Opinion: Sharing maternity leave – our most popular policy since the coalition was formed?

Yesterday Nick Clegg has announced that couples will be able to share maternity leave. This is a rare example of a policy which is principled, popular and incredibly talkable.

Parents and grandparents, that is most of the population who are over 35 years old, have extremely strong views on childcare and maternity leave. After all it has a huge impact on us, our careers and our relationships with our families.

This is a superb policy for several reasons.

Firstly, it recognises that modern fathers want to spend more time with their children, and are constrained by an incredibly outdated legal framework that implicitly classes childcare as ‘women’s work’. This is both patronising to women and completely fails to see the reality of modern society.

Secondly, it helps to reduce discrimination against women at work. Currently women’s employers know that they have a right to long periods of maternity leave, while men have virtually no paternity leave. Inevitably this leads to companies discriminating against women in ways that are subtle and almost impossible to stop.

Thirdly, it’s an extremely easy policy to understand, and an interesting policy for parents to discuss. By 8:30 yesterday morning (the day of the policy announcement!) I had talked to three parents about the policy, and all of them were in favour of it and interested in talking about it.

This is a rare example of a policy that we know will win us votes, and we can start campaigning on today. So let’s start putting it on leaflets and emails, and telling the voters that it’s a Liberal Democrat achievement of being in government.

Rob Blackie was the party’s Director of Research from 2003-2005. He has been active in London politics for 11 years, including running the only campaign to win a council seat from third place in London in 2010. Rob writes a blog on e-campaigning at www.rob-blackie.blogspot.com.

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38 Comments

  • I see no Iceberg 18th Jan '11 - 9:17am

    Good policy though it unquestionably was Cameron made sure it was barely noticed by the public by making a big song and dance about his NHS privatisation, sorry “reforms”.

    Which Policy do you think is going to stick in the publics mind after 4 years of these right wing NHS reforms?

  • It is a great idea but will only be a good policy if the detail is right.

    Businesses will worry that instead of recruiting for one period of leave, typically 6 months to 1 year, they will have a less stable situation to resource. Training and the availability of a like for like replacement are the biggest issues. As long as parents have to take the leave in reasonable chunks the impact on business can be mitigated.

  • AT – isn’t not getting any part of the deal? 😉

  • All the LibDems have done is not scrapped an existing law. Deciding not to repeal a law created by the last governement (and supported by the Conservatives) does not count as a “LibDem achievement”.

  • In general I think it’s a good idea that parental leave can be split between both parents and that the actual split should be agreed by the parents themselves.

    But there are some difficulties – from the employer side I feel that the parents involved require to give a ‘reasonable’ period of notice of the time-off they wish. I make no attempt to define ‘reasonable’ as I think it has to be elastic to accommodate different industries and size of employer as well as the difficulty in providing cover for the parent depending on their skill-set. There may also be other limiting factors such as other members being on holiday leave, sick leave and even parental leave.

    But I am not here to find business solutions to the problems that will arise as employers have plenty of organisations well-versed in serving that purpose. But what I would observe is that people without children often feel they are treated as second-class in comparison to those with children.

    My working career finished with an employer who had ‘family-friendly’ policies and it caused a lot of agrro between staff because those with children could take every Friday off and all the school holidays in the summer.

    Other staff found it nigh impossible to get a Friday off and weren’t even guaranteed two weeks of their choice in June/July/August whereas those with children could take a mimimum of six weeks in that period. So I think there has to be a sense of balance and fairness for all staff – even those without children.

    I assume that lone parents would be entitled to the combined allowance that a two-parent family would receive.

    Another problem is that lots of parents are on low incomes that are dependent on overtime to take-home a decent wage. Obviously workers further up the pecking order won’t be as open to that kind of pressure. So again it is important that if one partner can’t use their leave ‘allowance’ because of the financial loss entailed, the other partner should be able to use it if financially viable for them rather than the leave be simply lost.

    All in all an important piece of legislation but – and I hate doing this – but I really wonder if Cameron will ever allow it to see the light of day or whether it will be buried in the elephant grass as a favour to his business chums.

  • Dominic Curran 18th Jan '11 - 12:40pm

    Good article, Rob. It sounds like a good policy, although the devil will be int he detail for employer.

    But do you think that small things like this are worth the dismemberment of the NHS and the slow death of council housing, not to mention the annihilation of the party in May and possibly in 2015 (admittedly a long way off)?

  • “My working career finished with an employer who had ‘family-friendly’ policies and it caused a lot of agrro between staff because those with children could take every Friday off and all the school holidays in the summer.

    Other staff found it nigh impossible to get a Friday off and weren’t even guaranteed two weeks of their choice in June/July/August whereas those with children could take a mimimum of six weeks in that period. So I think there has to be a sense of balance and fairness for all staff – even those without children.”

    I’m sure that must have been very inconvenient.

    OTOH, those staff without children were able to take their holidays at times of year when resorts weren’t crowded with parents, and at a considerably cheaper rate.

    They also wouldn’t have had the c£180k cost per child of bringing up those children, nor the sleepless nights, nor lack of free time, nor the reduced career prospects. But they will be benefitting from the taxes and labour of other people’s expensively-raised children during their lifetimes.

  • “Yesterday Nick Clegg has announced that couples will be able to share maternity leave. This is a rare example of a policy which is principled, popular and incredibly talkable. …. This is a rare example of a policy that we know will win us votes, and we can start campaigning on today. So let’s start putting it on leaflets and emails, and telling the voters that it’s a Liberal Democrat achievement of being in government”.

    Really? Aren’t you getting a little ahead of yourself?

    “In a speech on the family at the Demos thinktank, the deputy prime minister will outline government plans to build on Harriet Harman’s reforms to allow parents to share their parental leave…… Harman, whose reforms will be implemented this April. They will allow parents to share 46 weeks of parental leave if the mother goes back to work after 20 weeks. This means that a father would be entitled to take over the mother’s leave, on statutory pay of £125 a week, for 26 weeks. If the mother went back after 30 weeks then the father would be entitled to 16 weeks.
    Clegg will introduce reforms by 2015 to make the system more flexible. He wants to:

    • Consider whether fathers should be allowed to step in after six weeks when many mothers return to work because at that point the more generous maternity pay – 90% of the mother’s average weekly earnings – is replaced by the statutory pay of £125 a week.

    • Allow parents to take leave in chunks rather than a lengthy stretch.

    • Introduce a “use it or lose it” system in which fathers are offered a block of leave within, say, 10 weeks of the birth. Such a system can act as an incentive.”

    The policy of sharing maternity leave was introduced under the last government and is due to come into force from April this year. Clegg’s tinkering is still in talking about stage. Not sure therefore how you can (truthfully) start adding it to your leaflets as an example of a policy which you have delivered.

  • Typical LibDem deceit. This is just the enactment of the last Labour governments policy. There are not even any coalition amendments to the policy. To claim it as a LibDem policy when it clearly is not, is just par for the course.

  • @Tabman

    The reason I raised the points I did was because a workplace where one group has better conditions than another identical group – except that they don’t have children – can cause a lot of strain.

    You are also quite simply wrong in some of the things you say – a lot of the unhappy people actually have had kids but those kids are beyond 18 so no eligibility for family friendly benefits and as it was a fairly recent benefit – approx 10 years so – a lot of people with kids never received the benefit when their kids were young.

    There are also a lot of people, with and without kids, who feel that the decision to have kids is a personal one and that others shouldn’t be disadvantaged just because they decided against having children or their children are grown-up.

    Personally, I was too busy fighting more important battles in the workplace than this one but I do admit that as a grandparent I wanted to spend quality time with my grandkids and also to help out one of my children who is a single mother – but grandchildren didn’t count whereas young adults of say 15-18 were used by their parents as an excuse to have the summer off and a long weekend every week. I know for a fact that a lot of them used the time for purely personal purposes and spent virtually no time with the ‘child’ involved unless their paths occasionally crossed in their home and that parents and children often went on separate holidays.

    There are also a significant number of parents who do not have custody of their kids and they ain’t eligible because the child doesn’t live with them – they are sttill part of the child’s life but have real difficulty in getting time of work when the child is on school holidays to either share time or holiday with them.

    And it may surprise you Tabman that some people might want to holiday with friends at a ‘normal’ time and others have no wish to sit on sunny far-away beaches overpowered with the smell of sizzling skin. But equally they want to sit in their garden, go walking in the UK to new places, or just work in their garden and it often isn’t very pleasant activity in January to April or October to mid-December. Oh I forgot the non family friendly mob are on a rota for Xmas or New Year which in reality means getting one week in every 3 or 4 years whereas the family friendly get all the school holidays over the festive season every single year.

    I note your comment Tabman: ‘But they will be benefitting from the taxes and labour of other people’s expensively-raised children during their lifetimes’. One could equally argue that those children have indeed also benefitted from the taxes and hard work of many people without children in paying for health and educational services and various other welfare benefits.

    However, I have no wish to enter the negative arena where you have tried to drag my constructive points which were raised merely to help debate the subject. I didn’t even mention that, as we all know, this isn’t a LibDem policy but very much a LP one.

    For laws and policies to work well Tabman you have to look not only at how they affect the immediate ‘target’ group but those in close contact with them. Selfishness can lead to unfair practices and any legislator must always be looking to ensure their legislation doesn’t end-up causing more difficulties than it attempts to alleviate.

  • “I note your comment Tabman: ‘But they will be benefitting from the taxes and labour of other people’s expensively-raised children during their lifetimes’. One could equally argue that those children have indeed also benefitted from the taxes and hard work of many people without children in paying for health and educational services and various other welfare benefits.”

    The two do not equate – if no-one had any children, then as everyone aged, there would be no-one to run anything.

    The point is that those people who “selfishly” choose to invest in the next generation by becoming parents are ensuring that when the childless in their own generation are retired, there are people around to generate the wealth that pays the pensions of the childless, and to look after them when they get old and sick. That to my mind means that parents should get cut a lot of slack (and that includes those with kids in the 15-18 age bracket – they’ve earned it). These facts are conveniently forgotten when we hear whinging by the childless.

  • @Rob Blackie

    So, no acknowledgement that your claim that the policy is a LibDem policy is a false one?

  • TheContinentalOp 18th Jan '11 - 4:08pm

    Congratulations on adopting a New Labour policy. It must make a nice change from the Tory ones you’re used to adopting.

  • “Congratulations on adopting a New Labour policy. It must make a nice change from the Tory ones you’re used to adopting.”

    Either way, I suppose it makes a change from Labour and Tory adopting our policies as they’ve been doing for years.

  • Dominic Curran 18th Jan '11 - 5:42pm

    @ Rob

    Your mate has benefited from the welfare state. More people of any background should have that opportunity. And that is the fundamental problem with the Tories (and us by association) – they want to bring everyone down to the same wretched level. Instead, optimists and those on the left want to raise everyone up, with the benefits of free education, healthcare and housing to all at the point of need. Why shouldn’t more people benefit from affordable rents and a secure home (and your mate only has it if he’s a good tenant)? Why should we all have to pay landlords’ over-extended mortgages instead of something more like cost? Instead of castigating a system that allows your mate to live where he does, we should be celebrating and expanding it. I could apply your thinking to healthcare – i know someone who could afford to go private for an operation but chose to go on the NHS. Why is a system that allows that to happen not at fault in the way that you suggest it is with housing?

    That’s one of my principled objections to our policy of abolishing council housing. Here’s one of my practical objections. If you means test council home tenancies, you are introducing a MASSIVE disincentive to working. Given that in London, council tenants’ rents are as little as one sixth of market rents, you can see the marginal cost of getting a job (or better job). Why bother working harder, or longer, or in a better job, if you will lose your home and face a 600% rent increase in doing so? Also, what sort of estates will be created if you ensure that only the most wretched and unemployable can live there? Many estates are bad enough and close enough to that description already – making them more so is the opposite of what needs to happen.

  • Once again we have a policy that gives people rights, but in no way imposes any responsibilities for the exercise of that right. Not all businesses are large enough to absorb all the costs associated with parental rights; many , many companies have 4 employees or less.

    We need to find a way of either exempting SMEs from expensive legislation, or at least compensating them for policies which they cannot easily accommodate. SMEs are the major employers who the Coalition are expecting to generate the jobs destroyed by the banks stupidity, and yet we shackle them time and again and provide every possible reason for them NOT to expand.

    Eco John is right to point out the resentment associated with “family friendly” policies, and that resentment can equally come from other parents who can sense when somebody is taking the p*ss.

    In a small company I worked for, their was one mother who seldom worked a Friday or possibly a Monday because “Little Johnny was ill”. There are no sanctions any employer can apply in such cases. Her colleague, also a mother, was incensed by this behaviour as it constantly put her under more pressure.

    Yes it’s a minority who abuse these systems, but it doesn’t take much abuse of this sort to undermine the principles which we would all endorse.

  • @Tabman

    I really find your position on this to be quite difficult to get my head round. I don’t think that I have ever heard one parent state that they were having a kid so the kid could grow up and pay taxes so that the Government could pay the pensions of childless people. Quite bizarre and you obviously just ignore the NI contributions and taxes of the childless people in terms of paying for their own state retirement pension and any private arrangements they might have made.

    And to talk about the ‘whingeing’ of the childless is very cruel if the childless are unable to have children of their own for whatever reason.

    I feel I must be touching some raw personal nerve here and will therefore leave the matter as it stands and btw Tabman, just for the record, I have three children and no, I don’t expect them to keep me in my old age and I have made the necessary arrangements during my working life to ensure I can support myself 🙂

    However I’m delighted that in the new spirit of co-operation that Nick can use a Labour policy to start his rehab.

  • @Rob Blackie who said: ‘I know somebody who got a nice council flat when he needed it, aged 20. He’s now finishing a Masters degree and will be well paid (given his degree subject) for his whole career. He can expect to live until roughly 2085 – ie. with 75 years of occupancy of his current flat when he doesn’t need it. The current system definitely needs reform to be fairer.’

    I am amazed that anyone with a Masters Degree in a sought-after subject would stay in a council flat and not move – either for work opportunities or to buy a place of his own. Might I suggest that no matter how attached he is to the flat or the area it is situated that, in the way of the world, he will meet a partner and they may well wish to get started on the property ladder and no better time than in the next few years.

  • Tony Dawson 18th Jan '11 - 7:59pm

    I had a year off work which allowed me to be more with my then year-old daughter some 17 years ago. I think this was more valuable time than nearer to the birth. I paid for it largely out of savings. I am not totally averse to men sharing the state maternity leave if that is agreed but I have more than a little concern as to whether this country can afford it. Any more than it can afford sitting on it’s bums for a fortnight waiting for the snow to clear itself or taking a silly Bank Holiday for a Royal Wedding which is of little interest to three quarters of the population. Or building surplus schools to indulge the fantasies of Michael Gove.

    When will people wake up and smell the coffee. This country is still largely living on the fall-out of past successes. if it wasn’t fro the relative safety and comfort of London dragging in all these foreign billionaires with their ill-gotten gains our economy would be in really serious trouble. As it is, it is capable of rescue but not given the lazy complacent attitudes prevailing.

  • Just as long as the workplace rights of (more environmentally friendly) non-reproducers aren’t trampled upon further by this, fine.

  • EJ – no, its all very simple. I’m making the point that regardless of the taxes,provisions etc etc that anyone made (childless or not) in their lifetime, when they get older the world only continues by virtue of the children (now adults) produced by those who became parents.

    To take the argument to reducto ad absurdum, if no-one had any children, then as people got older they would have to rely on their own generation to do everything required in society.

    As the childless get older in our society, everything that goes on around them that requires human agency is done by other people’s children.

    As I said, simple fact.

  • I wonder how many men will use this to any extent? How many fathers have used their right to work part-time? That would be an interesting fact to know in this context.

  • @Rob Blackie “On council housing it seems to me that a lot of the changes are common sense. I know somebody who got a nice council flat when he needed it, aged 20. He’s now finishing a Masters degree and will be well paid (given his degree subject) for his whole career. He can expect to live until roughly 2085 – ie. with 75 years of occupancy of his current flat when he doesn’t need it. The current system definitely needs reform to be fairer.”

    He’ll be wasting a hell of a lot of money if he doesn’t buy his own place and keeps paying rent to the council until 2085.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Jan '11 - 9:20am

    EcoJon

    I am amazed that anyone with a Masters Degree in a sought-after subject would stay in a council flat and not move – either for work opportunities or to buy a place of his own. Might I suggest that no matter how attached he is to the flat or the area it is situated that, in the way of the world, he will meet a partner and they may well wish to get started on the property ladder and no better time than in the next few years

    “Property ladder?”. What an amazing marketing technique that phrase was! Making people feel it’s good to be in debt. Turning them into slaves of the money-lenders. Helping push up house prices to unsustainable levels by conning people into thinking “if you don’t buy now, you never will be able to”, making them feel they were doing good for themselves when they’d been diddled. It was a phrase at the heart of the economic mess our country is now in, as people were persuaded to “invest” in unproductive home ownership rather than something which creates REAL wealth. It’s a phrase which even at its most harmless level means “family sized housing only goes to those too old to have young families”, a demonstration of the failure of simplistic market policies to meet real needs.

  • A good article Rob and I’m in broad agreement with the substance however could I add a note of caution…

    “Parents and grandparents, that is most of the population who are over 35 years old” is a rather glib and sweeping statement that alienates many. Please don’t fall into the Conservative habbit of assuming that everyone is married/parents and that policies to support them are either more just or more of a priority than those who are not in such a position.

    Nit picking perhaps but a note of caution nevertheless.

  • @Tabman

    You have taken some factual observations I made on the Labour policy to help parents with family-friendly leave policies – which I am in general agreement with – and now describes it as an ‘argument’. Takes at least two to argue Tabman and I ain’t arguing just stating my position and making observations.

    You have dragged your comments way off-topic which is up to you but I have no intention of seeing sensible discussion reduced to absurdity by someone who seems to think that the major reason to have children is to financially support pensioners and to physically look after the aged in their declining years.

    As I have said earlier – it seems to me there is another more personal agenda going on here.

  • @Matthew Huntbach

    There is nothing wrong with the concept of ‘property ladder’ if we are talking about a situation where someone is able to buy a suitable property in an area they wish to stay – which might not be possible with social housing if there isn’t any available – or they do not wish to pay the rental levels of the private rented sector.

    If there is one thing that seems fairly obvious it’s that mobility in terms of employment is going to become of increasing importance in the UK and even further afield and the ability to purchase a home in a new area could be of real importance.

    Yea, plenty of negative connotations can be attached to ‘property ladder’ but let’s not forget that it wasn’t all the fault of the banks/mortgage lenders.

    Individuals shouldn’t take on a debt which is barely affordable or even way beyond their income level. Some were also ill-advised to continually remortgage their homes in an artificially rising market to blow free proceeds – which was actually capital – on new cars, holidays and other consumer spending.

    Their choice, but people do have to take responsibility for past choices.

    I started off in a single-end in the poorest part of Glasgow, ended up in probably the roughest housing estate in the City and always had a dream of being able to live in a nice detached mortgage-free home in the country. I worked my way up to that and I won’t bore you with my journey but it wasn’t easy.

    I never saw housing as a means of making money but as having the dream home I wanted and I never remortgaged – I made my choices and I got where I want to be quite a long time ago as I started with a 17 year mortgage which was very difficult to begin with and as interest rates fell I didn’t cut my payments and I also increased payments when I had spare cash.

    I think it is easy to underestimate the real ‘wealth’ and freedom of choice that can come from home ownership and the challenge we face is increasing the life opportunities of people so that they can share in the positive experience of home ownership rather than tell them they should be investing in something that creates ‘Real Wealth’ rather than ‘unproductive housing’.

    I of course recognise that the madness of the housing bubble caused by the greed of many put decent housing to meet the needs of many, beyond their means. But prices have been falling and I for one have no personal prob with that because as I have made clear – my home is to live in not to make money from.

  • Tony Dawson – AIUI Maternity leave is 6 months at SMP level (although many employers fund this more generously), with an entitlement to a further 6 months unpaid leave. So it would be no more or less affordable, just split more evenly between parents.

    EcoJon – that is a bizarre comment, clearly one that is as you put it to dowith your own “personal agenda”. Of course I don’t believe that people have children solely to have someone to look after them in old age (although clearly that was a motivator in the past). But, as you seem incapable of understanding, if nobody had children then there would be no-one to support society as people aged. And that is the point I’m making – by having children, parents ensure that the childless also benefit in their declining years. Indeed the childless owe a big debt to parents because having children is financially disastrous compared to being childless (not to mention parents losing out personally in other ways). So the small compensations parents do get that some (note – not all) choose to moan about are well deserved, and the childless that do moan about it would do well to reflect on these facts.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Jan '11 - 7:01pm

    EcoJon

    I never saw housing as a means of making money but as having the dream home I wanted and I never remortgaged – I made my choices and I got where I want to be quite a long time ago as I started with a 17 year mortgage which was very difficult to begin with and as interest rates fell I didn’t cut my payments and I also increased payments when I had spare cash.

    I read that as “I’m all right Jack, and sod the rest of you”. The complacency in what you wrote is sickening.

  • Just a pity men cannot share breastfeeding.

  • @Matthew Huntbach who said about me: ‘I read that as “I’m all right Jack, and sod the rest of you”. The complacency in what you wrote is sickening.’

    Reckon you must have got out of the wrong side of bed this morning with the level of grouchiness and nastiness in your comments.

    Just for the record I don’t decry anyone who makes choices different from mine – they are perfectly entitled to decide what they want to attempt to do with their life and get on with it free from any moralising on my part’.

    You seem incapable of extending the same courtesy to me or anyone else apparently who has chosen to climb the ‘housing ladder’.

    Quite a few of my mates have different priorities and aspirations from me and a lot still live in their ex-council houses because that’s where they want to live. Some have 2/3 overseas holidays every year – some are into highly expensive cars – some are high-stake gamblers – some are members of golf clubs and spend a fortune playing the game, many have much less ambitious and less costly pursuits.

    But I make no judgements on what they do with their time and money just as they make no judgement on my motivation or lack of it is some directions.

    I’ve probably been fired more times than you’ve had hot dinners because of my trade uniion activism and was on the Economic League’s list of people not to be employed so don’t trumpet your nonsense at me.

    I’ve got on in life because I had the benefit of a state schooling system that was free and excellent as well as a bursary and got me to the level where I could get to university – the first ever from both sides of my family – I had free uni tuition and a maintence grant that I could live off. That’s why I am so angry at what is being down to youngsters today by the LibDems, especially today over EMA. I don’t get angry at the Tories because I know what they are and I know they will never change.

    So I had a helluva lot of help as did many of my generation born after the end of the war thanks to a Labour Government that changed society in so many ways for the better. I have tried all my life to repay my debts to society and still do.

    There is not one word I have ever written here which would lead any normal person to form the view that i adopt the attitude: ‘“I’m all right Jack, and sod the rest of you”. I don’t know what’s eating at you but it’s obviously corrosive.

    What is wrong with a young boy having a dream to escape from poverty and a sh*tty environment and actually have it come true. I was that young boy but I’ve never forgotten where I came from and what I am and that’s a socialist to the core.

    But my socialism does not centre round keeping people in poverty and dependence – it’s about dreams and motivation and trying to put in place the mechanisms and skills to help poorer people achieve THEIR aims whatever they might be as long as they are legal and don’t harm other people.

    However my socialism isn’t just about ‘to each according to their need’ it’s equally about ‘from each according to their ability’.

  • @Tabman

    I have no difficulty in understanding that if no children were ever born again then some people might believe the end of the world was nigh.

    However, I have no difficulty in visualising that the scientists would just clone to their heart’s content so the worker clones would still be able to look after you in your old age Tabman and as they wouldn’t be paid wages the elite non-worker class would have plenty of money to fund their lifestyle in some luxury.

    Never ever underestimate the ability of capitalism to adapt to changing circumstances to ensure the continuance of their position and power.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Jan '11 - 9:15am

    EcoJon, I am not meaning ti be nasty. However, your comments on this issue mark you out as a Tory, not a socialist.

    To be honest, I am actually shocked that someone who calls themselves a “socialist” cannot see the points behind what I am saying, and so just comes out with a whole load of Thatcherite rhetoric. Yes, Thatcherite, because this whole idea you are putting across that owning a home makes you a worthy citizen and making money from it is good, while only losers live in council houses is Thatcher all along. You might as well have added the line about only losers taking buses.

    If I am “grouchy” it might be something to do with the many hours I spent as a councillor in a poor part of London dealing with people who were in misery, who sometimes broke down in my councillor’s surgery in tears, because there was just no way they could get decent housing. When I was a child, council housing was available to people like my parents, just married, starting a family, wanting somewhere with enough bedroom space for the kids (two per bedroom, that was) and a bit of garden. The council house I was brought up in gave me and my family an enormous amount of freedom. But now that freedom is not available to the next generation. There is almost no council housing becoming available for re-letting, what comes up goes only to those with enormous problems which together somehow accumulate enough points to get an allocation. A normal but low-waged young couple would not stand a chance.

    Neither do a normal but low-waged young couple stand a chance of buying a house where I live. Average house prices place even the smallest flat well beyond what someone on below average wages could get mortgage for. THAT is the reason for the tears I witnessed so many times, for the feelings of futility so many decent young people have. I heard the same story so many times – people thought they had done the right thing, they had worked hard, git a job, saved up, waited until they were settled before starting a family – and found they were caught, no chance EVER of getting a council house, no chance EVER of buying even the meanest flat.

    And you are crowing about that. You managed to buy housing at the bottom of the market (actually I did too), and have seen the price it could be sold at steadily rise. You have managed to rise up in wealth just by owning property. Not by your ability or hard work, but just by the fortune of being able to start when you did and having enough money then to do it. You remind me of the Tories who disgusted me when I was young, they had made their money and they could not understand why others could not do likewise. They could not see how they had relied on opportunities which those poorer and without connections would not have. And they felt – since this is the heart of Tory thinking – that money earnt not by work but by having wealth already was the best sort of money, a mark of good breeding. That is why money from owning shares or money made from capital gains on housing is considered so scared by Tories. And that is the attitude YOU are giving by what you wrote. “I am rich, you are not, so you’re a loser, yah booh sucks”.

    I am sorry, perhaps you do not see it that way, but to me that indicates only how so many people do not realise how this Thatcherite way of thinking has sunk into our mentality. I am not opposed to home ownership, as you seem to assume, but I am extremely concerned at the way the fetishisation of it has so unbalanced our economy. Because so many people, like you, have made a little money from it, it has become politically impossible to tackle the way it has been the driving factor in the growth of inequality since Thatcher became Prime Minister. It has become impossible to tall about land taxes, or taxes on capital gains on housing, or higher inheritance taxes. As a result, income tax or “tax on jobs” as the Tories called it until they realised they preferred this as a tax “only the little people pay” to one that might hit their patrons, has been at much higher levels than it needed to be. How much better it would be if there were more tax on making money by sitting on your arse owning things, and less on making money by working? Yet it is politically impossible to start a talk about things like this, because even people like yourself who call themselves “socialists” have been trained into giving this knee-jerk Tory response to the very idea.

  • @Matthew Huntbach

    If you wish to attack my political position then at the very least get your facts straight.

    Home ownership does not provide any indicator as to whether the owner is ‘a worthy citizen’ or not and I have never suggested anywhere that it does. Indeed ‘worthy citizen’ is not a term that I would normally use although I might in a scornful or facetious way.

    I have never said that ‘making money’ from a house is good or indeed ‘bad’ and was at pains to make it clear that my reasons for owning a house was not financial but for the enjoyment of the house in itself. I would also point out that the first house I owned was a self-build on a plot of land I bought. It took me five years to finish as I did the majority of the work myself and as I couldn’t get a mortgage I had to finance it out of earnings. It may or may not interest you but previously I had lived in a lovely 4-bedroom back and front door council house with garden which I moved into as a new-build. I had maximum right to buy discount but when I moved to the house I built, I left the council house as a council house and didn’t buy it and sell it..

    I could have bought it for £3.5K and sold it for £8K but I didn’t – OK it caused me financial strain but it wan’t my house to sell – so don’t gratuitously attack people when you have no knowledge of how they actually live their lives.

    So as someone who lived in council houses for a major period of my life why would I consider council house tenants as ‘losers’. Plenty of my relatives and friends still live in council houses and they are most definitely not ‘losers’. Another wild accusation by you with no basis in fact.

    You say I might as well have added the line about: ‘only losers taking buses’. Well I most certainly am a ‘loser’ in your book as I don’t have a car and haven’t had one for 6 years – I made the decision to use public transport for a variety of reasons and after I finally cracked how to read train and bus timetables it’s been great fun and provides a real opportunity to speak to people.

    You go into a great deal of housing policy issues and I have no argument with a lot of the views expressed. But don’t attempt to use wider social and housing issues to attack me when I was making a very barrow point . As it is clear that you are trying to drag this issue onto a wider field, for whatever reason, let me remind you what I was talking about – One, well-educated student about to finish a Masters Degree in a sought-after subject and my comment that it was unlikely, for a variety of reasons, that he would remain in his council flat for 75 years as another poster feared.

    So please don’t extrapolate that into a flimsy excuse to heap all the housing and socials ills of successive governments on my head because I chose to climb the ‘Property Ladder’. To accuse me of crowing about people who either cannot purchase a home or be allocated social-housing is really ridiculous and I challenge you to supply proof to back up your pathetic slur.

    Unlike you I did not buy at the bottom of the housing market as you claim – again with no proof for your statement – so I can only observe that the cap of ‘speculator’ doesn’t apply to me but may well fit yourself. As I pointed out I do not value my home more because it has increased in value – I value it as part of my dream come true and if that gets up your nose for some reason then there’s little I can do about it although I note that you mention that your wealth has increased through owning a home.

    I started life in abject poverty being raised by my single mother and had absolutely no connections and yea I happen to believe that anyone in that position can do better if they are provided with basic tools which include social housing, good education, not having to survive below the poverty line and the right to dream and aspire. In spite of your accusations am not rich in monetary terms – I have a reasonable pension and a comfortable life which is very rich and fulfilling in many ways and look back over a lifetime of work that provided me with enormous satisfaction.

    I laughed at your inane comment that I had become wealthy not by my ‘ability or hard work’ but because of the increasing value of my house. Well I don’t regard myself as wealthy in the first place and when I die my ‘wealth’ will go to my children and grandchildren. Or would you rather that I had continually remortgaged my house to blow the money on personal consumer spending and probably have now ended up with negative-equity. Would that actually please you more?

    I was politically active long-before Thatcher and there’s a lot of things that any socialist can learn from her in terms of achieving political aims and destroying opposition through heartless policies and if you look back you will discover that even paternal Tories had a firm belief in inequality for the economic benefits it brought them long before Thatcher appeared on the horizon.

    Just for the record I believe that Thatcher, in the fullness of time, will come to be regarded as a pussy-cat compared to what Cameron and Clegg get up to. That’s a major reason I have rejoined the LP which I left when Blair became leader – the fight goes on.

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