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Ignore The Guardian and IFS, here are twenty reasons why the Coalition is compassionate

By Tim Montgomerie

The left-wing blog and tweetosphere was at its ruthless best yesterday. Acting with one Borg-like mind they understood the significance of the IFS report and its conclusion that the CSR and Budget were regressive. They understand that they have a massive opportunity to seriously damage the Coalition's progressive credentials. Next Left, Left Foot Forward and the New Statesman blog, in particular, combined to draw every journalists' attention to every aspect of the Institute's conclusion that many austerity measures fell heavily on the poor. The Guardian has splashed on the Coalition's poverty credentials for two consecutive days.

Clegg Deputy PM Nick Clegg is rightly furious with the IFS and the way the media has swallowed its line on the CSR. This is what the Deputy PM told The Guardian (my emphasis):

"I think you have to call a spade a spade. We just fundamentally disagree with the IFS. It goes back to a culture of how you measure fairness that took root under Gordon Brown's time, where fairness was seen through one prism and one prism only which was the tax and benefits system. It is a complete nonsense to apply that measure, which is a slightly desiccated Treasury measure. People do not live only on the basis of the benefits they receive. They also depend on public services, such as childcare and social care. All of those things have been airbrushed out of the picture by the IFS."

The Coalition was under-prepared to defend its progressive credentials and it must use the next few days to think how it can strike back. Robert Halfon MP made a start on CentreRight this morning. Here's my go. I don't support every measure listed below. My point in this post is simply to draw attention to the things the Coalition could be shouting about...

  1. BENEFITS REFORM: Reform of the benefits system so that people are always better off when they take work than when they are on benefits.
  2. HELP INTO WORK: An overhaul of the Work Programme so that the long-term unemployed get the skills and help they need to get work.
  3. LESS TAX FOR LOW INCOME WORKERS: An increase in the personal income tax allowance of £1,000 which will take around 850,000 lower-paid people out of tax altogether.
  4. PROTECTION FOR LOWER-PAID PUBLIC SECTOR WORKERS: Exempting lower-paid public sector workers from the two year public sector pay freeze with George Osborne introducing a flat £250 pay rise for the 1.7 million lowest paid.
  5. MORE GENEROUS STATE PENSION: An annual increase in the basic state pension by earnings or prices - whatever is higher.
  7. PROTECTION OF NHS SPENDING: Over four years health spending will grow by £4bn more than inflation and a new Cancer Drugs Fund will be created with a budget of up to £200m.
  8. TAXES ON THE WEALTHIER: Ensuring the broadest shoulders make their contribution by introducing a £2.5bn tax on the banks, increasing the rate of Capital Gains Tax, keeping the 50p higher rate tax band and stopping higher rate taxpayers from receiving child benefit.
  10. BETTER SCHOOLS FOR ALL: The fastest ever expansion of the Academies programme and the introduction of 'free schools' to break the monopoly of under-performing Local Education Authorities.
  11. MORE PRE-SCHOOL EDUCATION: All disadvantaged two year olds will have an entitlement to 15 hours a week of pre-school education, in addition to the 15 hours already available to them at three and four years of age.
  12. THE PUPIL PREMIUM: As part of a £7bn package schools will receive additional funds to offer targeted help to every pupil eligible for free school meals and reduce educational inequalities.
  13. 75,0000 MORE APPRENTICESHIPS: 75,000 extra funded apprentices every year to ensure the next generation acquires the skills it needs to flourish in the marketplace.
  14. HIGHER EARNING GRADUATES TO PAY MORE: A new student premium for the least advantaged students accessing higher education and a higher earnings threshold (£21,000 rather than £15,000) must be crossed before graduates start repaying tuition fees.
  15. CONTROLLED IMMIGRATION: A cap on immigration to ensure that more British people have a better chance of getting jobs.
  16. FREEZING COUNCIL TAX AND LICENCE FEE: A two year freeze in council tax and a six year freeze in the BBC licence fee will end the years in which these stealth taxes fell most heavily on people with low and fixed incomes.
  17. BIG SOCIETY BANK: New investment in innovative community groups.
  18. NEW APPROACH TO DRUG REHABILITATION: Addicts will get more help to move from permanent addiction to abstinence and the start of drug-free lives.
  19. WORLD LEADER IN GLOBAL POVERTY: Meeting the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income on fighting global poverty.
  20. BETTER AID TARGETING: Stopping aid to wealthier nations like India, China and Russia and diverting the savings to very poor or war-torn nations.

A large number of that list of twenty aren't even part of IFS calculations.

The Coalition has the beginnings of a proud record. It needs to get out there and proclaim it. Most of all it needs to (1) choose three or four most resonant pro-poor measures and (2) change the way Britain thinks about fairness. Fairness isn't about the state supplying more and more money to the poor it is helping people get work, a good education and a strong family.


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