8/10 Tests for the Autumn Statement: Will Osborne address family policy?
By Tim Montgomerie
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There are, crudely, two forms of compassionate conservatism. One form is about helping the strivers - the working poor. Cutting petrol duty, freezing council tax, tackling energy prices and raising the starting threshold for income tax are part of this agenda. The second form of compassionate conservatism is a broader idea of what it means to fight poverty. A bigger welfare state is Labour's answer. Our answer must be (1) a strong family PLUS (2) a good school PLUS (3) a paid job. The Coalition has made good progress on two of these three routes to prosperity and security. IDS' welfare reforms have a long road ahead of them but he's started on the journey - thanks to a lot of help from Nick Clegg. Also progressing are Michael Gove's school reforms. Those reforms look set to take an important step forward with the launch of a new network of maths and science colleges. Mr Osborne has apparently found £600 million to fund these centres for gifted pupils. The part of the anti-poverty treble where progress has been very limited has been on family policy. This has mainly been because of Lib Dem opposition. Earlier this month Iain Duncan Smith attempted to reframe the debate on the family by arguing that we do no not need to talk of privileging marriage or/and the two parent family - only of eliminating the unfairnesses towards them. Osborne is more socially liberal than IDS or the PM but he's very aware that the costs of family breakdown are a huge burden on the taxpayer. The weakness of Britain's families is actually one of the growing sources of our country's uncompetitiveness and why I believe that economic liberalism needs social conservatism. The Coalition Agreement contains provision for the Chancellor to introduce pro-family tax relief and the Lib Dems have undertaken not to oppose it. It would be good to get an update on this issue in the Autumn Statement.
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