Today is Budget day and on the ConservativeHome frontpage there are links to...
- a Populus poll on attitudes to Gordon Brown...
- an excellent essay on Gordon Brown by The Telegraph's Jeff Randall and...
- some insights into Labour's not-so-green record on environmental taxation.
It's day three of ConservativeHome's 'Wake up to Gordon Brown week' and today's focus is on social justice. It was encouraging to read so many ConservativeHome Panel members volunteering social justice issues as key weaknesses of the Chancellor's record. Here are some of your comments:
"Gordon Brown's strategy has been to co-opt ever-greater parts of the population into the New Labour tent by increasing the number of people dependent on the state for employment, welfare benefits and/or tax credits."
"A sustained assault must be made on Gordon Brown's decision to over tax the low paid and families on middle incomes. The Conservative Party, as part of its modernisation agenda, must be prepared to raise personal tax thresholds and remove the low paid from paying tax. Just as the Conservative Party granted council house owners the right to buy their homes the Conservative Party needs to show that it is prepared to set people free by lowering taxes. The Conservative Party should rightly be championing the cause for social justice. However, it cannot win this argument by copying the Blair-Brown stastist agenda."
"Anyone capable of creating the family tax credit fiasco is a danger to the well-being country."
"Develop an alternative moral strategy emphasising self reliance as the goal of all citizens but making it clear that the state would still help those in need - but that the final goal would be (as far as possible) them becoming self reliant individuals. Show how GB's well intentioned interventions do not help those they are designed to and that he interferes unecessarily (and disasterously - creating dependence) with the lives of those who are already able to fend for themselves rather than concentrating on those in need."
"We should spearhead our strategy against Gordon Brown with a radical, yet authentically Conservative agenda to fight poverty and social deprivation. This would contrast hugely with Brown's failed top-down methods, the effects of which can be seen no more clearly than in his home country."
"Under the bad old days of bad old Labour the marginal rate of taxation on the highest earners was 83%. For some of the poor under bad old new Labour, the effective marginal rate of taxation can be between 90% - 95%. This is because the effect of benefit withdrawal is to leave some people scarcely any better off when taking action to improve their own lot. This is disastrous for them and for everyone else. This fact must be made known to everyone in the country as a condemnation of Gordon Brown's policies. Yet I haven't heard Osborne or Cameron really spell it out at all."
In summary, here are some of the weaknesses of Gordon Brown's anti-poverty record:
- Inequality is up in Brown's Britain and social mobility is down.
- His choices of stealthy taxation - not least the massive rises in council tax - often penalise the poor most of all.
- The spread of means-tested benefits has not only undermined pensions savings it has created whole new classes of dependency. Gordon Brown's complex system of benefits has created very high marginal rates of tax for low income workers that act as enormous disincentives to work more hours, overtime or take on a promotion.
- Tens of thousands of the poorest pensioners are too proud or too confused to access the complex system of means-tested pensions benefits that Gordon Brown has introduced. The administration costs of many individual pension benefits exceeds the benefit itself.
- He abolished the married couples' allowance and a range of his other benefits and credits disadvantage marrying. Given the role of strong families in fighting poverty and holding communities together this is the dark heart of his anti-poverty strategy.
- We know that he isn't meeting his child poverty targets but the progress he has made is usually based on distorting targets. Most progress has been made on the 'easy cases' - he has lifted those children just below the poverty line to those just above it. The hardest cases - the poorest of the poor - have not been helped. This is how David Cameron described Gordon Brown's record on the deepest of poverties in his own Scottish backyard (during a speech to the Centre for Social Justice):
"Since 1997, Gordon Brown has directed Labour's efforts to deliver social justice. He is absolutely sincere in his commitment to tackling poverty at home and abroad. But Mr Brown's good intentions should not shield his government from serious scrutiny. And although some progress has been made, Brown has failed Britain's most vulnerable people and communities. This can be seen most starkly in his native Scotland.
Scotland still has the same tax and benefits system as the rest of the UK. In recent decades, health, education and other public services have also been more generously funded north of the border than in the rest of Britain. Therefore, if Labour's anti-poverty strategy is working anywhere, it should be working in Scotland. Earlier this month, however, The Scotsman published research which lays bare Labour's failure. The hundred most deprived postcode areas were dubbed 'Third Scotland' because of their Third World level of life outcomes. If this sounds exaggerated, look at life expectancy.
In Third Scotland, average male life expectancy is only 64 years - lower than in Bosnia, the Gaza Strip, Iran or even North Korea. Shockingly, this trend is actually getting worse. Worklessness is also endemic in Third Scotland. In Calton, in the east-end of Glasgow, 57% of adults do not work at all, even though only 8% are classed as unemployed. Here, two out of every five adults claim incapacity benefit. In Hamiltonhill, 61 per cent of children live in workless households. And this is true for 58 per cent in Drumchapel.
Throughout Britain, 2.7 million are claiming incapacity benefit which offers guaranteed payouts for life. Together with the associated benefits, this can pay more than an uncertain life of work on the minimum wage. For others, the skull-splitting complexity of the tax credit system and the proliferation of means testing has debased the very principle of work. Gordon Brown has created a benefits system that gives millions of people little incentive to work. Any effort to progress beyond dependency is punished by steep rates of benefit withdrawal. And there's the claw-back of excess payments that leads to ever higher debt.
Only this week in my constituency surgery, a working single mum told me that she would have a higher income and a better house if she gave up her job. She'd done the maths. She'd be better off on benefits. But she chose to stay working. It was a small victory of the human spirit against the vast scale of Gordon Brown's state machine.
Frank Field has observed that:
"There is now no way by which those most dependent on tax credit will be able by their own efforts to free themselves from this welfare dependency… To rip out the mainspring of a free society - the drive to improve one's own lot and that of one's family… cannot but harbinger ill for our country."
The current welfare system, designed to eradicate the poverty of the last century, is now fuelling the new poverty of the 21st century. Labour is creating a new class of decommissioned people. Individuals who should have been guided on to paths out of poverty have instead been shunted into life's sidings."
PREVIOUS ENTRY IN THIS SERIES: GORDON BROWN'S RECORD ON TAX.