Autumn statement – 5 quick thoughts from me

I don’t pretend to be an economist so don’t expect any commentary on debts or deficits from me. I want to take a very quick look at some of the practical aspects of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. You can read Stephen Tall’s take on it here.

I’m not taking any marriage tax break

If Liberal Democrats hadn’t allowed the Tories their awful marriage tax break, we’d have been breaking the Coalition Agreement in the same way as the Tories did over Lords Reform. I would have preferred we hadn’t agreed to it in the first place. We won’t be voting for it, at least but that’s no small comfort to seeing £700 million that could be used so much more effectively (see Don’t Judge my Family’s wonderful Advent calendar) being frittered away as a sop to the Tory right.

My husband and I could benefit from this, but we have decided that we won’t because it’s insulting and discriminatory.

Priority housing status for workers is meaningless if there are no houses

So, if you need to move to take a job and you live in social housing, you’ll get priority on the lists. We’ll leave to the side the fact that you may be jumping the queue ahead of people who have been waiting for years for a house that meets their needs. Priority status means nothing though if there isn’t enough social housing. Councils already can’t house the people with high priority. How on earth does Osborne expect them to be able to house workers?

I’ll grant you that the Coalition has made a start on ensuring more affordable housing is being built, and Liberal Democrats have policy that would result in 25,000 more council houses being built in England. This is a drop in the ocean to what’s required. It’s about time all parties stopped being so timid and worked together to make sure that in 21st century Britain everyone has access to a decent home. That surely isn’t too much to ask.

Scotland gains – but will the SNP government put its new money where its mouth is?

Scotland is to get an extra £308 million over the next two years. The SNP Government could choose to spend it on the childcare it says is so critical but they would only be able to do after independence. Well, they have the power to do it already. It’s over to them. Alistair Carmichael made that pretty clear that the choice was theirs:

The Scottish Government can now plan to spend this money in line with its priorities.  The rest of the UK is already ahead of Scotland in providing childcare support, free school meals and, with this Autumn Statement, support for the high street too so that the shops we value and rely on get a little money back to help them succeed.

 The Scottish Government has been given the money to do these things too.  They can match the help that families and businesses are getting in other parts of the UK. They could crack on with childcare package they announced last week, but are making conditional on a yes vote to independence.  They can do these things, or they can spend the money elsewhere.  These are the choices that they must make.

Let’s just say I’m not going to be holding my breath.

More measures to help young people into work

Employers’ National Insurance Contributions will be abolished for under 21s. This is a good thing. I’d have liked to have seen it accompanied, though, by equalisation of the national minimum wage. Often, under 21s do exactly the same work as those over 21, yet their is a £2.59 per hour difference in what they are paid. But, of course, these large profitable companies that employ young people on the minimum wage couldn’t possibly afford that, could they?

And while we’re on young people, Osborne did make a lot of the fact that the applications for university from people from poorer backgrounds were at highest level. This issue is painful for us, and rightly so, but the assertions from Labour that no poor young person would ever be able to go to university again were clearly nonsense.

Why do MPs have to behave like brats?

If you aren’t a political anorak, chances are the only time you’ll see the House of Commons on tv is for the big set-piece occasions like Prime Minister’s Questions, the Budget and the Autumn Statement. You are therefore likely to come away with the idea that MPs are a bunch of rude, uncouth, loud, unpleasant brats who can’t just sit nicely and listen to what is being said. As Nick Robinson said on the Daily Politics, it’s done on purpose to put the speaker off, to make them look all red-faced and flustered. Ed Balls was dying on his backside perfectly well without the rabble from the braying Tories.

Seriously, though, people think that politicians are like that all the time when actually, when you take them out of that bear pit, most of them are decent human beings who you could happily have a pint with. It’s not good for politics when they behave like that. The economy isn’t just about numbers and debts and deficits. What they are discussing has a direct effect on people’s lives in many ways every single day, whether it’s the amount of pay they take home, or how much it costs them to fill their car or heat their homes. The very least they could do is take it seriously, especially when so many people are really struggling. MPs should think about this the next time they descend into juvenile banter.

Again, I won’t be holding my breath.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • “… the assertions from Labour that no poor young person would ever be able to go to university again were clearly nonsense.”
    [my emphasis]

    I’ve seen some bizarre straw-man arguments on LDV in my time, but that really does take the biscuit.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 5th Dec '13 - 3:15pm

    Chris, you must have a very short memory. The hysteria and hyperbole from the Labour benches at the time was unbelievable – and given their previous record on tuition fees, very unfair.

  • Caron

    Then kindly provide a quotation from a Labour politician saying that “no poor young person would ever be able to go to university again” (!).

    Or else please withdraw what you wrote in the article and what you’ve just written about me. OK?

  • Richard Dean 5th Dec '13 - 3:55pm

    I think the combative, bear pit style of the Commons does have advantages – if each side continually tries to poke holes in the other, there’s more chance that everyone will do their best to get it right. That ought to make for better government. I was once told that it’s a ritual re-enactment of the civil war. It also provides a way for people to feel that their feelings have been expressed, which is important in a democracy.

    I thought I heard George say that more opportunities would be available for people to buy social housing, so that more could be built? The housing market puzzles me – if there is truly what economists call “demand”, then there’d surely be myriads of builders working like mad to supply that demand? If there is “need” without the money to provide for it, then we are presumably looking at subsidising houses, meaning more taxes or even more borrowing?

  • Brats is a good term. The average voter must look at the Commons on days like this and despair of the people supposedly charged with improving their lot.

    Of course, this unseemly tribalism is something that might have been mitigated by PR. If parliament were not dominated by just two parties, and coalition became the norm, we might see more consensual, grown-up political debate.

    Who knows, one day we might even get politicians out of the Westminster bubble and into a new parliament building in the centre of the country, with a crescent-shaped chamber designed to promote debate rather than slanging matches.

    Anyway, I guess the PR dream is dead for a few years now.

  • Will, I wouldn’t be too optimistic on that score. Holyrood can be just as bad.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 5th Dec '13 - 9:35pm

    Chris, it took me less than a minute:

    “Despite this talk of supporting people on low incomes, I find it quite hard to stomach what I am hearing, because in my constituency, for example, the vast majority of young people come from low-income backgrounds, yet they will be losing support through the education maintenance allowance, from which 88% of Bangladeshi children across England benefit. That one ethnic minority group, along with white working-class children, will be prevented from going on to higher education. Coupled with that are the cuts in the future jobs fund-£1 billion, and we are still waiting to hear-so please think again.”

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 5th Dec '13 - 9:37pm

    That quote, by the way was from Rushanara Ali MP.

  • Stuart Mitchell 5th Dec '13 - 10:43pm

    I can remember the days when Lib Dem MPs also used to complain that rising tuition fees would prevent disadvantaged young people from going to university…

    One year and one election later, Stunell voted to increase tuition fees.

    Osborne’s triumphalism is misplaced. The UCAS figures show pretty clearly that applications from all groups, including the disadvantaged, are below trend compared with pre-2012. In other words, there *are* disadvantaged young people out there who have missed out on going to university, who would not have missed out otherwise.

  • Less than a minute? Really?

    But of course, the question you quoted was about the education maintenance allowance, not about tuition fees at all.

    And are you seriously suggesting that – through whatever action of this government – Rushanara Ali was implying that no Bangladeshi – of any class – would ever go to university again, or that no white working-class child would ever go to university again? Can you put your hand on your heart and tell us that you honestly believe that is what she meant? Really?

  • Richard Dean 6th Dec '13 - 3:15am

    I agree. The combative style has the added advantage of demonstrating to everyone that the sparring parties are as committed as they can be to fighting for their supporters. And fptp can be so much better for transparent democracy than other systems – every elector can know the person who represents him or her, so politicians can be held accountable more easily, and with less distance between representatives and those they represent.

  • Simon McGrath 6th Dec '13 - 7:02am

    You are missing the point about the min wage for young people. The issue is not about whether employers could afford to pay a higher wage but why the y would employ younger less experienced people if they could employ more experienced , more productive people for the same pay.

  • @Richard all it has demonstrated to me is that they are more interested in destroying each other than governing properly. It is embarrassing and undemocratic. It completely diverts attention from any serious policy debate. There is not a single programme on TV or radio that has MPs discussing the issues of the day in a way that is worth listening to. Even reading BBC news articles is becoming utterly inane. “Coalition proposes X. Labour say X is worst idea ever.” Well just wonderful!

  • Donald Smith 6th Dec '13 - 8:54am

    @Chris Labour certainly argued that increased tuition fees would deter people from poorer backgrounds applying to university. I offer you these as evidence. They have been proven to be wrong (as have I, as I also felt it would put poorer students off applying).

    BBC News
    David Cameron and Ed Miliband in tuition fees clash
    David Cameron has accused Labour of “rank hypocrisy” in opposing plans to raise tuition fees in England, accusing the party of lacking an alternative.
    But leader Ed Miliband urged ministers to reconsider, saying they were “pulling the ladder” from the poor.

    Observer 4 Dec 2010
    Ed Miliband: These education proposals risk setting back social mobility for a generation
    Their proposals to shift the entire cost of a university education on to graduates risk setting back social mobility in Britain for a generation. Sir Peter Lampl from the Sutton Trust, who supported the introduction of a graduate contribution in 2003, has expressed his concern that “fees on this scale will deter many students from lower and middle-income homes from higher education in general, and from the prestigious universities charging the highest fees in particular”.
    Labour will oppose these changes. No party with a deep and genuine commitment to social mobility could support them. In tough financial times, universities would have had to face some cuts, with students making some greater contribution. But we must have a system that promotes equal opportunity, avoids disincentives for students to apply to the universities and courses of their choice, and provides fair and sustainable funding for universities.

    The tuition fee effect 30 January 2012 by Jonathan Jones
    The coalition’s tuition fee rise will put young people from poor backgrounds off
    applying to university — or so we were told by Labour and the National Union of Students.

  • “Labour certainly argued that increased tuition fees would deter people from poorer backgrounds applying to university.”

    Of course they did (and Lib Dems argued exactly the same before they broke their pledge to vote against any increase).

    But my point is that Caron claimed that Labour had said something quite ridiculous – “that no poor young person would ever be able to go to university again”! That’s just ludicrous.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 6th Dec '13 - 10:21am

    Thanks, Donald. Saved me a job.

    Chris, is that the sound of hairs being split that I can hear?

  • Richard Dean 6th Dec '13 - 11:31am

    Agreed, Chris, it was, indeed, ludicrous. It’s also ludicrous (and a bit over the top) that someone should go to all this trouble just to avoid admitting they were a bit over the top in the first place. Is this real life?

  • No, Caron. The difference between someone saying that some poor young people would be prevented from going to university and someone saying that “no poor young person would ever be able to go to university again” (!), as you claimed, is not remotely a matter of splitting hairs.

    What you wrote was simply untrue. If you can’t bring yourself to admit it, that’s not my problem.

    But I will say that the Lib Dem party I used to support would have shared the concerns expressed by Rushanara Ali, rather than trying to twist them beyond recognition in order to score a party political point.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 6th Dec '13 - 3:05pm

    Stephen, because it suggests that somehow our marriage is somehow better than the committed relationships of friends who are not married. I am not going to benefit for something that if it exists at all, should be open to everyone.

  • “More measures to help young people into work”

    I’ve no problem with any sensible measures that will help here but are we perhaps missing the larger picture? There are very few jobs to be had and too many of those are ‘McJobs’ or part time. Also it seems that most of the new jobs created over the last decade or so have gone to immigrants. That’s fine as far as it goes but what does it imply about our educational system, school and university? Or is it a cultural thing that school/university leavers expect to be handed everything on a plate? And what does it say about the way commerce and industry is organised that it’s not creating lots of good, well-paid jobs when, very obviously, there is lots of unmet need about?

    So it seems to me that something is very badly broken in the system – the economy if you like to call it that – but that the Autumn Statement does nothing to work towards identifying or mending it. Instead it’s business as usual in the bratosphere (as Caron didn’t call it).

  • Philip Walker 6th Dec '13 - 5:47pm

    “Employers’ National Insurance Contributions will be abolished for under 21s. This is a good thing. I’d have liked to have seen it accompanied, though, by equalisation of the national minimum wage.”

    Okay, so if I am allowed to summarise, I read this as follows.
    Sentences 1 & 2: Making it cheaper to employ the under-21s is good for their employment prospects, and I support this move.
    Sentence 3: I want to make it more expensive to employ the under-21s.

    I also see some incoherence on marriage. You’re married and have signed the State-sanctioned, State-regulated, State-formed register of marriages. Of course, you were married by making certain vows to each other in the presence of witnesses: this is why it is called a *register* of marriages, because the State creates no marriages, it only registers them. Now you say you want the State not to give tax breaks etc. once they are married. So are you saying that, on reflection, signing the register was, or perhaps better should be, an empty gesture? That, in fact, we would all be better off if it was abolished because you don’t see any value in State registration of marriages?

    (I’m never quite certain which side of the line I end up on here: I would be fairly relaxed about either the State ceasing to register marriages, or should it continue to register them then giving tax breaks etc. to married couples. But the seemingly popular notion that the State should register marriages and then ignore marriage in the rest of its policies is totally weird. I’m trying to see how you reconcile what seem to be two contradictory positions.)

  • Richard Dean 6th Dec '13 - 9:24pm

    I was taught that marriage is in fact different to a committed relationship between friends.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Dec '13 - 11:58pm

    It seems to me that if two people have made a promise of mutual support to each other and to any children they might produce, that is a good thing. It means they are less likely to be dependent on the state, isn’t getting together for mutual support instead of relying on nanny state to look after us something we liberals are in favour of? Shouldn’t we be encouraging it rather than dismissing it? We might not like the financial mechanisms the Tories are encouraging it, but to go on and on and on about how “awful” it is? Does that really make us look good? Or does it make us look rather desperate, trying to find some token issue we can jump on and claims we are oh-so-modern and the Tories oh-so-old? Isn’t it a little bit hypocritical that we go on and on and on about how good and wonderful marriage is when it’s two people of the same sex, but otherwise dismiss it as some old-fashioned thing we don’t regard as having any value?

  • The point about official registered marriage is that you are asking to be seen by the rest of society as one unit. If people choose to live together, as I have done in the past, without being married then you are not asking for that and are not being discriminated against when society doesn’t treat you as one unit.

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