It must seem to outsiders of the Westminster Village that all the major parties are experiencing difficulties in their ranks. Labour is indulging itself ideologically with a leader who is not plausible as a Prime Minister and who in turn has appointed a Shadow Chancellor who believes capitalism is a dirty word. The Liberal Democrats, have been all but “abolished” and the Conservative Party has suffered a resignation of one of its key architects of welfare reform.
So what is happening? Well, the Government is clearly having a patch of difficulty. This is only to be expected. Not only must it continue to drive down the deficit but added to everything it has to contend with the divisive forthcoming EU Referendum.
Regarding the recent resignation, it is no secret there has been no love loss between the Chancellor and Mr Duncan Smith. The rift came about because the Chancellor made clear from the start, primarily because of the maths, that without welfare savings the structural deficit could not be eliminated. The problem was that Mr Duncan Smith’s reform plans regularly, but not always, seemed to involve more money being spent and were ineffective in finding those savings. Mr Duncan Smith saw his stance as a moral choice; he said he wanted to protect the vulnerable while the Treasury, full of number crunchers, was concerned about the detail: it was the accountant versus the poet, the head versus the heart. The anger over cuts to PIP’s, which have now been abolished, I suspect, boiled down to this dispute. And make no mistake there are always disputes in politics. And when they can’t be resolved you have an outcome similar to this one.
From a purely economic angle it is true to say that every year since 2013, the projected cost of PIPs had been revised upwards. Disability living allowance, the benefit that PIP’s replaces, cost a little more than £11billion when Mr Duncan Smith took over. Before the proposed changes this month, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast that the cost of his scheme would rise above £18billion by the end of the Parliament. It simply was not going in the right direction.
This March, the forecast for 2017-18 was well over £3 billion more than had been forecast in March 2013. Something had to give. Something still has to give.
But the suggestion that the Treasury is imposing a cut is inaccurate. In fact all that was happening was that the Treasury sought Mr Duncan Smith to keep his own PIP’s on target. And let’s not forget, Mr Duncan Smith proposed these reforms, agreed the reforms and then resigned over the reforms. To suggest that the entire strategy of the Government has lost its moral compass is simply not credible.
Before we fall into the socialist sprung trap of criticizing this Government for only catering for the rich, let’s looks at the facts. The top 1 per cent of society is paying a greater proportion of total income tax than under any Labour administration. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has also argued that the inequality gap is as narrow as it has been for a quarter of a century. That gap may widen over the next five years, it warns, because of rising incomes and falling benefits, but there is no mistaking the progress that has been made. And let’s not forget that two million more people are in employment and that disability spending rose by £2billion in the last Parliament. This all goes hand in hand with prison improvements, rebuilding sink estates, improving life chances. These are all on the agenda and they are the ingredients of One Nation Conservatism. As George Osborne said himself while defending his budget: "There is not some inherent conflict between delivering social justice and the savings required to deliver sound public finances," he said. "They are one and the same thing. Without sound public finances there is no social justice."
As for the difficulties in my party I say this; we are no different from any other party in that we have fault lines. Europe is the most obvious but there is another which is less talked about and that is the conflict between the free market liberals and patrician conservatives who want the Government to protect certain traditions and groups. The most illustrative example of this was the recent Sunday Trading Debate. George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith sit on opposite sides of the spectrum; not only do they have different views about Brexit, but a stream of other things as well.
I believe these differences are reflected throughout the Tory party, through its MP’s and its members, so it’s worth analysing them for a moment through the prism of these two extremely able politicians. George Osborne first; he is a metropolitan moderniser. He was pro gay marriage, pro-immigration and extremely entrepreneurial, no doubt learnt at the ankles of his father who was a successful businessman. He sees the levers of Government as being vehicles to liberate capitalism, which is why his big personal project has been the Northern Powerhouse; he wants high speed trains criss-crossing the country; he is passionate about a Pennine tunnel. In Osborne’s vision of the future, you build up a city and success within it will breed more success, which in turn will breed a successful economy so that everyone in the end benefits including the vulnerable and the poor. He backs development because he believes passionately that young people should be able to get on the housing ladder. He has also never been one to preach; he does not want to tell people how to lead their lives, for him this is down to personal choice. He is not interested in making a moral stance. In this he is also different from David Cameron who is a keen advocate of marriage and its benefits.
IDS meanwhile has all the zeal of a missionary. He sees himself as the champion of Tory traditionalism. And there are many like him in the party. The state for him is there to be used; to help people change course. For this former army officer and practising Christian getting the public finances on tract are secondary to dealing with family breakdown, dependency, alcoholism and debt. His branch of the party is wary of development, particularly in the countryside. They are also nervous of immigration or giving too much of our sovereignty away to Europe.
But where this all went wrong, in my opinion, was that Mr Duncan Smith failed to get to grips with the implementation of Universal Credit and Mr Osborne took his eye off the ball fuelling an ill conceived perception that the Conservatives are the party of the rich. In the end the checks and balances of our Parliamentary system – and this happened cross party - demanded the Chancellor to rethink which he did accordingly.
Back to the Conservative Party and I would say David Willets is correct when he argues that the Conservative Party’s electoral strength has always depended on blending the two wings of this great party. “To combine these two traditions so you have both that sense of roots and belonging together with the excitement and dynamism of the market place.” He is also right when he says David Cameron has been highly successful as a leader because he represents both the modern and the traditional.
The next leader of the Conservative Party will also have to reconcile those competing components. If the two candidates that go forward for leadership are on opposite sides as regards the delivery of social justice or the way capitalism works, which they might well be, the best solution is that whoever loses works alongside the other to rebuild a consensus.
If Jeremy Corbyn were looking over the fence, which no doubt he is, he would be wise to follow similar advice. A single strand of idealism only serves to alienate those who are less than sympathetic to these views. The mark of a good leader is to unite the two and move forward towards power.
The Government has indeed dropped its controversial personal independent payment (PIP) cuts, and the Treasury has confirmed that there are no plans to fill the PIP-shaped £4.6bn hole in the budget through further welfare changes. It must be made clear, however, that this Government remains absolutely committed to improving the quality of life of those facing disadvantage. I agree it is essential to ensure that disabled people get the support they need so that they can live full and independent lives. That is why we are supporting people with physical, mental or cognitive conditions to live independently: nearly £50 billion was spent on disability benefits and services in 2012/13 and overall spending on the main disability benefits is forecast to be higher in every year to 2017-18 that it was in 2009-10.
A wide range of financial support is available, including benefits, tax credits, payments, grants and concessions.
Importantly, the introduction of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment looks at people as individuals, rather than just focusing on physical disabilities. Figures show that the most severely disabled are being protected, with a greater proportion getting the higher rates.
Many disabled people can work, want to work, and need our support to get into work. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that all disabled people have the opportunities and support they need to get and keep a job. The Disability Confident Campaign, which actively promotes the Access to Work scheme, is key to supporting employers in working with the Government to halve the disability employment gap. I am proud that the number of disabled people in employment has risen by 293,000, in two years.
Welfare reform is fundamentally about opportunity and changing lives, supporting families to move from dependence to independence. Below I have outlined what is available to the disabled to achieve that aim. I hope it gives greater clarity on what the Government is all about.
SUPPORT FOR THE DISABLED: THE FACTS
Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for children is a tax-free benefit for children under 16 to help with the extra costs caused by long-term ill health or disability. The Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is gradually replacing DLA for people aged 16 to 64. Those born on or before 8 April 1948 will continue to receive DLA.
- The DLA rate is between £21.80 and £139.75 a week, depending on the level of help the individual needs.
- The PIP rate is also between £21.80 and £139.75 per week, depending on how an individual is affected by their condition, but was designed to take into account the needs some claimants may have for particular aids and appliances to help with everyday activities.
Attendance Allowance is a tax-free benefit for people aged 65 or over who have a disability and need someone to help look after them.
- Those who are physically or mentally disabled can get either £55.10 or £82.30 a week to help with personal care, depending on the level of care needed.
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) may be available for those under the State Pension age, who are not getting Statutory Sick Pay, Statutory Maternity Pay, or Jobseeker’s Allowance. ESA offers:
- Financial support for those who are unable to work;
- Or personalised help to find work for those who are able to.
The Work Capability Assessment, during the claim process, determines to what extent the illness or disability affects an individual’s ability to work. It is designed to ensure those who need support to work can get it and those who are too sick or disabled are fully supported.
Disability benefits – PIP, DLA and ESA Support Group – will be excluded from the freeze on working age benefits. Furthermore, reforms such as the removal of the spare bedroom subsidy have exemptions in place to protect disabled claimants.
- For example, the rules requiring under-16s to share bedrooms with siblings do not apply to children who cannot share because of a disability or medical condition.
- A subsidised spare bedroom is also allowed for a carer (or team of carers) providing overnight care.
Housing and care
The Government will continue to improve care for disabled people and support for their carers.
Individuals who have been assessed by their local council as needing care and support services can receive:
- Direct payments, allowing them to buy in and arrange help themselves instead of getting it directly from social services;
- Disabled Facilities Grants from local councils, to help towards the costs of home adaptions to enable individuals continue to live there.
The Care Act reforms introduced in April focus on well-being, prevention and delaying the need for social care. In support of these principles, the Spending Review includes over £500 million by 2019-20 for the Disabled Facilities Grant, which will fund around 85,000 home adaptations that year. This is expected to prevent 8,500 people from needing to go into a care home in 2019-20.
Individuals may also be entitled to a reduction in their Council Tax bill if their home has certain features that are essential to their living there. For example, if you have an extension for a downstairs bedroom, this will increase the size of your property and you may have to pay more Council Tax. However, if the room has been built because of your disability, you can get your new higher rate of Council Tax reduced, so you pay the same as before.
Vehicles and Transport
Disabled people can apply for the following:
- A reduction in or exemption from paying vehicle tax;
- Parking benefits, including a Blue Badge;
- A disabled persons bus pass or railcard;
- Help to buy or lease a car from The Motability Scheme.
Increasing employment levels amongst people with disabilities and health conditions is a key part of the Government’s aim to achieve full employment.
The Spending Review announced a real terms increase in funding to help people with disabilities and health conditions to get work and remain in work. This includes:
- A real terms increase in spending on Access to Work, providing specialist IT equipment, or support workers, to help a further 25,000 disabled people each year remain in work.
- Expanding the Fit for Work service supporting more people on long-term sickness absence with return to work plans.
- Over £115 million of funding for the Joint Work and Health Unit, including at least £40 million for a health and work innovation fund, to pilot new ways to join up across the health and employment systems.
In addition to these measures the Government wants to improve links between health services and employment support, recognising timely access to health treatments can help individuals return to work quicker.
A new Work and Health Programme will be introduced after current Work Programme and Work Choice contracts end, to provide specialist support for claimants with health conditions or disabilities and those unemployed for over 2 years.
Increasing numbers of disabled students are entering higher education.
Higher education students living in England can apply for a Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) if they have a disability, including a long-term health condition, mental health condition, or specific learning difficulty, such as dyslexia. The level of support depends on the individual’s needs, not on their family income.
- In 2012/13 DSAs provided £145.8 million of additional support for 64,500 disabled higher education students, compared with £101.3 million awarded to 47,400 students in 2009/10, a rise of around 44%.
Maximum grants for full-time, part-time and postgraduate students with disabilities will also be maintained at 2015/16 levels in 2016/17.