A further clutch of manifestos have been released, including Liberal Democrat, UKIP and Green varieties. I confess to not reading every word, and I’ve taken full advantage of the helpful budget summaries used by the last two, but I’ve done enough to get a sense of their policies on social security. None of these three parties can expect to be in a position to make policy directly, so the interesting question is what kind of influence they might bring to bear. The Liberal Democrat position is essentially moderate, beginning with the status quo and looking to temper reforms. They generally argue for much of what’s been done to date, but want the system to be kinder and gentler; they also want to limit Winter Fuel Payment to higher earners.
UKIP favours crackdowns on fraud, foreigners and high benefits, but also opposes the bedroom tax and disability reassessments. That implies that they’re inclined to be punitive, but they still recognise the pain that some recent measures have caused.
The Greens take a principled stance, claiming to “put the social back into security”. They’re critical of private sector involvement, insecure benefit payments and arbitrary rules. Although they’re committed over time to a Basic Income, they have been looking at ways to take intermediate steps on the way, and they propose to raise Child Benefit, to introduce a Citizens’ Pension, and student maintenance grants, so that increasing numbers of people will have a guaranteed, stable income. They also propose to abolish welfare-to-work programmes, to replace tax credits for child care with educational provision and ensuring minimum incomes in employment and training.
For those who are wondering, I’m not generally well disposed to Green politics – I feel we don’t have enough concrete in our lives. I do think, however, that they’ve added some fresh thinking and a useful perspective to these issues.
3 thoughts on “More manifestos”
Paul, It is not correct that the Greens propose to abolish welfare-to-work programmes. They are proposing (p.55) to abolish work-for-benefits programmes, i.e. workfare. That is the same position as the Labour Party, and reflects the fact that some welfare to work programmes are valuable, where they address real needs in relation to employment disadvantage, and where people are paid fairly for the work they do. It is disappointing that after condemning benefit sanctions on p.53, all the Greens propose to do (p.55) is to review them – that’s less radical than the bipartisan House of Commons Work & Pensions Committee, which has called for a comprehensive review but also for immediate reforms. Many of the Green policies are the same as the Labour Party’s. A couple that aren’t are the Citizens Pension and the Basic Income. The Citizen’s Pension of £180 a week sounds nice but funding it by halving tax and national insurance reliefs for non-state pension contributions sounds pretty reactionary to me. This is bribing today’s pensioners with the money of tomorrow’s pensioners – who look like being a lot worse off and cannot be guaranteed to receive any Citizens Pension themselves since no state pension can ever be guaranteed. It also presumably means double taxation of tomorrow’s pensioners – once when they pay in and again when they draw out – that’s what pension tax reliefs are designed to prevent. The last Labour Government’s establishment of NEST http://www.nestpensions.org.uk or similar as a default contractual pension for everyone otherwise uninsured, with compulsory employer contributions, is surely a much better approach. As for the basic income, there was a thorough critique in January (reported at http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jan/27/green-party-citizens-income-policy-hits-poor) which showed that it would hit the poorest households hardest. It is conceivable that the Greens have now addressed this problem, but if so they have yet to show it. Their manifesto says that they are separately publishing a detailed set of proposals for the Basic Income, but no link is provided and I can’t find it on the web. So I’m not at all sure why you think the Greens have ‘added some fresh thinking and a useful perspective’.
Did you notice on page 7 the Greens manifesto says they will “end workfare and sanctions”. I thought in politics speak ‘review’ and ‘end’ have two very different meanings?
I don’t share your view that welfare to work programmes are valuable, David; I think they’ve jeopardised the principles of the social security system. It would be much better if we were to uncouple employment support from benefits – lumping them together has been destructive for both. I imagined that the Greens were moving in that direction, but on reflection that’s wishful thinking on my part – my apologies for the misreading. It was the last Labour government which introduced “work for your benefit” (it’s in the 2009 Act). Labour are now proposing a ‘tailored’ back to work system with benefits being stopped altogether for those who do not take up mandatory work (p 48). Apart from promising abolition of work-for-benefits programmes, Greens also say that they’ll “end workfare and sanctions” and that “all those on training or work placements as part of the benefits regime are either in college-based training or in work earning at least the minimum wage”.
The examples of ‘fresh thinking’ in their proposals include:
a) not the Citizens Income (an old idea, which I also have reservations about), but the idea of establishing the principles of more universality through partial provision for different segments of the population (pp 55-6)
b) a commitment to address the problems of transitions through a fund which is not based on fixed expenditure but on progressive, incremental spending up to a limit (p 55)
c) using earnings disregards as a way to modify the effects of the poverty trap (p 55)
and d) putting the emphasis on security and predictability in benefit rules (p 53).
There are some muddles in the Green manifesto – there’s an ambiguity between ending and reviewing sanctions, they say both that they will halt the implementation of Universal Credit – “a disaster waiting to happen” – and that they will explore the possibility of more generous benefits on UC, and I don’t think the modifications of tapers have been thought through. But they’re thinking about the issues differently, and it’s good that smaller parties should do that when the big ones won’t.