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Westlake Legal Group > Home and family

Neil Shastri-Hurst: My advice to the Prime Minister on defeating the knife crime epidemic

Dr Neil Shastri-Hurst is a former British Army Officer, doctor, lawyer, and a senior member of the Conservatives in the West Midlands

There is a knife crime epidemic in the United Kingdom. And whilst the headlines are often focused on such attacks in London, it is no less of an issue in many of our urban areas. This morning The Times reports that:

“The prime minister will take personal charge of a new cabinet committee to tackle surging levels of knife crime and violence, with a particular focus on “county lines” gangs that are abusing and exploiting children.”

I worked for several years at the frontline of trauma care, at a Major Trauma Centre in the West Midlands. Code Reds, the term used to alert the trauma team of an incoming patient with major haemorrhage, were and still are, sadly, increasingly common. Stabbings are a frequent cause.

There is nothing quite like the surge of adrenaline one encounters when the call comes in the early hours of the morning and the team rushes down to Emergency Department Resus. Nothing quite like working with an exceptional group of highly skilled professionals who, together, make an even more exceptional team. And nothing quite like the rush of endorphins one gets when a young gang member, stabbed in the heart, not only survives the insult but walks out of hospital a week later with a second chance at life. However, for every heroic tale, there are many others where the outcome was so much bleaker: families and communities shattered by needless and senseless actions.

In 2010/11, in England and Wales, there were five Police Force Areas with a knife crime rate of between 50 and 77 per 100,000 population, one Police Force Area with a rate of 77 to 118 per 100,000, and one (London) with a rate of 118 and 171 per 100,000.

In comparison, by 2018/19, twelve Police Forces had a knife crime rate of between 50 and 77 per 100,000 population, eight Police Force Areas a rate of 77  to 118 per 100,000, and two with a rate of 118 to 171 per 100,000.

And whilst, of course, victims of knife crime can befall anyone, we cannot ignore that this is primarily a “disease” of younger people.

Put simply knife crime represents one of the biggest public health issues facing our younger generation.

As with any “health intervention” there are three distinct phases:

  • Prevention;
  • Treatment; and
  • Recovery.

Tackling knife crime on our streets should be no different. As a Conservative Government, with a strong tradition on law and order, it is imperative that we grip this issue. With the uncertainty in Parliament behind us we can focus on the forthcoming Mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner elections, to ensure that we have strong local Conservative representation to work with central Government and give this critical issue the attention it deserves.

So how do we develop that three-pronged approach?

We can deliver the first part, effective prevention by:

  • Making family units stronger so that they can provide a stable upbringing that young people need to avoid slipping into crime;
  • Ensuring we have more good schools in deprived areas so that young people have the education and opportunities to lead them away from a life in crime;
  • Providing mentorship and educational programmes for our school-aged children to deter them from gang culture. Expanding the liaison work our Police Forces do and increasing the role of NHS Violence Reduction Tsar, Dr Martin Griffiths, to help break the cycle of violence; and
  • Removing the unhealthy reliance on the welfare state and getting young people into work.

The second part, tougher enforcement and sentencing, can be achieved by:

  • Having a greater police presence on the streets; and
  • Making it clear that anyone convicted of carrying a knife should expect to receive a custodial sentence.

Thirdly, we can rehabilitate young offenders by:

  • Reforming our prisons and Young Offender Institutions so that they reduce re-offending by making governors accountable for re-offending rates;
  • Engaging with the voluntary and private sector to provide drugs and educational programmes to help young people make positive life choices; and
  • Supporting young offenders upon their release with mentoring and work programmes to help them get into employment and contribute to society.

Whilst, at first glance, this all appears pretty simple stuff, it can only work if we have the resources to fund it. With a Conservative majority Government we have the building blocks to do that. This could be a real legacy. The next step is to ensure we have the local representation to dovetail with central Government and deliver results at the coalface.

Over the years I have told a generation of parents their children won’t be returning home with them because of knife crime. Let’s not allow that to happen to another generation.

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.

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

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.

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

Potemkin legislation

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-04-17-at-07.25.35 Potemkin legislation Work Women and equality Women wages Treasury ToryDiary Stella Creasy MP sport Sam Coates (The Times) Sajid Javid MP rent Public Sector Northern Ireland NHS Local government and local elections Local Elections (general) Liz Truss MP Julian Assange jobs James Brokenshire MP immigration housing Home and family Highlights healthcare Health football Family and relationships exports employment Elizabeth Truss MP Economy DUP divorce disability Diane Abbott MP David Gauke MP David Blanchflower Conservatives Abortion

The ten most recent subjects covered by the Conservative Party’s Twitter feed are as follows: record employment, the provision of free sanitary products in primary schools, Conservative councils recycling more than Labour ones, more statistics about work and wages, record women’s employment, workers’ rights, an exports increase, more disabled people in employment, an end to no fault evictions, Conservative councils fixing more potholes than Labour ones, banning upskirting, funding more toilets at motorway service areas to help people living with complex disabilities, Sajid Javid criticising Diane Abbott over Julian Assange, kicking out racism in football, and a new law to protect service animals.

One might pick out three main themes, local election campaigning aside.

The first is the vibrancy of Britain’s jobs market and the country’s robust recent record on employment.  The aftermath of the Crash and the Coalition’s slowing of public spending growth, a.k.aa “austerity”, didn’t bring the five million unemployed that David Blanchflower believed possible.  The Government has to keep shouting about our employment rates because people have got used to them.  A generation is growing up that cannot remember the mass unemployment of the 1980s.

Then there are a battery of announcements aimed disproportionately at younger women voters, who were more likely to switch to Labour at the last election.  Those of a certain disposition will argue that some of these are trivial, and that women and men both want government to get on with addressing big issues: Brexit, health, the economy, immigration, education and so on.  But part of the point of banning upskirting, say, or providing more free sanitary products is gaining “permission to be heard”, in order to make some voters, in this case younger female ones, more receptive to what Conservatives are doing more broadly and widely.

Which takes us, third, to law-making – not admitttedly the only means, or even necessarily the main one, by which government can act, but indispensable none the less.  Under which category we find a new law to protect service animals and the proposed end to no fault evictions, about which James Brokenshire wrote on this site recently.  The two may seem to have nothing in common but, on closer inspection, tell part of the same story.

Namely that, as Sam Coates keeps pointing out, the Government can’t get any plan which is remotely contentious through the Commons.  Only the most uncontested ideas, such as providing police and other service dogs with more protections, can make it through the House. And this new service animals measure isn’t even Government leglislation.  It came about through a Private Members Bill tabled by Oliver Heald and then backed by Ministers.

Meanwhile, the proposal to end no fault evictions isn’t contained in a Bill at all.  The headline on gov.uk about the plan refers to an “end to unfair evictions” and “the biggest change to the private rental sector for a generation”.  But the text of the announcement refers to “plans to consult on new legislation” and refers to an earlier consultation, on Overcoming the barriers to longer tenancies in the private rented sector, to which it has now published a response.

As with housing, so with divorce.  On ConservativeHome today, Frank Young makes the point, in his article on the Government’s plans to ensure that no fault divorce can take place more frequently, that “it remains to be seen if the Justice Department’s enthusiasm for new legislation will be matched by government business managers and the ability of the current government to get any legislation through”.  For David Gauke has unfurled not a new Bill, but a White Paper.

Ditto Liz Truss’s announcment on a £95,000 cap on exit payments when public sector workers leave their jobs. “Six-figure taxpayer-funded public sector exit payments to end,” gov.uk’s headline declares.  The sub-heading is more candid than the one beneath the housing headline.  “A consultation has been launched outlining how the government will introduce a £95,000 cap to stop huge exit payments when public sector workers leave their jobs,” it says.  The Treasury confirms that legislation will be required.

Now think on.  As Sam goes on to say, Theresa May’s successor may take against these ideas or indeed all of them.  In which case, they will doubtless be quietly put to sleep.  And that successor may be in place soon.  (Regretfully, we have to add: as soon as possible after European Parliament elections, assuming these happen, please.)

Conservative MPs don’t want a general election.  Nor do we.  But the more one ponders the state of this Parliament, the more one sees why one is the natural solution to this impasse – and would be knocking on the door, were it not for the Fixed Terms Parliament Act.  These recent announcements are Potemkin Legislation.  They cannot be put to the Commons without risk of them being amended out of their original intention.

Nor can the Government legislate easily elsewhere.  Consider any proposals affecting women – to take us back to near where we started.  Up would pop Stella Creasy, looking for a means of changing the abortion laws in Northern Ireland.  Which would further strain the Conservatives’ relationship with the DUP, such as it is.  Prepare, when Brexit isn’t before the Commons, for many more Opposition Days.

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

Potemkin legislation

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-04-17-at-07.25.35 Potemkin legislation Work Women and equality Women wages Treasury ToryDiary Stella Creasy MP sport Sam Coates (The Times) Sajid Javid MP rent Public Sector Northern Ireland NHS Local government and local elections Local Elections (general) Liz Truss MP Julian Assange jobs James Brokenshire MP immigration housing Home and family Highlights healthcare Health football Family and relationships exports employment Elizabeth Truss MP Economy DUP divorce disability Diane Abbott MP David Gauke MP David Blanchflower Conservatives Abortion

The ten most recent subjects covered by the Conservative Party’s Twitter feed are as follows: record employment, the provision of free sanitary products in primary schools, Conservative councils recycling more than Labour ones, more statistics about work and wages, record women’s employment, workers’ rights, an exports increase, more disabled people in employment, an end to no fault evictions, Conservative councils fixing more potholes than Labour ones, banning upskirting, funding more toilets at motorway service areas to help people living with complex disabilities, Sajid Javid criticising Diane Abbott over Julian Assange, kicking out racism in football, and a new law to protect service animals.

One might pick out three main themes, local election campaigning aside.

The first is the vibrancy of Britain’s jobs market and the country’s robust recent record on employment.  The aftermath of the Crash and the Coalition’s slowing of public spending growth, a.k.aa “austerity”, didn’t bring the five million unemployed that David Blanchflower believed possible.  The Government has to keep shouting about our employment rates because people have got used to them.  A generation is growing up that cannot remember the mass unemployment of the 1980s.

Then there are a battery of announcements aimed disproportionately at younger women voters, who were more likely to switch to Labour at the last election.  Those of a certain disposition will argue that some of these are trivial, and that women and men both want government to get on with addressing big issues: Brexit, health, the economy, immigration, education and so on.  But part of the point of banning upskirting, say, or providing more free sanitary products is gaining “permission to be heard”, in order to make some voters, in this case younger female ones, more receptive to what Conservatives are doing more broadly and widely.

Which takes us, third, to law-making – not admitttedly the only means, or even necessarily the main one, by which government can act, but indispensable none the less.  Under which category we find a new law to protect service animals and the proposed end to no fault evictions, about which James Brokenshire wrote on this site recently.  The two may seem to have nothing in common but, on closer inspection, tell part of the same story.

Namely that, as Sam Coates keeps pointing out, the Government can’t get any plan which is remotely contentious through the Commons.  Only the most uncontested ideas, such as providing police and other service dogs with more protections, can make it through the House. And this new service animals measure isn’t even Government leglislation.  It came about through a Private Members Bill tabled by Oliver Heald and then backed by Ministers.

Meanwhile, the proposal to end no fault evictions isn’t contained in a Bill at all.  The headline on gov.uk about the plan refers to an “end to unfair evictions” and “the biggest change to the private rental sector for a generation”.  But the text of the announcement refers to “plans to consult on new legislation” and refers to an earlier consultation, on Overcoming the barriers to longer tenancies in the private rented sector, to which it has now published a response.

As with housing, so with divorce.  On ConservativeHome today, Frank Young makes the point, in his article on the Government’s plans to ensure that no fault divorce can take place more frequently, that “it remains to be seen if the Justice Department’s enthusiasm for new legislation will be matched by government business managers and the ability of the current government to get any legislation through”.  For David Gauke has unfurled not a new Bill, but a White Paper.

Ditto Liz Truss’s announcment on a £95,000 cap on exit payments when public sector workers leave their jobs. “Six-figure taxpayer-funded public sector exit payments to end,” gov.uk’s headline declares.  The sub-heading is more candid than the one beneath the housing headline.  “A consultation has been launched outlining how the government will introduce a £95,000 cap to stop huge exit payments when public sector workers leave their jobs,” it says.  The Treasury confirms that legislation will be required.

Now think on.  As Sam goes on to say, Theresa May’s successor may take against these ideas or indeed all of them.  In which case, they will doubtless be quietly put to sleep.  And that successor may be in place soon.  (Regretfully, we have to add: as soon as possible after European Parliament elections, assuming these happen, please.)

Conservative MPs don’t want a general election.  Nor do we.  But the more one ponders the state of this Parliament, the more one sees why one is the natural solution to this impasse – and would be knocking on the door, were it not for the Fixed Terms Parliament Act.  These recent announcements are Potemkin Legislation.  They cannot be put to the Commons without risk of them being amended out of their original intention.

Nor can the Government legislate easily elsewhere.  Consider any proposals affecting women – to take us back to near where we started.  Up would pop Stella Creasy, looking for a means of changing the abortion laws in Northern Ireland.  Which would further strain the Conservatives’ relationship with the DUP, such as it is.  Prepare, when Brexit isn’t before the Commons, for many more Opposition Days.

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