Monday, February 04, 2008

Old ideas

Thanks to Luke for pointing out Jackie Ashley's column in the Guardian today, 'more help for the poor is what we want to hear. The day this stops being a Labour issue is the day the party is finished.' Jackie Ashley wants the government to focus on social justice, rather than casting around for a new big idea suggested by a think tank. Luke adds that he'd like to see one or two major policy initiatives on poverty, of a scale comparable to the minimum wage.

Three thoughts:

1. First priority is to do what the End Child Poverty campaign are calling for, and halve child poverty, taking one million children and their families out of poverty through increases in Child Benefit and Child Tax Credit. This is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, the government promised to do this by 2010 back in 1999, and promises should be kept. Secondly, the direct benefit to those families would be enormous, giving these children a fair start in life and an equal chance to succeed alongside their richer classmates. Thirdly, putting more money in the pockets of poor families is exactly the right policy for the good of our economy. Fourthly, attitudes to poverty are divided between those who think it is inevitable ('the poor will always be with us'), those who think poverty is caused by bad luck, those who think it is a result of social injustice, and those who think it is because people are lazy. Taking one million children out of poverty shows that it is not inevitable, and that it isn't just about luck, and hence paves the way for greater support for future efforts to reduce poverty.

2. Childcare in this country is very expensive, and getting more so. Lots of people, particularly lone parents, would like to work, but can't because they can't afford the costs of having their kids looked after. Even families who are quite well off find it difficult to pay for the childcare that they need. So a really radical idea would be for the government to give every family a tax cut equal to the amount of money they spend on childcare for their children while they are at work, effectively making childcare free just as the NHS makes healthcare free. This helps families on low incomes and those with disabled children most of all, will help get people into work (good for them, good for their kids, good for the Exchequer), and is a fairly hefty tax cut for middle-class families, but one with positive social benefits, rather than negative effects like inheritance tax cuts. It's also effectively Tory-proof - if the Tories want to go into the next election opposing it, then all the better.

3. Does anyone else remember the windfall tax? It was popular and raised lots of money for the government to do good stuff. I'd have thought that now is exactly the time to do another windfall tax on the people whose incomes have grown massively in the past decade. The government needs to raise money, and it is only right that the people who have made a fortune thanks to the steady economic growth and stability of the past decade should help out the rest of us now that the world economy is in some trouble. Providing you targeted it at the people who middle-class people in London (particularly journalists) feel envious of, then this is one tax that could be really popular.

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