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5 December 2013

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.

By Ryan Shorthouse

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.

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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

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