The Tories hit back on Mumsnet

Conservatives accuse Labour of lying over tax credits, but who's right?

After Labour used Mumsnet to attack the Conservatives' plans to reduce tax credits, the Tories have hit back with an advert of their own.

mumsnet1

The Labour ad, you may remember, claimed that the Tories would abolish tax credits for all families with incomes over £31,000, rather than £50,000. The Tory ad rejects this claim as "complete spin" and, in a related blog post, the shadow work and pensions secretary, Theresa May, goes further and describes it as a "lie".

spinthis

So who's right?

Labour claimed that figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that lowering the threshold to £50,000 would raise only £45m and not, as George Osborne claims, £400m. To raise that sum, the shadow chancellor would have to lower the threshold to £31,000, said Liam Byrne, Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Here's what the IFS said:

Without access to HMRC's data, it is not possible for us to say precisely how much money would be raised by the Conservative Party's proposal having allowed for incomplete take-up, but it can be stated confidently that it would be less than £0.4 billion (because that would require lowering the threshold to £31,000), but more than £45 million (which is what would be raised if the threshold at £50,000 were replaced by a cliff-edge, as this is the total amount to which families with incomes exceeding £50,000 are entitled).

IFS Green Budget 2010, Page 168

So the Tories are wrong to claim that their plan would raise £400m but Labour is equally wrong to claim it would raise just £45m. But after their disingenuous poster on Labour's "death tax" earlier this week, the Tories aren't really in a position to cry foul.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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As long as the Tories fail to solve the housing crisis, they will struggle to win

The fall in the number of homeowners leaves the Conservatives unable to sell capitalism to those with no capital. 

For the Conservatives, rising home ownership was once a reliable route to government. Former Labour voters still speak of their gratitude to Margaret Thatcher for the Right to Buy scheme. But as home ownership has plummeted, the Tories have struggled to sell capitalism to a generation without capital. 

In Britain, ownership has fallen to 63.5 per cent, the lowest rate since 1987 and the fourth-worst in the EU. The number of private renters now exceeds 11 million (a larger number than in the social sector). The same policies that initially promoted ownership acted to reverse it. A third of Right to Buy properties fell into the hands of private landlords. High rents left tenants unable to save for a deposit.

Rather than expanding supply, the Tories have focused on subsidising demand (since 2010, housebuilding has fallen to its lowest level since 1923). At a cabinet meeting in 2013, shortly after the launch of the government’s Help to Buy scheme, George Osborne declared: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom and everyone will be happy as property values go up”. The then-chancellor’s remark epitomised his focus on homeowners. Conservative policy was consciously designed to enrich the propertied.

A new report from the Resolution Foundation, Home Affront: housing across the generations, shows the consequences of such short-termism. Based on recent trends, less than half of millennials will buy a home before the age of 45 compared to over 70 per cent of baby boomers. Four out of every ten 30-year-olds now live in private rented accommodation (often of substandard quality) in contrast to one in ten 50 years ago. And while the average family spent just 6 per cent of their income on housing costs in the early 1960s, this has trebled to 18 per cent. 

When Theresa May launched her Conservative leadership campaign, she vowed to break with David Cameron’s approach. "Unless we deal with the housing deficit, we will see house prices keep on rising," she warned. "The divide between those who inherit wealth and those who don’t will become more pronounced. And more and more of the country’s money will go into expensive housing instead of more productive investments that generate more economic growth."

The government has since banned letting agent fees and announced an additional £1.4bn for affordable housing – a sector entirely neglected by Cameron and Osborne (see graph below). Social housing, they believed, merely created more Labour voters. "They genuinely saw housing as a petri dish for voters," Nick Clegg later recalled. "It was unbelievable." 

But though housebuilding has risen to its highest levels since 2008, with 164,960 new homes started in the year to June 2017 and 153,000 completed, this remains far short of the 250,000 required merely to meet existing demand (let alone make up the deficit). In 2016/17, the government funded just 944 homes for social rent (down from 36,000 in 2010). 

In a little-noticed speech yesterday, Sajid Javid promised a "top-to-bottom" review of social housing following the Grenfell fire. But unless this includes a substantial increase in public funding, the housing crisis will endure. 

For the Conservatives, this would pose a great enough challenge in normal times. But the political energy absorbed by Brexit, and the £15bn a year it is forecast to cost the UK, makes it still greater.

At the 2017 general election, homeowners voted for the Tories over Labour by 55 per cent to 30 per cent (mortgage holders by 43-40). By contrast, private renters backed Labour by 54 per cent to 31 per cent. As long as the latter multiply in number, while the former fall, the Tories will struggle to build a majority-winning coalition. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.