12 February 2019 – today’s press releases

Digital exclusion shows Universal Credit not fit for purpose Responding to reports that almost half a million people needed help to apply for the government’s flagship Universal Credit benefit online, DWP Spokesperson Christine Jardine said: The Liberal Democrats raised the issue of digital exclusion with Conservative ministers months ago, but these concerns clearly haven’t been […]

Digital exclusion shows Universal Credit not fit for purpose

Responding to reports that almost half a million people needed help to apply for the government’s flagship Universal Credit benefit online, DWP Spokesperson Christine Jardine said:

The Liberal Democrats raised the issue of digital exclusion with Conservative ministers months ago, but these concerns clearly haven’t been taken on board. This underlines the need to look again at Universal Credit, which is clearly not creating the simpler and more accessible benefits system that was intended.

It is failing the very people it was supposed to be designed to help. Now the Government has acknowledged that Universal Credit has created a greater need for food banks, it is time they accepted it needs more than just the tinkering we have seen.

Universal Credit just isn’t fit for purpose, and it’s time the Government accepted responsibility.

Conservatives pass one of worst pieces of legislation ever witnessed

Speaking after the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill was passed in the House of Commons tonight by just 58 votes, former Liberal Democrat Care Minister Norman Lamb MP said:

Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people are at risk of unlawfully having their freedom restricted and receiving inappropriate care. That is the deeply flawed system this Bill should have fixed, but instead the Conservatives produced one of the worst pieces of legislation ever seen.

I set the Government two tests at the beginning of this process. Does the new system safeguard individuals’ human rights and does the new system result in very vulnerable people being better protected? Conservative Ministers have failed both of these tests.

It is incredibly worrying that the Conservative Government are still pursuing this change in legislation when there has been overwhelming and united opposition from parties and care organisations. People deserve better, and the Liberal Democrats will keep fighting for the rights of the most vulnerable.

Motorists to be driven round the bend by Brexit bureaucracy

The House of Lords has this evening formally approved a Brexit regulation allowing the Government to issue new international driving permits, which could be required to travel to several EU countries in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Responding, Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson Jenny Randerson said:

International Driving Permits are a relic of the 1960s with different countries requiring different formats, not forgetting, the only way to get one is through queuing up at the post office.

EU countries may require drivers to buy these permits if the UK crashes out without a deal, causing delays and hassle to all those who drive across the continent for holidays, not to mention severely hampering British business.

This is just another example to add to the list of transport and border issues that have been brought about by Brexit.

Previously, UK drivers could enjoy travelling across Europe by road pretty seamlessly, but now will risk prosecution if they do not adequately prepare. The only way out of this mess is for the Prime Minister to take no deal off the table and to give the public a final say, with the option to remain in the EU.

11 February 2019 – today’s press releases (part 2)

And here’s the rest… Lib Dems: Defence Secretary showboating with ‘hard power’ rhetoric Lib Dems: Tory Govt prepared to sacrifice people to the electric chair Govt Universal Credit admission is too late for tens of thousands Lib Dems: Govt must ensure dinosaur MPs can’t obstruct legislation Lib Dems: Defence Secretary showboating with ‘hard power’ rhetoric […]

And here’s the rest…

  • Lib Dems: Defence Secretary showboating with ‘hard power’ rhetoric
  • Lib Dems: Tory Govt prepared to sacrifice people to the electric chair
  • Govt Universal Credit admission is too late for tens of thousands
  • Lib Dems: Govt must ensure dinosaur MPs can’t obstruct legislation

Lib Dems: Defence Secretary showboating with ‘hard power’ rhetoric

In his speech “Transforming UK Defence to Meet the Global Threats of Tomorrow”, Gavin Williamson today confirmed that aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is to be deployed to the Pacific region.

Commenting on this move Liberal Defence Spokesperson Jamie Stone said:

Gavin Williamson is heating up UK defence rhetoric, something which may well be seen as provocation by Beijing. This comes following years of hollowing-out of Britain’s military capabilities, with the British Army now at the smallest it has been in decades.

Do we really have the capacity at the moment to send this ship over to showboat? Rather than flaunting the HMS Queen Elizabeth in the pacific, the Conservatives should instead be focusing on the pressing issues facing the British armed forces at the moment, including the £15bn shortfall in the MoD’s equipment plan over the next decade.

Lib Dems: Tory Govt prepared to sacrifice people to the electric chair

A Liberal Democrat amendment which would have prohibited UK authorities sharing data with overseas agencies where the death penalty could be imposed was rejected by the Conservatives today.

Speaking in the House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson in the Lords Brian Paddick accused the Conservative Government of being “prepared to sacrifice people to the electric chair in America if that is what it takes to secure the kind of agreement this Bill covers.”

The amendment to the Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill was defeated in the House of Lords by just 19 votes.

Speaking after the vote, Lord Paddick added:

The UK has long been committed to eradicating the death penalty wherever it exists in the world. An important part of that commitment is that we only help other countries to prosecute criminals if we have assurances that the death penalty will not be used.

It is disappointing to see less than half of Labour peers join us in opposing the Government on an issue which could see people being executed as a result of the UK sharing data. The Liberal Democrats are clear that we will continue to fight to keep the UK’s commitment to fundamental human rights.

Govt Universal Credit admission is too late for tens of thousands

Responding to comments from Amber Rudd about the link between the rise of food bank usage and the roll out of Universal Credit, Liberal Democrat Work and Pensions Spokesperson Christine Jardine said:

This belated admission of responsibility comes far too late for the tens of thousands of people forced to rely on food banks because of the Conservatives’ stubborn refusal to fix Universal Credit.

In 21st century Britain no one should be dependent on charitable handouts for their survival, yet that is precisely the situation that Government policy has created.

While some tinkering around the edges has happened, the Conservative Government must go all the way and give UC claimants full flexibility over when and how they are paid, while completely reversing the swingeing cuts made to the programme in 2015.

Lib Dems: Govt must ensure dinosaur MPs can’t obstruct legislation

The Liberal Democrats have today secured assurances that a Bill on female genital mutilation (FGM) will be introduced in Government time, but have called for the way in which Private Members Bills’ are debated to be reassessed.

Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse secured the assurance during her Urgent Question today. The Bath MP pressed the issue after a Private Member’s Bill on FGM was dismissed on Friday after Conservative MP Christopher Chope objected.

Following the Urgent Question, Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse said:

It is severely disappointing that I have had to ask the Minister to bring this issue back to the Chamber today. The Conservatives should be ashamed to have Members on their benches with such outdated views about women and who fail to recognise the urgent need to protect vulnerable girls.

We need far greater protection for children who are at risk of female genital mutilation, with clear evidence that it is on the rise. We cannot be in a situation where action is only ever taken after the crime has been committed, and after these girls have undergone unsafe, life-changing, and potentially life-threatening surgery.

It is a relief to to see that the Government have taken it upon themselves to introduce this legislation, after one of their own backbenches blocked it. It is time to reassess the way in which Private Members Bills’ are debated to ensure that one aged dinosaur MP cannot obstruct the progress of vital legislation out of spite in future.

Alleviating poverty in our country. How should Liberal Democrats aim to help?

Should Universal Credit simply be abolished? That’s not our policy. .Perhaps we should replace it with a new benefit, National Credit, as suggested here recently by Michael BG. But how about abolishing the Department for Work and Pensions? That is the radical idea just advanced by a man who worked in national mental health policy […]

Should Universal Credit simply be abolished? That’s not our policy. .Perhaps we should replace it with a new benefit, National Credit, as suggested here recently by Michael BG. But how about abolishing the Department for Work and Pensions?

That is the radical idea just advanced by a man who worked in national mental health policy for more than ten years, and who latterly was seconded to the DWP for 18 months to advise on mental health across a range of policy issues. 

Tom Pollard of the think-tank Demos has written a short paper, Pathways from Poverty: A case for institutional reform, published by Demos this month. He writes that the Government should consider abolishing the department after its failure to help ill and disabled people out of poverty. He maintains that the DWP is “institutionally and culturally incapable of making the reforms needed to deliver better outcomes for society’s most vulnerable.” 

Referencing the post-war Beveridge social contract, he declares that modern governments have failed to deliver a parallel radical agenda. Specifically, he complains that the DWP has a ‘benefit lens’ where case-handlers perceive employment as a condition for receiving benefits, rather than as a means for enabling claimants to pursue fulfilling work. Speaking at a recent Demos discussion with industry experts and senior parliamentarians, he maintained that for many claimants the problems were not a question of their motivation, but of their disability or illness that impeded their securing work.

His conclusions recall points made by the UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, whose hard-hitting report  was discussed in LDV articles on November19 and 28 and December 2. 

Philip Alston observed a ‘command and control’ approach to Universal Credit which imposed harsh sanctions which the evidence tended to show were counter-productive. He too referred to elements of the Beveridge contract having been overturned, inflicting misery on the poor and the disabled. While discussing practical needs such as the restoration of local authority services, with the viewpoint of a compassionate outsider he also deplored what he saw as a decline in British traditional values of compassion and concern for everyone.

Liberal Democrats already hold and continue to develop excellent policies to alleviate poverty. Abolishing DWP is worth consideration. But we also surely need to take a lead in challenging the culture which has allowed our society’s decline in values. Why, for example, in the debates over Brexit, is it not trumpeted that the poorest in our society will be the worst affected if the country grows poorer? Similarly, it seems left to the letter-pages of the Guardian to exhibit the kind of misery already inflicted by callous practice on some benefit claimants. This recent letter from a person with disabilities and illness who withheld their name read in part:

 I have just been through the ordeal that the government say is an easy transition to the new universal credit, The past five weeks have been one of the most stressful periods of my life. On Monday my universal credit was awarded, leaving me £93.58 per four weeks worse off compared with the employment support allowance and housing benefit that I had. This now means a choice of food, heat or transportation. I already had to budget just £20 per week for food before the reduction in my benefits. As for heating, I could only afford to put the heating on when my flat is below 10 degrees Celsius, and only raising it to 12 degrees.

Liberal Democrats surely ought to be the voice of the poorest, most ill and most disadvantaged individuals of our society, and be shouting for them. I believe we should now campaign for a national renewal of the traditional caring values of our society as well as for all the practical measures required, to avoid the ‘alienated society’ to which Philip Alston fears Britain is heading.

* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Copeland and Workington.

25 questions about (another) early general election – and the horror show it could be for the Conservatives

The more one thinks about it, the more problematic one becomes.

I wrote in the Times last August about Brexit that “the most likely cathartic event is neither a new prime minister nor a second referendum but a general election”.  Of which there is talk again in the Westminster Village.  William Hague is reportedly saying that the media is underestimating the chances of a poll.

As Mark Wallace points out, the former Foreign Secretary pressed for an election before Theresa May obtained one in 2017.  We know how that turned out.

For the record, this site believed that she’d increase her majority, once she called it.  But we were very dubious about her calling the poll in the first place.  We take the same view now (as may Hague).  For although an election could become unavoidable before too long, believing that one could happen isn’t the same as thinking it should happen.  Here are some questions that help illustrate why.

  • What would the manifesto say about Brexit?
  • If it repackaged Theresa May’s deal, how would Conservative MPs who believe that No Deal is now inevitable, or back Norway Plus, or a Canada-type deal, or a second referendum, respond?
  • If it didn’t propose ruling out No Deal, what would the Cabinet group headed by Philip Hammond say and do?
  • If it did rule out No Deal, what would the Cabinet members who backed Leave in the EU referendum, plus Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt, do?
  • Would the manifesto rule out extending Article 50?
  • How would May go about seeking to prevent a 1997-election type revolt – that time round, it was about ruling out joining the Euro – from Leavers?  Would she be prepared to bar the candidacies of hardline pro-Leave MPs?
  • By the same token, would she be prepared to bar the candidacies of their pro-Remain equivalents?
  • How would the Party handle Associations seeking to deselect their MPs?
  • What would the manifesto say about everything else bar Brexit?  The spending review?  Tax?  Social care?  Universal Credit?  Reducing net migration “to the tens of thousands”?  Health and food and lifestyle?  Selective schools?  Knife crime?  The pursuit of British servicemen through the courts?  Tuition fees?  Home ownership? HS2?  And what would it say about how Britain should be different after Brexit?
  • In particular, what would it say about Scotland, and what role would Ruth Davidson and/or Scottish Conservative MPs have in drawing up the contents, if any, especially about fishing?
  • What’s to stop the election turning into one on other matters than Brexit entirely, as the last one did?
  • Would the Party run candidates against the DUP in Northern Ireland?
  • Who would run the manifesto process – since Chris Skidmore, who was in charge of the Party’s policy review, has now been made a Minister and not replaced?
  • Would the Pickles review recommendations for drawing up the next Conservative manifesto be implemented – in other words, would senior Ministers play a major part in overseeing it?
  • Who would write it?
  • Since successive Party leaders have outsourced the running of recent election campaigns, who would run this one?  (Labour’s team from last time round would presumably remain much the same.)
  • Since Lynton Crosby is reported to be advising Boris Johnson, how could he return to CCHQ to spearhead a campaign?
  • Would such a solution be desirable anyway, given the Crosby/Textor/Messina contribution to the failure of the last campaign?
  • Even if it was, would Crosby accept this poisoned chalice in any event?
  • And why would anyone else do so, either – such as James Kanagasooriam?  Dominic Cummings?  (Who wouldn’t be asked anyway.)
  • In the absence of anyone else, has CCHQ really got the capacity to run an election campaign in-house, especially at almost no notice?
  • Given almost no notice, is CCHQ in a position to identify the right target seats?
  • If it can, doesn’t it need an equivalent of Team 2015 to help campaign in them and canvass them?  (And there isn’t one.)
  • Even if there was one, is the prospect of a Corbyn Government enough to get Party activists out campaigning, or will disillusion with the May Government hold them back?
  • What’s the answer to the same question when applied to donors?

And that’s all more or less off the top of my head.  There will be many more questions and better ones too.

P.S: And before you ask, the Fixed Terms Parliament Act isn’t an insuperable barrier to an election, as the events of 2017 proved.

P.P.S: The Prime Minister has of course promised recently, as before the 2017 poll, that she definitely won’t seek one…

David Burrowes: It’s time to really make work pay for low-income families

Cripplingly high effective marginal tax rates, and other imbalances, are skewing the tax system against the things we care about.

David Burrowes is the former MP for Enfield Southgate and Executive Director of the Manifesto to Strengthen Families, which is supported by over 60 MPs.

Political attention is no doubt elsewhere this week, but sadly for eight years of a Conservative-led Government family life has been largely ignored in the tax system. So much so, in fact, that low income families are being trapped in poverty.

This may come as a surprise, given a core tenet of Conservative policy during these years has been to make work pay. Since we got back into power in 2010, there has been a jobs creation miracle: there are now more jobs than ever before, and unemployment is at record low levels. Of course that has benefited families and now record numbers of children live in households who work.

But this is only one side of the coin. It’s no good creating thousands of new jobs if people don’t then feel the benefit of more money at the end of the month.

This issue of making work pay for low-income families prompted me to chair a panel of MPs – Fiona Bruce, Heidi Allen, and Chris Green – who conducted an inquiry in November and led to our report being published this week.

We found that work simply does not pay for many families in the bottom half of the income distribution. The UK’s unusually high effective marginal tax rates (EMTR) have stripped families of the incentive to work more hours or get a better paid job. EMTR is the amount of money someone loses from every additional pound they would earn above their current salary in tax, national insurance and lost benefits.

The UK is an outlier – it treats low-income families in the tax system worse than any other country in the developed world. The EMTR rate for a one-earner married couple with two children on 75 per cent average wage is the highest of all OECD countries and more than twice as high as the EU (22) average. If all these other countries can avoid the same astonishingly high EMTRs we have here, then clearly the problem is avoidable.

Research by the Tax and the Family shows that the EMTR for a single-earner family on £21,000 with three children, paying income tax and national insurance and entitled to tax credits, housing, and council tax benefit, is an eye-watering 96 per cent. This means for every extra £1 they earn, they keep only 4p. Under Universal Credit, this figure will fall slightly, but it will still likely be an 80 per cent rate.

All family types suffer under this current situation. It doesn’t matter whether you are a single parent, single-earner couple, or a dual-earner couple. One in three of all in-work families are likely to be facing high EMTRs. But it’s not just the very low paid who are affected. For example, a single income family with three children paying rent of £157 a week has in 2018/19 an EMTR of 96 per cent. This does not drop to 32 per cent until your income reaches £40,776 and where housing costs are greater, the 96 per cent rate reaches even higher. This means it is almost impossible for some families to escape poverty.

It was striking that during the inquiry, both Tax and the Family and the Iain Duncan Smith made mention of the fact that Lord Lawson, the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer who introduced a system of independent taxation, has gone on record to state that the option of joint taxation was implicit in his original proposals for independent taxation and was his preferred choice.

The case for tax reform to give more support for families is being made from across our Conservative political family. Last November the Centre for Policy Studies, in its report ‘Make Work Pay’, acknowledged that “the British tax system is, by international standards, rather ungenerous towards families”. The CPS report concludes that transferable allowances “recognise the fact that what matters most to people is often the family finances – not just their personal situation. From a moral standpoint, it seems right that the tax system should acknowledge this in some way”.

Earlier this month 21 Conservative MPs, who straddle the economic and social left and right of the Party, united to support an amendment to the Finance Bill, calling on the Chancellor to conduct a review to consider how family responsibility can be better recognised in the tax system and the high EMTRs mitigated. The Speaker chose not to select this amendment so, undeterred, a debate on the issue has been secured in Parliament today.

So we find ourselves in a situation which, for Conservatives, is completely contradictory. First, our eye-wateringly high EMTRs are anti-aspirational. We don’t recognise family responsibilities, which means families in poverty pay thousands in income tax but then have to be supported by inflated benefits, with our cripplingly high EMTRs kicking in when these benefits are withdrawn. This completely suffocates aspiration.

Secondly, it is illogical and philosophically incoherent. We celebrate families and the fact that the family is the bedrock of society, but we almost entirely ignore families in the tax system (apart from a token married couples allowance). At the moment, we tax families as if they are individuals even while we sustain a benefits system which views members of the family as a family. We send out a curious message in the tax system that if you are dependent on the State we recognise family responsibility, but if you are in work we don’t.

Thirdly, it is anti-choice. The best systems of independent taxation allow couples the choice of whether they want to be taxed independently or jointly. In the UK, families simply do not have that choice. The state has in effect decided that independence is the ultimate priority and this has been decided to the detriment of family life.

Fourthly, this arrangement is judgemental. It means that any family where the second earner is either not in work or earning less than their personal allowance will end up financially penalised for this arrangement. As IDS said during the inquiry, we are judgemental about couples who choose for only one spouse to work. To some extent, we are telling stay-at-home parents not to bother and to make grandparents or other carers provide the childcare.

It is clear the current status quo is unsustainable. If the Government are serious about making work pay then it must get real about what is happening in low income families, which means engaging with the issue of our absurdly high EMTRs. Rather than making it easy for families to aspire to increase their incomes, UK fiscal arrangements are effectively suffocating social mobility and trapping families in poverty.

The Conservative Party is at it’s best when it is a party of social mobility, social justice and the family. Unless the Government allocates family responsibility more equally between the benefits system and tax system in order to bring our effective marginal rates down, it will have fallen short.

Dan Watkins: Six reasons why the Conservatives deserved to win that no confidence vote yesterday

It’s not hard to find reasons to be frustrated with the Government, but we are still delivering for the British people.

Dan Watkins was a three-time Conservative Parliamentary Candidate in Tooting and now campaigns with Kent Conservatives.

Everything is dominated by Brexit at present, but behind the scenes the Government is still continuing to deliver the Conservative’s domestic policies, much to the benefit of the British people. So here are six reasons why the country should be positive that the Government survived the vote of no confidence.

Tackling the Deficit

We should never forget that when we came to power in 2010, the Government couldn’t afford to pay for its public services and was building up a colossal amount of debt which future generations would have to pay. Years of spending restraint, combined with healthy growth of the economy, mean that Britain’s deficit is less that a fifth of what it was and debt as a share of the economy is coming down every year.
While we remain in power, the public finances stay in balance, reducing debt and allowing us to spend less on interest and more on public services.

Improving School Standards

Through the past eight years we have been reforming teaching, boosting Academies and opening Free Schools. We know these reforms are working because school standards are getting better and better, as measured by Ofsted, as well as international league tables, which we are steadily climbing. This year will see more Free Schools open and more Academies created, ensuring more children go to outstanding schools and receive a world-class education.

Boosting NHS Funding

The NHS is a huge organisation with a huge budget. As the population gets older, the demands upon it increase and the only way we can continue to fund its expansion is by growing the economy and investing those extra tax receipts into it. We have just detailed our Long Term NHS Plan, but it requires an extra £20 billion pa and this is only possible to find if we keep growing the economy. Another Labour-led recession would stop this extra funding dead in its tracks.

Creating an Enterprise Economy

From the moment we took office in 2010, the Conservatives have been making Britain the most business-friendly economy in the world. We have made it easier to start a company and to employ staff, cut business taxes and invested in research and development to support our high growth sectors such as creative, life sciences, automotive and more. Britain has been assessed by Forbes as the best country in the world to start a business. Every year we remain in Government is another year when Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour can’t undo our good work.

Protecting the Environment

Less heralded than other areas perhaps, but the results of our policies in energy and the environment have yielded excellent results. Renewal energy has expanded dramatically, carbon emissions have been slashed, plastic pollution is being tackled with radical action, and animals at home and abroad have won new protections. Michael Gove and DEFRA have more initiatives underway this year which will ensure that we continue to lead the international community on animal welfare and cleaning the environment.

Helping People into Work

Work is the bedrock of living a fulfilling life and this Government has done more than any other to give more people the opportunity to work. While welfare reforms have ensured that work always pays, the National Living Wage ensures that work pays even more.
Record numbers of people have been lifted out of the lowest paid work and the evidence shows that policies like Universal Credit help many more long-term unemployed into jobs. We need to have fully rolled out and bedded-in these initiatives before Labour get to power, so that it is much harder for them to reverse them.

At the present time, it’s not hard to find reasons to be frustrated with the Government, and indeed Parliament more generally, but when we’re out on the doorsteps campaigning, let’s be clear that the Conservatives are still delivering for the British people.

11 January 2019 – today’s press releases

Time to take a deep breath, and work out who the Government is. Is it the centre-right modernists, led by Amber Rudd? Is it the opportunistic wannabes, led by Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt? Or, is Theresa May in office but not in power? Hard to tell from the outside. But there are still other […]

Time to take a deep breath, and work out who the Government is. Is it the centre-right modernists, led by Amber Rudd? Is it the opportunistic wannabes, led by Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt? Or, is Theresa May in office but not in power? Hard to tell from the outside.

But there are still other things ticking over, and there are issues way beyond Brexit, as today’s press releases show…

  • Causes of mental ill-health in schools must be tackled
  • Lib Dems: Penny has dropped with Hunt
  • Lib Dems: UC needs investment, not just reform
  • Lib Dems: Pigs more likely to fly than Brexit legislation to be completed by March 29th

Causes of mental ill-health in schools must be tackled

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran has demanded the causes of mental ill-health in schools be tackled after a House of Commons committee inquiry found that children and young people “face unacceptably long waits” for mental health treatment.

The Public Accounts Committee has today (11th January) published its report into mental health services for children and young people.

The committee concludes that:

  • Most young people with a mental health condition do not get the treatment they need
  • Government should step up action to increase staff numbers and develop required skills
  • Cross-departmental planning must improve, with focus on prevention and early intervention

The committee is demanding new ways of supporting young people’s mental health through prevention and early intervention, particularly in schools.

Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson, and member of the Public Accounts Committee, Layla Moran MP said:

Our report finds that, shamefully, children and young people with mental health conditions are undoubtedly being failed. Mental health staff do a fantastic job but services are under-funded, over stretched and don’t have enough staff to provide a decent service.

Earlier this week the Government published its long-term plan for the NHS, but it is clear that Ministers have not committed enough funding and cross-Departmental planning to really get on top of the mental health crisis.

Liberal Democrats demand better. I want some of the systematic causes of mental ill-health removed from our education system. That means an end to the toxic high-stakes testing culture, abolishing Ofsted, reforming league tables and focusing on decent community, council and youth services to support our young people.

Lib Dems: Penny has dropped with Hunt

Responding to Jeremy Hunt’s admission this morning that Parliament could block a no-deal Brexit while voting down the deal could mean the UK remaining in the EU, Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake said:

It would seem the penny has finally dropped within the Government, at least with Jeremy Hunt. Be in no doubt, a chaotic no-deal Brexit is a choice and it is in the gift of the Government to prevent it.

In the interests of people’s livelihoods, the Prime Minister must end the uncertainty and rule out a no-deal now. If not, Liberal Democrats will take every step possible within Parliament to force her.

With concern palpable among Tory ranks that Brexit can be stopped, it is clear Liberal Democrats are closer than ever to securing a People’s Vote. It is time MPs, particularly the Labour leadership, explored their conscience and supported that growing campaign.

Lib Dems: UC needs investment, not just reform

Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine has warned the Conservatives must commit to “major investment” to remedy the problems with Universal Credit. Ms Jardine said:

The Conservative’s botched roll-out of Universal Credit continues to cause real pain and misery that must be stopped. Liberal Democrats demand better than the Conservatives’ cruel policy of balancing the books on the backs of the poor.

Instead of putting the most vulnerable in society through another 12 months of misery, Rudd should end the benefits freeze immediately and fully restore the billions the Tories’ cut from Universal Credit’s Work Allowance. That is the major investment we need. Failure to do so will see this crisis go on and on.

Meantime, Liberal Democrats know child benefit can make the difference between families with young children making ends meet or not. Rudd simply has not gone far enough. Nothing short of fully reversing the two-child cap on child benefit will be acceptable.

Lib Dems: Pigs more likely to fly than Brexit legislation to be completed by March 29th

Responding to comments from a Number 10 Spokesperson that Brexit legislation will be completed by 29th March 2019, Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake MP said:

It is laughable that Number 10 are even attempting to make people believe that the Brexit legislation will be complete by 29th March.

Due to the Conservative Government’s insistence on pushing everything into the long grass, Parliament still has huge amounts to get through, including much of the Immigration, Environment, and Health Brexit Bills. Let alone the Withdrawal Agreement.

There is more of a chance of pigs flying than there is of the Brexit legislation being completed by 29th March. The Tories have made a mess of Brexit and are wasting everybody’s time peddling this rhetoric. That is why the Liberal Democrats will continue to fight for a people’s vote, with the option to remain in the EU.

Gareth Streeter: Three facts which suggest a rise in food bank use is not just down to Universal Credit

If we continue to scapegoat welfare reform, we will never gain the depth of understanding we need to truly make poverty history.

Gareth Streeter is a councillor in Croydon, a former Parliamentary candidate and charity campaigner.

It almost seems a lifetime ago that Universal Credit was heralded as the great white hope of compassionate Conservatism.

Hailed as a progressive revelation which would simplify a laboriously complicated system and break a generational cycle of joblessness it even – at one stage – enjoyed cross-party support.

Since it’s roll-out began however, believers in the innovation have often failed to hold their nerve. Left-leaning media have lambasted the changes as pushing already poor people further into poverty and this narrative has been bolstered by regular figures from the Trussell Trust claiming that – since the roll-out began – food bank usage has reached a record high. It has been almost a year since the headline figure of a million Brits using food banks first hit the headlines.

While Universal Credit is now available in all areas, this year was due to mark the transfer of existing benefit claimants to the new system – a process that would be complete by 2023. The Government is best placed to know how equipped it is to make this transfer as seamless as possible. If they have serious concerns about the dangers of the roll out to the cash flow of low-income people, they are wise to delay it. Rome was not built in a day and it is eminently acceptable for the biggest welfare reform in generations to take a decade.

The Conservative Party has never been one to celebrate the victory of principle over practice. If Universal Credit fails in its objective of helping people into work, and simply pushes people into food banks in the process, we should withdraw our support for it. But if we do, we should base this decision on fact rather than misplaced fury.

In reality, the media reports linking the introduction of Universal Credit to an increase of food bank usage are questionable in fact and devoid of context. Before anyone judges Universal Credit too harshly based on these criteria, it is important to remember three essential points of context.

The UK has the second lowest level of food bank usage in the G7

If Universal Credit – or any other measure of welfare reform – is the main driver of food bank usage in the UK than it would be a uniquely British phenomenon. However, when compared to similarly wealthy countries, reliance on them is relatively low.

When Obama volunteered at a food bank late last year it was hailed as a noble gesture – which it surely was. But there was no commentary around the fact that far more Americans used food banks under his presidency than Brits ever have under a Conservative Government.

Even if we believe the figure that a million Brits used food banks in a single year (and it really is a big ‘if’) this equates to about 1.5 per cent of the population. In the USA, an epic 12 per cent of citizens have had the same experience.

While this may not be a major shock given America’s reputation as a minimal-safety-net nation, countries with a more socialist bent than Britain also fare worse. Research suggests that 1.8 per cent of people use food banks in Germany and a staggering 5.8 per cent do so in left-leaning France.

Japan (0.1 per cent) is the only G7 country to rank below the UK. While no robust research exists as to why these figures are so low, most commentary speculates that Japanese pride is likely to be a major factor in preventing people seeking help.

These figures alone should give us extreme caution in putting the blame for any increase in food bank usage on the shoulders of welfare reform.

The rise in food banks began under Labour and before welfare reforms

For a variety of different reasons, food banks are a relatively recent addition to the social offer in Britain, with the Trussell Trust (the main body behind them in the UK) launching their food bank network in 2004.

As a result, food bank usage increased 20-fold in the last years of Labour’s reign. Was this down to an increase in hunger following the recession? Or was it the result of churches and other community groups heroically mobilising themselves as a result of the increased awareness of poverty that always comes with economic instability?

It is very difficult to say. But if Labour has now decided that the food bank phenomena is a direct result of Government policy, they have some probing questions to ask about their own time in office.

The rise in food banks probably result in an increase in referrals rather than an increase in hunger

Universal Credit has been heavily lambasted for delays that have left people out of pocket. In truth, benefit delays have always been a problem.

As we have seen, the rise in food banks begun under the last Labour Government. However, they refused to allow these acts of charity to be part of the solution and banned Job Centres from referring claimants to these potential sources of help. This changed in 2010 when the coalition – with a belief in the big society – allowed Job Centres to sign-post to food banks, initially by giving vouchers. This is almost certainly the reason that food bank usage has continued to rise.

The use of a food bank may not be everyone’s preferred option to the problem of benefit delays. But it is surely better than the hopelessness offered under Labour. Without being directed toward a food bank, people not able to extract support from friends and family presumably went hungry.

These points do not mean that the roll-out has been free from problem, or that Government shouldn’t keep a watchful eye and be proactive in fixing errors. It must of course take the time it needs to iron out the kinks. The Trussell Trusts research suggesting that the increase in food bank usage was greater in areas where Univeral Credit had been fully rolled out for a year or more is worth taking seriously (although the sample size is small).

However, this research does not explore how much increased awareness of food banks in pilot areas was a factor and crucially, this research was conducted before the introduction of the full advance loan, which is a major game changer.

Having spent the time delving into this issue, I am confident that Universal Credit is not at the heart of the problem. But that is not to say that we do not have a problem. People in our country are struggling and it is essential that every aspect of society – including government – plays its part in understanding and fixing it.

What we need now is for Government, charities, faith and community groups and other agencies to come together to understand the underlying causes of food poverty and to work collaboratively to address them. I am committed to playing my small part in this – but I am concerned that if we continue to make a scapegoat of welfare reform, we will not only fail to judge Universal Credit on its merits, we will never gain the depth of understanding we need to truly make poverty history.

Universal Credit. Noble aim, thorny problems – and Rudd’s decision. If the scheme is to work properly, it must be paid for.

If you appoint Duncan Smith to the post she now holds, as Cameron did in 2010, it follows that you must fund his plan fully.

ConservativeHome spoke yesterday to Conservative MPs in marginal seats about Universal Credit.  One switched-on Parliamentarian told us that food banks in his seat hate the new scheme and that job coaches love it.  He said that the former claim it pushes people into debt, homelessness and destitution.  And the latter counter that makes it easier for them to help benefit claimants move into work and get better-paid jobs.

Both perceptions can reflect reality.  It was never going to be easy to make a major change to the system which is reliant on people reporting changes to their income in real time, complete with new computer systems to enable this to happen.  This helps to explain why Universal Credit, originally intended to be fully operational by 2017, will now not be so until 2023.  The payment poses particular challenges for claimaints migrating to it from what Ministers call the legacy system.  Last autumn, the Resolution Foundation calculated that 2.2 million families were expected to gain under the system and 3.2 million to lose, with single parents especially adversely affected.

The Government has chucked transitional relief at Universal Credit.  Ministers argue that claimants can take on more work to increase their income.  Philip Hammond announced more support and an increase in work allowances in last autums’s Budget.  But the bottom line is that too many people are being paid late: last summer, the National Audit Office said that it a fifth of those expecting their first full payment were in this position.

A Commons vote is due on transferring three million claimants from the old to the new system.  David Cameron had a small majority, but his Government was vulnerable to defeat on welfare-related and many other issues: remember George Osborne’s U-turn on planned changes to tax credits.  Theresa May has no majority at all.  A handful of backbench protesters could sink the change.  Amber Rudd thus had little alternative but to postpone the vote, and has duly done so.  She will now seek Parliamentary approval for a pilot plan that transfers just 10,000 people from the old to the new system.

The operation of Universal Credit is complex, but the politics are simple – or straightforward, at any rate.  The Universal Credit system is the brainchild of Iain Duncan Smith’s work in opposition at the Centre for Social Justice.  It has a visionary aim: to roll six benefits into one, make the system more simple and flexible, and improve incentives to work.  Writing on this site last autumn, Alok Sharma, the Employment Minister, complained of three cliff-edges in the legacy system that deter claimants from seeking work, and reported that 86 per cent of people on Universal Credit are actively looking to increase their hours, compared to just 35 per cent of people on Jobseekers Allowance.

If you are going to appoint Duncan Smith as Work and Pensions Secretary, as Cameron did in 2010, you cannot do so without allowing him the room to implement his scheme.  And if you are going to do so, it follows that the Treasury must take the funding consequences on the chin.  It didn’t.  Think back to that Osborne tax credits U-turn.  The reason for Duncan Smith’s resignation in 2016 was precisely that the then Chancellor was not prepared also to reverse planned savings to disability benefits (which in turn impacted upon Universal Credit).

Amber Rudd is the fifth Secretary of State for Work of Pensions to hold the post since he left – a turnover rate of about one every six months.  She has started by doing what every new Cabinet Minister should do if confronted by a policy problem: namely, to promise that she will listen and learn.  There is more to this than the usual bromides.  Rudd is particularly sensitive to the position of women in the system.  She will campaign for more money: Downing Street’s Brexit-driven weakness may thus well be Universal Credit’s gain.  That she is on broadly the same wavelength as the Chancellor over EU policy can’t do her cause any harm.

Writing on ConservativeHome last autumn, Tom Clogherty of the Centre for Policy Studies identified what new money could do to help realise Duncan Smith’s goal: a report from the think-tank, he said, “advocates bold action on Universal Credit, suggesting that the taper – the rate at which benefits are withdrawn against each pound of post-tax earnings over any work allowance – should be cut from 63p to 50p. This would give a huge boost to the lowest earners, while also giving them a strong incentive to increase their hours and make progress in the workplace”.

Separately, senior backbenchers and former ministers are piling on pressure for an end to the benefits freeze.  A coalition of five former Secretaries of State, ranging from Nicky Morgan to David Davis, made the case last year.  Davis said that the freeze contradicts “the basic Tory notion of having a robust safety net and an effective ladder out of poverty.”  Rudd can be expected to make the same case in private.  Whatever your take, one thing is certain.  If Universal Credit is to be introduced in the first place, it must be paid for.

6 December 2018 – today’s press releases

You begin to sense the uncertainty emanating from Whitehall, but there’s plenty going on elsewhere in the governance jungle… Brexit plans could lead to European Windrush scandal Mental Health Review must lead to more investment Universal Credit Causing Housing Crisis – Welsh Lib Dems Brexit plans could lead to European Windrush scandal Responding to the […]

You begin to sense the uncertainty emanating from Whitehall, but there’s plenty going on elsewhere in the governance jungle…

  • Brexit plans could lead to European Windrush scandal
  • Mental Health Review must lead to more investment
  • Universal Credit Causing Housing Crisis – Welsh Lib Dems

Brexit plans could lead to European Windrush scandal

Responding to the Department for Exiting the EU’s policy paper on Citizens’ Rights, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Home Affairs Ed Davey said:

The Government has finally admitted that free movement of labour won’t end this March.

The fact they tried to sneak this out shows yet again that people can’t trust anything this Government says on Brexit and immigration – they are still refusing to publish their Immigration White Paper, which is supposed to tell us how immigration policy will work after Brexit.

The reality is this Government knows immigration benefits the UK and is needed – but they dare not tell people the truth. So instead the Prime Minister panders to prejudice and calls EU citizens aren’t ‘queue jumpers’, – when in reality they are our neighbours and our friends, our NHS workers and our farm labourers.

And even today’s statement is misleading. Everyone knows that many eligible EU citizens won’t get their settled status papers from this incompetent Government and Home Office by the end of the application period. There’s now a danger of a European Windrush.

Mental Health Review must lead to more investment

Responding to the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act, former Liberal Democrat Health Minister Norman Lamb said:

I am grateful to Simon Wessely for the work he has done on the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act.

While I welcome the outcome of the review, I believe this must be a first step towards more radical reforms.

In the Government’s response to the Review, there must be a commitment to invest more money to support those at crisis point and help people before they reach crisis point. The Conservatives to date have failed to adequately invest in Mental Health. Without strong goals and commitments from the Government, rising detention rates will not be adequately challenged.

Liberal Democrats demand better for patients. Where the Conservatives have failed, the Liberal Democrats would invest money and deliver the reforms necessary.

Universal Credit Causing Housing Crisis – Welsh Lib Dems

The Welsh Lib Dems have condemned the housing and homelessness crisis being caused by the rollout of Universal Credit after evidence from Cardiff emerged showing far higher levels of rent arrears amongst Universal Credit claimants compared to housing benefit claimants.

Unfortunately, the number of Universal Credit claimants falling into rent arrears has led to many landlords across the UK refusing to accept any tenants in receipt of Universal Credit.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Housing Spokesperson Cllr Joe Carter said;

It’s deeply disappointing but not at all surprising that Universal Credit is pushing more and more people into rent arrears. We’ve consistently warned this would be the result of Universal Credit, only for our warnings to fall on deaf ears.

The UK Government must listen now and allow the housing benefit section of Universal Credit to be paid directly to the landlord. Doing nothing will only lead to more Universal Credit claimants being pushed into rent arrears and made homeless. That is not an option.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, this will also mean a loss of rent for councils and housing associations, restricting their ability to build more social housing and provide other vital services. Meaning Universal Credit is already damaging future generations as well.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds added:

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have consistently called for the UK Government to pause and fix Universal Credit, and this is one of the many reasons why. Universal Credit is causing increased poverty, increased homelessness and untold misery. It must not be allowed to continue in its current form.