Conservative Diary

Welfare reform

18 Sep 2013 06:51:24

Who is winning the Coalition? Us or the Lib Dems?


By Mark Wallace
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Now that both parties are fighting to take credit for the coalition's achievements, rather than seeking to blame each other for its impact, it seems an opportune moment to ask: who is winning the Coalition? Do the Lib Dems or the Conservatives enjoy more success in Government?

Let's tot it up, match by match, across thirteen key policy areas:

Home Office

With PCCs introduced, an immigration cap in place, the concept of regional immigration limits rejected, spending cuts to the police but crime falling regardless and even the now-famous "Go Home" vans, the Home Office is a round victory for the Conservatives. The Lib Dems will be happy about the scrapping of ID cards, but it's worth remembering that this was Tory policy at the election, too.

Blues 2 - 0 Yellows

Local Government

Both parties described themselves as localist in the run-up to 2010, but the plan the Government have implemented is almost entirely Eric Pickles'.  Spending transparency, guaranteed referenda for council tax increases over 5 per cent and relaxed planning regulations all point to a Conservative win.

Blues 2 - 0 Yellows


It's a little hard to say how the different parties have fared in the Justice department. The failure to fulfil the Tory pledge for automatic jail sentences for carrying a knife illegally and the fact the Human Rights Act still has not been replaced by a British Bill of Rights are certainly points against the Conservatives, but they were respectively scored by Ken Clarke and a Commission set up by the Prime Minister, so count as own goals. Since he took over as Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling has been pushing ahead more productively with cuts to legal aid, reform of the courts system and a new, more accountable prison regime. The Lib Dems have had barely a look-in, but the own goals go on their tally - we can expect a better rematch later in the Parliament.

Blues 3 - 2 Yellows

Constitutional Reform

The Lib Dems had a good sequence of play early on - for a while it looked like they might romp home. They certainly secured the referendum on AV which they had demanded, but then the electorate overwhelmingly rejected the plan. Lords reform briefly came onto the agenda, before being torpedoed by Tory backbench opposition. In revenge, Clegg sank the boundary reform the Conservatives desperately need to iron out structural bias in the election system. Both sides lose out - a no-score draw.

Blues 0 - 0 Yellows


It's fair to say Michael Gove has emerged victorious on almost every measure in Education. The academies scheme has been dramatically extended, Free Schools are springing up and new, more rigorous exams are in place. The flagship Lib Dem policy of the Pupil Premium has been implemented, but their promise to aboilish tuition fees has been entirely reversed.

Blues 5 - 1 Yellows


Both parties supported High Speed 2 in 2010, and despite heavy fire from all sides it remains Government policy. The Lib Dem policy of introducing road pricing has been rejected, and replaced by reductions and freezes in fuel prices, driven by Rob Halfon. Clegg and Cameron both promised that Heathrow would not be expanded, and they've got their way - with Lib Dem support for the policy helping to overwhelm any Tory suggestions it be revoked.

Blues 2 - 1 Yellows 


The decision to hold a Strategic Defence Review rather partially removed this department from the realm of pure party politics early on in the parliament. However, the Lib Dems regularly boast that they have managed to delay any decision to replace Trident until at least 2015, while the Conservatives have successfully slimmed down the MoD's size and balanced its budget for the first time in years. A score draw.

Blues 1 - 1 Yellows


Energy and Environment

Chris Huhne, and later Ed Davey, have dominated these policy fields from DECC until Owen Paterson gave DEFRA more Tory bite in the last year. The Green Deal is in place (and splashing money everywhere), wind farms are still going ahead despite the Tories wishing to implement a moratorium and the Green Investment Bank has got the go-ahead. Shale gas has now been given the green light, but only after lengthy delays thanks to Lib Dem opposition. 

Blues 1 - Yellows 5

Tax and Spend

Both parties agreed on the need for austerity after the Brown years, but we should note that the Lib Dem manifesto proposed £15 billion of spending cuts, delayed until 2011-12. Austerity has been larger than that, and began immediately. While Clegg and Alexander's presence in the Quad has certainly reduced the fiscal tightening somewhat, Government policy looks closer to Osborne's position than theirs.

On tax, it's a different story. The 50p rate is gone, but it is now 45p rather than the 40p many Tories would have preferred. The income tax threshold is rising to £10,000, following a Lib Dem manifesto pledge - though it's not a policy many Conservatives are uncomfortable about. It's fair to say Osborne's enthusiasm for tax cuts (for example on Inheritance Tax) has been sizeably hindered by his coalition partners.

Goals for each side, but level pegging so far.

Blues 2 - Yellows 2

Welfare Reform

Like Eric Pickles, Iain Duncan Smith went into the 2010 election with a coherent plan and a deep personal dedication to his brief. As a result, he's got his way on the bulk of his proposals. The two parties have collaborated to protect the Universal Credit scheme from Treasury attempts to axe it or scale it back. It says a lot that the Lib Dems' main impact on the DWP has been to veto IDS' offers to make even more savings from his budget.

Blues 2 - Yellows 1

Business and Banks

Vince Cable has long touted his Department as the heartland of Lib Dem opposition to Conservative leadership of the coalition. He's certainly managed to get the Government to adopt his industrial strategy, and blocked the Beecroft reforms to workplace regulation. But he has also had to accept the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies and the Conservative-driven cuts to red tape. The decider is the Government's decision to accept the Lib Dem policy to break up the banks.

Blues 2 - Yellows 3


To say the Health and Social Care Act proved controversial is an understatement. Various of the policies within it are drawn from the Conservative 2010 manifesto, although Lib Dem opposition forced the Government into a "listening period" and resulted in several changes to the legislation. 

Blues 2 - Yellows 1


This always seemed likely to be the sticking point of the Coalition. Clegg has prevented Cameron from offering an earlier referendum, and the Conservatives have been forced to use a Private Member's Bill to pursue their policy post-2015. However, the Lib Dems so far have been too afraid of public opinion to vote against the Wharton Bill, resorting to wrecking attempts in the Committees. The In/Out referendum is on the way, but Yellow blocking tactics have left the Blues open to attack by UKIP.

Blues 1 - Yellows 2

Scores so far

Here are the overall scores from the first half of the Parliamentary season. Of 13 matches, there have been 7 Blue victories, 3 Yellow wins and 3 draws. 25 goals for the Conservatives and 19 for the Liberal Democrats leaves the goal difference at +6 for the Blue team.

The contest is only going to become more hotly contested - as can be seen by Nick Clegg's attempt to take the credit for Rob Halfon's ideas today - so we will continue to watch every match and report back.

11 Sep 2013 06:06:00

Fewer and equal seats. The benefits and immigration cap. And shale gas. High priorities from Tory members for any Coalition talks

Screen shot 2013-09-11 at 05.47.58
By Paul Goodman
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I reported yesterday that the top "red line" for Conservative Party members for any coalition negotiations with the Liberal Democrats after the 2015 election is holding the In/Out EU referendum in 2017 - after the promised renegotiation.

If these commitments are treated as one, the next four red lines in our members' poll came in as follows. On a scale of one to ten, with one representing "very negotiable" and ten representing "non negotiable", all came in at eight, with very marginal differences beween them, as follows:

  • The number of constituencies should be reduced and their size equalised.
  • The benefits cap should be maintained or lowered.
  • The immigration cap should be maintained or lowered.
  • Press ahead with the development of shale gas as swiftly as possible.

I am not at all sure that the reduction and equalisation of seats will be in the Tory manifesto, given events in this Parliament, but the priority which members give to the move reflects their frustration and anger with how the Liberal Democrats behaved.

The benefits and immigration caps are popular with members as well as voters, and their ranking reflects that.  There is unabashed enthusiasm for shale.  It's perhaps surprising not to see the economy or tax in the top five issues.  We will turn to them tomorrow.

10 Sep 2013 16:59:06

The BBC reports "softening attitudes on benefits" - but the polling numbers say the opposite

By Mark Wallace
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Yesterday I looked at new polling suggesting the young are more radical than their elders when it comes to the welfare state. Today, the British Social Attitudes survey has been released (play with the interactive data charts here), an annual orgy of data for those interested in such things.

To read the BBC, you'd think it was full of bad news for Conservatives. "British Social Attitudes Report finds softening attitudes to benefits", yells the headline

As is so often the case, though, it's the still, small voice that holds the truth and the headline that holds the wishful thinking. The data, and the trends over time in particular, don't show a "softening" - if anything, they show the opposite.

For example, here is a graph showing two of the BSA's findings on welfare over the last thirty years. The grey line is those who think "the Government should spend more on welfare", while the black line is those who think "most benefit recipients don't deserve help""

Welfare 2
The two trends are quite clear - despite "spend more on welfare" carrying the approval of fashionable opinion and "most benefit recipients don't deserve help" carrying some social stigma.

If that isn't enough to convince you, check this next graph out. Here we have a comparison between the percentage who agree "unemployment benefits are too low" (the purple line) and the percentage who agree that "if welfare was less generous people would stand on their own two feet" (the red line):

Welfare 1
The BBC don't report any false numbers, but they are highly selective.

For example, they report a fall (to 51 per cent) in those who think benefits are too high - but neglect to mention that those who think benefits are too low are in a small minority of 22 per cent. The proportion who think they are neither, ie that the level is about right, is 17 per cent - the highest rate in a decade. 

The public are still on Iain Duncan Smith's side when it comes to welfare - no matter how much his critics might wish otherwise.

9 Sep 2013 17:05:19

More evidence that young voters are shifting to the right - this time on the welfare state

By Mark Wallace
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A growing dataset has emerged over the last few months suggesting a rightwards shift among the young. Be it in the beliefs younger voters hold or the more modest shift in the party they support, it seems that Generation Y are striking out in a different direction to their parents.

More evidence comes today in a new Demos report, Generation Strains, in which the authors examine polling data on the views of different generations on the welfare state. Some of the results are predictable and driven by life-cycle, such as the tendency for young adults to make child benefit a high priority. Others, though, point to generational changes in opinion.

For example, look at the proportion of people in each generation who agree that "the creation of the welfare state is one of Britain's proudest achievements" (all graphs from Demos):

Demos Welfare State Generational
The young are strikingly less enthusiastic about the welfare state than the old.

Continue reading "More evidence that young voters are shifting to the right - this time on the welfare state" »

6 Sep 2013 08:13:59

The small stuff that’s preventing the Government from delivering the big stuff (such as Universal Credit)

By Peter Hoskin
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This isn’t exactly a boom time for that commodity called “government competence”. After the National Audit Office’s uncomplimentary prose about the delivery of Universal Credit, yesterday, it sounds as though the Public Accounts Committee is going to be similarly critical about the course of HS2. According to a report in today’s Daily Mail, the committee will next week “deliver its own ‘damning’ verdict on official plans and costings for the 225mph line”.

Now, I have divergent views about the Universal Credit (one of the most important social reforms that the Coalition is introducing) and HS2 (scrap it, probably) – but there’s a question that unifies the two. And that is: can the Government ever implement its grands projets on time and on budget? At the very least, it often seems to struggle.

Continue reading "The small stuff that’s preventing the Government from delivering the big stuff (such as Universal Credit)" »

5 Sep 2013 11:15:22

IDS is pressing ahead with Universal Credit by 2017

UClogoBy Harry Phibbs
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A difficult day for the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith with a critical report from the National Audit Office on the implementation of the Universal Credit leading the news bulletins.

The Government is certainly being ambitious over the scale of the project and the timescale for implementing it.

The scheme will rely on the HMRC providing "real time information" on tax reductions to the DWP - so that the level of benefits can be adjusted to ensure work pays. Tricky. To add to this Mr Duncan Smith has been let down by some of his civil servants - not only in failing to achieve the progress they promised but then, as Paul Goodman has noted, resorting to deception over their lack of progress.

Some may take a sanguine view. Dogs bark, cats meow and Whitehall IT projects go over budget. Perversely the attitude of Ministers is less forgiving over such lapses than the shrugging from the media and the public. Certainly the offer from the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne for cross party talks to "rescue" the scheme is risible. It was the Labour Party that wasted £12 billion of our money on an NHS computer system project that was scrapped.

Yet the Government will not want to judged by the standards of their predecessors. The Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude is not passive over civil service failings or inefficient Government procurement.

I understand that Mr Maude and Mr Duncan Smith have been working effectively together to sort this out. Rather ironic given that when Mr Duncan Smith was the Conservative leader it was Mr Maude who led the plotting for a replacement.

Continue reading "IDS is pressing ahead with Universal Credit by 2017" »

18 Jul 2013 06:43:36

IDS, the one-man labour party - in the real sense of the word

By Paul Goodman
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Duncan Smith September 2011The formidable Conservative backbench support for transferable tax allowances shows how crucial marriage is to Tory thinking about social policy.  It's often accompanied by a preoccupation with the position of one-earner couples within the tax and benefit system, and a certain sympathy for universalism and hostility to means-testing: hence the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail's hostility to George Osborne's treatment of child benefit.  Iain Duncan Smith's support for marriage is well-known.  And although he isn't in charge of family policy - no-one is: a glaring weakness - he is central to its formation as delivery in his role as Work and Pensions Secretary.

At first glance, it might be assumed that Duncan Smith's position is aligned to his backbenchers, the Mail/Telegraph axis, and right-of-centre social policy writers such as Laura Perrins and Kathy Gyngell - who have recently set out similar views on this site.  But I have been discovering recently that it ain't necessarily so.  The Work and Pensions Secretary is carving out his own distinctive view, shaped by his experience with the Centre for Social Justice and evident in what his department is putting into practice.  He is certainly an enthusiast for transferable allowances, which he sees as helping to level the taxation playing-field for one-earner couples.

Continue reading "IDS, the one-man labour party - in the real sense of the word" »

17 Jul 2013 13:09:41

Good news for the Government in the new labour market statistics

By Mark Wallace
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Growth ConHomeThe latest labour market statistics from the ONS contains five key pieces of good news for the Government:

  1. The number of people in work in March-May 2013 rose by 16,000 on the previous quarter, and is up 336,000 on the same quarter last year - to 29.71 million
  2. Unemployment in March-May 2013 is down by 57,000 on the previous quarter, and down 72,000 on the year, to 2.51 million
  3. The number claiming Job Seekers' Allowance in June 2013 is now 1,479,000 - down 21,200 on May 2013 and a fall of 117,700 since June 2012
  4. March-May 2013 saw redundancies fall to 118,000, down from 137,000 in the previous quarter and 147,000 in the same quarter last year
  5. There are more job vacancies, with an average of 529,000 unfulfilled vacancies in April-June 2013, up 24,000 on the previous quarter and 56,000 on a year ago

More jobs, fewer people relying on JSA and fewer redundancies will undoubtedly stir some smiles in the Treasury.

Continue reading "Good news for the Government in the new labour market statistics" »

15 Jul 2013 11:19:13

The benefits cap goes nationwide today – another reminder that welfare will feature heavily in 2015

By Peter Hoskin
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Rewarding work infographic 14 july 2013

And the word of the day is “cap”, as in “benefits cap”. You might have heard it during Iain Duncan Smith’s growling appearance on the Today Programme earlier, or read it in Grant Shapps’ article for the Daily Telegraph. For today’s the day when the Government extends what is effectively a £26,000-a-year cap on the out-of-work benefits that can be claimed by a single household across the whole country. So far, it’s only applied in four London boroughs.

To mark the occasion, CCHQ has released the infographic at the top of this page. Actually, I say “infographic”, but it’s a more a digital raspberry blown in Labour’s collective face. As we know, and as per the polling that’s available, the Tories think they’re on to a vote-winner with this cap. Hence Shapps’ confidence, in that Telegraph article, that “Labour are miles behind” on welfare. Although, as I’ve said before, he and his colleagues shouldn’t allow that confidence to spill over into callous rhetoric – there’s more to Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms than lazy lines about “scroungers” and “shirkers” admit.

Continue reading "The benefits cap goes nationwide today – another reminder that welfare will feature heavily in 2015" »

25 Jun 2013 17:25:34

The eligibility age for welfare benefits should be raised to 21

By Harry Phibbs
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The Times journalist Daniel Finkelstein is a bright and engaging fellow. Reading his stuff is enjoyable as you follow his reasoning weighing the merit of an argument. He is open minded and interested in radical ideas - unlike so many of his fellow pundits who are sneeringly dismissive. However Mr Finkelstein also agonises over the difficulties.

When I first met him he was Chairman of the Young Social Democrats and a great fan of David Owen. He then joined the Conservatives and was a Chris Patten enthusiast. He worked at CCHQ hand in glove with the then Party Chairman. An unlikely coupling.

So anyway although Mr Finkelstein is a Conservative he is not Thatcherite revolutionary. Yet in a recent column (£) on public spending he included this thought on what the Labour Party (or I suppose the Government) could do to achieve further reductions:

Perhaps it could start welfare provision at 21..

At the other end of the scale the age at which the old age pension is eligible is being increased with little fuss. I have suggested raising it to 70 - phased in over a few years - and Mr Finkelstein agrees.

Continue reading "The eligibility age for welfare benefits should be raised to 21" »