How to win votes and alienate people? — June 25, 2012

How to win votes and alienate people?

*This post is focused solely on David Cameron’s “plans post-2015” on housing benefit, not all his welfare reform speech*

There can be no doubt that David Cameron’s speech today on welfare reform shows how worried he is about his political life-span. It was a cry for help from the Tory right; a pledge to attack the “entitlement culture” in Britain; and the first sign of desperation from the normally perfectly assured Conservative leader.

Cameron is lost. Politically he doesn’t know where he stands, so he has done what any Conservative leader would do and has attacked welfare recipients, but crucially, YOUNG welfare recipients. He is seeking to perpetuate the myth that under-25s are lazy and feckless. We are far from it.  Why is he doing this? To win back the traditional Tory vote. His plan to slash housing benefits for under-25s (and save £1.8bn) is a perfect example of “conservatism”, it is a vote winner. Here’s the real killer, the vote he’s winning here is the over-60s vote, the key voting age (in terms of actual numbers). There is no doubt about it, cutting housing benefits for under-25s is the beginning of a vote winning series of policies from the Conservatives. Come 2015, they could be election winning policies.

The problem is, they are terrible policies. Ill-thought out, ill-timed and irresponsible. Anybody up for another round of omnishambles?

One million young people are unemployed, how is taking away £90 per week (on average) in housing benefit going to help young people? Removing housing benefit from anybody retrospectively is cruel. It is not the claimants fault that the Government’s expenditure has gotten out of hand, it is the Governments. On the one hand, the Government has said in the past ‘You clearly need financial help with housing, and we will provide £x to cover this based on your needs.’ They then turn around and say ‘People think you receive too much, we need their votes, so, sorry, but we’re taking it away, you probably still need £x, but oh well. Votes are more important than your housing benefit.’

The last Government and some of our pensioners are responsible for excessive spending and a housing bubble, which forced the average price of a home in the UK to over £225,000. Does David Cameron really think that the majority of under-25s can afford a 40% deposit? His idea is crazy.

The Government should be relaxing planning laws, and encouraging private enterprise to increase the housing stock in the UK. We need more affordable homes, with low interest rates businesses should be confident to invest, but our red-tape stands in their way.

Of course, there are disincentives within our welfare system that need to be tackled, but Cameron and the Tory-right are hoping that if they shout loudly enough and for long enough, people will believe them that benefit claimants are the scourge of this country. People are on benefits because they require financial help, not simply to “sponge” off the Government.  How about for once, we actually clamp down on tax evasion, instead of always focusing on demonising benefit claimants.

We spend £5bn on the universal benefit of a free bus pass for pensioners. Why not make that means tested and save the £2bn there, instead of attacking the next generation? Oh, because pensioners vote. How very cynical of you…

Enterprising Youth? — March 22, 2012

Enterprising Youth?

Yesterday in the Budget one of my favourite announcements was the Chancellor’s proposal of a £10m enterprise loan scheme. Loans of up to £10,000 will be made available for people aged 18-24. It is being billed as the equivalent of a Student Loan for University students.

Why is this crucial? In the UK we have become far too focused on higher education. Tony Blair’s “education, education and education” mentality has fed through into society to the extent that going to University has simply become the norm. Students no longer weigh up their options, they simply plod along and get a degree.

The introduction of £9,000 tuition fees (which I supported) has made very little difference to applications from 18 year olds sadly. A degree is becoming worth less, even worthless to many. There will be scores of graduates who never pay off their student loans, never quite reaching the wage required to begin repaying their loans. It is time in Britain that we realise that not everybody can be a Doctor, a CEO or an MP and tackled the problem of university culture.

I’m not being a degree snob here, far from it. In fact I’d happily admit that as a PPE student I could have learned 75% of the stuff simply by reading in my own time. But I think its high time we remember that university is a privilege, not a right and we should only strive for excellence.

With that in mind, I’m thrilled to see that the Coalition are encouraging other avenues for school leavers. They have increased the number of apprenticeships and now are introducing enterprise loans. The trial scheme will offer 7,000 young entrepreneurs the chance to get a hand-up into the business world, and will essentially be a venture capitalist scheme – think Dragon’s Den but without the shoulder pads. It has been championed by Virgin tycoon Richard Branson, who has campaigned for young people throughout his career.

The loans would be paid back when the businesses start making a profit, or if the business fails, when the applicant starts earning a reasonable wage (similar to student loans).

It is time in Britain that we once again support the youth of today, rather than demonise them. With ridiculously high youth unemployment we cannot allow the rhetoric to continue that young people are idle and feckless. Far from it we are the future of this nation and we should be encouraging young people to take this step into business.