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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 

Want to return to work post retirement? Here’s how to do it

Westlake Legal Group adult-businesswoman-leading-meeting Want to return to work post retirement? Here’s how to do it working workforce Work tips seniors Senior Living recruiting recruiter profession older adults jobs job expert tips employment Culture Features Culture Best Practices Adults
© fizkes / stock.adobe.com

According to a 2017 survey published by nonprofit RAND Corporation, almost 40% of workers over 65 had previously retired, and that number has continued to rise. For those individuals, as well as older adults who are making a career change later in life, it can be challenging to figure out where to start. 

That’s why many people across the country turn to a recruiter for assistance in the complex, hard-to-navigate career search. Bonnie Jones of Chantilly-based recruiting firm Bonnie Jones Associates, LLC, has been helping residents of the DMV achieve their employment needs for over 24 years, and has assisted many older adults find their next dream job.

Here, Jones talks first steps, how to stand out and what to highlight when putting yourself on the job market once again. 

Where’s the first place candidates should start, prior to actually taking interviews?
It’s imperative to have a well-written resume with no mistakes. Resumes need to be kept current too, because that’s really the first impression. Especially for someone trying to re-enter the workforce, you already have challenges ahead, so you don’t want to compound that by having errors in your resume. 

What’s your biggest advice for seniors in search of a new job?
Even before embarking on the job search, there needs to be current technical skills updated. Microsoft offers free resources where you can get your skills up to speed. Another really important aspect is lining up a list of references who will vouch for you. When working with a recruiter, you tend to get interviews quickly, so it’s important to look your best. We are ready, so you need to be prepared as well. 

In terms of what I do, I actually role play with them to prepare them for the interview, especially if people haven’t interviewed in a long time. Getting that face-to-face mock interview will really prepare them for what’s to come in a series of interviews for most. I tell my candidates that the interview actually begins when you find out you have one. You have to figure out how you’ll commute and be early, have your resume printed, have a leather notebook to take notes with during the interview, that kind of thing. 

How do you recommend older adults prove their worth in the marketplace compared to say, a candidate in their 30s with a similar level of experience?
Really, a lot of employers like to have experienced individuals. They don’t mind teaching the actual tasks of a job, because the person knows how to show up on time, focus on their career and really be an asset to the team. I personally think this gives them an advantage in most cases. 

How does working with an experienced candidate differ from working with someone who has very little experience in the designated field of their choice?
I think the older worker is more willing to listen to new advice. And they’ve learned over time that they don’t know everything. They have the strength to be able to do the job and as a recruiter, my job is to help them get the job. I really need to get candidates to trust me in an effort to find them the best job out there, and that’s usually easier for me with older candidates. No matter the age though, you have to be prepared for a few nos, and then get excited for that one yes.

For more tips and tricks for members of the family, subscribe to one of our e-newsletters. 

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

Andrew Green: The Conservatives’ new immigration policy risks the numbers running out of control

Lord Green is Chairman of MigrationWatch UK and a cross-bench peer.

The Government’s new immigration policy, extensively briefed to the Sunday Times over the weekend, contains serious risks for the Conservative Party. These could, indeed must, be mitigated by provision for an annual cap on work permits if it proves necessary, and by postponement of a lower pay threshold for younger workers.

Recent recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) set traps for the unwary which, if not avoided, will do nothing for the prospects of the Conservatives. If their recommendations were to be accepted, as appears to be the case, there would be every chance that net migration would shoot up, as it has done in the past whenever doors have been opened wider.

The Government has been careful to say only that it expects net migration to “fall” but, absent a cap on overall numbers, this is trusting to luck rather than taking control.

The MAC report was music to the ears of the immigration industry and will be welcome to some employers but the wider public, indeed the 30 million who wish to see immigration reduced, will be aghast.

For the main stream of immigrant workers, those with a job offer, the MAC recommendations were astonishing. On their own admission they would mean that a total of 16 million jobs in the UK would be open to worldwide competition with no limit on the numbers and without employers even having to advertise vacancies on the home market. They recommended lowering the general salary requirement from £30,000 to about £26,000 and that the qualification requirements should be reduced from degree level to the equivalent of A-Level. It seems that the Government have accepted both recommendations.

However, the press briefing was, apparently, silent on another key issue – namely the much lower salary requirement of only about £18,000 a year for those under 26 when they arrive. This lasts for five years and is only just above the minimum wage, so it provides an easy dodge for employers looking for cheap workers.

Of course, there will be a severe temptation for employers to go for these younger and cheaper workers – especially if they believe that their competitors are doing the same and would otherwise gain a competitive advantage. This was acceptable when there was a cap on the total number of work permits but with no cap we risk a wave of young workers from all over the world, some from countries where documents relating to qualifications and even age can easily be purchased. This route really must be put on hold at least until the main routes have settled down.

There will be plenty of applicants from all over the world, since a significant number of jobs would lead to the right to settle in Britain. If their jobs were on a so-called Shortage Occupation List (SOL) they would be able to apply for settlement after five years whatever their salary. Some nine per cent of total employment – or 2.5 million UK workers – are now included on this list.

The MAC have also recommended the inclusion of a whole range of lower-paid roles including construction workers, teaching assistants and even child minders. The Government seems to have postponed such schemes until later in 2021. It is, however, very hard to see how such a huge and complex system could be properly policed. Indeed, it could well lead to yet more illegal immigration which is already growing by some 70,000 a year.

The MAC also listed as an option the Temporary Workers Scheme outlined in the White Paper published in December 2018. This suggested that low-skilled workers should be admitted for 11 months at a time, to be followed by a return home for a “cooling off period”. This would clearly be a blatant attempt to manipulate the immigration figures which only include those coming to the UK for 12 months or more. It would also be another enforcement nightmare. The Government briefing was ambiguous on this aspect.

All this could well amount to a massive loosening of the UK immigration system – not only to migrants from all over the world, but also in terms of the salary and qualification requirements. It is bound to lead to larger inflows and, indeed, there is every chance that the numbers could run out of control.

Superficially, public concern about immigration has lessened since the referendum. This is partly because the refugee crisis in Europe has subsided for the time being and partly because people tend to assume that, now we have powers to control it, it will indeed be controlled.

Nevertheless, the underlying view is clear. An analysis of seven polls by four different companies shows that 30 million UK adults wish to see immigration reduced, 18 million of them “by a lot”. This is also a view that was held by an average of 64 per cent in a survey of marginal seats conducted before the last election.

Despite the Prime Minister’s promise that immigration would fall there is nothing in these proposals, as reported, to make this happen. Failure for the fourth time to keep their promises on immigration would be deeply damaging to the Party’s prospects, especially in the ‘Red Wall’ constituencies. Given the political risks involved, some precautions would be prudent. The Government should take powers to impose a cap if necessary and also postpone the lower salary for younger workers.

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

Sam Robinson: The UK is a lot more socially mobile than you might assume

Sam Robinson is a Researcher at Bright Blue.

As we enter a new decade and a new post-Brexit era, the outlook for social mobility in Britain is bleak. At least, that is the finding of the Social Mobility Commission’s latest ‘Social Mobility Barometer’: over three quarters of Brits think there is a large gap between social classes in Britain today; almost half feel that where you end up in life is largely determined by your background; and, most people believe that social mobility is deteriorating rather than improving.

A cursory look at headline statistics gives the impression that these suspicions are entirely justified. Income inequality, measured by the Gini coefficient, is high by international standards and has remained largely stable over the last few decades. Wealth is more concentrated still, and younger generations are on course to have less wealth at each point in life than other generations. The UK’s position on the ‘Great Gatsby curve’ – which plots the relationship between income inequality and intergenerational mobility – makes for grim reading.

But this sweeping analysis obscures crucial details. When we look at two of the key components of social mobility – education and income mobility – the situation is much more nuanced.

First, the story of education of the last ten years has been one of widening access and expanding opportunities. Young people are more likely than ever to attend university, to the extent that Tony Blair’s symbolic target of a 50 per cent university attendance rate was recently surpassed.

The composition of those in higher education has changed markedly as well. More than a quarter of those eligible for free school meals (FSM) attend university, compared to just 14.2 per cent in 2005-6. The gap between FSM and non-FSM has widened in the past year, but over the long term the gap has narrowed considerably. Indeed, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are 61 per cent more likely to enter university now than they were ten years ago.

There are signs of mobility outside of the lecture hall, too. When looking over an individual’s lifetime rather than using a snapshot, movement between different income groups is far from uncommon. The IFS estimate that “those in the bottom lifetime decile spend, on average, only 22 per cent of life in the bottom snapshot decile. Those in the richest lifetime decile are in the top snapshot decile for an average of 35 per cent of life.” For these reasons, when the UK’s Gini coefficient for gross income is adjusted to take into account lifetime earnings, it falls from 0.49 to 0.28.

In some ways, the UK is actually more dynamic now than it was in the 1990s. The proportion of individuals staying in the bottom income quintile after four years has fallen from around 60 per cent in the 1990s to around 40 per cent in the 2010s. This level of ‘income persistence’ at the bottom compares favourably with other countries. Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands all have income persistence in the bottom quintile of over 60 per cent. In Germany, income persistence at the bottom stands at 57.9 per cent – barely changed since the 1990s. Even the US, which prides itself on income mobility, has income persistence of 53.6 per cent. In fact, out of 16 OECD countries, the UK has the lowest level of income persistence at the bottom quintile, and is one of only five of these countries in which this figure has fallen since the 1990s.

It is not just the bottom quintile that is experiencing more mobility, either. In every quintile but the top, income persistence has fallen since the 1990s. More people are moving between different income groups now than they were twenty years ago. This is hardly consistent with the image of a Britain locked into rigid social strata, with ever less opportunities to ‘get on in life’.

This is not to say that all is well. Clearly, there is much more to do to promote social mobility. As the Higher Education Policy Institute pointed out recently, top universities could and should be doing more to extend access to disadvantaged students. While Britain’s income floor has become a lot bouncier, its income ceiling remains sticky with high and increasing income persistence at the top end of the income distribution. But although there is not as much social mobility as there could be, Britain is still a land of opportunity.

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

Ben Bradley: Let’s stop forcing all pupils down an academic path – and free some instead to prepare for the world of work

Ben Bradley is MP for Mansfield.

There was a lot of talk during the general election of “levelling up” across the country and about boosting our towns and regions that have the least.

These former industrial heartlands have often struggled; the industries that once sustained them have largely disappeared. They need new infrastructure and better connectivity but, most importantly to communities like mine in Mansfield, they need us to level up our education system.

If we want people to be able to live independently as adults and to take advantage of every life opportunity, we must ensure that they have access to the right kind of support in schools and colleges regardless of their postcode.

Some schools have been failing so consistently over the years that a watchdog report recently described them as “dumping grounds”.  And no matter which statistics you flick through, it’s clear that those most regularly being let down the most by these failing schools are white, working class boys – often in those exact communities that have just voted Conservative for the first time.

This Government’s mission is to ensure that these young people don’t miss out on life’s opportunities, and that we stop wiping out generations of talent.

I’m proud of our efforts to raise standards across academic subjects, benefitting millions of pupils and transforming lives across the country with huge improvements in English and Maths in particular.  But if we want to make a meaningful difference in these schools and amongst these communities, we’ve got to try something different.

Levelling up opportunity in education means two things: first, that we allow a degree of flexibility in the National Curriculum and, second, that we provide for additional intervention and support in the toughest of our schools.

Failing schools in particular must be allowed to be flexible to meet local need. Communities across the country are packed with talent, but these gifts don’t necessarily fit into the box the curriculum tries to squeeze them into.

Many kids in these schools often see little point in getting good GCSEs, not least because their parents often don’t have much formal education, and can’t therefore extol the virtues of it.  When home life gets chaotic, when mum and dad aren’t exactly pushing them to get their homework done, and when it’s a real struggle just to make it into school routinely, these kids need a type of education that really captures their interest and imagination and that feels engaging and useful – not just repetitive tasks and memory tests.

School kids are telling me that they aren’t interested in learning to become second rate computer operators or to recite the names of the Tudor monarchs.  They don’t feel they will use these subjects again or that these subjects bear any relevance to the lives that they are living.

So let’s stop forcing all students down the same, traditional, nineteenth-century path and teach them something meaningful and relevant, which aligns with their goals and the goals of their community, and that nurtures their human talents.

This flexibility will allow schools to focus much more on teaching practical problem-solving rather than just theory; on art, music and sport, the Scouts and the Duke of Edinburgh Award – and they should be rewarded for doing so.

Imagine the enthusiasm that these kids will have for school when their education revolves around preparing them for the world of work, teaching them to be creative and entrepreneurial, to come up with bold ideas and to develop their leadership and teamwork skills.  Imagine empowering teaching professionals to deliver what works for their class.

Alongside this new teaching flexibility in failing schools, we must develop a bolder approach. We must intervene fundamentall – not just install another academy chain to take over where three previous ones have failed.  We must introduce additional incentives for the best teachers to come and get involved in these schools and ensure that we use those extra powers to remove bad teachers too – they do exist.

We need “super-nanny” style leadership teams who can take on the toughest challenges and students, equipping these crack teams of life-changers with the resources and flexibility in the curriculum to deliver real and genuine change that suits the community and the students.

Early intervention changes lives. “Nurture groups”, for example, offer children a phased introduction and more one to one support so that they can cope in primary schools.  For kids with chaotic lives, the transition to full time schooling can be a huge challenge. Initiatives such as these, alongside the work of children’s services and other organisations, have a huge impact later in their lives in terms of their mental health and attainment – which is better for them and the taxpayer.

This twin track approach to education reform is wholly conservative.  We would be identifying vulnerable communities that desperately need our help, trusting and giving responsibility to the country’s best teachers, intervening where it is required and giving teachers and their schools the resources and control they need to turn these areas around.

I’ve seen amazing schools that have strict discipline and grammar school-style education as well as equally wonderful schools that focus instead on technical and vocational skills or on creative subjects.  Both kinds of school have a place, and more besides. It needs to be a choice. Education is not ‘one-size fits all’, it’s ‘horses for courses’.

Let’s make the changes we need so that our education system truly supports everyone to fulfil their potential, to raise their aspirations, to contribute ideas to our society and to build great hopes for their families’ futures. Grapple with this today and we will make a meaningful difference to people’s lives not just in five years time but for generations to come.

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.

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

Daniel Rossall-Valentine: How to reform and improve the Apprenticeship Levy

Daniel Rossall-Valentine is Head of Campaign for This is Engineering at the Royal Academy of Engineering, and Deputy Chairman of Sevenoaks Conservative Association. He writes in a personal capacity.

Apprenticeships can aid social mobility by providing young people from all backgrounds with an opportunity to “earn and learn”, building a career with a long term future.

I’ve been fortunate for the last three years to work with an organisation that has unparalleled access to business and educational leaders so have been in the front seat as the apprenticeship levy has been implemented. The scheme is far from a failure, but it does need urgent tweaks if it is to win the confidence of employers and fulfil its potential.

The Apprenticeship Levy was announced by George Osborne in his July 2015 budget. It came into effect in  2017. The former Chancellor set an ambitious target of starting three million apprenticeships by 2020.

The levy is payable by all employers with an annual pay bill of more than £3 million through PAYE at a rate of 0.5 per cent of their full pay bill. Each employer sets up an individual apprenticeship account that holds all levy payments and that an employer can use to pay for apprenticeship training.

Money paid into an apprenticeship account remains available to that employer for 24 months from the date of payment. Any amount that remains unclaimed after that period will expire and is then available to cover the cost of apprenticeship training at small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who have not paid the Levy.

The Levy was, and is, a bold attempt to encourage employers to train and progress staff, and a brave effort to tackle some of the UK’s greatest cultural problems; our belief that education primarily takes place in classrooms, our excessive faith in “credentials” and our concomitant under-estimation of on-the-job experience and training.

However, despite its noble intent, the Levy remains a rather clunky system which was created following rushed implementation with insufficient problem analysis, design, testing or adaptation. Whitehall unfortunately defaulted to its long-standing preferences for finding “one best way” and for creating a single top-down template lacking in flexibility.

The Levy has received a good deal of criticism, little of which has so far been accepted by the Government. One exception relates to levy-sharing. Levy-paying firms could only share 10 per cent of their levy with other businesses but from April 2019 firms have been able to share up to 25 per cent with other businesses in their supply chain.

The design errors can be categorised under three headings:

Optimistic forecasting

  • The Government under-estimated the cost of higher-level apprenticeships, and thus the percentage of money that would be claimed back by levy-payers. This has left insufficient money in the digital fund for smaller organisations to claim.

Some aspects of the system are too rigid

  • The system stipulates that to qualify as an apprenticeship at least 20% of the time of the apprentice should be spent away from the workplace.

The claim-back system is too inflexible

  • Organisations are required to spend money set aside within two years or lose it. This often does not give organisations enough time to organise apprenticeship programmes, especially where the firms cannot identify good quality local training providers.

Some aspects of the system are too loose

  • Curiously, there is no mandatory requirement for qualifications within the new apprenticeship standard. Without qualifications being part of apprenticeships, it is hard to see how they can ultimately lead to high-skilled, high-paid jobs.
  • With little regulation of apprenticeship quality, it is too easy for levy paying employers to recoup their payments by rebadging existing training schemes as apprenticeships. Even more concerning, existing staff can simply be designated as apprentices without the creation of any additional job opportunities.

Many large organisations which run excellent training schemes, internships, traineeships and work placements have resigned themselves to simply paying the charge, because their schemes are not compliant with the rules of the levy.
Other organisations have failed to find suitable training schemes in their localities, and so would like to collaborate with other employers to create suitable training, but the Levy only allows them to use 25 per cent of the funds for joint ventures.

Several essential reforms are required urgently.

  • The three million apprenticeships target should be abandoned and new rolling targets set which focus on the number of apprenticeship completions rather than apprenticeship starts. Industry specific targets should also be set for industries which are central to the industrial strategy and national productivity.
  • Increase the funding for the scheme by extending the levy to all large firms operating in the UK. The levy is currently only charged on payroll taxes. This means that large companies that spend less than £3 million on direct staff in the UK escape the levy. If firm size were measured by UK sales rather than payroll cost, the free-rider problem would be removed and the funding significantly improved.
  • A more flexible approach to on-the-job training, moving away from the stipulation that 20 per cent of the training should take place off the job, This four days on site, one day off-site pattern works in some industries but not in others. For instance, this pattern is a common way for accountants to train, but works less well in retail, where learning may all take place on site. This inflexible pattern is also tough for small employers, who may need to reschedule training at short notice due to staff absence or other business needs. No single pattern of work-based learning will satisfy all job types. The new system should allow employers to design bespoke training patterns that fit business requirements and hours of operation.
  • A more robust definition of what an apprenticeship actually is. Lack of definition has resulted in massive definitional stretching with some academics with PhDs being labelled as apprentices, and the apprenticeship badge also being applied to regular management training and routine clerical work. We risk the term “apprenticeship” being rapidly diluted and degraded if definitions and standards are not attached to it.
  • Increase the element of the pot which can be used by firms to collaborate on training. Many parts of the UK have real shortages of training provision and so organisations should be able to use at least half of their levy pots to work with other players to create centres of excellence for training.

The apprenticeship levy has the potential to rapidly deliver the apprentices that the economy needs and produce a highly skilled, productive workforce. But it has become very clear that this has not yet happened, and the levy is not working to its potential. The Levy’s design faults are serious, but not insurmountable. The government needs to listen to its critical friends and produce fast reform of this scheme to help Britain compete and to ensure that our young people get the training and jobs that they need and deserve.

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Ben Bradley: Voters tore down the Red Wall because they were sick of Labour talking down to them and holding them back

Ben Bradley is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Mansfield.

Last week saw an historic Conservative victory, not just in terms of its scale but also its geography. The ‘Red Wall’ of Labour seats across the Midlands and North of England crumbled to dust as the election night coverage announced ‘Conservative gain’ over and over; Darlington, Bishop Auckland, Redcar, Blyth Valley, Ashfield, Bolsover… too many to name.

It was an incredible night and a result that really shouldn’t be a massive surprise. It’s something that those Conservatives who already represent and understand some of the issues and viewpoints from these communities have been predicting. We’ve been calling for a ‘Blue Collar Conservative’ revolution and a focus on the issues that matter to those working class towns outside of the Westminster bubble. This time we had a manifesto that dealt with those issues; investing in public services, tough on crime, prioritising the NHS, directing the cash to infrastructure for the regions.

Over the weekend a journalist described Mansfield to me as “the first blue brick in the red wall”. I have to say I love that analogy, it plays to my ego of course, and is something I’m hugely proud of. There are lessons to learn from Mansfield, as well as from North East Derbyshire, Stoke, Walsall and Middlesborough that were won in 2017, and now of course from the many other seats like them that have voted blue for the first time.

Since I was elected in 2017 I’ve been at pains to try and explain the difference between Labour voters in Islington and in Mansfield. It’s not ideological up north, it’s historic. It’s not socialism that drove the Labour vote, but industry. You’ve only got to watch an episode of Peaky Blinders to get the gist of why Labour was born as a movement; protecting workers, fighting for better conditions. Some of the leaders of that movement were socialists, but the workers were largely just trying to improve their lot. To put food on the table. It was about them and their families, not some wider ideology. So many people in places like Mansfield spent their whole working lives in highly unionised industries, where you couldn’t get a job without joining up to the union and paying in to the Labour Party. That was just how it was. “We are Labour round here”.

It made sense in many ways, to back the “party of the workers” when you felt your conditions were poor. It wasn’t an ideological commitment to socialism, it was about improving life for you and your family, about getting on and a sense of community. It was an innately conservative stance, actually, wanting to be rewarded for your work and aspiring to a better life for your family, very similar to the message we now hold at the centre of our Conservative Party.

From an ideological perspective if you’re going to be a socialist you have to be able to afford it! You have to have enough money already to not be concerned about the state taking more away. You have to be able to afford to rise above the control of an oversized state and to extricate yourself from the things that will impact on your freedoms. If you’re scrapping around to put food on the table, the idea of having more taken from you to fund others when you are the one grafting 50 hours a week is horrifying. It’s not pro-worker, it’s hitting the workers the hardest.

Labour doesn’t get that any more. It looks down on working people rather than helping them up. It calls for an end to aspiration and self-improvement. The message is “don’t save or train for a new job or buy a house. There is no point. You are too downtrodden and the rich elites will never let you.”

If you’re struggling, you want hope, not misery. A hand up not a hand out. You don’t want to be told that the whole system is rigged against you, you want to see that there are opportunities to be seized and a chance to make things better. Labour in places like Mansfield have spent decades harking back instead of looking forwards. When I stood in 2017, my Labour opponent, the MP of 30 years, said “it will just remind people about what Mrs Thatcher did”. As it happens I think people were sick of being reminded. It was before I was born! People want to move on and are fed up with politicians blaming people instead of acting. There’s only so long you can moan about the past when you’re failing to do anything to take us forward. People want hope, not misery. That’s why the red wall has fallen. It was a wall built to hold people back. Where once there was a wall, we need to build a ladder.

Even Brexit falls in to that argument, too. These communities voted to Leave, just to be told they were wrong, thick, racist. That they were condemned to misery and failure as a result, and that Labour refused to deliver it. Lecturing instead of listening. We’re hearing the same narrative now from left-wing figures; ‘‘the right-wing MSM have duped these working class people, they can’t think for themselves and they’ll regret it’’.

So far, Labour haven’t learned from their mistake. They are responding in the same way they responded to defeat in the referendum, and without accepting the blame for their failures they’ll only repeat the cycle. They have to look at themselves. They need to understand these reasons that they lost, not just blame the media and ‘stupid voters’. If they keep saying ‘our message was right but people didn’t understand’ or that is was just solely about Corbyn and not about their wider offering, they will struggle to recover.

Don’t get me wrong: we’ve not turned everyone in the North East in to hardcore Tories. For many it was a tough thing to vote blue; for many we were the least-worst option. The good news is that we are saying the right things, but we are not trusted. No politicians are trusted right now. Come the next election Brexit will not be there, Corbyn will not be there. It remains to be seen if we’ll face a competent Labour Party or not.

Either way, we have a point to prove and we have to repay the people who have put us in to power. They have done so off the back of our message, our Blue Collar Conservative promises to back our public services and invest in these places that have so often been forgotten. The proof will be in the delivery; in showing whose side we are on. We have to show a tangible difference and improvement, and we have to restore some faith in Government and politicians. If we deliver, if we get this right, then this could be an incredible few years for our country.

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David Davis: How to keep the new working class voters we won last Thursday – and win even more

David Davis is MP for Haltemprice and Howden, and is a former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

The Conservative victory last Thursday was not just a landslide win: it marked the beginning of the transformation of our political landscape and our country.

The new MP for Blyth Valley, Ian Levy, won a mining constituency never previously held by the Conservatives . As a former NHS worker he is, like many of his new colleagues, anything but a toff, and signals a coming transformation in the complexion of the Party both in Parliament and the country.  A number of the new 109 MPs are Tory working class heroes.

The question on everybody’s mind, from the Prime Minister to the newest arrival, is: “now that we have won them can we hang on to them?”   If we are any good at our job, the answer to that question should be a resounding “yes”.  Many Labour MPs – not just the left-wing apologists for Jeremy Corbyn -are consoling themselves that these Labour constituencies will return to type at the next election.

But they should look at Scotland, where the SNP swept aside a previously dominant Labour Party riddled with complacency and corruption – and it still has not come back.   The same could happen in England and Wales if they are not careful.

It was clear on the doorstep during these last six weeks that the electoral base of the Conservative Party has changed dramatically. Our voters are more working class and more urban. They are more provincial and less metropolitan.  They have a no-nonsense common-sense, and are certainly not politically correct. They have a quiet unassuming patriotism – proud of their country but respectful of foreigners.  They are careful with money, and know it has to be earned.   They want tougher policing but also have a strong sense of justice.  They depend more on public services, and are the first to get hurt when these fail.  Many of them would be classified as “working poor” and dependent on welfare payments, although they themselves may not see it that way.

So what should we do in order more fully to win their trust? Obviously we should deliver on our manifesto: get Brexit done, and provide more money for the health service, for education, for the police, and for more infrastructure – not least new broadband.   But this is nowhere near enough.   A manifesto should be a lower limit on delivery, not an upper limit on aspiration.

This should be no surprise. The Thatcher manifesto of 1979 was fairly slim. It certainly did not detail the actions of most radical and eventually most successful government of the twentieth century.

What Thatcher achieved was a revolution in expectations: about our country, about ourselves, about what was possible.  We have to do the same.

And our target should be unlimited.   We should be planning to prove to our new base that we care about improving their lives, but we should also be targeting the votes of younger people, too.   There should be no no-go areas for the new Conservatives.   Fortunately, the necessary policies are similar, and they require Boris Johnson’s hallmark characteristic – boldness.

There should be a revolution in expectations in public service provision, from health care to education. This is about imagination more than money. There are massive technological opportunities opening up, from genetics to big data to diagnostic technology, and we should be enabling the NHS to make better use of it.

On the education front, the international comparisons have not shown much progress since the turn of the century, despite the best efforts of successive Education Secretaries,  Other countries from China to Belgium have seized on new technology to completely reengineer the classroom. We should be doing the same.

And we should now work to further social mobility.   None of my doorstep conversationalists mentioned this phrase, but many talked about the opportunities (or lack of) for themselves and their children, which is the same thing.   We used to be a world leader in social mobility; now we are at the back of the class.   Every government since Thatcher has paid lip service to the problem, but none has done anything about it.   Indeed, they have made it worse.

Take for example the disastrous university tuition fees and loans system introduced by Tony Blair and made worse by David Cameron.   It has delivered poor educational outcomes, high costs, enormous debt burdens and widespread disappointment, as well as distorting the national accounts.

The heaviest burden of this failure falls on young people from the poorest areas. The Augar Report gave strong hints about how to fix it, even though its terms of reference forbade it from providing an answer.   The new policy aim should be simple.  Allow children of all backgrounds a worthwhile education to get good enough qualifications to start a decent career without crushing lifetime loans. It should be an early priority of this government.  It would be the single most targeted way of helping a generation that deserves our support.

One of Thatcher’s great contributions to social mobility was to encourage home ownership: 65 per cent of young people either owned or were buying their own homes then.  Today, that number is 25 per cent.   The reason is simple.   We are just not building enough homes.  In the last 15 years the population has grown by just shy of seven million people.

We have built nowhere near enough houses to cope with that.   The current incremental strategy is not up to the job, and we need to adopt a wholesale programme of garden towns and villages around the country, and a new process to drive much of the planning gain to reducing house prices and improving housing and service quality.   We should also look very closely at reform of the Housing Association sector, to deliver more homes for both rent and sale.   We were once a proud homeowning democracy, and a return to that would not be a bad aim for a modern Conservative Party.

This would be just a start.   But it has to be paid for.   This has always been the Conservative Party’s trump card: the ability to run the economy and deliver the funding for good public services.   Brexit opens up the possibility of a new economic renaissance, which the Prime Minister believes in, and is capable of seizing with both hands.

But we will need to rediscover the Lawson lessons: that simpler, lower taxes deliver more growth, more jobs, more wealth, and eventually more tax revenue.   Our tax system is now littered with irrational anomalies – most recently demonstrated by senior doctors refusing to do extra work because they were effectively being taxed at 100 per cent as a result of covert Treasury pension taxes.

It is time we swept much of this structure away, and liberated people to gain from their own efforts without excessive state burdens.   It should also not be too hard for us to do it in a way that helps the North as well as the South.  And this does not just apply at the top: the working poor face similar anomalies under the tax credit system.

Which brings us back to the ‘new’ Conservative working classes.   We should not imagine that an appeal to them is a novel gambit bu the Conservative Party.* The most successful political organisation in the world for two centuries has been just that because for most of that time it has relied on the working class for at least half of its vote.

From Disraeli’s reforming government to Shaftesbury’s great social and industrial chang, to Lord Derby’s legalisation of trades unions, we have a long and deep commitment to caring about the welfare of the working classes.   If this were not true, one of Johnson’s old Etonian predecessors as Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, would never have won the impoverished North Eastern constituency of Stockton – and held it throughout the great depression.   And of course in modern times Margaret Thatcher inspired Essex man and held many seats in the North – not least Darlington, which we won back last week.

So we have been here before. Blue collar Conservatism has a proven track record – one we should resurrect.  In this new political battle, the greatest tension will not be left versus right or even fiscal and monetary doves versus economic hawks.   It will be a battle between creativity and convention.   I have always thought that the Prime Minister subscribes to Nelson’s maxi  that “Boldness is the safest course,” so I suspect that this will be a battle that he will relish.   If he does, these will not be the last seats we win in the Midlands Wales and the North.

A few years ago I presented a BBC Radio 4 programme which showed that the Conservative Party has been heavily dependent on working class votes for most of its 200 year lifespan.

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Ryan Bourne: Thatcher and Cameron made us happier

Ryan Bourne is Chair in Public Understanding of Economics at the Cato Institute.

Perhaps David Cameron had better foresight than he’s given credit for. At a Google conference in 2006, the then leader of the opposition declared “It’s time we admitted that there’s more to life than money, and it’s time we focused not just on GDP, but on GWB – general well-being.” With the financial crash ravaging the public finances through 2010 and conventional economic indicators in the doldrums, he risked opprobrium by tasking the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to measure wellbeing for the first time.

Well, his desire to be judged on such metrics now looks incredibly prescient. Never mind sluggish GDP growth throughout and after his premiership. Forget the polarisation of Brexit. The ONS’s latest wellbeing stats, released last week, show that the British people are significantly happier and more satisfied than back in 2011.

It really is remarkable. Every self-reported measure of wellbeing has improved near continuously in the past eight years. Asked on a 1-10 scale whether they are satisfied with their lives (0 being “not at all” to 10 “completely”), the public’s mean score has risen from 7.11 to 7.42, with the proportion answering 7 or above rising from 76 percent to 82 percent. This isn’t some anomaly either. How worthwhile we perceive our lives and self-reported happiness have been ever rising too, on average. Anxiety, meanwhile, has fallen, albeit having levelled out recently. If Cameron had convinced us of wellbeing’s central importance, we’d now be celebrating his wonderful legacy.

As it happens, of course, this “good news” got about as much coverage last week as a positive Brexit business story. Remainer demands for a new Brexit impact assessment show that pounds and pence are still king in UK politics (at least until there’s an EU regulation the same Remainers want us to follow). We free-marketeers were fearful, when subjective happiness metrics were introduced, that they’d become active targets of policy. We needn’t have worried. Political leftists’ attachment to them proved skin deep, falling away as soon as they suggested Britain was not hell on earth under the Tories.

But was classical liberals’ fear of such metrics misguided? Perhaps. Consider a new paper from researchers at the University of Warwick. Reviewing eight million publications digitized through Google Books, the study aims to construct longer-run indices of wellbeing from 1820 through to 2009. Its findings are even more jarring than the ONS stats.

Here’s how their index is put together. Use of positive words in published books, such as “cheerful,” “happy,” and “joyful,” are considered proxies for better subjective wellbeing. Negative words such as “sad” or “miserable,” are tallied up as measuring worse wellbeing. In short, the academics assume that in a happier world, more “happy words” would be written in published tomes.

Now, I was sceptical of that methodology. But they check their results against life satisfaction data over recent decades from Eurobarometer and the UN, finding strong correlations in the numbers. Emotive positive/negative language does appear to proxy well for self-reported wellbeing since the 1970s, when both sets of data are available. Having satisfied themselves of the methodology, the retrospective application to earlier periods produces fascinating results.

Wellbeing was consistently high in the UK in the 19th century, fell around the time of World War One, before then recovering. Unsurprisingly, it plunged again during World War Two, before rebounding to a lower peak. But the post-war phase is most striking, splitting clear into two obvious periods. From the 1950s to 1980 there was a sustained fall in wellbeing. After 1980, there was a dramatic rebound, fitting with Eurobarometer data showing a sustained improvement in life satisfaction in the UK over the past 40 years. Britain’s life satisfaction index since 1950 is therefore distinctly V-shaped.

What might explain this dramatic inflection circa 1980? Social trends would surely be a slower burner. People had been getting better off between 1950 and 1980 too, so this is about more than rising wealth. No, there’s one rather obvious explanation fitting the time trend: the UK’s abandonment of its quasi-socialist economic model and embrace of Thatcherism.

Such a thesis is supported by the fact the US experienced a near identical V-trend in its index centred around the launch of Reaganism. Germany, in contrast, saw wellbeing completely flatline from the 1950s onwards. Neoliberalism’s birth, it seems, facilitated sustained rises in wellbeing.

These findings dunk all over accepted truths. Claims from the Spirit Levellers that inequality and marketisation made us miserable are dismissed. If anything, the exact opposite appears true: the post-war period saw socialist equality beget misery. Life satisfaction rose with inequality through the 1980s and continued to rise once inequality settled at a higher level.

Nor can GDP or the labour market adequately explain the trends. Rising GDP per capita, other things given, would be expected to improve life satisfaction, and Britain’s economy did perform well relative to other countries after 1980. But growth was stronger in previous decades, when life satisfaction was falling. Wellbeing does not appear to have fallen after the financial crash either. Sure, tightening labour markets might explain some of the rise in wellbeing since 2011, but Britain had very high unemployment in the 1980s, just as life satisfaction took off.

No, the absence of clear outcomes-based economic explanations suggests that my friend Terence Kealey may be right. What might explain the reversal from 1980 is simply that we Anglo-Saxons value our economic freedom, above and beyond its GDP or employment impact. Economic liberty makes us happier.

The post-war period saw high tax rates, capital controls, Keynesian demand management, nationalisations, price and income controls, and high inflation. Afterwards we shifted towards freer trade and migration, lower taxes, lighter touch regulation, and free movements of capital. Of course, we’re not near libertopia; if anything the Thatcher and Reagan revolutions proved a brake on a longer-term government juggernaut. But there was a paradigm shift on economic freedom. We Brits, and our American cousins, found it deeply satisfying.

For a libertarian, this isn’t surprising. Our worldview is centred on the belief that individuals know best how to live their lives to improve wellbeing. Thatcher, of course, claimed her economic liberalisation agenda was in tune with the true instincts of the British people. All this suggests she may well have been right.

David Cameron had no such ideological inclinations. In fact, he probably advocated happiness metrics, in part, to distance himself from the supposed economics-obsessed “libertarian” wing of his party. How ironic then that the sorts of wellbeing measures he championed took off when classical liberals turned the tide on socialism, and strengthened through the “age of austerity.”

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