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Showing posts from October, 2010

Labour Manifesto 2010 and the housing benefit cap

On Page 20 of Labour's 2010 Manifesto it looks at welfare reform. More people with disabilities and health conditions will be helped to move into work from Incapacity Benefit and Employment Support Allowance, as we extend the use of our tough-but-fair work capability test. This will help to reduce the benefit bill by £1.5 billion over the next four years. We will reassess the Incapacity Benefit claims of 1.5 million people by 2014, as we move those able to work back into jobs. Our goal is to make responsibility the cornerstone of our welfare state. Housing Benefit will be reformed to ensure that we do not subsidise people to live in the private sector on rents that other ordinary working families could not afford. And we will continue to crack down on those who try to cheat the benefit system. on page 19 Our job guarantees will put an end to long-term unemployment and a life on benefits. No one fit for work should be abandoned to a life on benefit, so all those who can work will b

Christopher Booker on public family law

I think there is getting to be a bit of momentum behind the campaign to sort out English child protection. The link is to a story in the Sunday Telegraph. The only people in a position to reform this system fundamentally are those who set it up in the first place under the 1989 Children Act – the politicians. But they have, with one or two shining exceptions – notably John Hemming – walked away from the Frankenstein's monster that Parliament created. It is now up to them to support Mr Hemming and all those horribly maltreated families who are campaigning for one of the most out­rageous scandals in Britain today to be brought to an end.

Secret Prisoners

I mentioned one of the UK's secret prisoners today in the House of Commons. These prisoners are different to those imprisoned through the courts where the Family Court bans the name of the prisoner being revealed. These are people whose legal capacity to decide where they live is removed from them by the Court of Protection. The Mental Capacity Act 2005 specifies in detail the circumstances in which someone can be jailed ostensibly to protect them. In these situations the system decides that someone does not have either the capacity to decide where they live or indeed to instruct a solicitor to argue about the issue. There are two problems with how the system currently works. The first is the wider one of accountability. Someone is locked up with no right to instruct a solicitor to contest the jailing and the media are banned from talking about it. Obviously my comments in the House of Commons can be reported, but without that it cannot be talked about on threat of imprisonment.

Gilt Yields over the century

John O Shea has now started a bidding war on gilt yield graphs. I think, however, that looking at 1900-2009 is sufficient. The figures here are annual averages, but they show clearly how it is possible to have problems with the interest rate on government debt. The peaks were indeed during the Labour Government of 1974-9. Labour, although they were in theory talking about cuts of just over 40bn do now seem to be arguing against all the cuts. Incidentally given that "there is no money left" the funds for Royal Mail do have to be raised on the equity markets. Labour have left no choice on this. Labour were aiming to do a similar thing. There are a number of key priorities 1. Protecting the Post Office Network 2. Maintaining the Universal Service Obligation. These are our objectives.

Gilt Yields

The chart below is the current 10 year gilt yield chart from bloomberg. It looks back at what happened with gilt yields. As we went into the recesssion and there was an attempt to drive down interest rates the gilt yields followed. Then they popped up a bit and averaged around 4% going into the general election although there was a peak with a bit of extra uncertainty. Then they went down to the 3% level where they have remained. We as a country are "in hock" to the markets because we borrow money from them. The only way to be less "in hock" is to borrow less. The government's policies are in many ways traditional keynsian as there is not an attempt to remove the deficit overnight. The Coalition Government's cuts are about of the same order of magnitude in fact as those initially proposed by Labour. They get rid of the deficit faster because of lower interest rates (1% on 1 tn is 10bn). Labour now appear to be arguing against any substantial cuts. Th

Dutch Orchestra Protest

The link is to a story about a Dutch Orchestra protesting about funding cuts. The protest of performing in a commuter railway station is at least more musical than average. However, what we are seeing across the developed world is the consequences of the recession. Initially it was a private sector recession and has turned into a public sector recession - inevitably. John O Shea complained about me using the crocodile on a plane analogy. Much that the previous (Labour) government were responsible both for overspending (believing their own publicity) and a failure of regulation, the recession was also caused by high oil prices and the lack of liquidity in the housing market. These things were hard to predict (in the same way as a crocodile on a plane), but they cause a big problem. Labour are in the "spend your way out of the problem" camp. That is exactly the policy adopted by Greece before their debt crisis. Remember that interest is affected both by the amount of deb

The Communication Workers Union

I find it odd that on one hand the Communication Workers Union are setting out publicly to defeat me personally at the next General Election and then in the next minute they want to meet me. There is always a question of priorities. I am happy to meet constituents at my advice bureau (which does not have appointments). However, I find it a bit odd that my political opponents would expect me to find time to meet them. It is all a question of priorities. It is not possible to do everything that people ask you to do. Hence you need to prioritise. My priority is serving my constituents.

You couldn't make it up

Here on 22nd October it says: The Work Foundation, which bills itself as "the leading independent authority on work and its future", announced today that it had been acquired by Lancaster University. The move came after a winding up petition, citing a £26.9m pension deficit, was filed at the high court yesterday. The university claims the purchase minimises losses to creditors, including pension fund members, and safeguards 43 jobs, including that of the foundation's executive vice-chair, Will Hutton. Hutton is a former editor of the Observer, a member of the Scott Trust, which owns the Guardian, and an adviser to the government on public sector pay. Two days later also in the Guardian here Will Hutton says: The gamble did not have to be taken. The scale of spending cuts were not "unavoidable". The country was not and is not on the brink of bankruptcy. The stock of national debt built up over the decades lies in the middle of the international average as a sha

Taxation and the Graduate Contribution

When I graduated (in 1981) I faced basic tax rates of 30% and a higher rate of 60%. People who graduate with the graduate contribution in place will face a tax rate of 20+9=29% and 40+9=49%. That is a lower marginal rate of taxation than I faced on graduation in 1981. I think this is important because the case is often made that those people who benefited from tertiary education in the 1970s have been changing how the system works. I made this point on the politics show today.

Do people care about Elected Mayors

The link is to the story about Tower Hamlets. The turnout was 25.6%. I am not quite sure of exactly why people want elected mayors. There is a claim that it creates "accountable" local government. I don't see this myself. There is also an argument that it encourages higher turnouts. Well the evidence from Tower Hamlets does not substantiate that.

Twinkle and Beauty

There has been a bit more interest in Twinkle and his missing sister. Here is a photograph of them both. In terms of various questions about the kitten(s) a) They were named by my daughter (age 4) - they are her cats. b) They are due to be chipped, but are not yet. c) They are now about 6 months old. I would like to thank those who have replicated the photos of Beauty for their support of the attempts to find Beauty. That even includes Andy Howell who has set up a twitter account and a facebook page even if it is a bit tongue in cheek. For those who don't know Andy Howell used to be Deputy Leader of the Birmingham Labour Party. However, the Labour Party in Birmingham have been quite helpful within the context of trying to find Beauty.

Kitten Missing

If anyone has seen this kitten please contact me at the House of Commons. There is a reward for its return. (note that people are welcome to republish this picture of Beauty on the basis that they are aiming to get her returned.)

Labour's cuts would be more

One reason why the Coalition's cuts are less than Labour proposed is that the Coalition is really committed to reducing the deficit quickly. That means simply that people will lend money to the UK at a lower interest rate. That means less interest and hence the cuts don't need to be as much. Simples. Remember that Labour's lax approach to public spending means that they have to cut more.

Student Finance - the Options

Regardless of reports in the press, I have not yet made up my mind as to which way to vote. I cannot practically do this until the government has produced any proposals. However, in terms of the debate some things are clear: Ideally tertiary education should be funded directly from general taxation. That is not an option so there are various options. 1. Up front fees. 2. A graduate tax (an open ended tax) 3. Up front fees with an option of the government providing a loan 4. A scheme which shares the burden between graduates on the basis of their earnings (not their parents' wealth), but which is not an open ended "pure" graduate tax. What would you pick? I think the fourth option is the fairest (or most socially just) because it shares the cost of tertiary education between graduates on the basis of the income of the graduates. This does, however, require the option of an up front payment without penalty being removed. It also requires more work on the calculation of

Student Fees and the NUS Pledge

There is rightly a debate about the signing of the NUS pledge by Lib Dem MPs, including myself, and what happens now about the Browne Report and any subsequent proposals. The pledge said: “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative” It is clear from that pledge that the objective is to have "a fairer alternative". The question, therefore, is whether the government's proposals are, indeed, a fairer alternative. The test is whether they have moved from being effectively a tuition loan to what is a capped progressive graduate tax (or graduate contribution). I am still not sure that they are progressive enough and have raised this with the government, but in defence of the proposals: a) Up front fees are scrapped for part time students - this is important. b) 30% of graduates pay less under the Browne proposals than under Labour's proposals. The proposals are far more progressive

Jobs for long term unemployed and people with disabilities

The link is to Hansard where I have made progress with the idea of requirign those people contracting to supply services to the government to take on some long term unemployed and some people with disabilities. John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley, Liberal Democrat) I congratulate the Secretary of State on the proposals for the universal credit, which will make it worth being in work. As well as trying to fit people to jobs, will he consider trying to fit jobs to people by using the Government's contracting power to require that there be some jobs for the long-term unemployed and some jobs for people with disabilities? Iain Duncan Smith (Secretary of State, Work and Pensions; Chingford and Woodford Green, Conservative) We will certainly ensure that we look at that suggestion.

Today's Sunday Mirror

The link is to the story in today's mirror about the attempt to get justice by approaching international courts. Hundreds of heartbroken parents who claim social services "stole" their children have launched a legal bid to win them back. The 500 mums and dads say it is impossible to get justice in the UK and have turned to an international court. Families argue they are the victims of social workers who are over-zealous after cases such as Victoria ClimbiƩ and Baby Peter and a process in family courts which is excessively secretive. There are a number of procedural problems in the Family Division. The secrecy makes it difficult for people to know what is going on. The biggest problem relates to the way expert evidence is handled. The fact that parents have to live with the Local Authority's preferred experts and have no right to a second opinion makes the judgments of the courts unreliable. The Court of Appeal will not correct this obvious error simply because they

Panorama on children in care

The link is to Panorama's story on children in care in Coventry where they looked at the situation for children in Coventry by following them for 6 months. Much that at times children do need to be taken into care, at other times they are kept from their families for no good reason. The young Connor in the programme who has already had a disrupted (aka failed) adoption is a good example of a child who has many symptoms of reactive attachment disorder. This results in his behaviour being from time to time particularly difficult and would be likely to cause a subsequent adoption to fail. However, the authorities are set on getting him adopted again - this is probably the worst thing they could do to him and he would be best to remain with his current foster family. The thing to note about this is that it is likely that the RAD has arisen subsequent to him being removed into care. The older Connor is basically angry with the state for keeping him away from his mother and young half