Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Lib Dems declare war on poverty and inequality

Radical new proposals to reduce poverty and tackle inequality in Britain have been launched by the Lib Dems. The plans aim to reverse Gordon Brown's dependency culture by giving people educational and employment opportunities as well as incentives to work and save. And they sound like good sense to me, as well as clearly differentiating us from the other two parties again.

Five million people will be lifted out of relative poverty, with 10 million fewer means-tested benefits in payment, by 2020 according to the new proposals, which are contained in the policy document Freedom from Poverty, Opportunity for All: Policies for a fairer Britain

The policy proposals include:
· Introducing a 'pupil premium', with £1.5bn extra targeted at the children with the greatest need. The Pupil Premium will give more money to pupils from the poorest backgrounds and help bring funding in the most needy state schools up to private school levels.

· Reforming tax credits by ending the overpayments crisis and taking higher earners out of the system all together.

· Increasing Child Benefit by around £5 per family per week, taking 150,000 children out of poverty.

· Replacing Job Centre Plus with a new 'First Steps' agency to be a single one-stop-shop for all benefit and tax credit claims, while outsourcing properly funded employment support to the private and voluntary sector. A single working age benefit would also be introduced.

· Immediately restoring the earnings link to the basic state pension and in the long run introducing a citizens' pension. Establishing an Independent Commission on Public Sector Pensions to ensure that they are fair and affordable - with any savings re-invested in a higher state pension.

At the moment, Britain remains a society of massive inequalities of both income and opportunity. It is a national disgrace that Britain is the developed country where your chances in life are most dependent on your family background rather than your own abilities and hard work.Once again the Lib Dems show a radical, optimistic and workable way of combating poverty and rejecting Gordon Brown's blueprint for a state of dependency, where the spread of mass means-testing has undermined incentives to work, save and even form stable families.

The Liberal Democrat vision is of a society of genuine opportunity where instead of treating the symptoms of inequality, we treat its causes - poor educational opportunities, unemployment, bad housing and unstable families.

The pupil premium would help to tackle disadvantage where it matters most - in education from the very first days in school. Our aspiration is that the most deprived pupils have the same financial backing as those privileged enough to go to private school.We live with a welfare system where millions are trapped in dependency and in low income work. Incredibly complex and chaotically administered means-tested benefits have placed millions at the mercy of a failing central Government bureaucracy.

Our proposals for Tax Credits will give people an assurance that what is given to them will stay with them, and by removing millions from means-testing we will strengthen incentives to progress in work. By taking higher earners out of Tax Credits altogether, we are able to invest in education and the universal Child Benefit, lifting 150,000 children out of poverty. Instead of complexity and dependency, we will offer real opportunity.

In combination with our tax proposals we are able to both tackle poverty and ensure the vast majority of families will keep more of their income, as they move on to better paid work.Our new employment policies will take the task of finding people work away from failing job centres, and give it to local charities and companies with much better prospects of finding people permanent employment.

It is a disgrace that after 10 years of Labour government 2.7 million people are still trapped on Incapacity Benefit. We will use the innovation and local expertise of the private and voluntary sectors to improve people's prospects of finding employment.With these policies, the Liberal Democrats are declaring war on inequality. And it’s about time.


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