 70 years. 

“Big tax hikes risk choking off the recovery Rishi wants before it has even started, so let’s hope that other measures in the budget help to boost jobs, spur investment and ultimately revive the economy.” 

The Entrepreneurs Network

Sam Dumitriu, Research Director – ‘Chancellor needs to think hard about fundamentally reforming how international profit is taxed’

“A higher corporate tax rate will discourage investment and make the UK less competitive internationally, so it is right that the Chancellor has combined it with a new 130% Super Deduction for investment.

“However, when the two years are up and Corporation Tax rises to 25%, the UK will fall far down the list on international tax competitiveness. Although, we currently have a low headline rate, the effective rate that businesses actually pay is mid-table by international standards due to stingy capital allowances.

“To avoid an investment slump, as the OBR forecast, when the Super Deduction expires, the Chancellor should allow businesses to write off the full value of their investments – the so-called full expensing he mentioned at the despatch box.

“But a high rate, even with full expensing, increases the incentive to engage in sophisticated tax avoidance and shift headquarters. To counter that, the Chancellor needs to think hard about fundamentally reforming how international profit is taxed.”

Centre for Social Justice

Edward Davies, Policy Director – ‘A huge help to those working low-paid jobs’

“We are pleased the Chancellor is extending the £20 uplift in Universal Credit for another six months. Universal Credit is a lifeline for the poorest people in the UK and today’s decision will make a significant difference to many people.

“Likewise, the announced increase in the National Minimum Wage to £8.91 an hour from April is also welcome and will be a huge help to those working low-paid jobs.”

Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Helen Barnard, Director – ‘Makes no sense and will pull hundreds of thousands more people into poverty’

“It is unacceptable that the Chancellor has decided to cut the incomes of millions of families by £1040-a-year in six months’ time. He said this Budget would “meet the moment” but this decision creates a perfect storm for the end of this year, with the main rate of unemployment support cut to its lowest level in real terms since 1990 just as furlough ends and job losses are expected to peak. This makes no sense and will pull hundreds of thousands more people into poverty as we head into winter.

“Even before Coronavirus, incomes were falling fastest for people with the lowest incomes due in large part to benefit cuts. Ministers know this short extension offers little relief or reassurance to the millions of families, both in and out-of-work, for whom this £20-a-week is helping to stay afloat. This cut to Universal Credit will increase hardship when the economic crisis is far from over and undermine our national road to recovery.

“It is not too late for the Chancellor to do the right thing: announce an extension of the £20 uplift to Universal Credit for at least the next year. It is also totally indefensible that people who are sick, disabled or carers claiming legacy benefits continue to be excluded from this vital support. The Government must urgently right this injustice.”

Resolution Foundation

Torsten Bell, Chief Executive – ‘Need to see wider economic stimulus to drive the recovery’

“It’s welcome that the furlough scheme which has seen British workers through this crisis will remain in place until restrictions are lifted, playing a critical bridging role between the lockdown and the recovery. The phased tapering off over the summer will also avoid a risky cliff edge.

“But the peak of unemployment is ahead rather than behind us. We also need to see wider economic stimulus to drive the recovery this autumn, and support for the millions of people who have been without work for long periods during this crisis.”

Institute for Fiscal Studies

Paul Johnson, Director – ‘A big reversal of decades of policy direction and a significant risk’

“What we can be sure of is that Rishi Sunak has spent big again, extending some support right through 2021 at a cost of an additional £60 billion or more. As a result borrowing is now forecast to again be above 10% of national income in the coming financial year. Whether the big fiscal tightening planned for subsequent years will actually happen is less certain. It continues to depend on spending being lower than planned prior to the pandemic. And it also depends on a large increase in corporation tax actually being implemented without additional measures to at least ease its long-run impact. Make no mistake, this proposed increase in the main rate of corporation tax is a big reversal of decades of policy direction and a significant risk. For all the rhetoric about it leaving the headline rate here below that in other G7 countries, our effective tax rate will be relatively high.

“Mr Sunak made much of his desire to be honest and to level with the British people. The fact that he felt constrained to raise taxes by hitting companies and through freezing allowances, rather than through more explicit rises in people’s taxes, suggests there are limits to how far he wants to level with us as he attempts to raise the overall tax burden to its highest sustained level in history.”

Bright Blue

Ryan Shorthouse, Chief Executive – ‘The Government has yet again foolishly cut, rather than maintained, the value of the cost of Fuel Duty’

“The Chancellor has been refreshingly generous, adaptive and pragmatic in his response to the economic havoc caused by Covid-19. He is right to extend the flagship furlough scheme until the autumn, gradually phasing in increased employer contributions. It has saved the livelihoods of millions of people. Indeed, considering its success, the Government might consider an adaptation of the furloughing scheme for future crises for businesses and workers – a government-supported insurance scheme requiring employer and employee contributions.

The Chancellor is right to set out how this Government will get a grip on the public finances in the coming years, but postpone action until the years ahead. However, this makes the decision to cut the international aid budget and public sector pay in the coming fiscal year, as announced last autumn, odd and unnecessary.

“There was an agenda that was notably lacklustre in the Budget. In the year of COP26, this was meant to be the year that we trigger a post-Covid green recovery. But the Government has yet again foolishly cut, rather than maintained, the value of the cost of Fuel Duty for drivers of petrol and diesel vehicles. And it still lacks the ambitious and necessary policies to support more people with the path to net zero, especially in the way they drive their cars and heat their homes.”

Sajid Javid: Housing First. The scheme that can help us break the cycle of homelessness.

19 Feb

Sajid Javid is a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, and is MP for Bromsgrove.

In the course of any political career there are certain moments that stick with you. The past few years have brought me more than my fair share, however one that will always stand out in my memory was when I first met Wayne.

Wayne has a complex backstory. After leaving the Armed Forces aged 22 he’d spent 30 years sleeping on the streets. Thirty years. On becoming homeless, he began drinking heavily to self-medicate his mental health problems and was soon addicted to heroin and crack.

Outreach teams approached him repeatedly over the years and he’s been in and out of the hostel system. He’s also been in and out of the criminal justice system, managing to accumulate a total of 50 custodial sentences.

The scale of Wayne’s personal crisis made the story he told me about what happened next all the more remarkable.

When we met, he described how he’d moved into a flat through one of the very few “Housing First” schemes available at the time, and sustained his tenancy for 20 months. He’d stopped using drugs, and given up the prolific shoplifting that funded his habit. He’d voted for the first time. He’d even adopted a cat.

The result, Wayne told me, was that he “felt like a part of society for the first time ever”.

Wayne’s background might be shocking, but it’s also tragically familiar. The lives of the most entrenched rough sleepers are frequently marked by early experiences of trauma as well as substance dependency, family breakdown, poor health and sometimes criminality. For this group, the path to stability is treacherous and steep.

“Familiar”, however, does not mean “acceptable”. Nobody should ever have to live on the streets, or feel that they’ve forfeited their place in society. That’s why the Conservative manifesto rightly committed to ending the blight of rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. This might be an ambitious target, but ambition spurs action and the past 12 months have bolstered my conviction that it can be done.

Right at the start of the pandemic, Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary, instructed local authorities to bring everyone in off the streets. This led to more than 30,000 people being provided emergency accommodation in the space of a few weeks, saving hundreds of lives and demonstrating what government can do. For some, this has provided an opportunity to get back on their feet. For others, it’s a short-term solution.

If we want to build on this, we’ll need a comprehensive, long-term plan to turn the tide on rough sleeping. Difficult problems sometimes require drastic solutions, which is why as Housing Secretary I looked at replicating the Housing First model and rolling it out across the country.

The idea was to take the existing “treatment first” policy, and turn it on its head. The state would house rough sleepers facing the most serious challenges – such as mental health issues and addiction – without conditions, save for the willingness to maintain their tenancy. When they felt ready, we would then apply the intensive, personalised support needed to turn their lives around in a more stable environment.

Although this requires a significant investment upfront, similar schemes around the world have demonstrated that it works. I went to see this for myself in Finland, where Housing First is rolled out nationally and rough sleeping has been all but eradicated. Because participants have less contact with homelessness, health and criminal justice services, it saves the taxpayer money in the long run.

When I was Housing Secretary, I persuaded the Treasury to fund three large-scale Housing First pilots in Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands. These pilots have already helped more than 550 people off the streets and into permanent homes, with many more to follow. As many as 88 per cent of individuals supported by the pilots have sustained their tenancies, with an independent evaluation showing that those with a history of numerous failed tenancies are now staying put. Put simply, Housing First works.

We must now finish the job.

A national Housing First programme would build on the foundations of the regional pilots, as well as the Government’s efforts to provide accommodation during the pandemic. It’s an opportunity to give some of the most vulnerable people in our country a second chance, and to welcome them back into society.

That’s why I strongly welcome the Centre for Social Justice’s new report, Close to Home, setting out in detail how Housing First could be scaled up from 2,000 to 16,500 places to become a flagship policy for people whose homelessness is compounded by multiple disadvantage. I firmly believe this would be our best shot at breaking the cycle of homelessness by the end of the Parliament.

Four years on from meeting Wayne, I hear from his Housing First support workers that he’s made excellent progress, developing the skills he needs to live independently: “He’s come a long way, and is really proud of where he’s at now – as are we.”

We too have come a long way in addressing rough sleeping since 2017 and we have a great deal to be proud of. But there is still more to do. No one should be forced to sleep on the streets. With programmes like Housing First, they won’t have to.

The Universal Credit Uplift. Easy in, but not easy out.

8 Feb

We can’t speak for other enthusiasts for the free market economy – including Allister Heath, our columnist Ryan Bourne, and John Redwood – who urged unprecedented state intervention when the pandemic broke.  (As we did: the economy was undergoing the equivalent of a heart attack, and needed emergency surgery urgently.)

But we believe that they also knew well that, when it comes to the expansion of government, it’s easy in, but not easy out.  Of which the Universal Credit uplift is providing a classic illustration.

The Benefits Uprating Order is being considered in the Commons this week, but a decision on the uplift’s future has been postponed.  Ministers are telling Conservative MPs that “a decision regarding its future will be made in due course…it is only right that we wait for more clarity on the national economic and social picture before assessing the best way to support low-income families moving forward”.

On the one hand, that is not a principle that has been applied to other benefits.  On the other, Universal Credit, though paid to some people who don’t as well as to some who do, is becoming the main employment-related benefit.

In the summer of 2019, 33 per cent of those receiving Universal Credit were in employment, and 41 per cent were in the Searching for Work conditionality regime.  That snapshot from before the arrival of Covid-19 gives a sense of what the payment does and where it was going.

But pandemic has exploded figures like those.  At the start of the pandemic, about three million people were claiming it; now, that figure has all but doubled.  Unemployment has already hit five per cent, or 1.7 million people.

However, this uncertainty isn’t the main reason for the delayed decision on uprating.  The driver of the pause is an institutional clash between the Treasury, the guardian of the public finances, and the Department of Work and Pensions, the steward of what goverments used to call the social security system.

Rishi Sunak has floated one-off payments to keep down costs to the taxpayer (or such has been the briefing); Therese Coffey has said that these are not her “preferred approach” (no briefing here: she said so publicly last week to the Work and Pensions Select Committee).

She can point to Universal Credit as one of the government’s pandemic success stories – the main one, arguably, before the vaccines came along.  As Iain Duncan Smith wrote on this site, “on the old system, these claimants would have to be processed physically ,and the queues and chaos at job centres would have dwarfed anything we have seen so far, as well as increasing infection rates”.

It can be argued that the payment does not target our poorest people.  Philippa Stroud, formerly Duncan Smith’s adviser when he was Work and Pensions Secretary, has put that case.

“The Government could decide to focus on those who are moving in and out of poverty and close to the labour market (the top seven million). That is in effect what the £20 uplift has done in Universal Credit. Or, it could decide to focus energy and resources on those in deep poverty – those who are 50 per cent below the poverty line (bottom 4.5 million),” she wrote on ConservativeHome.

“This is the most vulnerable group and where I would put my energy and effort at a time of national crisis.”  However, the poorest are not necessarily those who have been hit hardest by Covid.

Stroud is now at the Legatum Institute, and a recent report from the think tank found that “poverty has reduced among some groups…this is because many non-working families have seen their benefits increase, meaning that they are less likely to be in poverty than would have been the case in the absence of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The story of the Coronavirus continues and all judgements must be provisional.  But our take on the virus so far is that manual workers, younger people, women, and a section of the self-employed have been disproportionately affected in economic terms.

A substantial slice of these are the battlers, strivers and just-about managings of electoral legend.  And the number of them on Universal Credit has soared – as we have seen.  They will be well represented in the Red Wall and other former Labour seats in England’s provinces in which the Conservatives did so startling well at the last election.

The debate that Stroud wants about anti-poverty policy is made harder, she argues, by the absence of an offical measure of poverty – abolished in 2016.

“We are allowing others to create a narrative for us, and in the absence of an agreed poverty measure and subsequent strategy, we always will,” she says.  She champions a new measure from the Social Metrics Commission which she has helped to drive; the Centre for Social Justice disagrees, arguing for a focus on outcomes that reduce family breakdown, addiction, worklessness and poor schools instead.

We wrote yesterday that if Boris Johnson wants to take healthcare policy left (which Ministers are denying), Parliament will probably let him do so.  It may be a different matter with the Universal Credit decision.

Our sense is that Conservative backbenchers, as so often, will be driven by their constituents’ immediate needs, first and foremost.  Maybe there is some one-off compromise – the Prime Minister’s reflex will be to hunt for one – that involves some new scheme, such as that floated by the Centre for Policy Studies.

But it is hard to see how the Government can avoid running the uplift for another year: the alternative of doing so for a few months, which would do little if anything to abate the political pressure on Ministers, doesn’t look appealing.

We end where we began.  Once benefit payments have been raised, it is difficult to cut them.  The conventional means of establishing control is either to freeze their value, or replace them altogether – while getting more people into work.  That’s part of the recent story of benefits, through Peter Lilley’s reform of incapacity benefit under John Major to the Employment Support Allowance of the Labour years.

So much for the short term.  What about the medium?  Is the divided backbench reaction to Marcus Rashford’s campaigning the shape of things to come, with Tory MPs taking a less stringent view of welfare than during the years of much higher employment?

Spending Review 2020: Think tank response round-up

25 Nov

Adam Smith Institute

Matt Kilcoyne, Deputy Director:

“The Chancellor set out plans for big-spending and big-borrowing to get the country through the pandemic, and set the course for the country in the years ahead. It is necessarily expensive to confront the Covid-19 pandemic. But this public sector spending splurge fails to put the United Kingdom onto a strong fiscal footing for the recovery. Rishi Sunak cannot tax our way out of debt or spend our way out of a recession. 

“Increasing departmental budgets as the economy shrinks is just spending money we don’t have. It is fair that while private sector wages have fallen, public sector wages do not rise. Every public sector worker does not automatically deserve a pay rise while the rest of the UK loses out. 

“Raising the minimum wage during a recession will hit the most vulnerable the hardest by preventing businesses from hiring out-of-work Brits. It risks fewer jobs and hours for the lowest skilled, young, and minority workers. For the party of business, the lack of thought about their needs and the increase in costs they’re facing coming from the government, this is a massive and unforgivable oversight.”

Institute of Economic Affairs

Mark Littlewood, Director General:

“The Chancellor’s diagnosis was correct – and it is encouraging that he grasps the scale of the problem. The eye of the economic storm has yet to hit. The Covid contraction is more than double that of the Great Depression in 1931. Five years from now our economy will be smaller than it was at the start of 2020.

“If the diagnosis is good, the medicine is inadequate. ‘No return to austerity’ is a good slogan, but austerity there will be – either in the public or the private sector. It is just a question of when, and the longer the delay the more austere it will be.

“While today was a Spending Review rather than a Budget, the Chancellor must swiftly turn his attention to mapping out a path to recovery. This will involve creating a better tax and regulatory environment, so businesses can bounce back and thrive.”

Centre for Social Justice

Edward Davies, Director of Policy:

“Amidst the eye-watering barrage of numbers, the focus first and foremost on jobs, was the right one. It is not just important for the recovery of the economy but as the Chancellor said, a job is the best route to personal prosperity – an identity, purpose, and reason to get up each morning. Various investments in housing, city growth deals, and a very welcome community levelling-up fund will all help to enable this.

“And for those out of work the announcement of the £3bn Restart Programme is welcome too. This can build on and expand the Work Programme and Work and Health Programme. But it must be personalised and human, as per the original design of Universal Support, to go alongside Universal Credit. As the Shadow Chancellor said it must address the needs of those furthest from the job market and work with the small local actors, who know their communities best.

“Lastly, support for the most vulnerable such as rough sleepers, and our prisons was welcome, but warm words on families and communities, where many find their greatest support, must be followed by action.”

TaxPayers’ Alliance

John O’Connell, Chief Executive:

“The lack of focus on value for money in today’s spending review will no doubt disappoint taxpayers.

“Coronavirus has undeniably left a large hole in the nation’s finances. But instead of forever dipping back into taxpayers’ pockets, the government should prioritise policies to get the economy going.

“With the tax burden at a 50 year high, targeted tax cuts will be vital for employment, productivity and, ultimately, economic growth.”

Centre for Policy Studies

Robert Colvile, Director:

“Today’s spending review recognises the extraordinary scale of the Government’s fiscal response to the pandemic, but also the extraordinary and long-lasting economic damage that it has inflicted.

“It is right to prioritise jobs, health and public services now, rather than immediately closing the deficit, but also right to acknowledge the enormity of the challenges ahead. The temporary cut to international aid and the imposition of public sector pay restraint, both called for by the Centre for Policy Studies, recognised this changed environment – but the country is still committed to increasing spending on a shrunken tax base.

“The Chancellor’s announcements on infrastructure investment and levelling up were extremely welcome, echoing for example the CPS’s proposal for a National Infrastructure Bank. But ultimately it will be the private sector, not the public, which digs us out of this economic hole – so as the pandemic recedes we urge the Chancellor to embrace pro-growth, pro-enterprise stimulus measures, such as tax incentives to encourage businesses to hire and invest.”

Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Helen Barnard, Director:

“Remarkably for a much-hyped statement on levelling up opportunity across the country, the Chancellor’s word’s ring hollow as weaker local economies will be getting less money than previously in the aftermath of the pandemic.

“The growing numbers of people in or at risk of being pulled into poverty in our country will have taken little solace from the plans laid out by the Chancellor today. The latest economic forecasts are stark and deeply troubling.

“Behind the figures there are real families wondering how they will get through this winter and beyond. The Chancellor has not risen to the challenge facing the nation. In the here and now families need to know how they will pay for food, childcare and keep a roof over their heads.

“The Chancellor has failed to live up to their manifesto commitment to invest significantly in skills around the UK and allow the funds to be administered locally via mayors, devolved administrations and local authorities. The additional funding for employment support is eye catching and necessary because of the anticipated wave of long-term unemployment in the coming months.

“There is mounting concern in the UK about tackling poverty and inequality, and the time to tackle these issues is now, as we recover from a crisis which has already hit the worst off hardest. This was a moment when the Chancellor could have taken action to solve poverty – instead many families will now be preparing for still harder times ahead.”

Resolution Foundation

Hannah Slaughter, Economist:

“The Chancellor has confirmed a modest increase in the National Living Wage for next April – the smallest since 2013. After large increases in recent years, the slowdown reflects that the wage floor is rightly linked to typical earnings which have taken a hit during the crisis.

“Crucially, this increase still leaves the Government on track to abolish low pay by the middle of the decade, with one of the highest minimum wages in the world.

“Continuing on the path towards ending low pay – with bigger rises in the National Living Wage coming as earnings recover – should form part of a wider post-Covid settlement for low-paid workers, including more dignity and security at work.”

Frank Young: Why we need to get rid of the term ‘BAME’

18 Nov

Frank Young is Political Director at the Centre for Social Justice

A generation ago, virtually all ethnic minority groups in the UK were more disadvantaged than the White British population, by almost any measure. Today, disadvantage is no longer black and white.

Too often, we have viewed ethnic minorities through lumping everyone who is non-white into a crude “BAME” category, grouping their experiences as if there are no meaningful differences between them. It is time to get rid of this useless “BAME vs. White” approach and dig a little deeper into the facts.

Outcomes for virtually all ethnic minority groups have been on a positive trajectory over the last few decades. Many ethnic minority groups are now performing better in education and the labour market than the White British group.

Before we tipped our economy upside down, official earnings data showed that young people from Black African and Bangladeshi backgrounds no longer had lower earnings than their White British counterparts. This is most likely because African and Bangladeshi children are outperforming the national average in bagging good GCSE grades.

When it comes to the home life that sets the template for adulthood, there are vast disparities in family structures across ethnic groups. Only 10 per cent of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi households are headed up by a single parent; for Caribbean households with children the figure is nearly half. We shouldn’t be surprised that children’s outcomes are so varied when the homes they return to each day are so different.

None of this is intended to suggest we take a pollyannaish approach to ethnicity – there are real problems we need to tackle. But if we want to take them on properly we need to dig a little deeper into what is going on between and within ethnic groups with very different backgrounds, cultural expectations and experiences of the world around them.

The gaps are not just between White Brits and ethnic minority groups. There are huge gaps within broad ethnic minority groups too. For instance, Indian people of working age in 2018 succeeded in closing the employment gap between themselves and the White British population, and now earn more than White British workers, on average. Meanwhile, Pakistani and Bangladeshi people have consistently had the highest unemployment rates – more than double that of the Indian population – and have some of the poorest earnings.

The differences between Black Caribbean and Black African individuals are also stark. Black African GCSE students achieve higher than average in school, whilst their Caribbean peers have some of the poorest attainment rates. Disadvantaged African students perform better, not worse, than more advantaged Caribbean students.

Simply reporting “Asian or “Black” outcomes is deeply unhelpful – let alone reporting “BAME” outcomes. You won’t hear that in the news too often, let alone reports from bureaucrats who love to lump people into groups.

It might be tempting to just blame this on “poverty” or some imagined “structural disadvantage” but the fact is some groups seem to beat the odds. Poorer Indian students (those eligible for free school meals) achieve just as highly as relatively wealthier White British students in their GCSEs. Similarly, disadvantaged Black African students achieve better GCSE results than their more advantaged Black Caribbean peers.

At the CSJ, we have always tackled the most difficult social issues head on. All the above statistics come from our newly published report, Facing the facts: ethnicity and disadvantage in Britain. We need to improve the way we understand ethnic differences by binning the nonsense term “BAME” and instead turn our attention to tackling poverty at its root causes, making sure we get those out of work into a job, preventing families from breaking apart and making education an escape route from a poorer future. The Prime Minister is tip-toeing into this area with a new commission but more ambitious action is needed.

There’s a lot to be really proud of in our country and in many ways we are a hugely successful multi-ethnic democracy. We don’t need a crude approach to ethnicity anymore than we need it in tackling poverty. The “Black Lives Matter” movement has been a catalyst for re-examining how ethnicity affects “life chances”, but it is being held back a lack of nuance.

Governments love to say they are led by the evidence, it’s time to look at the evidence on ethnicity in plotting a better future for families growing up in our poorest areas. The first step is get rid of the pointless phrase “BAME” and get a lot more interested in the lives of real people, which will show up in the data when you look carefully.

Cristina Odone: Domestic Abuse isn’t a ‘women’s issue’: it affects far more children than women

7 Nov

Cristina Odone is Head of Family Policy at the Centre for Social Justice

Domestic abuse affects almost twice as many women as men – 7.9 per cent of women survived domestic abuse in 2018, while 4.2 per cent of men did – but in terms of numbers and proportions, the single biggest group affected by domestic abuse is children: one in five will experience it in the home. Last year, half of the children who were assessed as in need of being looked after by their local authority had experienced domestic abuse. More than 60 per cent of women in refuge in 2017 had a child under 18.

This crime has spiralled during the pandemic and attendant lockdowns. Helplines recorded huge spikes in calls – in June alone, the National Domestic Abuse Helpline recorded a 77 per cent surge. SafeLives, the national charity, surveyed front line workers who said their caseload had increased by more than a quarter. Between April and September calls to the NSPCC almost doubled, reflecting the huge increase in the number of children impacted.

Covid-19 also has made supporting victims more difficult: domestic abuse services are struggling under the increased caseloads; refuges no longer feel like safe havens because of fear of infection; schools’ closure during lockdown deprived many children of much-needed support from teachers and counsellors; and some of the domestic abuse charities in the Centre for Social Justice’s nationwide charity Alliance have found that Covid has compounded mental health issues among parents: staff at Cheshire Without Abuse, a small charity in Crewe, have experienced two victims’ suicides and many more attempted suicides since lockdown began.

These developments will have a significant impact, over many generations. Psychologists and educationalists are beginning to adopt adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) as a framework for identifying those children most vulnerable to recruitment by gangs and county lines, and to ending up in care or as NEET. Domestic violence is one of these ACEs, and risks compromising a child’s future – from their cognitive development to their substance abuse. Research shows that living with domestic abuse between parents is as psychologically harmful to children as when they are direct victims of physical abuse themselves. Dame Vera Baird QC, Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, has found an overlap between children’s experience of domestic abuse and their offending behaviour.

The trauma continues beyond the “domestic” and into the courtroom, where the child may become the bone of contention between the perpetrator, who demands access, and the victim, who fears for their child’s welfare and longs to sever all connection with their tormentor. In many cases, domestic abuse may cause a child to lose their home and contact with grandparents and other relatives; it may also mean starting a new life in a refuge and a new school.

The new Domestic Abuse Bill, now in the Lords for its third reading, acknowledges the horrific trauma that this crime causes in children. For the first time the legislation explicitly refers to children as victims, not just witnesses, of domestic violence.

This is welcome, as are the establishment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner and Office, and the recognition that abuse takes many forms, including economic, emotional, manipulative, and controlling behaviour.

More can be done, however. We would urge the Government to adopt the whole-family approach to address domestic abuse that is being delivered by Safe Lives charity with its One Front Door programme. This brings together multi-agency specialist teams of statutory and voluntary sector partners to identify the needs of every family member at the same time. “Every” family member means engaging with the perpetrators as well as the adult and child victims. For too long many organisations have argued that funding should not be taken from supporting the victim for the purpose of engaging with the perpetrator.

For this reason, interventions that deal with the perpetrator have received a minimal proportion of government funding. Fewer than one per cent of perpetrators, including repeat offenders, receive any kind of specialist intervention. Survivors overwhelmingly agree that there can be no solution to abuse without engaging with perpetrators, yet those working in the sector continue to balk at focusing efforts on offenders.

This has proved short-sighted. The level of re-offending is high – a quarter of high-harm perpetrators are repeat offenders, and some have at least six different victims. Yet the evidence is mounting to show that those interventions working with perpetrators significantly reduce the risk of re-offending.

A study by the University of Northumbria found that these sorts of interventions resulted in a 65 per cent reduction in future offences with a huge social return on investment of £14 for every £1 spent.

A new, family-centred approach would recognise the relational context in which abuse takes place, engaging with perpetrators and children as well as victims. Domestic abuse is not a gender issue. It is a social reform issue – one that the pandemic and its aftermath have made more urgent than ever. Addressing it offers a route out of disadvantage – for children as well as their parents.

Joe Shalam: We can’t let an unemployment crisis become a debt crisis

5 Nov

Joe Shalam is Head of Financial Inclusion at the Centre for Social Justice.

As the Government’s credit card bends under the weight of our Covid-19 response, the national debt has exceeded GDP for the first time in over 50 years.

But the pandemic has just as alarming implications for household debt: this is, after all, the more immediate source of anxiety for families hit by coronavirus-related income shocks.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has always considered serious personal debt a pathway to poverty. We see this in the way it tears families apart, the strain it puts on employment, and its cruel encouragement towards alcohol and substance dependency. Any thoughtful poverty strategy needs to address the menace of debt for those who don’t have much to begin with.

While record amounts were repaid on credit cards during national lockdown by workers deprived of their shopping habits, expensive daily commute and flat whites, we must not let this disguise the tidal wave of debt crashing down on low-income families in Britain. A recent survey showed that low-income households were twice as likely as high-income households to have increased their reliance on consumer credit in response to the pandemic. The charity StepChange report that 2.8 million people have fallen into arrears on bills, including 820,000 on council tax alone.

In focus groups led by the CSJ across the country, community-based money advisors express deep anxiety over the loan sharks ‘licking their lips’ at the growing indebtedness and desperation in our most disadvantaged areas. Ensuring that the Illegal Money Lending Team is well resourced to combat the scourge of loan sharks will be critical going forward, as will maintaining the Financial Conduct Authority’s proactive approach to forbearance in the consumer credit sector.

But given longer-term changes in the composition of ‘problem debt’ in England, it is also the public sector’s duty to reconsider its role as a creditor. As the CSJ showed in our Collecting Dust report, recent years have seen a marked rise in the number of people seriously indebted to public bodies. Our analysis found that 42 per cent of debt problems reported last year related to debts owed to national and local government, most commonly for council tax arrears but also for tax credit and benefit debt.

This has doubled from 21 per cent a decade ago, overtaking difficulties relating to consumer debts, which fell from 57 per cent to 32 per cent over the same period.

Over the same period, charities tell us that debt collection in the private sector has changed dramatically and for the better. Galvanised by the introduction of the FCA’s ‘Treating Customers Fairly’ guidelines, we now see independent debt advice referrals, thought-out vulnerability policies, and personalised repayment plans offered much more widely.

This approach not only provides a sustainable route out for people in debt – frankly, it makes commercial sense. More money is recovered, fewer costly interventions are required, and fewer people default as they are supported to meet their obligations.

Despite this, today it is the public sector who employ the most heavy-handed and unsophisticated methods of debt collection. Out-of-date rules governing council debt collection mean that families with small debts find these rapidly inflated by punitive fees and charges. Councils working religiously to ‘in-year’ targets abandoned in the commercial sector escalated 2.6 million debts to bailiffs last year, increasingly for parking fines.

On top of this, there is some £7 billion owed to government for historical welfare debts (caused primarily by a design flaw in the old benefit system), which is now being collected bluntly via large benefit deductions as people move over to Universal Credit. This is nowhere near talked about enough and has a huge impact on the money received by welfare claimants.

At the height of the crisis the Government suspended these deductions. We need to write off historical welfare debt now so Universal Credit can do its job in helping those who have fallen on hard times, cover day to day costs, and get people back into work.

The Cabinet Office has since launched a cross-Whitehall review of debt management, which is extremely welcome. The Government should take this opportunity to introduce a Debt Management Bill. Drawing from the best of the commercial sector, the bill would establish a unit in the Cabinet Office to enable a ‘single view’ of the various debts owed by a family in order to work out an affordable repayment plan.

It would bring council debt management rapidly up to speed, amending the council tax regulations to end rules which expand debts into an entire year’s bill, and putting the existing good practice guidelines for collection on a statutory footing. Finally, it would introduce proper affordability assessments for benefit deductions and cap these at 10 per cent of Universal Credit’s standard allowance.

In short, the bill would produce savings for the taxpayer through enhanced debt recovery while providing more people with a route out of debt in this time of crisis. An effective Conservative poverty strategy must aim to get people out of debt, not just get debt out of people.