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.