Nick Clegg’s ‘Letter from the Leader’: “You cannot balance the books on the backs of the poor”

The sixth weekly missive from Nick Clegg hit my inbox this weekend. Here’s what he had to say about the Autumn Statement, in particular the Lib Dem win on helping low-income tax-payers. Oh, and there’s a bit of a dig against the Tories for their ‘irrational phobia’ of taxing the propertied wealthy a bit more…

This April, one of two things will happen to you. If you earn less than £9,440, you will no longer pay any income tax. If you earn more than that, then you’ll be paying £600 less each year than you were in 2010. This is the biggest ever increase in your personal allowance (the amount you can earn before you start paying tax). It means we’re now within a whisker of achieving our manifesto pledge of allowing everyone to earn £10,000 a year tax free – a total tax cut of £700.

I’ve promised myself I won’t use these emails just to broadcast policy wins. You want to hear the inside track on what’s happening in government, not just read the latest press release. But this is one win I’m so proud of I have to shout about it. And I want you to shout about it as well.

We took this big step on income tax at this week’s Autumn Statement on the economy. It wasn’t the top line in the papers – of course not. The big, immediate news was that we are going to have to work even harder than we hoped when we started this coalition government to cut the deficit and get the economy back on track. The difficult truth coming out of the Autumn Statement is that we have to continue to make savings for another few years.

Some people say that’s a reason to give up on the coalition – in my view that’s absurd. It makes the coalition even more essential to provide the strong government Britain needs. Labour left us with a massive mess to clear up and – with the situation in Europe and ongoing problems with the banks – it is proving harder than anyone predicted. The coalition has to pull together strongly for another big push on cutting the deficit and kick starting growth.

So as we sat down at the negotiating table (in the Cabinet Room at Number 10) over the last few months, poring over spreadsheets and economic projections, I focused on one thing above all: if Britain has to be in this difficult situation for even longer, how do we make it bearable for everyone?

For me it’s a simple equation. First: get as much help to hard working families struggling to make ends meet as you can. Second: you cannot balance the books on the backs of the poor – you have to spread the burden across society more fairly. And third: make sure you look to the wealthiest people for an extra contribution so we can prove we really are “in this together”.

So in the negotiations Danny Alexander and I fought longest and hardest to get that tax break for working people. We worked to limit the impact of the next wave of cuts on low income families, ruling out the abolition of child benefit for families with two or more children, and saying we should keep housing benefit for under-25s who need a place to stay. The welfare savings are less than half of the £10 billion cuts first floated. They give people on benefits exactly the same rise as we are giving in pay to nurses, civil servants and everyone else in the public sector.

These were far from easy decisions – we are asking people to make great sacrifices to get our country back on track. We must always be fair in the language we use to describe people on benefits. Many of the people are in work and others are out of work through no fault of their own. When they are being asked to tighten their belts, they should not be demonised too.

Finally, we fought for our party policy of mansion tax. But the Conservatives have an irrational phobia against asking people who live in £2 million plus properties from chipping in a bit more when everyone else is making their contribution. So instead we agreed to ensure the richest pay their fair share by limiting pension tax relief for millionaires and increasing our efforts on tax avoidance.

The end result is this Autumn Statement has taken no more from benefit claimants than it has from the wealthy. I’m certain that wouldn’t have been the case if Danny and I hadn’t been in the room.

It adds up to a fair and balanced package to help us in government plot a course through the next two years. And, more importantly, it puts money back in the pockets of struggling families to help them plot a course through the next two years too.

Best wishes,
Nick Clegg

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It’s a good letter, one which does genuinely appear to give a (summarised) inside-track on what the areas of disagreement and disappointment were, as well as the policies we should shout from the rooftops.

At the risk of sounding like a cracked record, though… Where’s the link to the Lib Dems’ Fairer Tax campaign? If ever there were an email crying out for that link, surely it’s this one? And if Nick and his team want us “to shout about it as well” why not thank the hundreds of supporters who’ve so far shared the party’s (excellent) Facebook photo highlighting the Lib Dems’ tax-cuts for the low-paid and invite others now to like/share it?

I understand that Nick and his advisers don’t want these emails to turn into a heavy marketing-schtick. But if you’re going to exalt supporters to get behind the party’s policy wins then it’s not a bad idea to provide them with easy ways to do just that.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • ” We must always be fair in the language we use to describe people on benefits. Many of the people are in work and others are out of work through no fault of their own. When they are being asked to tighten their belts, they should not be demonised too.”

    Am I misinterpreting this sentence, because to me it sounds like Clegg is saying that those on “benefits” but in “work” are being asked to accept their share of the cuts and should not be demonised too, but it’s ok to use the derogatory language towards the rest.

  • Those public sector workers he compares to benefit claimants do not have their wages calculated on what they need to get by. People struggling to pay the essentials on benefits now will struggle even further as they get effective reductions over he next few years. It the most needy that you are attacking Mr Clegg, of course they probably vote less often.

    The only difference with the Tories is that you smile when you take their money away, the Tories are more honest and insult them….

  • Alan Marshall 9th Dec '12 - 2:25pm

    My main criteria for a budget that our party has produced is that it is progressive. It fails on this simple criteria. I found the letter patronising and upsetting. One more designed for a public mail shot than for members. Our budget takes a higher proportion of money from the poorest than most other people, apart from the very wealthiest. He completely ignores this. Hardly moral boosting…

  • The Tories are quite content with the UK edging towards child poverty similar to those in Tunisa.

    If things carry on the way they are, it will not be to long before we see parents forced to send their disabled children out on to the streets begging.

    What a lovely advertisement that would be for Great Britain.

    It seems as though labour are going to oppose the governments 1% increase in benefits, backed up by all the charities and the churches, I do hope Liberal Democrats find the conscience to support the opposition.

  • Paul Pettinger 9th Dec '12 - 3:20pm

    But this failing Government is not only balancing the books on the backs of the poor, but on the most vulnerable. How can you stand by and watch your Party hurt the most vulnerable , and then repost this insincere garbage Stephen?

  • Paul Pettinger 9th Dec '12 - 3:40pm

    “The end result is this Autumn Statement has taken no more from benefit claimants than it has from the wealthy.”

    What rubbish, equating the impact of a proportionally similar cut in the incomes of the very wealthy with some of the poorest. Liberal Democrats used to care about the poorest , and many still do – why therefore are you reposting and *praising* this garbage Stephen?

  • “What rubbish, equating the impact of a proportionally similar cut in the incomes of the very wealthy with some of the poorest.”

    It’s worse than that.

    On the IFS analysis, most of those with with above-average incomes – deciles 6-9 – actually benefited from the measures announced this week. It was only the top 10% that suffered a decrease in net income – of about 0.5%.

    In contrast, all of those with below-average incomes were hit, with the 20% on the lowest incomes worst affected – they suffered cuts of more than 1.5% in net income.

    As a proportion of income, the government has taken most from those on the lowest incomes:

  • @simon shaw

    I was not suggesting the rest were out of work because it was their own fault and you know it.

    Jog along, because I learnt along time ago not to rise to your constant need of confrontation.

  • @ Simon Shaw

    As I say, I don’t care to engage with you, I do not find any discussion with you to be constructive in any way.

    I am more than happy to discuss my “interpretation” with any other poster, if they wished me to explain my comments.

    So if it’s all the same to you, I would rather you engage with someone else, elsewhere

  • I think an important question to ask ourselves is what would a majority Liberal government be doing now in our current situation – say with Vince Cable as Chancellor and Steve Webb as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions?

    How much different would the tax and spend policies be? We can make some assumptions. On taxes – retention of a 50% higher rate of tax and a higher rate of corporation tax, a mansion tax, restriction of higher rate tax relief on pensions, a £10k personal allowance much sooner.

    On benefits – a flat rate pension of £140 per week while withdrawing pension credit and other pensioner benefits. But what would be happening with welfare reform in the face of a persistent budget deficit , surging debt and anaemic growth propsects?

    When we ask what Labour plans would be, we also need to ask what welfare reforms would an unrestrained Libdem government propose in the present economic circumstances? Only then will we have a yardstick against which to judge the effectiveness of our ministers efforts in negotiating a compromise package of measures within the coaliton government.

  • @Joe Bourke

    “When we ask what Labour plans would be, we also need to ask what welfare reforms would an unrestrained Libdem government propose”

    That is a very good point,

    People are always saying “what would Labour do differently” and “Labour has a blank sheet of paper”
    But we never hear what would Liberal Democrats do if they were in government alone.

    Because of the lack of transparency in this coalition, we never get to hear “exactly” what it is the Liberal Democrats propose, and what we actually end up with.

    Well apart from the parties call for a mansion tax that is and look how the Tories took those negotiations seriously.

  • Simon Bamonte 9th Dec '12 - 6:09pm

    @Simon Shaw:

    Your posts often seem to be nothing more than nitpicking, point-scoring and almost trollish in their content, especially to anyone who respectfully disagrees with you. As for proclaiming to be someone who is interested in plural politics only to then tell someone to go elsewhere (because, shock, they have the nerve to disagree with you), I must say it is (probably unintentional) comedy gold. I love posting here, even discussing things with people I disagree with, but I have to back Matt up on this. You are often confrontational for the sake of it and a master at twisting other people’s words around. A bit more humility, less sarcasm and polite respectfulness for those you disagree with would not go amiss.

  • Matt,

    As regards the impact of welfare reforms on Sick and disabled people, the Libdems 2012 Autumn conference passed a motion entitled ‘Equal Citizenship – Supporting Independence for Sick and Disabled People’ calling for the following:

    1. An independent review of the impact of the Welfare Reform Act.
    2. A review of WCA assessment centres to ensure they have adequate disabled access and easy access by public transport or that mechanisms are in place to provide home visits oralternative assessment venues.
    3. The establishment of a public consultation on the assessment mechanisms for DLA, ESA and PIPs, with special emphasis on eligibility for support for those with time variant conditions.
    4. The results of this consultation to be used by the DWP to reform its sickness and disability policies.
    5. Additional support and effort to be targeted at enabling sick and disabled people to remain in work and at removing barriers of access to work through expansion of schemes such as the Access to Work Fund.
    6. The Government to ensure that it continues to take a balanced approach to the advice it receives, and that it prioritises the advice of organisations representing sick and disabled people.
    7. The Citizen’s Advice and non-profit making advice services to receive increased government funding during the transitional periods for any future substantial changes to the welfare system.
    8. The Government to examine the impact of means-testing and income-related support elements of disability welfare policy and, when funds allow, to reform policy to reduce the number of cases where sick and disabled people are made dependent on partners and carers and to ensure that, where this does happen, this does not lead to exclusion from society.
    9. A public awareness campaign to tackle prejudice and other attitudes detrimental to the wellbeing of sick and disabled people.

  • @Joe Bourke

    Thanks for that.

    But with regards to point 7. Didn’t the Liberal Democrats in this coalition government vote to remove access to legal aid for welfare appeals?

    I am not to clued up on how the parties conference motions work, but from what I have seen, regardless of what motions are passed at conference, the Liberal Democrat MP’s tend not to take any notice when it comes to voting in parliament.

    It is being reported that Labour are going to oppose the 1% increase in benefit payments, which in my opinion is the right thing to do.
    What would Liberal Democrat Mp’s do if they were in opposition also? or as you suggested in your previous post. What would Liberal Democrats do with regards to the annual increase in benefits if they were in a majority Lib Dem Government.

  • I am not personally affected by the 1 % increase as I am in receipt of disability related benefits.

    I do however think it is wrong to limit JSA to a 1% increase for the next 3 years.

    JSA currently pays £71 a week for the over 25’s, meaning they will only see a 71p increase in their benefit next year.

    How on earth someone is supposed to make £71.71 stretch to
    feed themselves,
    clothe themselves,
    Gas, Electricity & Water
    Keep themselves groomed so their appearance does not affect their employability.
    Purchase Newspapers for job advertisements,
    Purchase stationary and postage for job applications,
    travel to potential job interviews.
    In this day and age a telephone is essential if you even want a fleeting chance of getting a call for a potential job Interview.

    And all of the above costs, especially with regards to food and energy prices are rising faster than the rate of inflation

    The stick being waived by this government is down right disgusting in my opinion

  • Simon, I notice your criticism of Matt and others here is based around your literal reading of NC’s letter, ie that it is by implication OK to criticise those “out of work through their own fault”. I would suggest that thinking (both by you and Nick Clegg) is slippery, to say the least. Having had the “pleasure” of having argued with you here a few times before, I think I understand roughly where you are coming from, and it is by no means mainstream Lib Dem thinking. I hope your Group on Sefton Council have fun dealing with you!!

    I am, however, hopeful that Nick Clegg comes from a somewhat more compassionate compromising variety of Lib Demmery than do you.

    For the sake of clarification, I believe that much of the condemnation of “those out of work through their own fault” comes from the misinterpretations of the right wing tabloids, who regularly try to generalise and demonise from a few bad examples. When it comes to exploiting loopholes, can I say as one who has worked in Personnel for many years, that the “hardworking” fraternity are just as competent at that as benefit claimants and other so-called “scroungers”. Simon, you should be ashamed of yourself as a public face of the Lib Dems for your own misinterpretations.

  • Matt,

    Point 7 is a transitional mechanism to support not-for-profit organisations in dealing with future substantial changes to the welfare system. Legal aid reforms for welfare appeals is a departmental budget reduction measure aimed at refocusing scarce resources where they are most needed.

    In my view,a Libdem majority government might well seek to restrain welfare expenditures in line with the lower of earnings growth or CPI, when economic growth is reestablished. The 1% increase is a compromise between a tory preference for an immediate freeze and a Libdem preference for letting the inflation adjusted automatic stabilisers do their work in stabilising demand in the economy in the short-term.

  • @Joe Bourke

    But the not-for-profit organisations or the third sector as it is sometimes called is dependant on government funding as well as legal aid.

    Disability Rights for example is one organisation who is affected.

    My local Disability Rights, which is the Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People is seeing it’s funding cut by local government, and will also no longer have access to legal aid to represent claimants at tribunals.
    Their service is already pushed to the max and they have no idea what will happen come April Next year and what level of support/representation they are going to be able to offer.

    I am not being critical of Lib Dem Conference, because any show of support for those most vulnerable in our society is of course the right thing to do, but if those motions passed at conference do not translate into how Liberal Democrat MP’s in government vote, then I struggle to see the point.

  • Matt,

    You nay know that Tom Brake argued the case on this forum for retaining Legal Aid for complex cases earlier this year Legal Aid .

    Subsequent amendments to the bill did preserve legal aid for appeals to the upper tribunal, court of appeal or supreme court in welfare benefits cases.

    Within the coalition, several Liberal Democrats, led by the party president, Tim Farron, tabled an amendment to extend legal aid to lower tribunals for benefit cases, although they did not ultimately push the amendment to a vote.

    Ken Clarke said he was prepared to examine an extension to the lower level. “I can conceive of cases in the lower tribunals where there might be cases where it is a point of law. Is there some situation where someone, preferably the tribunal judge, certifies there is a point of law involved where legal aid should be available? “We haven’t got that at the moment. But just as we’ve accepted the argument about these legal issues in the upper-level tribunals, of course, if the same thing arises in the lower tribunals, we could do so. We will go away and work on it with the Department of Work and Pensions to see if some equivalent where it is certified by someone other than the claimant themselves or the claimants lawyer, that there is a point of law. We have retained for ourselves powers to amend these things by regulation, so we could solve the problem and bring something forward by statutory instrument.”

  • @Joe Bourke

    Let me start by saying how refreshing it is to engage in a constructive, polite and informative debate.

    My fear is though that there is a huge demand on resources on the organisations who offer advice on welfare appeals i.e CAB, Disability Rights e.t.c and due to cuts from local government and legal aid, there are going to be a lot of vulnerable people who are going to end up being badly let down by this governments decisions.

    It is a well known fact that over 60% of people who appeal which are represented by someone wins their appeal. That figure is astonishing and I would have thought that in any decent society, whilst the DWP and ATOS are making these many wrong decisions on cases, then we have a moral obligation to continue providing legal aid representation {until} vast improvements have been made in the decision making process and these percentages come down.

    I know that the government has retained legal aid for {upper tribunals} and the {supreme courts} on cases which can be appealed on a point of law, however that is simply not good enough.
    If funding has been cut in the first instance for legal advice and representation at the first stage of a tribunal, how is a claimant going to know whether they have a right to appeal in the first place, since they have been denied legal advice.

    And lets not forget the people we are talking about here, these are very vulnerable people who are facing a huge amount of emotional stress when it comes to these appeals. The stress of these appeals is immense, it takes a huge strain on a vulnerable persons well being, there are many people who give up on appealing because they can not handle the strain, imagine that person going to a tribunal, unprepared and non-advised due to these cuts in funding, going through the stress of an appeal and losing, how many of these individuals will then find the courage and strength to go onto the upper tribunal stage?
    If 60% of those people would have won their case had they been represented, but lost, and 40% of those cases don’t go on to appeal again, That’s a heck of a lot of vulnerable people that we as a society are letting down badly.

    The amount of money that is being saved by cutting the legal aid budget is so minimal when it is put into context.

    And if everyone were honest I do not believe these cuts are about saving money. It is a policy that has been forced upon by the Tories in order to support their assault on welfare claimants and remove all support and making it harder to challenge the DWP’s decisions.

    It is a disgrace and it should not have been supported by the Liberal Democrats in my opinion.

    As i said previously, if the DWP and ATOS were only getting say 10% of decisions wrong, then possibly there would be a case for cutting legal aid. But no times in ATOS history or under any government have they been hitting these kind of percentages.

  • Matt,

    many of us are well aware of the problems with the ATOS assessment procedures and the high level of successful appeals. This is continually being brought to the attention of Libdem MP’s by councillors and activists as well as their own constituents.

    The Governments argument is that legal aid should not be funding advice on issues of benefit entitlement, as accurate information and support on entitlement should be delivered via Department of Work and Pension (DWP) agencies.

    Tom Brake and others have argued that Legal Aid should be retained for reviews and appeals. The high level of error within the DWP in applying the law correctly and the resulting issues, which often end up before the social entitlement tribunal, can be extremely complex.

    Without specialist welfare benefits knowledge it is difficult to prepare review requests or appeals . The Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) or similar agencies cannot deliver advice at this level without funding for specialist legal caseworker posts.

    I think the best that can be hoped for at this juncture is a statutory instrument to provide for legal aid in cases where a DWP official refers a contested decision for mediation and a point of law is in dispute.

  • Whilst I think it is interesting to consider what a majority Lib Dem Government would be doing, I think it important to note that Clegg is not stating that the 1% is wrong but a price or coalition, which I would stomach. Rather he is equating it with public sector pay in an effort to say it is fair.

  • @Joe Bourke

    “The Governments argument is that legal aid should not be funding advice on issues of benefit entitlement, as accurate information and support on entitlement should be delivered via Department of Work and Pension (DWP) agencies.”

    The problem with that though is the information and support provided by the DWP is often misleading and discouraging in the paper work that they send out with the claim form

    Please look at the following site
    This is the very check list that the DWP sends out with every claim pack.
    Look at question 12 and it states

    Do any of the following apply to you?

    You need help with dialysis at home or in a minimum care unit at least twice a week
    where you do not receive help from hospital staff.

    You are 100% blind and 80% deaf and you need someone with you when you are

    You are certified as severely sight impaired or blind.

    You have had both legs amputated at or above the ankle, or you were born without
    legs or feet.
    You are severely mentally impaired with severe behavioural problems and need help
    with personal care day and night.

    If you answer yes, fill out the claim form

    If you answer No, You are not likely to qualify for DLA. But if you still want to
    make a claim, please fill in the claim form.

    Now that is totally misleading Information, it is put there to discourage applications

  • Tony Dawson 9th Dec '12 - 11:46pm

    Matt, you are not representing that form fairly. That question (no 12) is only one which offers the potential claimant the hope of a successful claim because of certain very specific categories of disability if they don’t qualify otherwise. The vast majority of claimants will see that they likely qualify though questions 8 or 11 – they will never even get to Q 12.

  • @matt – that concerned me so I went to look at the leaflet you refer to. What you quote is question 12 at the end of a series of questions which have 3 other end points of “fill in the claim form”.

    The preceeding questions all look correct to me

  • Matt,

    the DLA application forms are daunting. Many elderly and severely disabled people rely on the assistance of social care workers, family or freinds to complete the paperwork.

    The same group of people are often called upon to deal with appeals and reviews with the not infrequent advice and assistance of voluntary agencies.

    Legal aid assistance can be limited to issues where disputes arise as a consequence of legal interpretations if mediation is available as an alternative channel of recourse.

    The only way you will practically know if points of law are at issue is if a review/appeal is rejected by DWP citing the relevant provisions of the Social Security Act as grounds for rejection.

    Although the initial appeal to the First Tier tribunal will not currently qualify for Legal Aid, the lower tribunals review of the DWP decision opens the way for means tested Legal Aid to prepare an appeal to the Upper Tribunal on points of law, as oppossed to mediation on the facts of the case.

  • My apologies if my comments on the fact sheet seem misleading. That was not my intention and I am going to try find and dig out the original documentation that I was sent and I know others received.

    I never bothered to read questions 1-11 because I knew it was only the last question “12” that was going to refer to on the basis of what I had seen before and what I heard from GP and NCODP. Both said question 12 was totally wrong and should not be put on the claim form due to the amount of clients they had seen that had been caused great distress by this.

    I am pretty sure that on the previous documents there where not 3 previous questions that said fill in the form, and you would told to check all 12 questions.

    And it was when you got to that 12th question, the impression you got was that if you did not meet these descriptors your application was unlikely to be successful.

    If I can dig out old questionnaire and I am wrong, I was freely apologise for my mistakes.

    But regardless, I do think question 12 is unwarranted. Some People would skim through the form before filling in, see question 12, and see for example where it says “You have had both legs amputated at or above the ankle, or you were born without
    legs or feet.” and think damn, I have mobility problems, but I still have both of my feet and so I am unlikely to not be entitled to the mobility component.

    Please bare with me, because I would love to find the original paper work, I was in a hurry to find the online version last night, and as I say, I am more than happy to put the record straight if I am wrong

  • “As a Party we do ‘crow’ a lot about giving the poorest in society little over £10.00 a week extra, which is not a bad thing, but certainly not enough to lift them out of poverty …”

    But if you take all the measures together you haven’t given the poor anything – you’ve left them worse off. The Autumn Statement alone will decrease the net income of low earners by as much as £5 a week. The total effect of the government’s tax and benefit changes since 2010 will be to decrease their income by more than twice that amount:

  • Matt – I don’t understand why you can’t find the relevant form when you posted a link and quoted extensively from it?

  • @Hywel

    I am talking about the paper form that I received personally with my application.

    I am now about to go and dig it out.

    I used the link to the governments site last night to make reference but I have a suspicion that they are not quite the same.
    I know for a fact that the DWP have errors on their stationary that they send out, because the address on some of the correspondence that they use says Glagow instead of Glasgow, which may seem pretty minor, but in this day and age is unacceptable.

    Anyway I am not going to hunt through my documents for the actual paper copy. As I said, if I am mistaken, I will be more than happy to apologise for an error 😉

  • Well I have to put my hands up and admit to my errors.

    I just located the most “recent” check list that came with the forms and it is “exactly” the same as the one of the governments website which I linked too.

    So I was wrong and I apologise for that mistake. I am not in the practice of woefully misleading people.

    I am sure that this “check list” has been changed though, because in previous documents I had received, there was no {fill out the form} on any of the questions until you got to question 12, that I am at the very least 95% sure of, and the reason that I say that was because as before I had showed my GP and Disability Rights representative and they were disgusted with it because it was very misleading and read as though you would not be entitled to DLA unless you satisfied the criteria in question 12.

    Whether I am totally mistaken, and please bare in mind that when “anyone” who faces filling out all these forms, questionnaires, check lists, it is very stressful and emotionally challenging and I will concede that I may have never read the entire check list properly and just went into panic mode when I saw question 12. Or it could possibly be the case that the DWP were forced to change their literature. Because like I said, the Disability Rights Organisation that assisted me at the time told me “that they had seen a lot of cases with people presenting with the same worries”

    Anyhow, As I said, I am wrong, I hold my hands up to the forum and apologise for the misinterpretation of my post @matt 9th Dec ’12 – 10:00pm

  • Getting back to those on JSA though 🙂 lol

    I am very concerned about how the 1% increase in benefit is going to affect them and their ability to stretch their budget to meet the costs of their rising living expenses, as well as having enough money left over for them to be into a position to be able to actively seek work.

    I read today
    there is talk of a free bus pass for the unemployed, which I think is a positive thing and would go along way to helping those seeking work

  • Tracy Connell 10th Dec '12 - 10:38am

    Obviously people are concentrating on the 1% benefits increase, but did you not hear Ed Balls say that Labour support the cap on welfare? The Tories actually wanted to freeze benefit payments completely – meaning no increase at all. If it wasn’t for the Lib Dems there would not be the 1% increase even.

    1% is actually higher than the amount my wages has increased recently, but that doesn’t take away the fact that this is a bad idea. The Tories dropping the Lib Dem mansion tax after it seemed it was practically agreed is a disgrace, and instead we get this benefits cap. Also if we want people spending money in the economy we need people to be able to afford to spend. Capping benefits hinders this. It is the ordinary people of this country who create growth and keep this country ticking over by spending money, not the rich fat cats.

    It is ordinary people who need to be helped to afford to spend – this is why it is extremely good news that the income tax threshold is to be increased again saving low and middle income earners hundreds of pounds and taking many out of tax altogether. This is most certainly a positive step towards growth.

    I think this was a good letter, and I like the way it makes it clear where we stood in negotiations – what we got, what we didn’t get, and what mad Tory ideas we stopped.

  • @Nobody in particular.

    I think I have willingly shown where I have “interpreted” something incorrectly, Indeed I have gone to great lengths to explain myself.

    I may have “misinterpreted” a certain sentence, but never “misrepresented”

    On Clegg’s letter, I do not feel like I have misinterpreted anything and the language used by Clegg is distasteful and a slippery slope as pointed out by Tim13

  • John Broggio 10th Dec '12 - 12:00pm

    @Simon Shaw

    Until there are more jobs on offer than those seeking work, no one can say with certainty that anyone has chosen benefits as a lifestyle.

  • @John Broggio

    Very true.

    In the UK with a working age population of 40 Million people, of those 40 Million people 19% have some form of disability, which for some, makes finding employment extremely difficult.

    We have 2.5 Million people unemployed,
    Over 3 million people classed as under employed, stuck in part time work and needing more hours.

    I cant find the latest stats for the number of available jobs advertised in the uk, but i though it was something like 375’000

    When we have 3 Million job vacancies floating around the market, then the government might have some cause to use the kind of language that they do, but until then, they should stop scapegoating and stigmatising those on welfare as scroungers.
    People are unaware of others “personal” circumstances, but this constant stigmatising from the government and media is resulting in all welfare claimants being labelled as feckless and scroungers and that is morally wrong and repugnant

  • John Broggio 10th Dec '12 - 12:15pm

    @matt Slippery slope there – using facts & all. Soon you’ll be claiming that austerity is idiotic for state spending in a depression!

  • James Sandbach 10th Dec '12 - 1:09pm

    Matt/Joe – glad to see this issue debated. With reference to point 7 – legal aid for welfare appeals, Tom Brake did indeed extract a concession to continue legal aid for some benefit appeals, at least for the more legally complex ones. Trouble is that the other Tom (McNally) at the Justice Ministry went and totally reneged on this (he is now the Minister in charge of legal aid).

    See Lords debate in Hansard on Monday last week….

  • I don’t think Clegg is criticising those who are out of work through no choice of their own. However, to be honest I think they don’t care if you criticise them as much as they care that their subsistence benefits will be dropping below subsistence levels.

  • Commenting reminder: Please remember to respect our moderation policy which basically asks people to be polite, be on topic and be honest (ie don’t pretend to be more than one person or to be someone you are not) – that includes not posting substantially the same comment repeatedly across different threads.

    As you can see from other comments published on the site, wide-ranging and robust debate is fine (including comments critical of the party or the site). However, we do ask for little bit of civility – and the chances are you’ll find that makes your points a little more effective at persuading others anyway!

  • David Allen 10th Dec '12 - 6:24pm

    Clegg said:

    “We must always be fair in the language we use to describe people on benefits. Many of the people are in work and others are out of work through no fault of their own. When they are being asked to tighten their belts, they should not be demonised too.”

    Well, this is Toryism-lite, isn’t it? It does not quite say what Matt suggests that it says. But it is designed to imply something similar.

    Clearly there are the “many” in work, the “others” at no fault, and then there are the third group, who by elimination, must be the ones who are at fault. With this third group, there is (it would appear) nothing against us “demonising” them. Otherwise they would be within the first or the second group, the two groups of people who should not be “demonised”.

    Is this painstaking, nitpicking analysis boring the pants off its readers, I wonder? Or is it just rather depressing to see a Lib Dem leader carefully triangulating between the scapegoaters and the non-scapegoaters, and coming down in the traditional place – somewhere in the middle?

  • “And when you say “to me it sounds like Clegg is saying … it’s ok to use the derogatory language towards the rest” that’s misrepresentation.”

    Actually no – that’s an expression of his opinion.

  • @Hywel

    “Actually no – that’s an expression of his opinion.”

    Thank you, that’s exactly what it was my “opinion” based on my “Interpretation” of what Clegg had wrote. There was certainly no “Misrepresentations” as some would like to claim.

    I think my post @matt 10th Dec ’12 – 12:13pm where I used current UK statistics, goes onto explain my position with regards to those that are criticised and stigmatised by the language used by the government and the media.
    It is just unfortunate that some chose to ignore certain comments, instead trying to carry on with conflict.

    In the grand scheme of things, there are a small minority of people, who could be classed as unemployed due to own fault. However because there is a thin {undisclosed} red line which determines what this is, and because people have no idea in general of an individuals personal circumstances, Then the language used by the government and others should not be used, all this achieves is labelling everyone on welfare as scroungers and segregation.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Dec '12 - 11:42pm

    This April, one of two things will happen to you. If you earn less than £9,440, you will no longer pay any income tax. If you earn more than that, then you’ll be paying £600 less each year than you were in 2010. This is the biggest ever increase in your personal allowance (the amount you can earn before you start paying tax). It means we’re now within a whisker of achieving our manifesto pledge of allowing everyone to earn £10,000 a year tax free – a total tax cut of £700.

    This is of no benefit to those who are out of work, so earning nothing, so not paying income tax in the first place. I wonder if cuts to income tax like this are what ought to be first priority if they are paid for by cuts to services that people value?

    One of the problems we are facing is that the Tories may agree to some of our policies, but not to others which balance them. I’m in favour of a shift of taxation from income to property, but if the Tories let us get one part of that shift (cuts in income tax) but not the other (a start to taxing some of the vast amounts of money sloshing around almost untaxed through property ownership) it doesn’t really work.

    The big, immediate news was that we are going to have to work even harder than we hoped when we started this coalition government to cut the deficit and get the economy back on track.

    In other words, Tory economic policy isn’t working, it isn’t delivering what it promised it would deliver when they took over the government. Perhaps now would be a time to say “we told you so”, and revive what we said about Tory financial policy at the time – that in driving down demand by making people poor and fearful it would not revive the economy in the way those who know nothing about what life is like at the bottom supposed it would.

    Some people say that’s a reason to give up on the coalition – in my view that’s absurd. It makes the coalition even more essential to provide the strong government Britain needs

    No, this government is weak because it is so unrepresentative. We support proportional representation which would have made this government much more representative because it would have led to a coalition much more balanced between the two parties. Why can’t we say this?

    The end result is this Autumn Statement has taken no more from benefit claimants than it has from the wealthy

    Taking from those at the bottom is much more painful for them than taking from the wealthy. So this is really not something to boast about. It would be better if we were taking MORE from the wealthy and not from the poor.

  • Simon Shaw To try to answer your question is quite difficult. Of course, sometimes people do things which are easy to criticise. I am sure we have all done those things from time to time. But the arguments which have come originally from one group of people stereotyping another (and this is not necessarily those in work stereotyping those out of work – although this, of course, happens), slips into mass media stereotyping and enters the world of political distortion from there, usually involve generalising bad behaviours to others who aren’t associated with that behaviour. This is normally done by implication, and not by straight statement.

    I see, in your descriptions of Matt’s statements as “misrepresentations” that you find the above hard to accept (or, perhaps, are unaware of some of the ideas involved, which were studied extensively after World War 2 due to the success of political propaganda in certain societies, and a need to develop ways of “immunising” people against such propaganda. Ideas of “denotation” where facts or opinions were stated straight, versus “connotation” where they were implied by association, were developed to describe the propaganda process. Also such techniques as to mix fact and opinion where they are not clearly distinguished, along with cruder brainwashing techniques. Our tabloids have absorbed these techniques to use to “demonise” people – and especially people on benefits, immigrants, criminals, however loosely defined. Now not everyone has read or been shown how these techniques work, but liberals should make themselves aware of their effect, because falling for desperately inaccurate stereotypes of people based on some group that they may belong to is, IMO, one of the most illiberal actions anyone can indulge in. You can be sure that authoritarian regimes will use these methods to discredit opponents.

    So this is why your description of Matt as “misrepresenting” is wrong – what he is trying to tell you is that the most powerful message in any statement of a political nature is often in the implications, not in the actual words written, and it is therefore absolutely legitimate, nay necessary, to tease out those implications for criticism.

  • Matthew H You will see I have been arguing all along against the large increases to the threshold to income tax payments. Apart from removing a substantial part of the tax base for service provision, as you argue here, it also causes higher payers to even further resent their own payments, to think even more (see my posts above), that those too poor to pay tax are feckless, and that they, the “ordinary people” (ie the quite well off) are paying for those feckless, creating further resentment. The lower paid, meanwhile, forget about their need to participate in democratic process, and to have their input into what the money they pay in is spent on.

    By the way, I do not support a move from taxes on work and output either to very large element of property taxation, but especially to green taxes, as our party has emphasised in recent years. There is a benefit to a more graduated Rates / Council Tax, or a mansion type tax, in that it can be used as a substitute wealth tax, but we all know that wealth taxes have substantial downsides, in “the little old lady still living in her family house” syndrome, which led to Thatcher’s Poll Tax, and similar difficulties in converting assets in kind into cash to pay an appropriate tax. In the case of green taxation, it is a very unstable form of income when people convert rapidly to green ways of living, and it may also penalise those without resources to convert. Income Tax at least has the majoradvantage that it is trying to measure current income. This, of course, why it is essential to move to block loopholes, and coordinate internationally against “offshoring”, and where possible start agreements on international taxation.

  • David Allen 11th Dec '12 - 1:21pm

    Question – What tax policy can an Orange Blue Party adopt, which they can claim is greatly redistributive from rich to poor, but which in reality has such a minor redistributive effect that the Blue Blue Party will be happy enough to sign on to it?

    Answer – That’s precisely what the increase in income tax threshold is for.

    Question – Are there any other big political wins that we can get out of adopting this marvellous policy line?

    Answer – Why yes! What this does is to help poor (and less poor) people who are in work. Having put that figleaf in place, we can now make a bonfire of all those evil benefits and Labourish tax credits, which help poor people who are not all in work. We have targeted the deserving poor and duffed over the underserving poor, without actually having to go public with the inflammatory language in this sentence. Tax credits are bureaucratic and socialistic, of course. The fact that they can be rather well targeted at real needs is something we shall gloss over.

    Question – So is there any fly in the ointment with our wonderful policy on raising the threshold?

    Answer – Sadly yes! The GBP (great British public) are just rather underwhelmed by it. It’s not that very many of them can see how tricksy we are being. It’s just that with all the other prices and taxes that are rising, the change in the threshold just looks like small beer.

    Question – And that’s bad for us?

    Answer – Sadly yes! It makes us look like the Small Beer party. A minor player, forever boasting about minor victories.

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