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Westlake Legal Group > Family and relationships

Rachel Wolf: Where education reform has succeeded – and where it has failed

Rachel Wolf is a partner in Public First. She had co-charge of the 2019 Conservative Manifesto. She was an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during David Cameron’s premiership and was founding director of the New Schools Network.

A while ago my company did two in-depth projects looking at the attitude and understanding of parents with children at primary and secondary school. Most of the people we talked to were “C1 C2 D” – in other words, the people who just voted Conservative. These terms can seem a bit meaningless (and the difference between a C1 and a D is very large) so here are a a few examples: one of the men was a joiner and another drove a van; quite a few of the women had part-time administration jobs in local small businesses and a couple worked in shops.

(If this sounds sexist it is not meant to – it is just a fact that women with children from these backgrounds tend to work part time and get jobs to fit.)

I have been very involved in school reform for the past decade – including founding and running the main Free School organisation, New Schools Network. The conversations were an eye-opening measure of where we had succeeded and where, to date, we had failed.

Three discussions summed it up.

The first was with a group of enraged parents in Yorkshire. Their school was in special measures and there were no local alternatives. They had been told their school was a failure, that their children’s futures were probably blighted, but that they could do nothing. No one else seemed to be fixing the problem either. This is exactly what the academy programme was designed to address – it has worked brilliantly in some parts of the country, but we still struggle to get enough people to take over schools and turn them round in others – primarily outside of the South East and our major cities.

This is why Ofsted has just published a report on ‘stuck schools’ (those that have remained poor despite continued interventions and new leadership) with a proposal to do more to support them. Academies have not, at least yet, worked everywhere.

But it was noticeable that many of those stuck schools blamed parental disengagement (Ofsted made clear they couldn’t verify if this were true). I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with a school leader where the parents weren’t considered inadequate in some way – either too disengaged or too nagging.

Of course some schools must cope with suffering children with very troubled families. But most parents are not troubled, and in the case of the Yorkshire school they were neither disaffected or disengaged. They were impotent.

The second group was in London. It was a different world. Many of the parents fell over themselves to talk enthusiastically about particular schools. London schools have moved from being among the worst in my childhood to being the best in the country. A huge proportion of the schools that consistently get kids from very disadvantaged backgrounds (often from ethnic minorities) into elite universities are in London.

Free Schools, the project I was involved in during the coalition years, are one reason for this triumph, indeed what was striking about the London groups was how many parents could name individual free schools. Many of the best schools in the country are now Free Schools. But a lot of those – probably too many – are in London.

The third discussion was in the East Midlands. The parents we spoke to didn’t have children at terrible schools. But they weren’t particularly good either. All the schools were quite similar in standards and approach.

Those parents weren’t miserable – they didn’t know anyone who sent their kids to schools that were markedly different (private schools are another, foreign, world for these groups and are irrelevant in their mind). The primary parents dutifully did all the homework the school suggested. They were competent and loving – like almost every parent in the country. But we knew, looking at the data, that the children at these schools could be doing much, much, better.

These are the parents we have, in my view, most consistently failed in the last decade, and where we continue to have the least to say. We’ve done some important things – the children in those schools, for example, will be taught to read using better and more effective methods than a decade ago. But we haven’t empowered the parents to demand more for their children. The NHS has been on a ten year drive to help people take charge of their own health – including developing their own exercise programmes and detailed nutrition guides for children. We need the same in education. What should your children know? How do you hold your school to account? What is happening to pupils in other parts of the country?

Nor have we given them alternatives. The very original plan for Free Schools – which was to deliver new schools and therefore offer real choice– was supposed to help these areas and these parents. Instead, they focused on areas with population growth (mostly London and the South East).

In this next five years, I really hope that this quiet majority of parents and pupils are the focus of our new Conservative government. As I said in my last column, we have to remember – as we so often fail to do in education – that most people are neither part of the elite nor in troubled families. We should measure our success in the next five years not only on whether we help the most disadvantaged, but on how much better things are for most families in most areas of the country and opportunities that all children have to succeed.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Emma Best: Conservatives should make early intervention a key plank of our programme

Emma works in children’s services, is a councillor in Waltham Forest and is fourth on the Londonwide list for the GLA election in May 2020.

I was overjoyed in the early hours of December 13th as Iain Duncan Smith, our local MP in Chingford and Woodford Green, was returned (there’s a rather unflattering BBC clip of me from the time which attests to this).

Of course, as a councillor in the constituency, a Brexiteer, and someone who experienced first-hand the vile hard-left campaign Labour ran here, there were many reasons to celebrate.

The most pertinent for me was seeing Duncan Smith returned to the Commons, and through him a strong voice for early intervention. In fact, it is his work for the Centre for Social Justice (which he co-founded in 2004) and belief in early intervention measures that I would often focus on when talking to undecided voters – which resonated far more than discussing the intricacies of Brexit.

That night (or morning), with our job done locally, we began to focus on the excitement of the emerging national picture. Activists, councillors and our newly re-elected MP bundled into cars from the count to a hastily prepared celebration party (no one was counting any chickens) where, in a crowded living room in Woodford, cheers went up at almost every result announced. With every victory it felt increasingly as though we were entering the dawn of a new political era. It also was clear people across the UK were crying out for a change in direction.

I recall thinking: “It’s time for us to do something special beyond Brexit”. Personally, I’ll be hoping that’s IDS, and other MPs sympathetic to the cause, making the case for a trauma-aware early intervention agenda that transforms the way in which we approach individuals presenting with social, legal, physical, and mental health issues.

Our friends on the left have often failed when it comes to early intervention measures, becoming too distracted by creating fancy job titles and what is easy but not effective. I fear this has led to early intervention being characterised by poor practice and dismissed as a New Labour fad where excess money was spent ‘rewarding’ bad behaviour.

In the much-needed move to streamline public services over the past decade it seems to me, in some circumstances, this view has seen the baby thrown out with the bathwater. We cannot forget that the principle of early intervention not only presents the best outcome for children and families – it is also markedly better for the public purse.

So now, with a thumping majority, we must pick up the gauntlet and get it right. The whole parliamentary party must listen to evidence linking the impact of early life trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) to brain development. It must recognise early life trauma causes toxic stress that when experienced through developmental years literally alters the way in which brains are wired.

This leads to a massive rise in the likelihood of experiencing mental and physical health issues and a far greater susceptibility to substance misuse and violent behaviours. Like any underlying health issue, when we fail to inoculate children against the effects of trauma we set them up for future pain. We must inoculate against trauma as we do physical illness. The antidote is a society that understands its effects, and support from families or trusted adults.

It seems obvious we aren’t effectively intervening and inoculating at present. Speak to teachers, doctors, support workers, housing officers, and key workers across the public and charitable sector. They could often tell you in primary school the children that they expect to see in gangs, with issues with violence, addiction struggles, and with health issues later in life.

But too often, while children are identified at this stage, their behaviour is easier to manage and we neglect to address the issues which sees behaviour become progressively more serious throughout adolescence and adult life.

That’s why the rising rate of permanent exclusions from state schools is so worrying. Each one represents a missed opportunity and personal tragedy for the young person involved; with a reduction in life chances and increased risk of involvement in crime.

Through my work in children services and as a councillor I’m always struck by how many young people and families are let down through missed opportunities to tackle the root cause of their presenting problem – invariably leading to expensive and reactive solutions focused on symptoms not cause. Our collective approach in public services is too often akin to giving a plaster to someone with a gaping wound, and then wondering why they keep needing more plasters.

Many of the answers on how to implement early intervention effectively already exist. Hopefully the Government will put at the heart of its agenda David Burrowes’s work on the Family Hubs Network and Manifesto to Strengthen Families as well as the NSPCC’s Sharing the Science and Look, Say, Sing, Play programmes (which educate professionals, parents, and carers on the science behind brain development).

My personal wish list includes seeing expectant mothers complete ACE questionnaires to break the cycle of early-life trauma and schools adopting trauma-aware strategies to better identify and support children before the penalty for problem behaviour increases.

A new era beckons, the strings on the public purse are loosening, and it’s time to show what a compassionate, one-nation Conservative government can achieve through an early intervention revolution.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Anne Fennell: Why are the Conservatives, like the other main parties, against choice for families?

Anne Fennell is Chair of Mothers at Home Matter.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that all mothers in possession of young children must be in want of childcare. However little known the feelings or views of such a mother may be on her first entering motherhood, this truth is so well established that every manifesto pledge on care of young children and every family policy enacted by previous governments and the Treasury is directed to liberating the mother from the burden of caring for her child.

‘High quality affordable childcare’: all parties are promising it in various degrees. The Conservatives wish to extend wrap-around childcare at school and holidays for working parents. Labour promises an extension to 30hrs a week for two to four year olds and to extend provision for one year olds and the Lib Dems promise to deliver the best start in life for children by extending childcare provision at 9 months.

All these so called ‘family friendly policies’ are offered to mothers only if they agree to hand over care of their children to external settings and get out of the home. Care, which was once done for love and supported through family tax allowances, is now only recognised and supported if it is a traded commodity and measured as growth.

High quality long-term committed stable child care is a mother at home or a father or a grandmother – even a childminder in a home setting, but none of these qualify for any support. Economic pressures aside, spending more time with their children is what the vast majority of mothers want, and I daresay if one year olds could speak (some scream at the nursery door at being wrenched from their mother) is what they would prefer too.

But their voices are ignored at best or at worst misrepresented in political debate and policy circles. One freedom the ordinary mother no longer has is to choose to care for her own children: Mothers say choice is ‘virtually eradicated’ (Netmums: Great Work Debate) . 88 per cent of mothers with very young children said the main reason for returning to work was financial pressure’, according to the Centre for Social Justice.

And yet there is a clamour for childcare and a desperate need to help families struggling with debt, rising rents and living costs. Families are drowning and asking for a helping hand. They are not asking how they got into the river: they are too busy swimming to survive, and ‘affordable childcare’ appears to be a way to enable the mother to work to plug the income gap.

But is ‘affordable childcare’ the answer to relief from poverty? It is not – and unfortunately families will find out all too late that both parents are working very hard for very little extra disposable income. What they will have lost is family time; time with their children, which they cannot recover.

Nearly half of all families with children are caught in a tax trap. For these families, there is very little they can do about their finances. Even if a man could double or treble his gross income it would not significantly improve the family’s net income. This is because his income is subsidised by tax credits and benefits (now Universal Credit) but, for every extra £1 he earns, he loses 20p to tax, 12p to NI, 44p to Universal credit leaving him with just 24p.

So, for example, if the family needed a new car and it cost £3000, he would have to earn £12,500 to bring home the £3000. It is not surprising that it falls to the mother to give up her caring role and plug the income gap, and that there is a demand for affordable childcare.

But even if the childcare were fully subsidised, the mother would still be caught in the same trap. She cannot bring home the £3000 by earning £3000. She loses 65p in every £1 she earns, and would need to earn £8.5000 to bring home the £3000. She will have to work near to capacity away from her children for a rate of reward for effort amounting to exploitation as bad as anywhere in the world and passing largely unnoticed.

The problems families face today stem from the introduction of independent taxation in 1990, which shifted tax policy from treating the family as a household unit with allowances for a dependent spouse and children to taxing it as individuals disregarding whether they have family responsibilities or not. The tax burden for many single income families has more than doubled, while for many single taxpayers without dependents the proportion of income paid in tax has barely increased. The UK is one of the only countries in the world that does not recognise the family in its taxation system. Tax credits were introduced to compensate the family for the loss of family allowances, which were stripped away in the 1990s.

The independent taxation system with no transferable allowance heavily penalises the single income family, whilst childcare policies introduced by the Coalition further discriminated against mothers at home. In 2008, 38 per cent of families with children in which someone worked full time and their partner did not work were struggling to get by; by 2015 this figure had risen to 51 per cent. (Joseph Rowntree Foundation)

Treating the family as a unit should be the first principle of taxation of families. Some injustices arising from not doing so include: households on £30,000 where a parent stays at home are taxed double the amount as those where parents work; some families are financially better off apart than together by £12,000; some families caught in recent Child Benefit tax changes will be in the poorer 50 per cent of the population while some of the richest families continue to receive it.

What we need is a party to champion choice. The answer to families’ problems do not lie solely in one size fits all ‘affordable childcare’. There are alternatives. Mothers at Home Matter campaigns for an economic level playing field for parents who stay at home; for taxation which falls fairly on those who stay home and those who work; for childcare subsidies to follow the child, with parents able to choose whether they use it to stay home, or give it to a grandparent, childminder or external care setting and for child benefit to be distributed fairly.

We need a taxation system that gives families the option of being taxed as a household and preferably with a transferable allowance to recognise the cost of raising children. But at the very least we need to recognise that an individual’s income is not a measure of how well off the family is. Net household income is a better measure.

The Conservative Party, traditionally recognised as the party of the family, is in a position to give choice back to mothers quietly grieving to be missing their child’s first steps and discoveries and to give mummy back to the child who quietly grieves “where is my mummy?”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Childcare policy should support all parents with children – not just those who work in the labour market

It is good that the Conservatives are mulling childcare policy, which is a subset of families policy, on which the Party has had little to say or do since before Theresa May’s leadership.  That was back in the days when David Cameron was Prime Minister with a small majority, and wanted to improve life chances for children and parents.

It is not so good to read that they are considering providing more of it “free” – 15 hours of free childcare a week for parents of younger children, as a report would have it.  For, after all, nothing that government provides comes “free”: ultimately, taxpayers must pay the bill, unless politicians are prepared to mortgage the future on printing or borrowing.

So when Tories hear the word “manifesto”, “pledge” and “free”, they should reach for the delete button.  Especially since it is this kind of careless talk that costs progress, as the recent history of childcare policy in Britain will confirm.

The sum of it is that we have the worst of all worlds.  In other words, a system that pleases neither those who want more support for relatively informal care (that’s to say, childcare provided by parents, grandparents, other relatives, friends and members of other family networks); not those who back more provision for comparatively formal care (the “high quality, accessible, affordable childcare” of which we read so often).

The costs of childcare in Britain may or may not be among the very highest in the world (the figures are disputed), but reports that find us among the worst-off countries for family-friendly policies seem to be well founded.

The fundamental reason for these dismal outcomes takes us back to where we started.  Politicians – and particularly Conservative ones – have ducked discussing what childcare policy, and the families policy of which it is necessarily a part, is really for, especially when it comes to money.  Do we want to encourage parents to work in the labour market?  Or support the choices which they choose to make, including caring for those children at home?

Or, as our history and culture might suggest (the RSPCA was established earlier than our main children’s charities), are we disclined to believe that the costs of raising children should be supported at all?

Our own answer is that there is nothing much wrong with the traditional doctrine of what was until fairly recently the Inland Revenue doctrine: namely, that “the taxable capacity of those with children to maintain [is] lower than that of the childless taxpayer”, and that there is therefore a solid case for family allowances of some kind.  There are two main practicable ways in which this principle might be recognised.

The first is to build on the present system of child benefit, which has been capped for higher earners.  This is because child benefit isn’t really a benefit at all: it’s a transferred tax allowance, paid to “purse rather than wallet”.

The second is to revive the order which child benefit replaced – namely, those child tax allowances; and let what should properly be called the social security system support the family costs of those who don’t pay tax.  Most of those on the right would set the latter at a low level, many of those on the left at higher one.  But the principle behind such a settlement would be clear.

Since child benefit is paid to all parents with children, regardless of whether or not they work in the labour market, it would make sense for any system of revived tax allowances to be transferable.  This would presumably have the side-effect of supporting marriage in the tax system, but that would not be the aim of the policy.

Either way, such a system would be clear, simple – and, admittedly, expensive, because it would aim to support all parents rather than some.  But by putting money into the hands of parents, in effect, it would help to drive the demand for childcare of all kinds, formal and informal: that money could be used to pay other family members and friends; those formal high-quality settings, such as day nurseries; those less formal ones, such as childminders, and so on.

Or it could simply be spent by the parents themselves.  We apologise if such a system is too straightforward for politicians to get their heads round.  But this choice-based ideal is where any Conservative policy worth the name should be seeking to travel to.

The alternative, short of abandoning support for children in the tax and benefit system altogether, is to carry on down the present road of supporting some parents rather than all – with all the distortions that this implies, as chronicled elsewhere by our columnist Ryan Bourne and others.

Obviously, there is more to families policy than childcare – or at least the demand-side business of what to do with the tax and benefit system.  There is parental leave.  There is regulation, and the degree to which it distorts the childcare market.  There is flexible working – and more.  But since Team Johnson is looking at the demand side, it is worth the rest of us taking a squint too.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Robert Halfon: How Labour flicked two fingers at 17.4 million

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Labour botched Brexit

As I was scootering out of the House of Commons (literally) on Saturday, and came across the huge crowd of remainer/second-referendumers, the first dulcet tones I heard came from, none other than, “Rochester woman”, Emily Thornberry. To rapturous roars from the rowdy bunch, she exclaimed, “Britain is a Remainer country!”, and expressed her strong support and that of the Labour Party for a second referendum.

I thought to myself at the time, how incredible that, not only has Labour defied the wishes of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the European Union in 2016, but so too have they come out against their own 2017 manifesto commitment to respect the referendum result.

Labour’s decision to support a second referendum – and by intent, remain – is extraordinary for another reason; whilst it may please some metropolitans, electorally, it makes no sense.

On Sunday, when Keir Starmer got up on the Marr programme to confirm Labour will have a second referendum, his party, essentially, flashed two fingers up at working class constituencies like my own – Harlow.

But the decision begs the question of whether Labour will even win the arch-remainer votes they are so intent on attaining. Although they might gain Islington, it’s very likely the die-hard-remainer vote will go to the Liberal Democrats.

If I learned anything from Saturday’s anti-Brexit march, the first was better-acquainting myself with the back roads of Westminster, thus avoiding the “remoaner” shrieking. Second, it is clear that the so-called “liberal voter” – the young professional, disenchanted with the Conservative pro-Brexit position and ardently adamant on remaining – is going to vote for the Liberal Democrats, who have made it their signature policy. These same people have very little faith in a Corbyn-led government.

But in attempting to appeal to these voters, the Labour Party will be sure to lose the votes of working people. Their decision smacks of contempt for millions who voted to leave, and the arrogance of an elite who think they know better. No doubt, Labour will suffer hugely for this at the polls.

In turn, the Conservatives have an opportunity to win millions of these working people’s votes. However, not only must Boris deliver Brexit, the Conservatives must convince the public that we care deeply about public services, particularly the NHS and education.

That is why the Boris strategy is the right one. Taking visible steps to be the party that champions our NHS, with new hospital projects, and invests in our schools and colleges, with increased teacher salaries and more funding per pupil.

The public who voted to leave because they felt left behind, must be sure that if they vote Conservative, they will not be left behind again.

It’s time to end the social injustices facing parents of children with special educational needs

I wrote recently for Conservative Home about the brilliant work that the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, is doing, particularly on apprenticeships, skills and technical education. He should be congratulated and supported on this.

However, there are some areas of our education system where deep social injustices remain.

One such disaster zone is in the way that children with special educational needs and their parents are continuously let down.

Thousands of parents face a titanic and shameful struggle to get the right care for their child. They have to wade through a treacle of bureaucracy, in a system which breeds conflict. Families must navigate a postcode lottery of provision. At times, support for their child is at the peril of local authorities acting unlawfully, rationing support and imposing barriers to getting help, meaning their needs are neither identified, nor met.

There is a horrific lack of accountability and significant buck passing from local authorities to schools, and back again. Unclear responsibilities for resourcing also stretches to the Government departments, meaning that the health aspect of a child’s Education Health and Care Plan often falls short, or is non-existent.

All this increased bureaucracy is directing support away from the classroom; despite the good intentions of Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014, there simply aren’t enough specialists (SENCOs) in schools or educational psychologists (EPs).

This is just wrong, wrong, wrong. I suspect that most MPs are very aware of what is going on because of the enormous swathe of parents of children with SEND who come to see them at surgery appointments – a last-ditch effort to get the right treatment and resources for their child.

Today, our Committee has published a comprehensive report highlighting these problems that parents and teachers of children with SEND face. In what was one of the biggest ever inquiries, with over 17 hours of evidence-gathering sessions and more than 700 submissions, the Committee has painstakingly gone through each of these issues (and many others) in turn, and come up with suggested solutions.

First, every parent/carer should have an allocated person with a neutral role to help them navigate this bureaucratic nightmare. All schools should be guaranteed access to SENCO professionals and there must be a rocket-boost in the number of educational psychologists.

Second, there must be a more rigorous inspection framework to improve accountability. Local authorities and health providers should have clear consequences for failure and greater powers are needed for the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to investigate inside the school gates, when something does go wrong.

Third, my Committee is calling for a reporting line for parents and schools to appeal directly to the Department for Education where local authorities appear not to be complying with the law.

Moreover, even if a child gets the right provisions up until they turn 16, there are real resource questions as to what happens after that, and whether or not there are special incentives and support for businesses who can offer these young people apprenticeships and other employment opportunities.

Young people are eager to grab opportunities with both hands but are, currently, being let down by a lack of support and opportunities.

As Conservatives, we have to acknowledge and address these deep areas of social injustice. Parents need hope from us that we are looking after their children with special educational needs, that their titanic struggles are over, and that they will get the best quality provision for their child.

These children should have as much chance of climbing the educational ladder of opportunity as anyone else – too many are being denied that chance.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Neil O’Brien: How we can win support from younger voters – and turn our present strength into an enduring majority

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

It’s time to look to the future. Brexit isn’t quite over yet, but the Prime Minister has landed a great deal, and he has got off to a fantastic start, with a blistering series of popular announcements on the police, schools and hospitals. We’ve soared in the polls, while Corbyn deflates like a sad balloon

But let’s not stop now. Let’s work to turn our present strength into an enduring majority. In particular, let’s think about how we do better among younger voters.

In elections between 1950 and 2010, the Conservatives were on average eight per cent behind Labour among younger voters, but nine per cent ahead among older voters. But in the last election, we are were 35 points behind among the young (18 to 24-year-olds) and 36 points ahead among over-65s.

For me, the most concerning thing wasn’t being behind among the very young, but being behind among everyone under age 47. That meant we were behind among people with jobs, kids, bills… responsibilities – all things which tended to make people Conservative during previous years.

Doing better among younger voters isn’t about gimmicks: it’s about having answers to the big issues facing young people and young families.

Some of this is about action on issues younger voters care about. For example, we have a great record on the environment. We have the lowest emissions since 1888, and are one of the first countries in the world to set deadlines to end coal use, to go to all electric cars and net zero emissions.

But a lot of it is about doing things that will benefit young people directly.

Let’s start with housing. Declining homeownership explains a big chunk of the age gap in voting that has opened up. Looking at middle income people aged 25-34, the home ownership rate fell from two thirds in 1996, to just a quarter by 2016.

I’ve written elsewhere about the long term action we need on both supply and demand to drive up home ownership: building upwards and regenerating brownfield sites in our cities; rebalancing the economy to spread growth beyond the south east; getting away from the kind of piecemeal, tacked-on development in our towns and villages which maximises opposition to new housing; and making sure developers pay for the cost of the new infrastructure that’s needed with new housing.

But it’s also about building the tax reforms we’ve made since 2015. Those rebalancing tax reforms have led to the first sustained period for some time in which we have seen growth in home ownership, not just growth in the private rented sector.

But a plan to fix the housing problem over the coming decades isn’t enough. As well as a long-term solution, we need to provide immediate help. Many young people feel they’re on a cruel treadmill, unable to save because they are paying high rents. There are many who could afford a repayment mortgage (in fact it would be cheaper than renting), but they can’t save up for a deposit. So let’s create deposit loans: like Help to Buy, the government would take a repayable stake. But unlike Help to Buy, the purchaser would not have to provide a deposit up front.

There are a further group of people who might be able to save up a deposit over time, if only their existing rental costs were lower. They are the sorts of people who would have been helped by council housing in earlier generations – but (perversely) wouldn’t get it today, precisely because they’re working, so don’t qualify.

We could fund the creation of a huge number of cheap rented homes for young working people by transferring the remaining local authority housing stock into charitable housing associations, unlocking huge value.

Another part of our offer to younger people has to be about the cost of education. We have to be bold, not tinker.

Let’s cut the cost of going to university in half. And let’s pay for it by driving down the number of low value, mickey mouse courses which aren’t good value, either for students or the taxpayer. At present, one in ten graduates isn’t earning enough to pay back a single penny of their loan even ten years after graduation. And thanks to the LEO dataset, we now have a good idea of which courses they are, at which universities.

We need to build up technical education and apprenticeships. In Germany 20 per cent of the workforce has a higher technical qualification, but in Britain it’s just four per cent, while we rely heavily on importing electricians, plumbers, technicians and engineers from the rest of the world.

Tony Blair set a target for 50 per cent young people to go to university, but no such target for technical education.
We spend six times more per person on university students than technical students. We should become the champions for the 50 per cent who choose not to go to university too. We are introducing the new T levels, have brought in the Apprenticeship Levy, and are driving up number of Higher Apprenticeships. But there is much more to do.

But if we are serious about winning over younger voters we also need to talk about the pressures of life with a young family. Childcare costs are a huge worry for many.

Successive governments have built up a rather a confusing array of policies: the 15 and 30 free hours offers, Tax Free Childcare, the Childcare Element of Universal Credit, not to mention other benefits for children like Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit. Each has complex rules on eligibility and requires a certain amount of bureaucracy to claim.

We could be incremental, and refine and build on existing policies. For example, one frustration with using the 30 free hours for working families is that it only covers 38 weeks a year, following school terms. So how much you pay yo-yos up and down wildly each month. We could make it year-round, so it is more generous and predictable.

Or we could think more radically. As Conservatives we think people are best placed to make their own decisions. For example, when two police women were prosecuted for looking after each others’ children in 2009, conservatives saw it was an example of socialist meddling gone mad.

One way to simplify this alphabet soup of complex policies would be to bring back the tax allowances for children which Labour abolished in the 1970s. Tax allowances for children existed between 1909 and 1977, and gave a higher personal allowance for people with children, on the conservative principle that you should be able to provide for your own family before you pay tax. Rather than taking money off people, and then getting them to jump through hoops to claim it back, we could go back to just leaving it with people in the first place.

There are lots of other things we could do. But as we move into the post-Brexit era, it’s time to look to the future.
Let’s make sure that in our next manifesto, we think big for younger people.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Patrick Spencer: Some advice for the new Conservative leader. Stick to these three ideas to boost productivity.

Patrick Spencer is Head of Work and Welfare at the Centre for Social Justice.

The Conservative leadership contest has proved to be the battle of ideas that the party wants, needs and should probably have had back in 2016. Yes, Brexit has dominated the discussion, but in amongst chat of proroguing, No Deals and backstops, we have heard interesting ideas about, for example, tax reform, a national citizens’ service and early years support for young mothers. During the Parliamentary stage of the contest, the Centre for Social Justice hosted the Social Justice Caucus of Tory MPs, holding their own hustings event for the Conservative leadership, and the candidates didn’t disappoint.

The litany of new ideas stem from the fact that most of the candidates felt it is time to reshape the Government’s fiscal strategy. The last nine years have been defined by successive Coalition and Conservative government’s support for fiscal rebalancing. David Cameron and George Osborne successfully formed governments after two general elections on a platform of fiscal prudence.

However, the political landscape has changed. Younger voters who weren’t around to vote in 2010 now make up a sizeable chunk of the electorate. Years of austerity, job growth and a much healthier national balance sheet has meant that ‘austerity’ is increasingly unpopular.  Combine this with the perceived economic harm that a No Deal Brexit may cause, and the case for loosening austerity is compelling.

In this vein, Boris Johnson has argued for lower taxes on higher earners as well as increased spending on education. Esther McVey wanted to cut the International Aid budget and spend savings on the police and education. Dominic Raab called to raise the National Insurance Threshold and cut the basic rate of income tax. Michael Gove hoped to reform VAT so that it becomes a Sales Tax. And Sajid Javid said he would slow the rate of debt reduction, which would free up £25 billion for new spending commitments.

Even outside of the leadership circle, Tory MPs and right-of-centre think tanks are advocating for a new spending strategy.  Neil O’Brien has coined the ‘O’Brien Rule’, which allows for budget deficits as long as debt as a percentage of GDP is falling. This sentiment was echoed by Philip Hammond, who called on every leadership candidate to commit to keeping the deficit under two per cent of GDP as long as the national debt was falling.

Considering the appetite to do something, the next leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister should be warned that spending for spending’s sake is not a good idea. If the decision is taken therefore to loosen the fiscal taps, it should be carefully targeted so that this increases growth and more importantly, productivity.

The Centre for Social Justice released a report in 2017 that highlighted a clear policy agenda that used tax and spend policies to boost productivity across the UK. It is roundly recognised that the productivity conundrum in the UK has not been the result of any one issue but, rather, is a confluence of factors that have taken hold of our economic and social machine.

First and foremost, British companies do not invest and innovate enough. Compared to other countries we have lower levels of capital investment, lower uptake of new-generation technologies such as robotics, and entrepreneurs sell out too early. Britain has a proud history of innovation and technology, and yes we do have several world beating unicorn companies, but in recent years we have lost ground in the innovation stakes to the US, Germany and the Asian economies.

The CSJ recommended a raft of policies that could help reverse this, starting with a ramp up in public funds available for research and development. Public cash for R+D has a crowding in (as opposed to crowding out) effect. We also called (counter-intuitively) for the scrapping of Entrepreneurs Tax Relief. It is expensive and does little to help real entrepreneurs, and only acts as a tax loophole for asset strippers (this policy has recently been advocated by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Resolution Foundation). We also called for simplification of the tax system. Look at the Annual Investment Allowance, for instance, that was decreased by 75 per cent in 2012, increased by a factor of 10 in 2013, doubled in 2015, only for it to then be almost cut in half in 2016.

Second, the CSJ called for a radical increase in support for vocational education in the UK. While businesses needed some help to innovate and compete, the labour market needs support in terms of skills and competencies. Recommendations included a new spending commitment for FE colleges and more support for adult learners who are in low skilled work. The Augar Review called for the Government to make £1 billion available for colleges, a good start but realistically the Government will have to go much further in the future. here is an example of where public money can make a big difference in public policy.

Last, if the next Prime Minister wants to support productivity growth, they can look at rebalancing growth outside of London across Britain’s regions. London is home to less than a quarter of the UK’s population but contributes to 37 per cent of our economic output. It attracts a disproportionate number of high skilled and high paying jobs. Public spending on infrastructure in London dwarfs that spent in the North and Midlands. Reversing this trend will of course take a generation, but by boosting transport spending on inter-city transport (most obviously Northern Rail), tax breaks for companies that set up in struggling cities such as Doncaster, Wigan or Bradford, as well as more money for towns and cities to spend on green spaces and cultural assets (such as museums, public art, restaurants and bars) that attract young people.

These three productivity-generating policy areas will allow any Government to loosen the fiscal taps without bankrupting the country. When the next Prime Minister appoints his Chancellor, he or she would be well advised to stick to the basics of cutting taxes, spending more on education and rebalancing growth outside of London.

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Robert Halfon: Under our new leader, we must prize social justice above social mobility

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.

Compassionate Conservatism courses through the veins of this Party. I know – I speak to colleagues and members every day. From educational attainment to lack of in-work progression. From family breakdown to fragile social care. From addiction to defunct housing. These concerns, and many more that disproportionately affect society’s most disadvantaged individuals, are deeply troubling for us all.

We are the Party of high school standards and aspiration. The Party that introduced the National Living Wage, the Modern Slavery Act, the Pupil Premium. Compassionate Conservatives believe in a strong safety net, but also in a dynamic welfare system that is ambitious for individuals, rather than one that writes them off.

Our Party is the champion of free trade and enterprise – the engine of prosperity for us all. But, we also recognise the state’s vital role in helping disadvantaged individuals overcome adversity so that they, too, can prosper.

All too often, however, our concerns about the most disadvantaged are not reaching the light of day. According to a recent poll by the Centre for Social Justice, just five per cent of low-income voters think the Conservative Party is “compassionate”. 72 per cent say the Party is not concerned about people on low incomes. 52 per cent believe that we “don’t understand what it is like to struggle”. And 57 per cent say Conservatives “only care about the rich”. These are damning statistics, and do not reflect my colleagues’ natural sentiments.

Meanwhile, the Left hoovers up recognition, despite the mirage of its self-declared monopoly on compassion. Take its proposals on welfare, which focus more on parking people on benefits than on encouraging aspiration. Or Corbyn’s plan to scrap tuition fees; an enormously wasteful and regressive measure that would suck precious resources out of the pot – resources that could instead be used to support the most disadvantaged. Or Labour’s misconceived notion that helping poorer individuals can only be achieved by taking down the rich.

It is time Conservatives claim compassion as one of our own. However, we cannot do so until we are clearer about what we mean by this.

Equality of opportunity should be right at the heart of our thinking. The problem, however, is that this has become synonymous with social mobility – a term that has become increasingly fashionable but loses sight of the bigger picture. At its core, social mobility implies the capability to move up the ladder of opportunity. But it is not enough just to focus on this. There are swathes of people who are not even at the foot of the ladder in the first place; people who are so far removed from the mainstream that the idea of progression and self-fulfilment is a distant fog.

If we are serious about creating opportunity for all, Conservatives also need to have an answer for these individuals and can only do so by thinking about social justice. This means addressing all the personal circumstances in somebody’s life that are shackling his or her ability to enjoy the opportunities that exist in society. In addition, we must tackle the things that cause people to crash into poverty, rather than the symptoms: educational failure, worklessness, family breakdown, unmanageable debt, addiction, disability, exposure to crime, poor housing.

If we fail to grasp this, we will fail the Conservative Party’s moral heritage. We will also, almost certainly, demolish our prospects of a working majority in the next general election.

The Centre for Social Justice has calculated that over 1.4 million poorer voters live in the 100 most marginal seats in the country. And in every single one of those seats, these individuals exceed the majority of the standing MP, in many cases by a considerable margin. Put simply, the Conservative Party cannot win the next general election without winning the hearts and minds of society’s most disadvantaged individuals.

The next leader must deliver Brexit, arguably, the most daunting task faced by a post-war Prime Minister. And he must do so swiftly and decisively. But this cannot define his premiership. Brexit was a symptom of a much broader restlessness in our society: the marginalisation of large numbers of people from prosperity. The answer to that is a bold, assertive domestic agenda that has social justice right at its core.

Whatever the outcome of the leadership contest, the victor must stitch together the ripped fabric of our society. He must reach out to those who are stuck on the side lines of prosperity. And he must reignite the compassionate instincts that lie at the heart of this great Party.

To make a start, our future Government should transform the current Social Mobility Commission into a Social Justice Commission, embedded in the heart of Downing Street. They must address all the concerns I have outlined, and more, to make sure Government brings every single person to the ladder of opportunity, not matter who they are, where they come from, or what difficulties they face.

The Commission should produce social justice impact assessments on domestic policy and legislative proposals. They should not only be a means by which negative effects are flagged but should be used to ensure that everything we Conservatives do is positively helping to improve the lives of those who need looking out for most.

As our Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has said, delivering Brexit is about more than just leaving the EU. “The hard bit is yet to come. Because we’ve got to reflect why so many people voted the way that they did in the biggest democratic exercise this country has ever seen.”

What comes next is equally important, if not more so, and delivering social justice to all corners of our nation must be a focal part of it.

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Sajid Javid: I’m in this race because I want to level the playing field, to lower the ladder to everyone.

Sajid Javid is the Home Secretary, and MP for Bromsgrove.

The first time I felt like an outsider was when I was six years old. My cousin told me we needed to change our walking route to school because of the ‘bad kids’ who supported the National Front.

At school, when I wanted to do the O levels and A levels I needed, I was told that kids like me should know their limits. When I was a new graduate seeking a job in the City, I met old-school bankers in old school ties who thought what my father did for a living was more important than what I could do. And when, after 20 years in business, I wanted to give back to my country by moving into politics and looked for a place in the only party I had ever supported, there were those who told me it just wasn’t for me, or that I should join Labour.

So I am used to people trying to tell me what I can’t do, and I’m used to proving people wrong. That is why I am optimistic and determined about what we Conservatives can do, together, to fix the problems we are facing as a party and as a country.

I have put myself forward to become the next Prime Minister of our United Kingdom because I believe I am uniquely placed to deliver on the three most significant challenges that our country faces. We need to deliver Brexit. We need to unify our party and our country. And, for the good of that country, we need to keep Labour out of government.

I’ve got a credible and honest plan to deliver Brexit. I’ve got the background, experience and positive vision for the future that will bring us together. And if we get all that right, then we will keep Jeremy Corbyn out of Number 10.

This is a moment for a new kind of leadership and a new kind of leader. We can’t risk going with someone who feels like the short-term, comfort-zone choice. Our party needs to “change to win”, not unlike we did a decade ago.

At a time when our country feels so divided, we cannot afford to divide it still further. We cannot call ourselves a One Nation party if whole swathes of that nation don’t think we share their values or understand their needs, whether that’s young people, people from minority backgrounds, or working-class people who don’t see anyone who knows what their lives are like.

I’m not in politics to be a player in the game of thrones. I want to make a difference. I take people at face-value. I’m more of a man of action than words. I first took an interest in politics when I realised the power government had to give – or not give – people the opportunities they deserve. That will be the acid test for my policy agenda.

For me the fundamental question about the role of the state is whether – as the socialists believe – government should tell people what to do and how to live, or whether – as Conservatives have always said – it should give them the freedom and support they need to achieve their potential. I know where I stand, but for too many people this has become a discussion about abstract ideas rather than very real lives.

I’m in this race because I want to level the playing field, to lower the ladder to everyone. For me hard work, public services, and my family were the success factors. I want everyone in this country to feel that if they have a go, they will have every opportunity to succeed. That requires world-class public services. For me, public services aren’t just names of government departments, they were my ladders of opportunity.

My biggest priority would be education. Our schools, colleges and universities are the biggest engines of social justice we have. I recently laid out a long-term plan for education, ensuring that every child has the chance to get on in life. We need an education system which supports our FE colleges, encourages skills and apprenticeships and allows lifelong learning to become the norm.

We also need to reset our relationship with teachers and other public sector workers, like nurses and the police. I have committed to significantly increasing resourcing for our police, providing enough to get an additional 20,000 officers on our streets.

If we want world-class public services, we need a vibrant economy to pay for them. That means a low tax economy, and a Conservative Government which backs business, rewarding those who work hard and take a chance. It means we need to invest in growth.

I have outlined plans for an ambitious new £100 billion National Infrastructure Fund, to invest in projects which will ensure the British economy is fit for the future. It would prioritise projects outside London and the South East, recognising that we need to rebalance the economy, and deliver economic growth all around the country. This, in turn this will help us build a more united country.

This does not just depend upon economic growth. We must also focus on the root causes which damage life chances. The measure of any society is how we help the most vulnerable. I would focus on early intervention, look at how we tackle addiction, and focus on rehabilitation of offenders.

I believe a vital part of this equation is the role of the family. I was lucky to have a family who constantly encouraged me, but so many problems stem from family breakdown. I would make it a priority to look at how we can strengthen families right across Government.

We also need to build a stronger national family, including overcoming the sense of haves and have-nots. The housing crisis has driven a huge wedge between generations. As Communities Secretary I increased building rates to the highest levels in decades, but we need to go much further, building hundreds of thousands more homes, whole new towns, and get home ownership back up.

I am passionate about our country because, for my family, Britain was a choice. They came here for freedom, security, opportunity and prosperity. It is because of these strengths that I have always been an optimist about Britain’s future. And I believe if we can unite both our party and our country, we can secure for future generations all the things that make this country a beacon for the world.

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Frank Young: The next Conservative leader must make social justice their top priority

Frank Young is Political Director of the Centre for Social Justice.

The Centre for Social Justice exists to put social justice at the heart of British politics. As part of that we regularly hold policy discussions, dinners and briefings with MPs who are as passionate as we are about the issues we cover. Over the last couple of years we have hosted politicians, journalists, academics and others to direct conversations, but as the wider Conservative leadership murmurings have increased, so meetings with people like the Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary have come under the public spotlight.

The straightforward reality is that politicians have an opportunity to transform lives, society and our economy by tackling the root causes of poverty: problems like worklessness, family breakdown, educational failure, debt, and addiction. This is because an approach to social justice which changes the lives of the poorest people, benefits everybody.

When families on the margins find stability, work and independence, more adults and children can thrive, more people become net contributors within society, and demands on the public purse reduce. We all gain.

It is also a priority for the people of the UK. The electorate is clear that social justice should be the priority of any government. It is the core role of politics.

The CSJ seeks a programme for a government that is passionate about self-reliance but believes in the power of an enabling state. We want people to stand on their own feet but see a role for a thriving social sector. We want to protect the principle of a safety net welfare system, but for those who can work, we say that is the best choice for individuals, families, and wider society.

We have witnessed some remarkable improvements in recent decades but over the next few years the Government will have to lead our country through further instability at home and abroad. It is crucial, therefore, that social justice remains a political priority. And there can be no greater priority.

The state of the nation

Though many of the headline figures are historically good, they hide a variation around the country that cannot be ignored. Unemployment is at record lows and our schools are better than ever. But while national employment has reached an all-time high of almost 76 per cent, the figure masks huge regional variation. Similarly, the average wage of the UK hides a reality that only London and the South East sit above the average wage growth, with every other region of the UK lagging behind.

In education, there are more children than ever attending Good or Outstanding rated schools in the UK. But a child living in one of England’s poorest areas is still ten times more likely to go to an Inadequate rated school than a child living in one of its richest areas. Similarly, and in part as a consequence, just 44 per cent of disadvantaged children get a good pass in English and Maths in GCSEs compared to 71 per cent of their better off peers.

We now have the highest rates of family breakdown in Europe, and in one generation the marriage rate has slumped to half its lowest point in recorded history. Drug-related deaths in the UK have never been higher. And their use in prisons has led to a system in which prisoners are no longer even safe, let alone rehabilitated.

Gambling addiction has doubled in a decade, as has rough sleeping, and mental health services are stretched to breaking.

The need for government action is clear and urgent. Positive headline statistics disguise too many lives lived on the margins of society.

What Brexit really means

There is no better illustration of this divided country than Brexit. The story of the referendum was not just one of European policy. The decision to leave the European Union was an unequivocal statement for millions of people who want to change the political, economic, and social status quo. It is a huge mistake to think that the vote simply reflected a desire to leave the EU.

The vote to Leave was in no small part a cry of frustration from millions of people who feel that the powers that be in Westminster no longer know, or even care, how it feels to walk in their shoes.

The lower your income, the more likely you were to vote leave. The less-well educated voters were more likely to back Leave. The majority of those not in work backed Leave. Those living in social housing mostly backed Leave. Those dependent on a state pension largely backed Leave.

In short, the people with little or nothing to lose from quitting the EU – as they saw it – backed Leave. It would be wrong to make too many sweeping statements about the state of the nation based on that one vote. But it would be far worse to ignore a clear message that underpins it.

A mandate for change

In the light of the evidence, and the outcome of that vote, we have a once in a lifetime chance to reshape public policy so that it genuinely helps those who feel they have no stake in society.

When many individuals and communities feel so alienated, the Government must address ways of rebuilding relationships in our families, communities, workplaces and beyond.

This is the core role of government and the philosophy underpinning the CSJ’s priorities.

Here are our 15 priorities for government:

The best start in life:

1. Create a Government focused on supporting families with an Office of Family Policy.

2. More pre-school support for the disadvantaged families.

3. Address the growing scandal of children excluded from mainstream schooling.

4. Have greater ambition for Children in Care and their futures.

5. Tackle health’s determinants to close the 20-year healthy life expectancy gap.

A good job:

6. Confront the regional dynamics that shape the British economy.

7. Invest in Universal Credit and Universal Support.

8. Transform the vocational education offer.

9. Support people with disabilities to thrive in work.

10. Do not be afraid to endorse good businesses.

Protect the people struggling most:

11. Restore control, order, and hope to our prisons.

12. Stop ‘parking’ addicts and work towards abstinent recovery.

13. Homelessness strategies like Housing First must be widely rolled out.

14. Tackle rising violent crime and restore community safety.

15, Address the housing crisis through more truly affordable homes.

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