The real reason the Lib Dems are languishing in the polls

Is there a pantomime in the land that didn't feature a "Nick Clegg breaking a promise" joke this Chr

There is a great (though sadly, totally erroneous) quote attributed to Catherine the Great, which says:

You can be a murderous tyrant and the world will remember you fondly, but f*ck one horse and you will be a horse f*cker for all eternity.

It strikes me that there's a lesson in there for us Lib Dems.

There's an increasing tendency within the party to accept that our languishing in the polls is a natural price for being in government, especially during the worst economic maelstrom for 80 years. In such circumstances you do all sorts of unpopular things you'd rather not do -- and no-one likes the person administering the nasty medicine.

To adopt such an attitude ignores the fact that the other party in government is riding high in the polls regardless of the treatment they're doling out, while the Prime Minster remains the only national party leader with positive approval ratings.

So how come David Cameron gets to play the role of beloved tyrant, while Nick Clegg...?

It is because the nasty medicine is not at the forefront of people's minds when they think of the Liberal Democrats. It is lack of trust. Betrayal. An inability to keep a promise. It is still tuition fees.

Most people in the party are pretty bored talking about this now -- which is fine. But the country isn't. Is there a pantomime in the land that didn't feature a "Nick Clegg breaking a promise" joke this Christmas? I suspect not.

We can write a long list of positive, liberal achievements in government -- the pupil premium, lifting nearly a million low paid workers out of income tax, restoring the pensions to earnings link. Next year there'll be a load more -- like the Green Investment Bank.

But no-one will really be listening or giving us any credit. Because we still haven't put the original sin to rights yet. We could stand on a street corner throwing out £50 notes to strangers, and everyone would look at us quizzically before holding them up to the light to see if they're fake.

Of course, we must still carry on delivering on our manifesto and championing liberal causes in government. But we shouldn't expect the polls to change one iota when we do -- just as they didn't change last year. Because we'll get no credit for anything unless we resolve the tuition fees debacle.

Nick needs to say sorry. And sort it. Because until then, everyone has us marked down as horse f*ckers.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Universal Credit takes £3,700 from single working parents - it's time to call a halt

The shadow work and pensions secretary on the latest analysis of a controversial benefit. 

Labour is calling for the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) to be halted as new data shows that while wages are failing to keep up with inflation, cuts to in-work social security support have meant most net incomes have flat-lined in real terms and in some cases worsened, with women and people from ethnic minority communities most likely to be worst affected.

Analysis I commissioned from the House of Commons Library shows that real wages are stagnating and in-work support is contracting for both private and public sector workers. 

Private sector workers like Kellie, a cleaner at Manchester airport, who is married and has a four year old daughter. She told me how by going back to work after the birth of her daughter resulted in her losing in-work tax credits, which made her day-to-day living costs even more difficult to handle. 

Her child tax credits fail to even cover food or pack lunches for her daughter and as a result she has to survive on a very tight weekly budget just to ensure her daughter can eat properly. 

This is the everyday reality for too many people in communities across the UK. People like Kellie who have to make difficult and stressful choices that are having lasting implications on the whole family. 

Eventually Kellie will be transferred onto UC. She told me how she is dreading the transition onto UC, as she is barely managing to get by on tax credits. The stories she hears about having to wait up to 10 weeks before you receive payment and the failure of payments to match tax credits are causing her real concern.

UC is meant to streamline social security support,  and bring together payments for several benefits including tax credits and housing benefit. But it has been plagued by problems in the areas it has been trialled, not least because of the fact claimants must wait six weeks before the first payment. An increased use of food banks has been observed, along with debt, rent arrears, and even homelessness.

The latest evidence came from Citizens Advice in July. The charity surveyed 800 people who sought help with universal credit in pilot areas, and found that 39 per cent were waiting more than six weeks to receive their first payment and 57 per cent were having to borrow money to get by during that time.

Our analysis confirms Universal Credit is just not fit for purpose. It looks at different types of households and income groups, all working full time. It shows single parents with dependent children are hit particularly hard, receiving up to £3,100 a year less than they received with tax credits - a massive hit on any family budget.

A single teacher with two children working full time, for example, who is a new claimant to UC will, in real terms, be around £3,700 a year worse off in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12.

Or take a single parent of two who is working in the NHS on full-time average earnings for the public sector, and is a new tax credit claimant. They will be more than £2,000 a year worse off in real-terms in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12. 

Equality analysis published in response to a Freedom of Information request also revealed that predicted cuts to Universal Credit work allowances introduced in 2016 would fall most heavily on women and ethnic minorities. And yet the government still went ahead with them.

It is shocking that most people on low and middle incomes are no better off than they were five years ago, and in some cases they are worse off. The government’s cuts to in-work support of both tax credits and Universal Credit are having a dramatic, long lasting effect on people’s lives, on top of stagnating wages and rising prices. 

It’s no wonder we are seeing record levels of in-work poverty. This now stands at a shocking 7.4 million people.

Our analyses make clear that the government’s abject failure on living standards will get dramatically worse if UC is rolled out in its current form.

This exactly why I am calling for the roll out to be stopped while urgent reform and redesign of UC is undertaken. In its current form UC is not fit for purpose. We need to ensure that work always pays and that hardworking families are properly supported. 

Labour will transform and redesign UC, ending six-week delays in payment, and creating a fair society for the many, not the few. 

Debbie Abrahams is shadow work and pensions secretary.