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Lib Dems prepare for fight on welfare and taxes

7 September 2012

7 September 2012

Nothing is certain at a Liberal Democrat conference other than plenty of discussion of benefits and taxes. The left-leaning wing of the party – the Social Liberal Forum – has released a series of potential amendments and emergency motions for the party’s autumn conference. The list is an interesting indication of what the grassroots (the SLF likes to describe itself as the ‘soul’ of the Lib Dems) are most worried about.

There’s an amendment from the irrepressible Lord Oakeshott, which adds a line to a motion due for debate on the Tuesday of the conference, called ‘Tackling Inequality at its Roots’. The peer’s addition is, surprisingly, calling for a full mansion tax. Another SLF member, Gareth Epps, wants another amendment supporting Nick Clegg’s call for a wealth tax, but not as a consolation prize for the £10 billion of welfare cuts that George Osborne is pushing for:

‘Conference further believes that wealth taxes are an appropriate response to widening inequality in themselves, and calls on the government to implement wealth taxes in their own right and not as a trade-off for further self-defeating cuts to welfare spending.’

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Neither of these are particularly astonishing given the SLF’s stance on tax and welfare. But what is more interesting is that the emergency motion that its members are being asked to support is on the government’s welfare-to-work programme. Drafted by another SLF member, Daniel Henry, it references the ‘slave labour’ case that the High Court rejected last month. The problem Henry has with the work experience scheme is not that he also believes it is ‘slave labour’ – his motion specifically agrees with the High Court’s judgement, but that claimants should be given a choice over their placements, and also – more controversially – that they be paid the equivalent of the minimum wage. This would be achieved either by making the company offering the experience top up the claimant’s benefits, or by limiting their hours to match the sum of their employment benefits. The latter would be more likely to be accepted should this motion be accepted for debate and then approved by conference.

Conference chooses which two emergency motions to debate through a ballot: even if this motion isn’t picked, it shows that party members are uncomfortable with more aspects of the welfare agenda than simply cuts. Work is ongoing to develop a welfare policy that the Lib Dems can take with them into the next election: one that I understand involves the party trying to work out what it actually thinks benefits are for. Meanwhile, a consultative session will discuss this paper on the party’s taxation policy for 2015. The problem for those working on these reviews is keeping an authentic Liberal Democrat voice on tax and benefits while recognising what it is that voters want in these policy areas.


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  • Charlie the Chump

    Libs like taxes. News. Not.

  • Charlie the Chump

    Libs like taxes. News. Not.

  • Mike Barnes

    “and also – more controversially – that they be paid the equivalent of the minimum wage.”

    LOL.

    It says a lot that the modern right thinks it’s ‘controversial’, that people get paid for working.

    Maybe that’s why the modern right doesn’t win elections anymore?

    • Marcus

      If you use other peoples hard earned money, given in good faith for things like policing and hospitals, and instead use it to pay someone to work for a private company, then of course that is controversial. How could it not be?
      The costs are potentially bottomless and the scope for exploitation endless.

    • andagain

      I am perfectly happy with people being paid to work. I do object to the idea that they should either be paid nothing, or more than a number that was plucked out of thin air.

      • Marcus

        I think it is partly a question of perception.
        People have less of a problem with someone doing work experience on a film set with Tom Cruise or helping Damian Hurst with an installation for free. But the theory behind doing any job for free, in order to gain experience is the same. There is more to a job than simply the technical skills you acquire. There is the habit and the dignity of work, which are very easily underestimated.

        Once out of work for over 6 months the chances are you will never work again (i.e. over 50% don’t), to allow people to work for you for free in order for them to keep the routine, dignity and habit of work can be viewed from a different angle of ‘making some poor bloke work for a pittance’. It really is just how you choose to look at it.
        That is why pay was not offered in the first place, as it was viewed that private company’s were doing the community a favour, which some certainly were. Now, once pay is introduced, it all starts to get more messy and the concept of keeping people in work no matter what, which is correct, is getting lost and the scheme is looking less attractive to businesses.
        Why can’t businesses make jobs available as an act of goodness? They build hospital wings and fund charities, so they could also keep people in work, despite not really needing the man power.
        This they did but some people felt that only they knew what ‘nice’ is and no company could ever be so and thus must be exploiting people. They’re wrong.

        • Daniel Henry

          To clarify, the “minimum wage” clause wouldn’t apply to voluntary placements, only mandatory ones.

          If a placement is genuinely voluntary then there’ll be nothing to stop the volunteer gaining the experience they need. It’s the mandatory schemes that it calls for minimum wage, where people often get forced into unhelpful and unsuitable placements that won’t further their careers.

          Many of these placements simply involve menial work without pay. Not that claimants should be exempt from menial work, but then it’s “work” rather than “experience” and should be treated as such.

          • Marcus

            Why choose to perceive benefit payments as something other than what they are i.e. pay.
            Also I don’t agree with your last paragraph: menial work, paid for or not, IS ‘experience’ as well as ‘work’, as mentioned in my post: the habit, discipline and dignity of work are all part of the ‘experience’, (setting an alarm clock is good for you).
            However if you don’t except this premise and only except that work gives you technical experience and no more then I suppose were are stuck.

            People need to get back in to work quickly and there is nothing kind or nice about paying people to do nothing, which is precisely what ‘benefits with no necessity to work’ is.

            • Daniel Henry

              I agree that all kinds of work is “experience” of sorts, but if said “experience” is to be used as an excuse to make someone work for less than minimum wage then it needs to be a genuinely valuable one.

              Yes, menial work can bring benefits such as discipline, but many people who find themselves placed in these schemes didn’t have a problem with discipline in the first place, so it’s questionable whether such “experience” would really be so valuable to them.

              Believe it or not, I agree with your last paragraph.
              “paying people to do nothing” is the other extreme to the exploitation. Linking it to the minimum wage is the middle ground compromise that would ensure that people weren’t getting paid for “nothing”, but weren’t working for “nothing” either.

              • Marcus

                I realise there is a fundamental differences in our philosophy, most specifically how we view tax.

                A 90 year old female pensioner is charged VAT on her cat food. I don’t believe that this should rise even further so that an out of work 20 year old is subsidised the minimum wage to work in Tesco.
                I believe that, if laid off, the 20 year old should get another job whilst being paid a small amount to tide him over as he looks for one. If he can’t find one soon, one will be found for him (which is in itself an expensive process) and if he would rather not do it then then that is fine. His benefits will be stopped regardless.

                There are plenty of jobs, any trip to London will show you that millions come her from abroad, some who can’t even speak English and yet they find work here; be it driving a mini cab, cleaning, Costa Coffee, nursing, portering etc.

                I understand you think it would be nice to pay to a young lad minimum wage as he works in Tesco and you’re right on the surface of things. It would be nice to pay old peoples heating bills in full. It would be nice to have free gym membership from the state, like they do in Denmark.
                But this all costs a fortune! Who is going to pay? That money has to come from somewhere, which is either cutting another government budget or raising tax on people.

                Now, we already provide financial support for people out of work. That sum has been agreed upon and no one seemed to be saying it was too small when the Labour party were in office.

                If private companies, charities or local councils are prepared to give someone work so that they maintain the dignity, discipline, habit and respect that employment brings, whilst they claim benefits and look for a full-time job, then good for those companies.

                But that does not result in an obligation for public money to subsidise this so everyone in the scheme gets at least the minimum wage.
                What signal does that send out about benefits payments? That they are some sort of unofficial holiday on taxpayer funded money during which you must not work.
                Are you suggesting it is everyone’s right to claim benefits and to not work unless they choose to? I completely and utterly disagree with that.

                If people want to twist and distort asking people who are claiming money from the state to do some work, and call it slave labour, then they are wrong.
                Remember, no one is forced to take benefits. If benfits come with a proviso to do some work it is not wrong. If you don’t like it a) Don’t claim it or b) Get a job, like the porters from Cameroon did at my local hospital.

  • Axstane

    Their Mansion Tax has about the same appeal as their AV campaign and their plans to reform the Lords. Henry VIII introduced a similar tax back in 1536 [I think] when at war with France, Everyone had to pay over 4% of their assessed wealth to pay for arms, armour and new ships. It was universally unpopular. At other times we have the Windows Tax and the Chinney Tax. Those were subvented by owners bricking up windows and diverting two or nore fires into one flue – it was a great period for house fires. People will be equally ingenious today and we really should not be looking back over the centuries for inspiration on how to fill the treasury.

  • Nicholas

    That phrase the “left-leaning wing of the party” is like saying the meat-leaning wing of a steak or the vegetable-leaning wing of a cabbage. They are all left wing! And generally speaking they range from far left and prepared to admit it or far left but putting on a show of being “moderate” left of centre (the centre now being significantly left of centre anyway). Within every soul from the far left of Labour to the wet right of the Conservatives is a communist desperate to hide, whether they know it or not. Of course Common Purpose has brought much smoke and many mirrors into play to confuse everyone about what the political objectives are really about, enabling career politicians to slither about seamlessly from one party to another. But don’t be duped. I’ve seen the way they operate up close and personal for more than fifty years. Commies! Reds! And they are not under the beds anymore but in a council office, quango, fake charity or MP’s constituency office near you!

  • Archimedes

    It’s slightly ironic to have a paper entitled ‘Tackling Inequality at it’s Roots’, which then recommends that you tackle it by taxing the outcome of inequality – hardly at the roots, is it?

    Limiting hours to the sum of employment benefits is stupid and meaningless, and would only serve to make placements less reliable, and less attractive to employers.

    Why do LibDems only ever half bake things? They’re such a zero sum entity…

    • Marcus

      Limiting hours to the sum of employment benefits also means less actual experience, so less benefit to the person doing it and it means more cost, so less benefit to the employer. As you say half baked.
      Either oppose it or support it, but this pathetic attempt at pandering to the sort of vile rent a mob that stands outside Tesco with placards reading ‘slave labour’ , will make no difference to their view of the scheme and just serves to undermine it.

  • Marcus

    One of the main problem with this coalition is that people who should never really be put in charge of anything (and usually aren’t), have been put in to a position where their special sort of drivel is being listen to.
    We can’t just pat them on the head and smile at the chippie, wet, pseudo-caring nonsense. We actually have to listen to it and comment on it, like me now.

    Never again must we enter into a coalition with these bearded failures, their inconsistent poorly reasoned ideas & philosophy (such as it is) are malignant and only endure through never being implemented. It is therefore paramount we do not as a vector for these pathetic loons.

    The AV referendum was a step too far, let alone anything else, what were we thinking?

  • alexsandr

    its f-all to do with inequality. more to do with stealing more of our money.

  • http://twitter.com/RyanCPS Ryan Bourne

    ‘Conference further believes that wealth taxes are an appropriate response to widening inequality’. There’s one problem with this statement. It’s wrong. Household inequality is almost exactly the same as in 1990: https://twitter.com/RyanCPS/status/244037029158076416/photo/1

  • michael

    Lord Oakeshott, a classic egalitarian socialist… what’s good for the goose is really not applicable to the ‘more equal’ gander.

    • Frank P

      Oikshitt is an obnoxious, pompous pillock and exemplifies the worst of the elitist academic Left; he is a patsy for the EUSSR bureaucratic usurpers. He’s a closet commie, imho.

      • Fergus Pickering

        Frank P, you speak words of wisdom. A la lanterne with said pompous pillock. There are some people who would be much improved by being dead and he is certainly on of them..

      • Charlie the Chump

        Don’t hold back Frank, tell us what you really think. I agree by the way.

      • Charlie the Chump

        Don’t hold back Frank, tell us what you really think. I agree by the way.

    • Marcus

      One of the main problem with this coalition is that people who should never really be put in charge of anything (and usually aren’t), have been put in to a position where their special sort of drivel is being listen to.
      We can’t just pat them on the head and smile at the chippie, wet, pseuod-caring nonsense. We actually have to listen to it and comment on it, like me, now.

      Never again must we enter into a coalition with these bearded failures, their inconsistent poorly reasoned ideas & philosophy (such as it is) are malignant and only endure through never being implemented. It is therefore paramount we do not as a vector for these pathetic loons.
      The AV referendum was a step too far, let alone anything else, what were we thinking?

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