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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Home and family"

Colin Hart: As we start to ease lockdown, it’s time to lift the ban on weddings

Colin Hart is Campaign Director of the Coalition for Marriage.

Life remains on hold for millions of people. Rightly, the terrible loss of life and acute financial hardship experienced by so many continues to dominate people’s thoughts as well as the headlines.

Largely hidden from view are the less newsworthy upsets, the cancellation of events marking those major life moments: the birth of a child, a significant anniversary or birthday, or a wedding.

For more than two months now, no one in the UK, save a small number of the terminally ill, have been able to get married. Despite wall-to-wall media coverage on the virus, relatively little attention has been given to the national wedding ban.

Yet many lives have been profoundly affected. The cancellation of a wedding celebration has had significant financial consequences for many. And that has been just the tip of the iceberg for couples where a future life together, and the attendant house-sales, may also have been put on hold.

Of course, sensible guidance to keep everyone safe needs to be observed. That’s important. But it is also time to say that ways need to be found for people to get married once again.

Happily, this problem can be solved – and with no implications for public health.

Several of our own Coalition for Marriage supporters have been due to marry themselves. They accept that the celebrations associated with a wedding must wait until the pandemic ends. But weddings are more, much more, than a party. Surely the wedding itself need only involve five people: the couple, two witnesses, and the celebrant?

There are signs that ministers mulling this over. As we move into ‘step two’ of the country’s three-step COVID-19 recovery strategy, the Government says it is “examining how to enable people to gather in slightly larger groups to better facilitate small weddings”.

Good. The impact on marriage may have been largely sidelined by the media but the Government should not make the same mistake.

Step two includes re-opening ‘non-essential retail’, so it surely must not exclude weddings. It would be unthinkable for betting shops and pawnbrokers to be open but the wedding ban to continue. Social distancing guidelines do not prevent Parliament and even television studios from finding ways of opening safely, so there is no reason that churches and registry offices should not be able to find ways to do so as well.

Marriage should not be considered non-essential or optional, as the Government appeared to do by suggesting couples simply move in together in the meantime to ‘test’ their relationship.

People waiting to get married don’t want to be “switching in and out of households”, as Dr Jenny Harries, England’s deputy chief medical officer, put it. Quite the opposite. They want to make that wonderful vow “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part”. They should be allowed to do so.

The research is clear that cohabitation is a poor substitute for marriage and does not provide the same benefits to families or society.

Professor Sara McLanahan, who pioneered the US Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, concluded “children born to unmarried parents are disadvantaged relative to children born to married parents in terms of parental capabilities and family stability.” She added: “Additionally, parents’ marital status at the time of a child’s birth is a good predictor of longer-term family stability and complexity, both of which influence children’s longer-term wellbeing.”

Refreshingly, she admitted that these were not the findings she wanted or expected, but the data was clear.

Some couples also have religious or ethical objections to moving in together before marriage. The Government should not be encouraging it or expecting couples to go against their values.

Marriage is much more important than most other public events. It is not a mere form of entertainment – an excuse to dress up and have a party. Neither is it a simple formality. It goes much deeper, its impact much wider. It is about two people publicly committing to one another and forming a new family unit.

The institution of marriage helps combat insecurity and social breakdown. The married family of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others and for life, is the bedrock of society, giving it the stability it needs across the generations. The jamboree can wait until after the pandemic. Marital commitment cannot.

At Coalition for Marriage we call upon the present Government to treat marriage with the respect it deserves. It is time end the wedding ban.

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

Mike Brewer: Universal Credit – the surprise hero of this crisis so far. But more daunting challenges await it.

Mike Brewer is Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Economist of the Resolution Foundation.

As someone who has always been a fan of combining several benefits into one, it has been painful, at times, to watch Universal Credit’s (UC) lumbering progress since Iain Duncan Smith announced the project in 2010.

Finally, in early 2019, UC was taking new claims in all parts of the country. But the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was still taking the roll-out slowly: by the start of 2020, UC had only about a third of its eventual expected final caseload.

Then coronavirus came – and UC was thrust into the frontline as the crucial safety-net benefit, working alongside the Job Retention Scheme, and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

Claims for UC began to grow the day after the Government advised people not to go to pubs or restaurants, to work from home and to avoid non-essential travel. A week later, the lockdown was announced, and UC claims ran at nine times their pre-crisis rate.

Overall, 2.6 million claims for UC were recorded in just eight weeks. To put this surge into context, more claims were made in the first four weeks of this crisis than in the first nine months last crisis in 2008.  Combine this unprecedented surge with UC’s chequered history in terms of its roll-out, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

But to DWP’s huge credit, its online systems are performing well, consigning queues outside jobcentres to the past.
Since the crisis hit, DWP say that over 90 per cent of payments due have been paid in full and on time, and the vast majority of advance payments are paid with 72 hours.

Three in four new UC claimants surveyed by us reported they were satisfied or very satisfied with the way DWP handled their claim. We shouldn’t take this for granted. Current experience from the US shows the hardship and health risks that can arise when government systems can’t cope. So far, Universal Credit has proved to be a surprise hero of the crisis.

So who is the system helping? It’s important to remember that as well as helping those with no job, or whose self-employment business has dried up, UC is an in-work benefit. This means it is also topping up the incomes of those on low pay, or whose earnings have fallen following cuts to their working hours or due to being furloughed. Interestingly, just over one in four of the new UC claimants we surveyed were self-employed, perhaps claiming help from UC while they wait for Self-Employment Income Support Scheme grants that are not paid until June.

But despite the emergency £20 a week boost to UC, some of those whose jobs have disappeared are missing out. One example would be a young a couple who are saving for their first mortgage deposit which, if more than £16,000, would prevent them receiving any support from UC should they lose their jobs. To stop this, the DWP should suspend the ‘capital rules’ that are penalising those with savings of £6,000 or over (the point at which UC starts to be tapered away).

Having passed the first test, new challenges await UC. We are going to see labour market disruption carry on into the second half of the year. A second surge of new UC claims may come as the Retention Scheme is phased out, and with that will come a second hit to living standards.

And that hit could be huge. We estimate that those people furloughed see a typical hit to family incomes of just 9 percent, but those made redundant and claiming UC see a typical hit of 47 percent of their in-work income. That doesn’t mean we should extend the current Retention Scheme indefinitely: it means that DWP needs to start preparing now for those extra claims, and politicians need to focus on UC as the key programme protecting families’ incomes throughout and beyond the coronavirus crisis.

DWP will also have to decide when and how to help people look for work. But returning to the light-touch conditionality-plus-sanctions regime in UC will be completely inadequate. A major challenge for DWP is to devise new programmes that can cope with the volume of unemployed people, and whatever labour market conditions we find ourselves in, and it needs to resource these properly.

Finally, it’s not realistic to assume that all of those who lost their jobs last month will find work quickly. DWP will need to monitor carefully how UC recipients are coping with the prolonged hit to their family finances. We think that, to protect family finances through the current crisis, the Government should temporarily suspend or increase the benefit cap, so that all families on UC benefit from the emergency measures. The Treasury should also commit to continuing the additional £20 a week on UC beyond the current financial year, rather than letting it expire next March.

This is Universal Credit’s first experience of an economic crisis and the UK’s first experience of going through a recession with Universal Credit as our key safety-net benefit. It has performed well so far, confounding expectations, and our recommendations will put it in the best position to overcome future challenges.

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

Phoebe Arslanagić-Wakefield: Why ministers must act to support the early-years childcare sector

Phoebe Arslanagić-Wakefield is a Researcher at Bright Blue.

The Government has compelled childcare providers to close to all bar the children of key workers, possibly for the duration of the public health crisis.

However, it is supporting childcare providers – the majority of whom are small private, voluntary and independent organisations – during this difficult period with a range of measures, including continuing to pay for free early years entitlement places for two to four-year olds despite closures.

However, many providers fear permanent closure, with some already having shut permanently to avoid going into debt. Others prompt outrage by asking financially-stretched parents to carry on paying fees regardless of closure.

Covid-19 threatens the sustainability of nurseries, already fragile because of small profit margins and fixed overheads, and brings the childcare sector’s long-term issues into sharp relief.

Afflicted by high staff turnover rates, nurseries are struggling to recruit, and well-qualified staff are being replaced with less-experienced, less-qualified staff. Salary is the principal reason that well-qualified nursery workers give for leaving their role, most commonly for a shop floor. Between 2015 and 2019, the proportion of staff with the highest level of qualification (Level 3) plummeted by 31 per cent, whilst the percentage of staff with no qualifications increased in tandem.

Despite significant increases in government funding in recent decades, we still aren’t getting childcare right. Parents face spiralling prices whilst staff are simultaneously so poorly paid that many of them would rather abandon their nursery job in favour of stacking shelves.

More importantly, our childcare system is not yet working for all children. Only a year ago, the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee reported that nearly a third of children are still reaching the age of five without being ready to start school.

Despite the unprofitable nature of the sector, we know that for many families in Britain childcare costs are prohibitive and burdensome. A family with two children under four years of age can expect to spend an average of £484 every week  on full-time nursery care. According to research by the campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, 62 per cent of parents say they work fewer hours because of childcare costs and 17 per cent have had to leave their job due to childcare. For an average-earning, two-parent family with two children under four, childcare costs amount to a shocking 46 per cent of their combined net income.

Why is childcare so expensive and simultaneously so poorly paid? Fixed costs are high, with stricter ratio requirements of staff to children relative to other countries. For children aged under two, for example, the adult to child ratio must be one to three. In addition, National Minimum Wage increases have reportedly hit the childcare sector hard, with 63 per cent of providers surveyed planning to increase fees in response. Organisations that represent early years care providers have accused the Government of underfunding the 30 hours policy of free childcare for the working parents of three- to four-year-olds, and thus forcing fee increases.

High-quality childcare is undeniably a vital component in guaranteeing British children the best early years start, and the public and political profile of the importance of early years has risen in recent times. In January 2020, the Duchess of Cambridge launched a public survey into early childhood, “Five Big Questions on the Under Fives”, aiming to initiate a nationwide conversation on the importance of early childhood.

But thinking seriously about early years means thinking seriously about what happens in nurseries, where infants may spend hours every week. The evidence suggests that high-quality childcare needs high-quality staff. Once the coronavirus crisis has been weathered, the Government’s first step in improving early years outcomes must be to reverse the exodus of experienced, well-qualified staff from the sector. Childcare must cease to be a low-pay, low-status job.

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

Will Tanner: Service and self-sacrifice. Our new polling suggests that people are more concerned about others than themselves.

Will Tanner is Director of Onward and a former Deputy Head of Policy in Number 10 Downing Street.

The paradox of this pandemic is that, far from keeping us apart, it is bringing us closer together.

Last Monday, when official advice placed 1.5 million people into self-isolation and prohibited the rest of the population from coming within two metres of each other, I feared the most insidious effect of the virus could be the state-enforced solitude. Numerous studies associate loneliness with a 50 per cent increase in mortality, a much higher multiplier than the virus itself.

That trepidation lasted only three days. The outpouring of appreciation for NHS carers, from millions of balconies, porches and stairwells last Thursday evening, revealed a national solidarity many us have not felt in decades. The fact that just shy of three-quarters of a million people, one per cent of the population, volunteered for the NHS volunteer responder scheme shows how many want to serve in the national effort, not just applaud it.

A deep reservoir of community and contribution, obscured in normal times, has been uncovered by our present situation. Yes, media stories have focused on the selfish stockpiling of a minority, but the silent majority are worried about others. In fact, new polling data published today by Onward reveals that more people are worried about the health of their community than their own physical and mental health, and even that of their immediate family.

This community spirit extends beyond health to the jobs and economic impact. Only half (52 per cent) of people are worried about their own jobs, compared to 74 per cent worried about those of their family and 84 per cent of people who worry about the jobs and incomes of their wider community. Just one in ten (12 per cent) of people say they are not concerned about local jobs and incomes, a third of the number who say they are not concerned about their own economic future.

Like those offering to transport supplies, medicine and patients for the NHS, the majority of people are willing to stand up and be counted in the coming weeks. Three-fifths of us, 61 per cent, say we are likely to check on elderly neighbours if the crisis continues, while half say we will deliver food to those who are self-isolating. Two-fifths, 42 per cent, say they will speak to socially isolated neighbours by phone or video link. There is an army ready to ensure that isolation does not claim more victims than infection.

Weekend news reports about a package of measures to support charities and communities indicate ministers recognise the need for some kind of “social stimulus”, to compliment the economic and public health support announced to date. This is welcome and would be popular.

Two-thirds (69 per cent) of people want tax rules relaxed to encourage more people to give to good causes over the coming months, and a similar proportion (66 per cent) support taxpayers directly subsidising the wages of charity workers. Well over half (59 per cent) think charities should be mobilised to administer immunity in the community, something that may become necessary as the 17.5 million tests ordered by the NHS come online.

These kind of measures will be necessary in the coming weeks, to support voluntary activity at a time when the NHS needs to divert non-related demand, the police fall back on civic cooperation to maintain social distancing, and local communities are into their eighth, ninth of tenth week of social segregation. This pandemic, much like its predecessors and the wars frequently evoked by politicians, will be subdued by everyone working together in the spirit of shared sacrifice and service.

This will be more important in some places than others. Our findings reveal respondents who do not trust their neighbours to support them through the crisis are twice as likely to say they will not offer any support to their community as part of the Covid-19 response. If we do not try to strengthen social trust where it is lacking, already strong neighbourhoods may come out of this crisis even stronger as the fabric of Britain’s most atomised places becomes even more frayed.

The Government has acted with alacrity to wrap its arms around the British economy, keeping businesses safe for the moment until they can be safely released. It should act with equal vigour to unleash the power of ordinary British people, who like Burke’s little platoons are lining up to be deployed in the battle against the virus.

If they can, it will not just help many survive this pandemic, but build a society that is more connected within neighbourhoods and across generations – and more self-sufficient in the long-run. That is something all Conservatives should welcome.

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

Neil O’Brien: The balance of power between economic and social conservatives may be shifting to the latter

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

Are free markets and social conservatism friends, or enemies? For most of the 20th century it seemed obvious: the two were allies, up against the same common foes.

The Soviet Union and China were command economies but also command societies. They attacked private property, but also religion and tradition. If you didn’t starve in the Great Leap Forward, you could be shot in the Cultural Revolution.

By contrast, the good guys were fighting on both fronts: Solidarity trade unionists pinned to the gates of Gdansk shipyard not just their industrial demands, but pictures of the Pope. Later that decade, the Berlin wall fell and Stalin’s mocking question about how many divisions the Pope had was answered definitively: “more than you, mate”.

Today, although the Conservative Party remains the home of both social and economic conservatism, the two can have a somewhat scratchy relationship. Most Conservatives are a bit of both, though of course there are libertarian types who want to legalise drugs and tear up red tape on the one hand, and on the other there are “post liberal” types, more interested in fighting social breakdown than shrinking the state.

Where do social conservatives differ from free marketeers? They want to reduce immigration, not have free movement.

They worry that other aspects of globalisation undermine the nation state, democracy and even our security.
They worry that market forces are taking their toll on family life. People work so hard they don’t see their kids, and work email intrudes at home. That in the name of social mobility and a dynamic economy kids end up living a long way from their family.

They hate Treasury attempts to force up the number of double earner households at the expense of individual choice – whether it is the UK’s highly individualistic tax system, or childcare vouchers that don’t help stay at home parents.

They hate unbridled commercial culture. Why so many adverts pushing gambling at us? Wasn’t sport better before it go so commercial? Can’t we stop big tech firms trying to hook our kids’ eyeballs all the time? Although they hate the BBC’s left-wing bias, in theory they quite like the idea of a non-commercial British broadcaster if it could be made more neutral.

What to make of these arguments?

On migration there is some tension. My view is that we can have a lively free market with a lower level of migration. Yes, we need some people coming in and out, but the levels we have been running at really are unprecedented, and we had higher rates of growth in periods when it was much lower.

You don’t have to be super socially conservative to think that 642,000 people a year arriving over the last year (240,000 more than left) is really quite a lot.

On globalisation and trade, discovering that we have to rely on Huawei for 5G technology has spooked many people. On that very specific argument, I’m prepared to trust the Prime Minister and the security services when they say they can control any risk.

But more generally, I think we need to retain certain national capabilities: I’m concerned that we now live in a country that has to beg the French, Chinese or Koreans to build us a nuclear power station: Gordon Brown was wrong to sell off Westinghouse.

But we need to be clear about what capabilities we need to hold onto as a nation without falling into the French trap of declaring a “strategic yoghurt policy” and intervening all over the place.

On family life, I’m not so sure of the social conservative argument. The average employee works substantially fewer hours than we used to, so there’s more scope for family life, albeit that work does intrude at home more for professionals.

Though family life has changed a lot, it’s not obvious that free market economics is mainly responsible.

There’s no doubt that more secure work and higher employment is generally good for family life: its easier not to fall out with your husband/wife/children if you are not desperately stressed. I also want more secure work, but the balancing act is to avoid regulating the labour market so much that you end up with fewer jobs and less security.

When it comes to vouchers and other tied support for childcare, I actually see both libertarians and social conservatives making the case for just putting the money in people’s hands: having a tax allowance for children rather than support tied to formal childcare (the 30 free hours, tax free childcare) would give people more freedom to arrange their own affairs.

Yes, there would be “deadweight”, and pound for pound the response in terms of employment and GDP would be lower than with policies which incentivise dual earning. But if you choose to stay home, or use the money to pay for granny’s petrol so that she can pop over, then why should the state object? Perhaps both libertarians and social conservatives are really fighting fiscal conservatives here.

Some similar arguments might apply to individual versus family taxation. Just the other day CARE published a report pointing out that one-earner couples face much higher marginal tax rates in the UK than most other developed countries because our tax system doesn’t recognise children. But that’s a political choice, not the free market.

On the argument about market forces taking children away from parents – well, much of that is not about the free market, but about the UK state funding a huge expansion of residential higher education. Thanks to Tony Blair nearly half of young people move away at 18, and lots won’t ever go back. Other countries have local community colleges and put more emphasis on technical education.

Courtesy of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, we now know that for nearly half of university students taxpayer subsidy for their course will be a net negative for the exchequer. If we rebalance resources towards technical education that would make sense in itself, but also level up poorer places and also keep extended families together more.

When it comes to the commercialisation of culture, my sympathies are with social conservatives. And I’ve met too many young people who have been sucked into problem gambling. If there is one good thing the BBC does, it is CBeebies, the one part of kids’ TV that has some sort of values, and doesn’t overtly or covertly try to turn your children into agents of “pester power”.

Against that, free marketeers might reply that a big state, institutions like the BBC and public sector trade unions tend to be the bulwarks of social liberalism: and state employees are more likely to get sent on hopelessly flawed schemes like “unconscious bias” training than people who work in your local chippy.

Does reducing state power help social conservatism? It depends. On the one hand, where the state has loosened the leash a bit in schools with academy schools, it has generally allowed (more effective) small-c conservative methods to come back. On the other hand, the US has private universities, and despite being free of the state they are hardly hotbeds of conservatism.

Across the world, there’s been a shift in the voters who support parties of the Right. In general, the balance of the Republican and Conservative voter coalitions has shifted a little from economic to social conservatives. We lost Putney, but gained loads of poorer seats in the north and midlands.

That’s highlighted the tensions. For me, social and economic conservatism still mainly belong together. But where the two do conflict, the balance of power may be shifting. In the years since 1979, economic conservatism has more progress while for much of the time social conservatives have been fighting a rearguard action. Could a revitalised social conservatism finally be coming off the back foot? Only time will really tell.

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

Nora Leach: The Chancellor must end the tax system’s discrimination against families

Nola Leach is Chief Executive of CARE.

CARE was privileged to inaugurate our ‘Taxation of Families’ annual report in 2008. Each year, these have looked at the way in which different OECD countries share out the tax burden between those with and without family responsibilities.

The message over the years has been remarkably consistent, and demonstrates that the UK gives one-earner families, especially married one-earner families, a particularly rough ride compared with other OECD countries.

We have always been clear about the reason: the radical individualism of the British tax system. Now, with just one week before the new Chancellor’s first Budget, our Twelfth Report drives home the same message yet again.

The advent of independent taxation in 1990 was an important step in the modernisation of our fiscal arrangements. We have no desire to return to the pre-1990 world of the ‘married man’s allowance’.

But we have consistently pointed out that while the decision to embrace independent taxation was not unusual or wrong, the UK adopted an unusually individualistic form of it which is almost entirely blind to family responsibility. This has created no end of problems.

In the first instance, households where the earner has family responsibilities have been taxed exactly the same as single people with no family responsibilities. Imagine this: at Number 1 lives a single person with no dependants, Mr Smith, who earns £30,000 per annum. At Number 2, meanwhile, lives Mr Jones, who also earns £30,000 but who has to support his wife, who is a full-time mother to their two pre-school children.

In a radical divergence from what happens in most countries, where taxation accounts for the numbers of mouths that must be fed, in the UK both Smith and Jones pay exactly the same amount of income tax.

“So what?”, you might say. Jones will end up about where he started once benefits are accounted for. This arrangement, however, saps energy in two regards.

First, it wastes money paying for the Treasury bureaucracy to take the money and then for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) bureaucracy to pay it back again. Second, it creates one of the great fiscal travesties of the modern world: Britain’s uniquely exorbitant effective marginal tax rates.

For the uninitiated, the effective marginal tax rate (EMTR) is the amount of tax you have to pay on any additional pound of income that you would earn on top of your current salary, through tax, national insurance, and withdrawn benefits, if you were to accept a pay rise as a result of a promotion or working longer hours.

The EMTR is therefore a key measure of social mobility. As someone earning the median wage considers the prospect of taking on more responsibility and a promotion, they ask themselves: to what extent will I benefit? If most of the money arising from the increased effort goes towards supporting their family, it is worth their while. If, however, most of it goes to the Treasury in tax and lost benefits, they will probably prefer their current arrangements.

A country that is committed to social mobility – that is, to empowering low-income families to be creative and earn their way to greater things – will prioritise keeping their EMTR as minimal as possible.

Successive British governments have done the exact opposite! Hitting low-income families with a comparatively big tax take and then compensating them through generous benefits creates a huge problem when they seek to withdraw those benefits as income rises. They relieve the family of what is, by international comparisons, a lot of income tax and then simultaneously claw back a significant portion of their benefits. It is the impact of this double whammy of the high tax rate and high benefit withdrawal that makes the British EMTR so problematic.

Across the OECD as a whole, the average EMTR on a one-earner married couple with two children earning 75 per cent average wage is around 34 per cent. If the average OECD family of this type has an opportunity to earn more money, they will take home the equivalent of 66 pence in the pound, which isn’t too bad. You get to keep most of it!

By contrast the equivalent family in the UK (with an annual income of just under £30,000) faces an EMTR of 73 per cent, meaning that they only get to take home 27 pence in the pound. Not good. They lose most of every additional pound earned. But if the family is on housing support as well the situation gets even worse, rising to 90.6 per cent, so they only earn 9.4 pence in every extra pound brought home.

While the tax credit system is still operational in most parts of the UK, some now receive Universal Credit. You may recall that part of the rationale for Universal Credit was to help make work pay. So, has it brought effective marginal tax rates back towards the OECD average?

It’s a mixed picture: rather than causing the 73 per cent effective marginal tax rate to go down, the introduction of Universal Credit actually causes it to go up to 76 per cent, but the 90.6 per cent figure does come down to 80 per cent. Even under the new regime, then, Britain’s EMTR is not only bad – it is the worst anywhere in the developed world!

What then should we conclude? Have the designers of Universal Credit messed up?

Absolutely not. The designers of Universal Credit were only given the opportunity to move the deck chairs around the Titanic in relation to work incentives because the only way to bring down our monstrous effective marginal tax rates is to address the root of the problem – namely, the extraordinary form of independent taxation we have in this country. It is only when we bring fundamental reform to our tax system, by recognising family responsibility, that we can make progress.

This year, in addition to looking at a number of solutions that make adjustments to the current system, we are calling for something more profound – a fundamental review of the system itself. If we want to be free to find some of the most efficient ways of dealing with the presenting problem, like income splitting, we should not limit ourselves to tinkering with the current system.

The Government needs to step back and consider designing a new form of independent taxation that, taking account of family responsibility, does not call into being inflated benefits and a crippling effective marginal tax rate, but which rather lays the foundation for liberating Britain’s low-income, in-work families to earn their way out of poverty to greater things.

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

Chris Bullivant: If free market and social conservatives find common ground, they could be unstoppable

Chris Bullivant is a freelance writer who has led two think tanks in Westminster and worked on K Street in Washington.

The withdrawal from the European Union ends a long and bitter split within the Conservative Party between eurosceptics and europhiles. There is no longer any need for MPs (or former Prime Ministers) to resuscitate a divide long healed by the results of 2016, 2017 and the two of 2019. In fact, in putting aside this divide, the Conservatives created a huge electoral success story.

Yet talk of a ten-year rule is over-egged. While the commitment to ‘get Brexit done’ unified many to vote Conservative, once achieved what will keep people voting Conservative, especially those from across traditional party lines?

The answer is to develop policy and narrative cross-pollinated by two influential, fully formed, but quite separate wings of the Party: that of social conservatives and economic liberals.

Having helped lead both a socially conservative think tank and a free market think tank, my observation is that personnel in SW1 from either camp rarely shared networks, pubs, or social media followers, with few opportunities for sharing each others’ language or ideas.

They are two sides of the same coin: occupying the same space but looking at the world with totally different perspectives.

Economic liberals are committed to the freedom of the individual to make their own choices: free from the state, free to do whatever they want, in particular to make profits free of regulation, because it is only profit that creates prosperity in a country.

Free market conservatives often overlap with social liberals who argue for freedom from the state for what we do in private. The freedom to view pornography, smoke weed, or consume sugary foods, is an inalienable right that should not be policed by the Government.

The other wing of the Party, social conservatives, is known to stand for marriage, family, and to have promoted ideas like ‘back to basics’ and ‘broken Britain’.

The two ends have different, and on the surface, competing visions of how to achieve a free society. Social conservatives believe traditional institutions outside of the government are best at assisting the individual to live the good life. Free market thinkers, and their social liberal colleagues, simply want maximum freedom of choice for the individual, usually with an onus on the individual to achieve success in the market.

Assuming there’s any truth to this observation that never the twain shall meet, it would make sense.

The social liberal sees government regulation of private, personal choices as the Church having been replaced by Government – who now heed the latest doctrines of the media-university-public sector complex.

To the free marketeer, social conservatives add to the problem, by promoting restrictive kill-joy policies like marriage, chasteness, and prohibition.

And yet this suspicion is to profoundly misunderstand social conservatives.

Social conservatism is about maximising people’s capacity to participate in the market – believing that for the market to be free, people need to be free to take advantage of it.

The work of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), for example, is an exciting reframing of poverty concerned with maximising the freedom of the individual – and being realistic about how it’s done.

They use a simple formula: a family, a job, a school, maintaining good health, and living within your means, are intrinsic to being able to do life well.

When I worked there I met a lot of people up and down the country who agreed with this basic outlook. They worked with poorly qualified young people, with the vulnerably housed, addicts, or sink estates, many in traditional Labour-voting areas.

Few of those I met voted Conservative, but they spoke the language of social conservatism – because it’s how life works. Family done well provides security and emotional development. Education done well nurtures and socialises the individual, gets you ready for entering the workplace and adult life. Work and saving is good, it affirms an individual’s dignity. Over time it should allow for increasing economic liberty. And freedom from addiction means your capacity to choose is not increasingly limited.

Yet to free market socially liberal conservatives, talk about family, education, and in particular policy related to substance addiction, smacks of state intervention in the private sphere. In the name of liberty, they mount opposition to the very means by which more people could participate in the market.

And this is where social conservatives make a vital contribution to policy formation. There are significant, not negligible, numbers of people who do not have all five of these socially conservative assets. In fact, too many don’t even have a positive experience of one of them, in turn reducing their capacity to enjoy the market.

To the man who went from foster-care and graduated the youth justice system with no parents, no job, no savings, and no schooling, marijuana legalisation is the final nail in the coffin of his life chances. It doesn’t matter that he won’t be arrested for possession; he will be incarcerated in a fog of diminished decision-making capacity, less socialisation, more chaos with one additional substance available for insulating him from the market.

On the other hand, most (but by no means all) SW1 think tankers have a positive experience of these socially conservative assets. For them, the additional liberty of, say, legalisation of the consumption of marijuana, is an added bonus.

Meanwhile back at the grassroots, the language of social and economic liberals is remote and irrelevant. It is part of a tidal wave of policy aimed at destroying the very things they know make a person function. Policy papers on relaxation of pro-social norms are the heady indulgence of the elite. They’d much rather hear the ‘common sense’ of social conservatives.

Friends, family, voluntary groups, charities, and churches, provide the assets by which individuals are able to maximise their liberty – and at the same time the very fruits of that liberty, the very point of a free market economy. They are the layers of existence between the individual and the state that give life meaning.

Social conservatives simply ask whether Government policy helps or hinders enjoyment of these assets. This is an argument that should appeal to economic liberals – because it is to ask, ‘How do you get the Government out of the way of people making a success of life?’

For example, we don’t need Government to create a legal marijuana market to regulate and tax, when it defies common sense in helping revitalise left-behind regions.

If putting aside Europhilia allowed the Conservatives to win big in 2019, how much more might putting aside the misunderstandings between these two tribes create massive electoral appeal, as well as a reason to govern for ten years?

These two sides of the Party need to talk to each other more.

Because social policy without free-market input can drift toward a lifeless focus on public sector reform, or a cul-de-sac of charity speak divorced from opportunity.

Free market groups disinterested in ‘how’ individuals participate in the free market can end up presenting a narrow vision of tax breaks or come across as uncaring – blaming individuals for their poverty.

Neither public sector reform nor freedom to eat a high salt pot noodle are a big enough vision to appeal to those left behind by London’s prosperity; nor to balkanised minorities who think only Labour can protect their rights; nor young people who think big-picture socialism is the key to ending inequality or helping the environment.

When these two tribes increasingly work and talk together, it will be a powerful force to inspire a decade of conservatism that is both principled and mission driven, that is both strong in theory and in practical action grounded in reality. Together, an unstoppable force.

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

Richard Holden: Five ideas for the new Chancellor’s Budget

Richard Holden is MP for North West Durham.

Crinnions, Lanchester

The famous Omnishambles Budget was a result of one key flaw – not being open enough to float ideas with Parliamentary colleagues and test the water. The pasty tax. The caravan tax. The hairdresser tax – I could go on. The public will forgive you doing your best in an impossible situation, but they won’t forgive you cocking it up when it comes to public finances.

The replacement of the Sajid Javid with Rishi Sunak was undoubtedly the stand-out moment of last week’s reshuffle. I was in the meeting when Gavin Williamson and Rishi, then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, went through the Education budget in the last spending round, and it’s clear to me that Rishi will be a formidable intellect in Number 11 who, despite his age and relatively few years in Parliament, will have no trouble getting to grips with the top job at the Treasury.

There are doubtless major issues at stake about fiscal rules, the direction of the country and how we ‘level up’ spending across the country to help ensure that opportunity (and thereby productivity improvements) reach every corner of the UK.

But Chancellors also have many smaller levers at their disposal – which signal their personality, their understanding of the party in Parliament, and their intent. It’s vital that in these small measures the Chancellor ‘gets it right’ next month.

So I’ve got five small suggestions for the forthcoming Budget. None would cost the earth, but would knock some of those “barnacles off the boat”, and provide a small flurry of positive headlines:

Beer & Cider.

In 1894, Conservative Clubs were established, providing beer less expensively than public houses and in direct competition with clubs affiliated to the Labour Party.

The ability to get an inexpensive pint in convivial surroundings is seen internationally as one of the hallmarks of Britain. With the craft beer renaissance in recent years, a couple of small but significant moves in this area would be well received, especially by the huge memberships of CAMRA in the country and by the APPG on Beer in Parliament.

Britain faces some of the highest beer taxes in the world outside Scandinavia. A freeze would be welcome, but at a cost of about £85 million, a penny off a pint of beer and cider would go down a treat.

Furthermore, small beer producers currently pay half the duty rate if they produce under 60,000 hectolitres a year (about a million pints), but if they produce anything over that they pay full duty on the whole amount.

A staggered scheme that removed this cliff edge wouldn’t be impossible, and would be welcomed by craft breweries across the land. The current half-price duty scheme costs the Treasury around £60 million a year. It wouldn’t take much to provide a non-cliff edge that would also allow the expansion of small breweries and enhanced competition in the broader market.

For about £100 million, the new Chancellor would be the toast of the town.

Charities

Nothing grinds people’s gears more than charity chief executives preaching while pocketing massive pay cheques themselves.

All Government appointments that earn more than the Prime Minister must be approved by Number 10. Extending this principle to charities would be a helpful way of highlighting those with excessive executive pay, especially in the international aid sector. This small change would cost nothing, but throw in some much-needed transparency, and ensure that people aren’t taking the mickey out of donors.

For a change in the procurement rules, the Chancellor could be the champion of transparency.

Motorhomes

Ok, this is particularly personal for me. North West Durham is one of the biggest motorhome producers in the UK and we also have some beautiful countryside where people drive them to park up for a week or two.

In September last year, Vehicle Excise Duty and road tax on new motorhomes went up a lot (as EU Regulation 2018/1832 was gold plated, treating them like cars in the British tax system) meaning that now, during the first five years of buying a new motorhome, you pay over £5,000 in tax rather than about £1,200. New motorhome (which start from around £42,000) sales are down 10 per cent as a result.

This is damaging domestic tourism, and the environment by pushing people on planes. Reversing this counterproductive measure would save jobs and, in the end, would probably be net positive for the Exchequer, although the initial cost would be around £25 million.

So for an initial hit, the Chancellor could avoid being the man who doubled down on the second ‘caravan tax’ – show he’s in touch with the aspirations of “Blue Wall” voters, and save jobs in both UK manufacturing and domestic tourism.

Pause programme

This was developed by left-wing social workers in Hackney – not the opening of a sentence you’d expect from me. However, this programme saves lives, helps end abuse, and it also saves taxpayers lots of cash.

It came about when social workers noticed women (often with a combination of the ‘toxic trio’ of domestic abuse, substance abuse and mental health problems) having child after child that was then being taken into care.

What Pause provides is an intervention after a woman has had her second child taken into care – helping her take control of her own fertility and helping her seek other services and a job, and building her back up from what I can only imagine is the most soul-destroying of situations.

Crucially, the programme is voluntary and part of it is offering women, usually for the first time, long-term contraception so they can break the cycle of pregnancy and then having a child removed.

For people in this group who are not on Pause, conception rates are high, roughly a third (with a large number of the conceptions being terminated). When on Pause, it drops by 90 per cent plus. Thus allowing women, often in the most difficult of circumstances, the ability to start to regain control of their lives, get a job and start to become independent.

To roll this programme out nationally would cost £20 million. Initial studies of the programme have shown that payback in terms of saved court time, costs of putting children in care, etc is about 18 months – a rate of return usually only “delivered” by Ponzi schemes. And the Government would know it’s working within a year were it rolled out nationally.

For the Chancellor to show he’ll take good ideas from anywhere and empower the most vulnerable women, often for the first time in their lives, this is a tiny cost with a massive payback in every way.

Toilet Tax

This one’s simple and can get easy headlines. Local authorities are slashing public toilets across the country. One of the biggest reasons is that local councils pay business rates on them. That’s right. They’re not currently exempt. It is madness.

I declare an interest as the Co-Chair of the Local Democracy APPG (the voice for town and parish councils). For our high streets, tourism areas and our ageing population, the ability to have a loo nearby is important and we don’t want to see more lost.

Relieving councils of business rates on loos would require primary legislation.  The move was proposed before but got lost in the wash up last year. At a cost of £8 million a year, which goes directly to local government in most cases, this is a small cost/big win for the Chancellor.

So for under £150 million, the Chancellor could please:

Every beer & cider drinker; social worker; charity donor; town and parish councillor; motorhome manufacturer, retailer and owner; caravan site owner, and public toilet user in Britain. In my humble opinion, if there is a bit of slack to play with, the new Chancellor could do worse pick up some of these ideas.

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

Tom Colsey and Jack Scott: Introducing the Orthodox Conservatives – at a time when our ideas are recovering and reviving

Tom Colsy is a director and founder of the Orthodox Conservatives group. Jake Scott is editor of the online Conservative publication The Mallard. He is Head of Philosophy and Ideology at the Orthodox Conservatives think tank.

All worthwhile legacies must be continued. Built upon. During the campaign that preceded his emphatic win last December, the Prime Minister certainly demonstrated that he believed the legacy of the 2016 referendum was worth building on. In voting to leave the EU, the British public stated their belief that the legacies of the United Kingdom, as an independent and sovereign nation, were worth continuing.

These reverberating events placed social conservatives in a curious place that nobody expected them to be – they’re on the brink of relevancy again. The new Conservative voter has little time for supranational rule, gender-free toilets, mass-migration and market deregulation.

Yet these two victories are soured by the fact one of the greatest Anglo-thinkers of all time also passed away during this period. A philosopher, as gentle and considered as he was serious. Roger Scruton was vilified by journalists and Conservative politicians alike during his penultimate year on this Earth, but perhaps Brexit’s conclusion gave him some respite. It’s a comforting thought.

With the passing of Sir Roger, and a Tory majority held in place by a culturally-conservative alliance of working-class towns and rural shires, there has never been greater demand for an old-fashioned, grounded sort of conservatism. One in tune with common people’s concern for one another, their family, and traditions, their love of country, and rejection of forces that try to overcome these bonds.

Orthodox Conservatives is a group that hopes to make room for such people, in a world and political landscape that increasingly refuses to. We believe that the late Sir Roger’s message that Britain’s institutions, cultural inheritance and communities are worth preserving, and not discarding, is a legacy worth continuing and also building upon. We know that there are millions of conservatives who feel similarly, even if their representatives don’t.

As a newly set-up think tank, we will allocate time in order to identify considered, realistic government solutions to areas such as family breakdown, collapsing spirituality, declining social capital, soulless architecture in our cities and suburbs, and crises in education and policing. Our fundamental mission is, as it were, to support the pillars that have always sustained our civility, belief and harmony as a people – and that are weakening each day.

The new Tory base is bound by values, not by class or race. This is the most positive and universal kind of bond – one we should want for our country. But in order to consolidate that union, we must mobilise. We must actively participate in the current political debates of our time, not be mere contrarian onlookers, tutting at all that takes place. Most importantly, we must be constructive and serious.

Nothing about this is impossible and we, like many traditional conservatives out there, believe it is time to move.

What is absolutely clear though, is that if conservatives do not take this opportunity to do so now there will be fewer and fewer of us to ever possibly take up the mission of doing so again. Fewer people are getting married today than ever before, only two per cent of young people in the UK now identify as Anglicans – the state religion. We know marriage and religious belief (particularly Christian) have a significant effect on people adopting conservative sentiment. Their demise, in turn, likely spells the gradual demise of conservatism.

This is unprecedented, and it is yet to be seen if it will be for the better.

We, at Orthodox Conservatives, recognise this urgency and seek to make change to steer us back on course. To make improvements to British society that will universally benefit all, as well as breathing life into our broken, low-trust communities.

There is a feeling amongst our members that the Conservative Party has fallen away from its roots; indeed, we feel that this sentiment is shared beyond our membership, in the country at large. Not only has the Party embraced unreservedly the tenets of neoliberalism, and believes only in the market, but it has capitulated to the Left on so many issues that it no longer represents the vast majority of people in this country.

By playing the political game on the Left’s terms, the Conservatives have accepted defeat at the outset; only by making the case for the principles of traditional British values – the values that made this country into the great nation it is – can the Conservatives (and conservatives) begin to win the political argument.

For one thing, free-market fundamentalism (commonly called capitalism) has exposed the traditional communities and societies that are the root and source of all identity to the ravages of uncaring global capitalism, where all that matters is money, and the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people depend on the capricious sentiments of absent business-people.

Of course, we are not ignorant of the benefits of capitalism where they exist – the improvement in living standards being the most obvious – but neither are we ignorant of the dangers and losses of capitalism, that have led us to a world where we know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Conservatives should not sacrifice British culture – the nation of small business owners – on the altar of nothing but quick cash.

But neither should the Conservatives think that the British people are as taken with this “woke” guff that the Labour Party keeps shouting about, and keep being led up the garden path. For most people, the most pressing concerns in their lives are finding someone to love and marry, start a family with, buy a home with, and work in a solid job that they know will be there when they wake up in the morning – and they want a government that will ensure this.

Ensure, not provide. To be obsessed with gender norms, the diversity of television casts, and whether a zebra crossing should be a rainbow is actually a dereliction of the duty of good government, in ignoring the real worries of the vast majority of people.

Our aim is to show that conservatism is alive and well outside of the walls of Parliament, even if it is on life-support in the Conservative Party. The Party may have forgotten its roots, but we would like to help it find its way back.

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

Harry Benson: Number 10 needs a Family Policy Unit

Harry Benson is Research Director for the Marriage Foundation and co-author of What Mums Want (and Dads Need to Know).

A friend of ours is an amazing woman who has brought up her now teenage children on her own, having split from the father soon after their youngest was born.

Her children are polite, motivated, sociable, intelligent and a credit to her. With limited resources, and not much encouragement from her own family, she has struggled through. She has depended almost entirely on housing and other benefits, surviving from hand to mouth just above the poverty line. Escaping the dual poverty trap – where every pound earned meant the loss of most of a pound of tax credits and benefits – was a deliberate choice. But for her own sanity and well-being, she persevered despite earning little more. Now in a secure full-time job, she is largely free of the welfare system.

Hers is a great success story because she leaned on the state for the time she needed it before becoming independent and self-reliant on the other side.

But could a more stability-focused family policy have improved her odds of avoiding the split in the first place?

If ministers are ever asked to explain their family policy, they might talk about general services – such as health, education, welfare, childcare, mental health and Surestart Children’s Centres. Or they might refer to more specific services that deal with the consequences of family breakdown and dysfunction – such as the criminal justice and care systems, and Troubled Families programme. These are all important aspects of family policy.

But the question that is rarely, if ever, asked is how and whether family policy can limit or reduce the scale of family breakdown. This is a massive social justice issue simply because of the consequences for children.

For much of the past two decades, Britain has been at or near the top of the Western European league table for family breakdown. (Having been top in 2012, we are now fifth due to falling divorce rates, though not government policy.) According to the Relationships Foundation, the taxpayer spends £51 billion per year in picking up the pieces.

Nobody disputes that some relationships are best ended. But when the majority of break-ups occur ‘out of the blue’, with no obvious evidence of serious conflict or unhappiness, it makes sense to ask why we do so badly and how policy could reduce its prevalence.

First, a genuine family policy needs to be rooted in robust evidence.

There is already a huge body of research that has identified factors associated with a higher risk of breakdown and explored the consequences of breakdown. Some of these factors are general – mother’s education, age, ethnicity. But others offer the potential for specific policy initiatives – marital status, parental happiness with the relationship, parental well-being.

However, the UK research base into family stability is almost non-existent. The vast majority of what we know about relationships and their outcomes comes from US research and journals.

Cambridge University has a world class Centre for Family Research, though their focus is ‘new family forms’ who probably represent around two per cent of families. With rare exceptions (e.g here, here, and here), what UK research there is for the other 98 per cent tends to come from a handful of think tanks such as the Marriage Foundation, Centre for Social Justice and CARE.

A Number 10 Family Policy Unit should encourage the development of UK research into mainstream family stability, instability, and its consequences.

Second, government policy itself can and does influence the decisions couples make.

Most couples start off wanting and seeking reliable love. The odds of achieving it improve massively if they make a clear formal commitment together. And staying together improves the likely outcomes for their children. The absence of a father from the home, for example, is one of the biggest predictors of teenage mental health problems.

This finding in no way undermines the heroic efforts of lone parents like my friend. But it would be odd if the cut in resources from two pairs to one pair of hands had no effect whatsoever.

Anything the state can do to improve the way couples commit will help maintain their resources.

The government was right, therefore, to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples because, like marriage, it requires clarity of decision and commitment. But it would be wrong to extend marriage-like rights to unmarried cohabiting couples because it negates the need for a clear mutual decision.

And it is bordering on the obscene that couples are paid thousands more in benefits and tax credits to live apart – or pretend to – rather than to formalise their relationship and live together. A marriage allowance of a couple of hundred quid can’t compete with the scale of this ‘couple penalty’ bribe, although it might if it were better targeted. No wonder half of all family breakdown takes place among unmarried parents either during pregnancy or in the first two years of their child’s life.

A Number 10 Family Policy Unit should be looking at how government policy encourages or discourages couples to make clear decisions about their future and to formalise those decisions.

Third, policymakers need the confidence to base their public policy on the same principles most of them apply in private.

Politicians clearly understand the importance of personal commitment in their own lives. The vast majority are married. This is a good decision because, across all backgrounds, couples who marry are generally much more likely to stay together.

Yet few ministers are willing to stick their head above the parapet and say this. The policy signals they send out are that marriage doesn’t matter.

The tragedy is that those with fewest financial resources are listening. Nine of ten parents in the top income quintile with young children are married. In the lowest quintile, just a quarter are married. Pile relational ambiguity on top of low income and a system that bribes you to live apart, and you have the perfect recipe for family instability.

It used to be thought that unmarried cohabitation would look increasingly like marriage as it became more widespread. In fact the gap is widening. Today’s marriages are more stable than any since the 1960s. Divorce rates have plummeted because those who choose to marry really embrace their commitment to one another. And yet the UK continues to languish near the top of the family breakdown table because unmarried breakdown rates are typically three times higher.

There’s an important lesson here about commitment and stability. Few businesses succeed without making a clearly agreed plan that everyone understands. This is why today’s marriages are doing so well and today’s cohabitees so badly.

My friend never married. Would she and her partner have stuck at it had they made a more explicit commitment in the first place? Who knows. But had the policy signals been more encouraging, a clearer plan might have shifted the odds in their favour.

A Number 10 Family Policy Unit should have the key role of giving senior ministers the confidence to promote clarity of commitment – and therefore marriage and civil partnerships – as the centrepiece of a bold new family policy that boosts the odds of stability.

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