Osborne must be bold to show the Tories are not "the party of the rich"

The Chancellor should use his Autumn Statement to reward families on modest incomes who have quietly endured squeezed living standards during austerity.

Come on, George. Be bold. Today, the Chancellor needs to throw caution to the wind and announce bold policies that reward families on modest incomes who have quietly endured squeezed living standards during austerity.

The polling is clear; sceptical voters, especially on more modest incomes and outside the Tories' southern heartlands, still suspect that they are 'the party of the rich'. The politically flawed decision to reduce the top rate of income tax to 45% didn’t help. Electoral progress is thwarted by this deep-seated perception of the party. We need game-changing policies that convince people otherwise. No calculated triangulation. No clever traps for Labour. Enough of all that. Osborne needs to deliver an Autumn Statement which ordinary folk up and down the country will remember.

Same-sex marriage, of course, was meant to make people think twice about the Tories, to demonstrate that the party is comfortable with modern Britain and compassionate; concerned about more than just money and self-advancement. To complement this social modernisation, we now need economic modernisation: which shows the Tories are behind those people trying to keep their heads above the water, who have had to put up with stagnant wages and rising prices fornearly a decade. Time to really support them.

Conservatives should be behind those people working hard to get into the labour market, onto the housing ladder and succeed in the world of business. Behind those knocking on the door, not those sat in their armchairs of privilege. So, drop the clampdown on those on working-aged benefits. For it will backfire, as the growing sympathy towards the unemployed in the British Social Attitudes survey demonstrates. Instead, set out a positive vision that helps people really trying to get in, and then get on in, work.

Some repeat claimants of jobseekers allowances should be rewarded with a financial bonus from government for securing employment within a shorter time period. Pay for this carrot by means-testing universal benefits such as free TV licences and the winter fuel allowance, something even the majority of pensioners now want.

All families who work should have 85% of their childcare costs covered by the government through Universal Credit, including those currently excluded because they are earning below the personal tax allowance. Similarly, basic-rate taxpayers should be eligible for a higher proportion of their childcare costs than the 20% to be covered through the new tax free childcare voucher scheme. These could be paid for by reducing the number of extremely high earners eligible for the new scheme.

Continue to raise the personal tax allowance; commit to it being £12,500 in the next parliament. Increase the income threshold for employee National Insurance contributions. And, do something the public would not expect Tories do to: raise the minimum wage, significantly and sensibly, for certain sectors and businesses.

Get behind those young people wanting to get on the housing ladder. Reduce stamp duty significantly for less expensive properties. And demand local authorities guarantee enough land for the self-building of houses, and encourage it within their area, or else lose their veto over new developments.

Finally, get behind the entrepreneurs, the small business owners working day and night to balance the books and really get the company off the ground. Exempt small businesses from rises to business rates. And increase the Employment Allowance for employers’ contributions to National Insurance.

We need to show the Conservative Party is gunning for ordinary folk wanting to get on in the labour market, the housing market and the world of business.

Ryan Shorthouse is director of Bright Blue

A television camera films speeches in the Manchester Central venue during the Conservative Party Conference on September 29, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

Ryan Shorthouse is the Director of Bright Blue, a think tank for liberal conservativism 

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.