19 Dec 2006

Local policies for domestic and social cohesion

David Cameron "has re-committed himself to supporting marriage through the tax system", though 'Breakdown Britain' was not supposed to be about remedies, which are to come later.

It's a bit rich for him to say so, but Michael Portillo argues:

"[David Cameron] has already jumped to the conclusion that family breakdown is at the heart of our horrendous social problems, and has re-committed himself to supporting marriage through the tax system. Duncan Smith looked embarrassed as Cameron converted 300,000 words of serious study into a soundbite that endorsed his preconceptions.....
..............Cameron’s idea of tax breaks is a worthy successor to Marie Antoinette’s exhortation that the poor eat cake when short of bread........... By commissioning Duncan Smith’s reports Cameron has made inequality a political issue. But it is still hard to believe that either the Tories or Labour are serious about tackling it." 'Duncan Smith pins down Britain, the unequal nation'

It really would be fairer to increase the personal tax allowance and make it transferable between spouses, as the Conservatives seem to be suggesting. Not only would it be helpful to poorer married couples with children and only one earner, but it would also help poorer retired couples - with one personal or occupational pension - to avoid the need to claim a currently means tested pension credit. This is social justice, but for the distant future, maybe 2010 or later. As has been amply demonstrated by research from CARE and CIVITAS , the current tax/benefit system favours cohabitation and single parents at the expense of married couples. The balance must be redressed.

At the next general election the Conservatives will need to convince the electorate that they mean what they say well before it. A tax break for married couples was belatedly introduced in the manifesto before last, a proposal to make the personal tax allowance transferable for couples with children up to the age of eleven.

This was when Michael Portillo was Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. There was no such commitment in the last manifesto. It doesn't really look as if it is something the Conservatives believe in for the purposes of furthering social justice, more of a ploy to attract votes when it suits them, especially in the light of Michael Portillo's underhand reference to "Marie Antoinette’s exhortation that the poor eat cake", since he had proposed it in an earlier election.

Conservative local authorities could to be operating pro-marriage and family policies well before the next election. At present electors are entitled to ask, "What are the Conservatives actually doing now - in places where they have control - to support marriage and family life?"

The truth is, "precious little"!

Michael Portillo says, "...... it is still hard to believe that either the Tories or Labour are serious about tackling [inequality]". The Conservatives don't have their hands on many of the levers of power, but they do control the Local Government Association. David Cameron seems to be willing to announce tax breaks for married couples, so let's hear from him soon about the practicable measures the Conservatives could implement locally now. He could very easily prove that Michael Portillo is wrong.

Promoting local policies for social and domestic cohesion based on neighbourhood statistics would be a good start. Marriage and family policy is much more susceptible to efforts made in homes and neighbourhoods - with the backing of faith and community leaders - than to the rhetoric emanating from Westminster, especially when it comprises tax breaks that cannot be implemented for several years hence, and to which no immediate political or financial cost is attached.

Advertising marriage and family learning programmes - run by voluntary groups - through register offices and other venues operated by local authorities, following guidelines recommended by the Local Government Association, would demonstrate that the Conservatives "are serious about tackling [inequality]".

Will the Conservatives go for the bird in hand, or carry on talking about [those tax breaks in] the bushes? As Janet Daley says, “
Don’t talk, fix it!”

No comments: