Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Budget priorities

Tomorrow is the Budget. Here's three things I'd like to see, with reasons why:

Increase benefits and cut taxes for people on lower incomes

This is essential for our economic recovery, as it puts more money in the pockets of people who need it most and will spend it, which helps all of us.

It is also good politics. The key 'swing voters' in the marginal constituencies who will decide whether the Tories win an overall majority, or whether Labour wins more seats than the Tories, live in places like Morecambe, Dudley, Cleethorpes, Halifax, Ipswich, Carlisle, Dewsbury, Keighley and Stockton.

Policies such as halving child poverty by raising tax credits and child benefit, raising Jobseekers' Allowance or cutting income tax for basic rate taxpayers will help more people in these areas than in some of the more affluent constituencies which have been the focus of the last three elections. We've been told by commentators and politicians alike that the important thing is to concentrate on the 'swing voters' in marginal constituencies, we'll see whether that is still the case now that these swing voters have rather different economic interests from the political elite.

Modernise the welfare state

To bring the welfare state into the 21st century, reforms are needed to reflect the fact that people are living longer than in the 1940s, and most women work rather than staying at home and looking after their children. Both child care and care for the elderly is unaffordable for many people and also frequently of poor quality or unavailable when needed, just as healthcare was in the 1930s.

Just as the Labour government introduced the NHS in 1948, so this government should expand the welfare state by making high quality child care and care for the elderly affordable for all, and raising wages for care workers. This would create thousands of good quality jobs and be incredibly popular.

Prioritise what's important, and cut what isn't

There is talk of "efficiency savings" through "cutting waste", which is largely a load of old nonsense. Instead, it would be better to announce that there are some projects and organisations which were affordable in the good times, but which aren't priorities now.

One very interesting area for this is quangos. There are some quangos which would not be sensible to cut the funding of, such as Jobcentre Plus, but there are a whole host of others which do some quite good and worthy things, but ones which just aren't a priority at the moment. For example, Ofsted or the Commission on Equality and Human Rights are both organisations which should reasonably be expected to get by on, say, three quarters of their current budget.

Cutting spending on quangos by an average of 25% over three years on its own would free up the cash to enable the government to keep its promise to halve child poverty. This is quite simple 'language of priorities' stuff. Other savings include proposals which were never worthwhile even when they were affordable such as identity cards.

There are many other good ideas and worthy causes for the budget, but those are three measures which I'll be looking out for.

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