The Liberal Democratic manifesto, or “Jo’s plan for the future”, has lots of small, specific policies to flesh out the cult of personality. Being specific is no bad thing, but it makes it more disappointing that they have not a great deal to say about either social care or benefits. In relation to social care, their main proposals are to spend more on general practice and on mental health services – fair enough, but it falls somewhat short of responding to the needs of dependent elderly people, and particularly the issues surrounding residential and domiciliary care that undermined the Conservatives during the 2017 election. Too difficult, perhaps?
In relation to social security, much of what they want to do is to rein back on some of the damage that the Conservatives have wrought with Universal Credit – the five week wait, the bedroom tax, the two child limit, the rules for self-employment, sanctions and assessments. I’ve previously been critical of the Labour Party for going through the same kind of reactive exercise – ‘pretty feeble stuff’, I called it in a paper earlier this year. We need to do far more to ensure that benefits are more adequate, to address insecurity, and to make sure they get predictably to the people who need them. The Liberals are proposing a ‘right to food’. How about an income that makes it possible for people to buy the food they need?
The Manifesto’s heart is in the right place, at least. And there is one particularly cheering, specific proposal: to separate employment support from benefits administration. Spot on. Lumping the two together has impaired the effectiveness of both of them.