Author Archives: Joe Bourke

Opinion: Tackling Housing Benefit reform

Matilda HouseThe Liberal Democrat policy paper on housing notes that the primary driver of growing housing benefit and Local Housing Allowance bills has been the shortage of housing, leading to higher rents, and increasing number of people unable either to buy or to access social housing. The paper focused on the most pressing issues:

  • Building more homes – providing environmentally sustainable homes where people need them, creating jobs and kick starting the economy.
  • Giving tenants more power and security – making social landlords more accountable and improving standards and security in the rapidly

photo by: celesteh
Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 39 Comments

Opinion: Lib-Lab Pact

infographic2014The Lib Dem campaigning message is encapsulated in Stronger Economy, Fairer Society, with Conservative messaging focusing on ‘the long term plan for economic recovery’, and Labour’s focusing on the decline in living standards of the poor and the squeezed middle.

Nick Clegg’s response that, were Labour in the future to ask Libdems to form a coalition with them the first demand would be ‘Don’t break the bank’,  seeks to emphasise Lib Dem economic competence.

It should come as no surprise then that the voting public should surmise that coalition economic policy is just what we say it is – a joint Conservative and Liberal Democrat long-term plan for economic recovery with “not a cigarette paper between us”

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 50 Comments

Opinion: Back to basic principles on welfare reform

"Demand the Beveridge Plan", 1944The basic principles of the Beveridge Report were:

  1. The right of every citizen to a minimum level of subsistence;
  2. The need to preserve incentive, opportunity and responsibility.

The post-war National Insurance system was based on the assumption that there would be full employment, and that wages for men would be sufficient to maintain a wife at home raising children.

photo by: LSE Library
Posted in News | Tagged and | 56 Comments

Opinion: Immigration and unemployment – an idea

Words.Two popular arguments deployed against immigration are that immigrant’s take jobs from British workers or that immigrants are a burden on the welfare state. Both arguments have been shown to be largely invalid: the Lump of Labour fallacy  has long been dismissed as economic bunkum; and existing evidence suggests that the net contribution of recent migrants to Britain’s public finances is positive. However, according to this evidence from  Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM) at University College London not all groups of migrants make a positive fiscal contribution …

photo by: Nina J. G.
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Opinion: the biggest threat to global security

Free Syrian Army rebels fighting against Assad militias on the outskirts of the northwestern city of Maraat al-Numan, Idlib - SyriaThe Arab spring has receded into the nightmare that is Syria today; continuing instability in Libya and Yemen and death penalties by the hundreds in Egypt. We have been shocked by the atrocities of Boko Haram in Nigeria; Al Shabab in Somalia; conflict in the Central African Republic, Mali and Chad.

Tony Blair, in a recent speech reminded us Why the Middle East matters

What is presently happening there, still

photo by: FreedomHouse
Posted in Op-eds | 53 Comments

Opinion: Russia and the Great Illusion

imageIn 1910, British journalist Norman Angell published “The Great Illusion”, arguing that the integration of the global economy was so all-embracing and irreversible that future wars were all but impossible. Released shortly before the outbreak of the Great War, the idea that humans had outgrown their propensity to mass slaughter did not stand the test of time for long.

We face today a similar dichotomy in Putin’s Russia. Europe and Russia are intertwined in mutual trade dependency and the major oil companies – BP and Shell among them – are increasing …

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Opinion: The Generation Gap

Day 46: Generation GapThe generation gap used to refer to the differing attitudes of young people and their elders to sex, drugs and rock and roll. For young people today, it has come to mean what the American author of the article linked below describes as “the economic hellhole our parents have handed us.”

Earlier this year, Rolling Stone magazine published an article under the title Five economic reforms millennials should be fighting for.

photo by: quinn.anya
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Opinion: We can conquer unemployment

unemploymentIn 1929, Lloyd George launched We Can Conquer Unemployment, the policy document that was to form the basis of the Liberals’ election campaign.

This week, George Osborne said “I am committed to securing the “fullest” possible level of employment by helping business to create new jobs and cutting taxes.”

Nick Clegg has said “… many people had accepted real terms pay cuts in recent years to safeguard their jobs and the government must continue to support them as well as creating the climate for new jobs. All I want is the maximum number of people to be employed in the economy and the minimum number to be jobless.”

Just as the productivity gains of the decades prior to the financial crash, were largely captured by the wealthiest in society, so too has the benefit of the asset price inflation generated by monetary policy accrued to the holders of capital at the expense of wage earners and savers.

Posted in News | Tagged | 27 Comments

Opinion: Mind the gap

EconomyWith the economy showing strong signs of a recovery and budget projections forecasting a period of healthy growth seven years on from the start of the financial crisis – have we now reached the ‘escape velocity’ required to run clear of this long slump?

The answer to this questions relies on judgements of an indicator that has proved almost impossible to gauge i.e. the output gap or measures of spare capacity in the economy. Most economists believe that the UK economy still boasts plenty of spare capacity, by which they mean that …

photo by: LendingMemo
Posted in Op-eds | 23 Comments

Opinion: A Peace Plan for Syria

Nick Clegg has said about Syria “I am very proud that, as a country, our reaction isn’t just: ‘Oh this is happening, it’s got nothing to do with us. We want to wash our hands of it.’ We struggle with what can we do. It is the wonderful thing about Britain. We don’t stand by. We don’t walk the other side of the street. We want to get stuck in and sort stuff out.”

I think there may be a way to bring about a ceasefire and political negotiations that avoids the obvious dangers of arming rebel groups.

Turkey has called for …

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Opinion: Decriminalising drugs

drugsThe 2011 Liberal Democrat conference passed a motion calling for all criminal penalties for personal possession of drugs to be scrapped, the introduction of a regulated market in cannabis, and the expansion of heroin maintenance clinics for the most fervent users.

The UK Drugs Policy Commission (UKDPC), published its final report in 2012. According to UKDPC, the cost of implementing current policy on illicit drugs is at least £3bn a year, but a lack of evidence for what works and provides value for money, and politicians’ unwillingness to act on available …

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Opinion: Arming the Syrian Rebels

The Independent reported this week that Cameron faces serious Cabinet split over arming Syrian rebels.

Nick Clegg is said to have warned at a recent meeting of the National Security Council that supplying weapons to the Free Syrian Army might only escalate the conflict, killing many more people without any realistic prospect of decisive victory and that it could be “next to impossible” to ensure that British arms do not fall into the hands of Islamist militants.

A Whitehall source said Mr Clegg did not believe “there was a military-only solution to Syria” and would not back any attempt to arm …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged and | 34 Comments

Opinion: Saving what’s left of Syria

President Obama and the European Union continue to agonise over whether to lift the arms embargo on Syrian rebels.

The al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra control several areas and bring Sunni Islamic law, religious persecution and ethnic cleansing under their slogan of “The Alawites to the grave and the Christians to Beirut.”

Israel strikes the Assad regime even as Iran and Hezbollah equip and train a rump Alawite militia in preparation for the fall of the regime.

The western democracies mull over no-fly zones and safe havens while Russia continues to transport weapons to Assad’s forces.

The lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan loom large …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 53 Comments

Opinion: Putting the political back in economy

“The Liberal Democrats are working for a stronger economy in a fairer society enabling every person to get on in life.” What key policies will reinforce this simple message? How do we ensure that economic liberalism supports and advances social democracy?

My answer to these questions lies with the words of J K Galbraith – “economics does not usefully exist apart from politics. The separation of economics from politics and political motivation is a sterile thing. It is also a cover for the reality of economic power and motivation. And it is a prime source of misjudgement and error in economic …

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Opinion: A Comprehensive Middle East Peace Settlement

Simon Hughes said this year,  “We are near to the end of the opportunity of being able to get a peaceful two-state solution because of the extent of the settlements. The separation of Gaza from the West Bank and the increasing encroachment of the settlements mean that an alternative to the two-state model must be explored. We need to be honest and realistic about having a Plan B and a Plan C as well as a Plan A, as an international community.”

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Opinion: Amnesty for 120,000 illegal migrants

During the 2010 general elections, I campaigned in Barking and Dagenham, where the BNP concentrated much of their electoral effort on the back of council seats they held there.

Our policy of offering families, who have been here for years and want to pay taxes a route to citizenship (provided they want to work, speak English and want to commit to the UK in the long term) came under attack not just from the BNP, but Labour and Tories as well.

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Opinion: We need all parties to work together to solve London’s housing crisis

Sarah Teather’s recent interview in the Observer graphically reminded us of the social impact of the housing crisis on large numbers low and moderate earners in London.

Vince Cable, on the Andrew Marr show, emphasised both the need to counter the tabloid rhetoric of benefit scroungers and restrain the growth in the welfare budget. Vince pointed to the urgent need to expand the provision of affordable housing in the …

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Opinion: Rock Salmon and Chips anyone?

Fish and Chips

Before the rise in popularity of Indian curries, kebabs and Chinese take aways, battered fish and chips were considered the British national dish. Rock salmon was a staple – among the cheapest offerings in fish and chip shops around the country. However, demand for “rock salmon” devastated the shark’s population off the coasts of Britain and France, where the spiny dogfish is widely considered to be critically endangered.

The Common Fisheries Policy was introduced by the European Union in the 1970s to ensure a profitable and sustainable fishing industry – an objective in which it has completely failed.

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Opinion: Land Value Tax – an old idea with lots of modern supporters

Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations (1776) was an early proponent of land taxes as was that great radical Tom Paine.

John Stuart Mill was an advocate and Henry George put the case in ‘Progress and Poverty’ (1879).

The economist David Ricardo gave us the concept of economic “rent” – that land or property derives its value from scarcity rather than investment.

In the debates before and after the peoples budget of 1909 both Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George argued strongly for the introduction of a land tax.

The economists John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman recommended Land Value Tax (LVT) for …

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Opinion: The pensions crisis

The Department for Work and Pensions warns that many final salary schemes have already closed down and those that survive will be closed to new entrants within six years.

The average defined contribution pot – the pension now replacing the more generous final salary scheme – is £26,000. At current rates, this fund would buy a Joint life 50%, 3% escalation annuity of less than £1000 per year.

One in six people retiring this year have not saved into a private pension or accumulated other assets, so will see their salaries replaced with the state pension only.

To provide for a pension in …

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Opinion: A Mansion Tax to replace higher rate tax?

Mansion tax is not Land Value Tax, but it is a place to start down the road to shifting a significant part of the tax base from income to wealth.

There seems little argument that mansion tax would be a more effective method of taxing non-resident Non-Doms who acquired over 60% of the properties valued at over £2m in recent times.

The inequalities in wealth in the UK far outstrip inequalities in income. The top 10% of households own more wealth than the rest put together: 0.3 per cent of Britain’s population owns 69 per cent of its land.

The HMRC report …

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Opinion: What do Charity tax and higher rate pension relief have in common?

We have seen much furore over the effects that a restriction on the level of higher rate tax relief for charitable deductions may have on philanthropy. Nine out of ten charities are opposed to such a move and warn that large donations could reduce by as much as 20%. In the Lib Dem 2010 manifesto, we proposed reforming gift aid to operate at a single rate of 23%, giving more money to charity while closing down a loophole for higher rate taxpayers.

The 2010 manifesto also proposed giving tax …

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Opinion: Time for the Party to propose the Citizen’s Income

The Centre Forum paper Taxing Decisions discusses the pros and cons of tax credits and tax allowances. The report reviews tax options for tackling the income and wealth disparities which have become a feature of British society in recent decades.

Reducing the level of inequality benefits everyone in society, rich and poor alike. I would argue that in an inclusive and more equal society, all citizens should pay tax on their income. Means tested benefits have not delivered for us. Child poverty, and unemployment are entrenched with the resulting societal breakdown. The way out of poverty is work. The best …

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Opinion: Good borrowing and bad borrowing

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” So says Lord Polonius to his son Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Good advice for young people starting out in life, but the modern economy of the 21st century depends on the constant circulation of money and credit. We all need to borrow to buy a house, for University etc. Firms need to borrow for investment in equipment and working capital. Government needs to borrow to finance infrastructure. That’s good borrowing.

If, however, debt is being racked up to buy imported tack or fund boozy nights out, we would think of that as bad borrowing.

There …

Posted in Op-eds | 25 Comments

Opinion: Getting radical with the money supply

Last week the OECD forecast that Britain was about to experience a double-dip recession, for the first time since 1975. Vince Cable in his Centreforum paper Moving from the financial crisis to sustainable growth asks “How far should monetary policy now be expanded further in the UK to boost demand and head off a period of poor growth?

He goes on to say “There is no possibility for further meaningful interest rate cuts – real short term rates are now minus 4 percent. That means further recourse to quantitative easing.

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Opinion: Building an economic recovery

Two issues on which there appears to be virtual universal consensus across the political spectrum are  the pressing need to address the UK‘s housing problems and the economic benefits of a rejuvenated construction sector. The lack of adequate affordable and social housing has been a major weakness of the UK economy and social fabric for many years.

This problem has manifested itself in seriously overpriced housing costs relative to incomes, soaring housing benefit expenditures, uncompetitive labour costs and inter-generational inequity.

The Centreforum report Delivering growth while reducing deficits – lessons from the 1930s  highlights the major part that house building played …

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Opinion: Jobs and the economy must feature in Brian Paddick’s mayoral campaign

Last weekend, in common with many Team London activists, I was out delivering literature for the upcoming mayoral election.

In a recent Ipsos MORI poll, commissioned by BBC London, some 59% of respondents cited jobs; growth and the economy as the most important issues that Londoners say will help them decide who to vote for in the upcoming mayoral election. This chimes with my own experience of feedback on the doorstep.

Tackling crime (49%), improving public transport (38%) and building cheap homes (37%) were the other top issues.

During the 2008 election, our candidate Brian Paddick, polled a little less than 10% of …

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Opinion: Let’s raise tax threshold to £10,000 for all taxpayers

To keep the cost down, the increase of £1,000 in the personal allowance this year excluded higher rate taxpayers and over 65’s. Also, the higher rate threshold was reduced to bring more people and income into the 40% tax band.

The 2011 budget announced an increase in the personal allowance for under 65’s by £630 in April 2012, with the higher rate threshold unchanged. The freezing of the higher rate threshold brings more people and a greater proportion of existing earnings into the higher rate band – so-called fiscal drag.

This process seems consistent with the aim of increasing the personal allowance …

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Extending the LibDem youth contract to self-employment

Small and medium sized businesses account for 51% of turnover and 55% of employment (DTI figures). They primarily employ UK based staff and pay full UK tax on the value generated here.

Equipping young people with the training and skills for self-employment has the advantage of developing a more flexible and resilient workforce, better able to adjust to a fast changing economy, as well as enlarging the pool of entrepreneurs capable of starting and growing small business concerns.

An enhanced Liberal Democrat youth contract aimed at developing a base of budding entrepreneurs, would establish a core of upwardly mobile, aspirational self-starters, a …

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Opinion: Job Guarantees – an economic stimulus worth considering?

India introduced a job guarantee programme, for the rural poor in 2005. It was dismissed by many as fiscal folly. Yet this developing country has weathered the financial storms of the economic downturn far better than most European countries. Argentina ran a successful programme in the wake of their debt default and Canada has had a good experience with such programmes.

Job guarantee as an economic policy builds on the concept of employer of last resort. The policy requires that the public sector offers a fixed wage job to anyone willing and able to work. The job pool expands when private …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 26 Comments

Recent Comments

  • User AvatarEddie Sammon 25th Nov - 1:42am
    Tomas Howard-Jones makes a good point about Turkey not doing enough to stop the funding of Daesh. Turkey seem more concerned with the Kurds and...
  • User AvatarTomas Howard-Jones 25th Nov - 1:08am
    Anyone particularly troubled by a NATO country's leader's family helping ISIS and themselves by selling oil from Syrian and Iraqi lands- war plunder- through laundering...
  • User AvatarPeter Bancroft 25th Nov - 12:08am
    Has anyone asked why the airports outside of London have spare capacity? Isn't it likely to be that nobody wants to buy the capacity, despite...
  • User Avatarnigel hunter 24th Nov - 11:28pm
    I hear that there is now a majority to leave the Eu. This may be fear of what is happening in Europe. ISIS winning the...
  • User Avatarnigel hunter 24th Nov - 11:17pm
    Saudi's fund the Jihadis. The Government fund the Saudis? Is it in both their interests to keep the conflict going? Saudis sell cheap oil to...
  • User AvatarBenjamin Teall 24th Nov - 10:28pm
    Interesting comparison?