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Three charts that show that Scotland should stop whining

Scotland, after London, is the biggest winner from our current political arrangements. Forget stronger for Scotland, where's Yorkshire's voice?

Underlying both last year's Scottish referendum, and the surge in SNP support that's come since, there's been a feeling that the country is getting a raw deal. Scotland, the nationalists argue, has been forgotten by a Westminster government that struggles to see beyond the M25. Scotland feels unloved.

This is an argument that seems to ignore the fact that the last Chancellor of the Exchequer was Scottish, the last prime minister was Scottish, and the one before that was half-Scottish, too. But nonetheless, it's an inescapable fact that London dominates the UK to a quite horrific extent, and its ability to suck in wealth and people from elsewhere in the county and turn them into higher house prices should be a source of concern to all of us. The case for rebalancing the distribution of money and power in this country away from the capital is a pretty strong one.  

But it's not clear that Scotland has been the main victim of this trend. Compared to other regions, in fact, Scotland has done, er, pretty well, actually.

For one thing, it's richer than most other regions. This chart shows the per capital gross value add (GVA), one measure of the size of a region's economy. 

Scotland isn't as rich as London or parts of its orbit, no. But it's richer than the entire rest of the country. (This graph excludes oil and gas revenues, incidentally, so if anything it understates quite well Scotland is doing. Allocate those to Scotland, and the country's performance is about 23 per cent better.)

Scotland does rather well out of the Treasury, too – better than anywhere other than Northern Ireland. 

You'd expect a more rural region to need higher spending per head, but nonetheless.

And, despite having its own parliament, Scotland still has better representation at Westminster than many other parts of the UK. 

This graph looks at the number of MPs each region has, and the share of the UK population it contained at the time of the 2011 census. The regions on the left are over represented in the House of Commons; those on the right are under represented. Look where Scotland is.

The SNP line of late has been that Scotland needs a strong voice to represent its interests at Westminster. Fair enough, you can see why it'd be an attractive pitch.

But it's really quite hard to find a measure on which it's getting a raw deal now. Scotland is rich, and well-represented, and relatively speaking awash in public spending. It may not feel like it sometimes, on the streets of Glasgow or Dundee; but Scotland is doing alright.

All of which raises the question - when the SNP appear in national debates demanding a better settlement, then why isn't anyone making the same case for the the north east of England, say? London's dominance is a problem. But Scotland is far from its biggest victim.

 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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Theresa May's U-Turn may have just traded one problem for another

The problems of the policy have been moved, not eradicated. 

That didn’t take long. Theresa May has U-Turned on her plan to make people personally liable for the costs of social care until they have just £100,000 worth of assets, including property, left.

As the average home is valued at £317,000, in practice, that meant that most property owners would have to remortgage their house in order to pay for the cost of their social care. That upwards of 75 per cent of baby boomers – the largest group in the UK, both in terms of raw numbers and their higher tendency to vote – own their homes made the proposal politically toxic.

(The political pain is more acute when you remember that, on the whole, the properties owned by the elderly are worth more than those owned by the young. Why? Because most first-time buyers purchase small flats and most retirees are in large family homes.)

The proposal would have meant that while people who in old age fall foul of long-term degenerative illnesses like Alzheimers would in practice face an inheritance tax threshold of £100,000, people who die suddenly would face one of £1m, ten times higher than that paid by those requiring longer-term care. Small wonder the proposal was swiftly dubbed a “dementia tax”.

The Conservatives are now proposing “an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs”. The actual amount is TBD, and will be the subject of a consultation should the Tories win the election. May went further, laying out the following guarantees:

“We are proposing the right funding model for social care.  We will make sure nobody has to sell their family home to pay for care.  We will make sure there’s an absolute limit on what people need to pay. And you will never have to go below £100,000 of your savings, so you will always have something to pass on to your family.”

There are a couple of problems here. The proposed policy already had a cap of sorts –on the amount you were allowed to have left over from meeting your own care costs, ie, under £100,000. Although the system – effectively an inheritance tax by lottery – displeased practically everyone and spooked elderly voters, it was at least progressive, in that the lottery was paid by people with assets above £100,000.

Under the new proposal, the lottery remains in place – if you die quickly or don’t require expensive social care, you get to keep all your assets, large or small – but the losers are the poorest pensioners. (Put simply, if there is a cap on costs at £25,000, then people with assets below that in value will see them swallowed up, but people with assets above that value will have them protected.)  That is compounded still further if home-owners are allowed to retain their homes.

So it’s still a dementia tax – it’s just a regressive dementia tax.

It also means that the Conservatives have traded going into the election’s final weeks facing accusations that they will force people to sell their own homes for going into the election facing questions over what a “reasonable” cap on care costs is, and you don’t have to be very imaginative to see how that could cause them trouble.

They’ve U-Turned alright, but they may simply have swerved away from one collision into another.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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