Lib Dems order MPs not to refer to the "bedroom tax" in leaked media advice

The party's "lines to take" memo, accidentally emailed to journalists, includes a section reminding MPs that the bedroom tax "is not a tax".

In an early bid for the prize of best conference blunder, the Lib Dem press office has accidentally emailed journalists its 'lines to take' memo to MPs (which you can read in full below).
 
One notable section is on the bedroom tax, which the party reminds MPs "is not a tax", instead referring to the "spare room subsidy".
 
Whatever you choose to call it, the party will debate the subject later today with a motion (Making Housing Benefit Work for Tenants in Social Housing) calling for "an immediate evaluation of the impact of the policy, establishing the extent to which larger homes are freed up, money saved, costs of implementation, the impact on vulnerable tenants, and the impact on the private rented sector." The motion also calls for "a redrafting of clear housing needs guidelines in association with those representing vulnerable groups including the disabled, elderly and children."

Until new guidelines are in place, it argues that there should be no withdrawal of housing benefit from those on the waiting list for social housing which meets the current guidelines and that there should be an exemption for those who "temporarily have a smaller housing need due to a change in their circumstances, but whose need will predictably return to a higher level (e.g. whose children will pass the age limits for separate rooms within that period)".

While Nick Clegg and other Lib Dems ministers have defended the measure on the grounds that it encourages tenants to downsize, freeing up houses for those in overcrowded accomodation (the problem being the severe shortage of one bedroom properties), delegates are likely to back the motion, with a significant number calling for the immediate abolition of the policy. On the fringe, Shirley Williams was greeted with thunderous applause after describing it as "a big mistake".

Liberal Democrat media advice to MPs

 
Liberal Democrats 

Conference Top Lines Briefing

 

16 September 2013

 

Fairer taxes – Stronger economy – Race equality – Cohabitation rights – Veils in schools – Harassment allegations – Polling – Conference narrative

 

The Liberal Democrats are building a stronger economy in a fairer society, 
enabling everyone to get on in life

 

Five things to remember for every interview

 

  • This conference sees the party in a confident mood
  • We have a strong record of achievement in Government
  • Our priorities are jobs and easing the squeeze on household budgets
  • Labour cannot be trusted to build a stronger economy
  • The Conservatives on their own cannot build a fairer society

 

Fairer taxes

 

Under Nick Clegg’s leadership, the party have focused on the old liberal principle of favouring taxation on unearned wealth over hard work. This has culminated in the introduction in government of the key Lib Dem policy of cutting taxes by £700 for more than 20m people.

 

In these difficult times, it is important that everyone makes their contribution. It is right that we ask the broadest shoulder to bear their fair share: it is unrealistic to cut more money from welfare spending without increasing taxes on Britain's richest.

We are looking at how the richest 10% of people, those earning over £50,000, could make a further contribution. The vast majority of people in the country would consider £50,000 a very large salary: these are not the middle income earners.

 

Spare room subsidy

 

From April 2013 the Government introduced a reduction in Housing Benefit for those who are receiving benefit for spare bedrooms in the social rented sector. It is not a tax.

 

1.            The policy is about making better use of social housing

2.            Many councils have people on waiting lists or living in overcrowded accommodation while others are funded for spare rooms they don’t need

3.            Why should someone who rents a council house get benefit for a spare room when you don’t if you have a private landlord?

4.            The policy will also contain the growing Housing Benefit bill for the taxpayer

5.            It will also encourage people to look for work

 

The Liberal Democrats in Government have secured an additional £35m fund to help claimants affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy who need extra support. This funding consists of £5m for rural areas with very isolated communities, £10m for all local authorities and £20m as a bidding fund for local authorities who can demonstrate that they have or are developing a robust policy to distribute discretionary housing payments and who have an additional need for funding.

 

Key Stats

  • ·         Nearly one third of working-age social housing tenants on Housing Benefit are living in accommodation too big for their needs.
  • ·         There are nearly 1m spare bedrooms, with an estimated cost to the taxpayer of up to half-a-billion pounds a year.
  • ·         There are over 250,000 households living in overcrowded accommodation in the Social Rented Sector in England, who need more space.
  • ·         Nearly 2m households (1.8m) in England on the social housing waiting list.
  • ·         The cost of HB has increased by 50% in real terms over the last decade

 

In Scotland:

  • ·         The housing benefit bill is £1.8bn
  • ·         Based on the Scottish Housing Conditions Survey (SHCS), there are 59,000 households overcrowded in Scotland (3% of the total).  25,000 of these are in the social rented sector.

 

In the social rented sector in Scotland, there are:

  • ·         148,000 households occupying one bedroom properties
  • ·         252,000 households occupying two bedroom properties
  • ·         Around 20,000 new lettings of one bedroom properties in 2011
  • ·         Over 5,000 new dwellings completed in 2011
  • ·         158,000 on waiting lists

 

Discretionary Housing Payments

To ensure we protect the vulnerable, we have trebled the Discretionary Housing Payment budget, which will enable local authorities to provide additional support, and respond on a case by case basis.

 

We have provided DHPs for three years, and it is under constant review. We have allocated £150m to local authorities for discretionary housing payments (DHPs) this year, including £25m for those in adapted accommodation affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy. We have also allocated an extra £5m for the most rural areas to help support remote and isolated communities. We have given councils an extra £10m to support the administration of the policy and there is a £20m fund available which councils can bid for if they need extra support. Some local authorities may claim they do not have enough DHPs. Similar claims were made in 2011/12, when councils ended up under spending their DHP budget by £11m.

 

Mansion Tax

The Liberal Democrats want everyone to pay their fair share, which is why we believe a Mansion Tax on the value of properties over £2m is fair.

 

To say this will affect houses worth more than £1.25m is nonsense invented by people who want to grab a headline. Our policy is for a threshold of £2m.

 

Personal allowance threshold

In government we have achieved our manifesto pledge to increase the income tax personal allowance to £10,000, taking 2.7m people out of income tax and giving a tax cut of £700 per annum to 24m others.

 

As the next step, we believe that there is a clear case for taking the equivalent of a full-time job on the minimum wage (equivalent to £12,300 per annum at current rates) out of income tax entirely. This is a bold move which would provide tax relief to many millions of families on low and middle incomes, and would help to maximise the rewards of employment for those on low incomes.

 

Making this change in one go would come at a significant cost to the Treasury, therefore we intend to phase this change in in stages over the course of the next parliament. It would be paid for through the other tax changes we propose to make, such as introduction of a Mansion Tax, Capital Gains Tax and pension tax reform, and our range of measures designed to tackle tax avoidance.

 

In this way we can provide tax cuts to those who most deserve them, encourage employment and boost the economy.

 

Capital Gains Tax

Taxing capital gains at a lower rate than income, as per the existing system, is of little or no benefit to the least well-off members of society, but allows some of the wealthiest individuals to pay significantly less tax than if the rates were aligned. This is fundamentally unfair.

 

In government, we acted quickly to make the regime more progressive by introducing a higher rate of 28% for gains made by higher and additional rate taxpayers, however ultimately we believe capital gains tax rates should be aligned with income tax rates.

 

Our tax reforms would achieve this, and would also reintroduce indexation allowances, in order to ensure that no-one is taxed on the portion of a ‘gain’ which has arisen simply due to inflation – and therefore ensure that no-one is penalised for holding assets over the long term.

 

The additional revenue that would be raised by these measures would go directly towards our aim of increasing the income tax personal allowance to the level equivalent to the minimum wage, which would benefit all individuals in full time employment – instead of the preferential capital gains tax rates which only benefit the wealthy.

 

Pensions tax relief

A £1m lifetime allowance would still be a generous regime – even at the existing low annuity rates, a £1m pension pot for a typical pensioner would provide a tax-free lump sum of £250,000 on retirement plus an inflation-linked pension of around £25,000 a year (or £45,000 per year fixed).

In reality the vast majority of employees will not reach a pension pot of £1m, and therefore will be unaffected by our proposal.

 

Cider

We want to alter the definition of cider for duty purposes to exclude the mass-produced, lower quality products from the beneficial low duty rates (compared to beer or wine) which apply to cider.

 

The current requirement to be classed as a cider is for only 35% of the product to be from apple juice. Increasing this requirement (to, say, 75%) would require manufacturers of high volume, low quality product to either significantly increase the quality of what they're making, or pay duty at (considerably higher) wine rates. By contrast, those manufacturers already producing cider from actual apples would be unaffected.

 

Either way, the cost of low-end products would increase, the market would be levelled, and the harmful social impact of very cheap, high-strength ciders would be reduced.

Jewellery Tax

We have never proposed introducing a ’jewellery tax’ (or more accurately a ‘net asset tax’). As part of our extensive tax policy consultation process, we invited party members (and others) to comment on the idea of a French-style ‘net asset tax’, as this was one of the ideas that had been suggested by contributors to the consultation process up to that point. Ultimately the idea was rejected by the working group.

 

Stronger economy

 

Due to a banking crisis and Labour’s economic mismanagement, the coalition inherited an economy in very bad shape.

 

With sustained action and after taking many difficult decisions, the coalition has managed to reduce the structural deficit by a third since coming to power. Having created over a million private sector jobs, with increasing business confidence and the economy having grown for two successive quarters, there are signs that the economy is healing, although there is still a long way to go.

 

We have proposed taking radical action to tackle high youth unemployment by developing a comprehensive strategy to give 16-24 year olds access to skills, advice and opportunities necessary to find sustainable employment.

 

We would also like to pool council borrowing limits so councils who want to build more houses, but are at their limits, are able to do so. We will also examine whether Public Sector Net Debt (PSND) could be brought into line with definitions of other EU countries, enabling councils with a sustainable business model to borrow to invest in building more homes for rent.

 

Youth Contract

The Youth Contract aimed to create up to 160,000 jobs over three years for under-25s. By the end of July, just under 5,000 wage subsidies had been paid out. Nick Clegg acknowledged at the time that “the initial launch of the offer of this wage subsidy did get off to a slow start" . However he was quick to point that the Youth Contract may be more appealing for small and medium-sized businesses than large corporations.

 

The Deputy Prime Minister has also been keen to learn what could have been done to promote the Youth Contract better, such as utilising the Jobcentre Plus network more. The Confederation of British Industry are supportive of the Youth Contract and government remains determined to improve uptake.

 

Race equality

 

Liberal Democrats reject all prejudice and discrimination, as well as all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality. The party is fully committed to helping Britain’s ethnic minority communities achieve their full potential.

 

Racial inequality and racism continues to be a major problem faced by black and minority ethnic people from early years and throughout education and employment.

 

The motion reaffirms this commitment, and aims to tackle a number of inequalities in the education sector, while also aiming to improve race equality among private sector companies in receipt of public money.

 

Cohabitation rights

 

We believe the discrepancies between the rights afforded to cohabiting unmarried couples and those that are married need addressing, to give equal legal recognition to both relationships.

 

Currently if one partner dies without leaving a will, the surviving partner will not automatically inherit anything unless the couple owned property jointly. Equally in a cohabiting couple, currently neither partner has a legal duty to support the other financially, and voluntary agreements to pay maintenance to each other may be difficult to enforce, irrespective of the facts and circumstances of the relationship, such as sacrifices that may have been made by one party.

 

Veils in schools

 

Speaking to the Telegraph, Jeremy Browne said: “I am instinctively uneasy about restricting the freedom of individuals to observe the religion of their choice. That would apply to Christian minorities in the Middle East just as much as religious minorities here in Britain.

 

“But there is genuine debate about whether girls should feel a compulsion to wear a veil when society deems children to be unable to express personal choices about other areas like buying alcohol, smoking or getting married.

 

“We should be very cautious about imposing religious conformity on a society which has always valued freedom of expression."

 

Harassment allegations

 

Sexual harassment or abuse will not be tolerated in the Liberal Democrats. We have acknowledged that there have been failings in the past. We have apologised for those publicly and we are determined they will not be repeated.

 

That’s why we set up an independent inquiry into the party’s culture and practices, which was widely publicised and made a number of recommendations which are now being implemented.

 

Anyone who had suffered harassment or abuse was encouraged to come forward and give evidence and that evidence was taken extremely seriously. Anyone who has not come forward is encouraged to do so by contacting the independent helpline we have set up for anyone who wishes to make a complaint or seek advice.

 

As a result of the inquiry we have made a number of changes to make it clearer and easier to make a complaint; to improve our party’s HR practices; and change our party’s rules to make clear that such behaviour will result in disciplinary action.

 

Any suggestion that we have been anything other than completely open is wrong. Every part of this process has been transparent and the recommendations have been debated and approved this weekend, in the conference hall and in front of live TV cameras.

 

Polling

 

The latest Ashcroft poll of marginal seats only sampled Tory held seats, 32 which are Labour facing and 8 Lib Dem. Those 8 are Oxwab, Montgomeryshire, Camborne & Redruth, Truro & Falmouth, Newton Abbot, Harrogate, St Albans and Watford.

In those 8 seats we are almost neck a neck with the Conservatives. Voting intention is Con 32 Lib Dem 29 Lab 18 Ukip 12. 

Asked whether each party shares their values, 37% of people in those seats agreed the Lib Dems did, 35% agreed Labour did and 30% Tories. Asked whether they agreed that each party was 'on the side of people like me' 40% agreed that the Lib Dems are, 40% Lab and 25% Tories.

We are seen as particularly strong on the environment, with 45% saying we would do the best job of protecting it, 20% Cons and 19% Lab.

We are the most active party in these seats. In the last few months we've knocked on the door of 14% of homes in these seats (Con 12% Lab 8%); telephoned 3% (Con 2% Lab 1%); delivered to 41% (Con 36% Lab 23%). 

Conference narrative

 

The Liberal Democrats go into conference in confident mood. We are the most united of the major parties, with a proud record of achievement in Government. At this conference we will begin to set out our stall for the local and European elections next year and the General Election in 2015. We are planning for a second term in Government as the only party capable of delivering a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.

 

There will be a number of important debates that will form the basis of our policy platform for 2015, including on the economy, fairer taxes, higher education, Europe, nuclear power and defence.

 

We are a party with a clear priority – jobs and easing the squeeze on household budgets. Liberal Democrats have cut taxes for working people and helped businesses to create more than a million jobs – now we want to help them create a million more.

 

We are in Scotland just a year before the country votes in the independence referendum. Liberal Democrats are proud of our United Kingdom and strongly believe our two nations are better together. A vote to stay in the UK is not a vote for no change. Liberal Democrats want to see further powers transferred to Scotland as part of the UK.

 

Key achievements in Government

In Government, Liberal Democrats have:

  • ·         Given a £700 tax cut to more than 20m working people and lifted 2.7m of the poorest workers out of paying Income Tax altogether
  • ·         Helped businesses create more than a million jobs
  • ·         Created a record 1.2m apprenticeships
  • ·         Given extra money for the children who need it the most through the £2.5bn Pupil Premium
  • ·         Introduced radical plans for shared parental leave
  • ·         Given generous rises in the state pension through our ‘triple lock’ – now worth an extra £650 since Labour
  • ·         Given the poorest two-year-olds and all three-and-four year-olds 15 hours of free childcare per week
  • ·         Passed a Bill introducing Equal Marriage for all couples
  • ·         Invested billions in renewable energy and energy efficiency, supporting thousands of green jobs

 

How we are helping to create jobs

In Government, we have helped create:

  • ·         Jobs for young people - 1.2m apprentices and 110,000 work placements for young people out of work
  • ·         Jobs in manufacturing - £5.5bn extra into science, high-tech manufacturing and renewable energy
  • ·         Jobs across the country - £2.6bn in our Regional Growth Fund, giving money to growing businesses around the country
  • ·         Jobs building Britain - £15.3bn to improve Britain’s roads, railways and housing
  • ·         Help for job creators - £2,000 cash back to employers on the tax they pay on their employees, to make it more affordable for businesses to take on staff
  • ·         Green jobs - £3bn to fund the world’s first Green Investment Bank, putting extra money into renewable energy
  • ·         Rural jobs - £530m to improve access to superfast broadband, creating jobs and helping rural businesses

 

Now we are campaigning to double the number of workplaces who offer apprenticeships in the UK – from 100,000 to 200,000.

 

The SNP Government is allowing Scotland to fall behind on apprenticeships. The percentage of employers offering apprenticeships in Scotland is lower than in England and the growth of apprentice new starts in Scotland has slowed, compared to a big rise in England.

 

We are also campaigning for the Welsh Government to fund a programme to highlight the benefits of apprenticeships for businesses and young people.

 

Labour

Labour cannot be trusted to build a stronger economy. They crashed the economy and have no answers on how to create jobs and get the economy growing.

  • ·         “There’s no money left – Labour nearly bankrupted Britain. We are cleaning up their mess.
  • ·         Labour let the banks run wild. They cosied up to gamblers in the City of London and left us all with a huge bill when the banks collapsed
  • ·         Labour’s numbers don’t add up. Their extra spending and unfunded tax cuts would break their own debt rules and add £201bn to the UK’s debt for our children and grandchildren to pay off (source: IFS)

 

Ed Miliband is a weak leader of a divided party that has nothing to say about the big issues of the day. Despite scaremongering for years, they have been proved wrong. Wrong on the economy. Wrong that unemployment would soar.

 

Time and time again Ed Miliband has been called upon to make a decision and time and time again he has ducked it. He has no answers to some of the biggest questions facing the country:

  • ·         Where do Labour stand on the economy?
  • ·         Where do Labour stand on welfare?
  • ·         Where do Labour stand on Europe?
  • ·         What is the Labour policy on schools?
  • ·         What is the Labour policy on the NHS?

 

Conservatives

The Conservatives on their own cannot build a fairer society. In Government we have blocked Tory plans to:

  • ·         Allow bosses to fire staff at will
  • ·         Give an inheritance tax cut to millionaires
  • ·         Let schools be run for profit

 

Tory backbenchers have shown their true colours in recent months, not least when a group of them released their Alternative Queen’s Speech, which included plans to:

  • ·         Bring back the death penalty
  • ·         Ban the burka
  • ·         Privatise the BBC
  • ·         Introduce an annual ‘Margaret Thatcher Day’

 

Independence

  • ·         Scotland has the best of both worlds as part of the UK with a Scottish Parliament that makes domestic decisions and a strong voice in the UK Parliament.
  • ·         Devolution delivers for Scotland and we are doing well as part of the UK family.
  • ·         We are campaigning to win the referendum on 18 Sept 2014.
  • ·         A vote to stay in the UK is not a vote for no change. Liberal Democrats want to see further powers transferred to Scotland as part of the UK.

 

Only the Liberal Democrats can build a stronger economy and a fairer society, 
enabling everyone to get on in life

 

Campaigners protest against the bedroom tax in Trafalgar Square before marching to Downing Street on 30 March 2013 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change