As I write this I don’t know what is in the joint statement from the Government about the remainder of the period to the General Election in 2015. So this is Mystic Richard’s predictions and my own personal hopes.
The fervent hope is that this Government will not feel the necessity to have more and more and more legislation. Too often the last Government introduced changes and then didn’t let them settle in before changing the changes. We had 9 Criminal Justice Acts in 13 years and 3 reorganisations of the Health Service.
Two massive changes come into effect this year which will need time to be supported and which will need to bed in.
The first of these is the introduction of Universal Credit and other benefits changes. This is an idea whose central point is absolutely correct – the abolition of a plethora of complicated and often conflicting benefits and credits into one system which is easy to calculate and easy to change as circumstances change. There is no doubt that the complexity of benefits, especially on those who are in and out of work and on the margins of financial support has inhibited some people from trying to re-join the labour market.
BUT and it is a big BUT changes something as big and complex as this first of all creates winners and losers but also uncertainty as people try to grapple with what the changes will mean to them and their family. The introduction of the changes has not been well thought through and there will be many problems. Worse is the rhetoric from the Tories about scroungers and strivers. The vast majority of benefits go to people who are retired; who are so seriously ill or who are working. Yes there are idle people who try and take advantage of benefits to live a lifestyle unlike those that 99.5% of us think is right. Those people however are very much the exception rather than the rule. Most people are strivers – or would like to be so.
The NHS is also undergoing major changes this year. The changes are nowhere near as great as some people are portraying. I was speaking to a constituent at the weekend who was convinced having read a Labour leaflet that she would have to pay to visit the doctor after April. Most of us will see absolutely no change in the health services that we get. We go and use for 95%+ of our time the doctors, dentists, opticians and pharmacists who are already private sector operators making a profit and in many cases a very good living out of fees charged to the tax payer. But there will clearly be changes which we must hope will bring down the bureaucratic costs of the NHS and create services which are attuned to what communities and not what some bureaucrat in London thinks they will need.
So what do I want to see done?
- Sort out problems for the elderly. As someone who is entitled to a bus pass from tomorrow you might expect this to be a priority. There are two issues here that have been brewing for 15+ years and which need sorting – how do we provide a decent pension and how do we sort out who pays for what as people become ill dnnAND infirm. Some of the pension issues have been sorted with auto enrolment which has already started in big companies. But too many pensioners pick up a pension and then need to be means tested for other benefits. Far better to pay a higher pension, and abolish some of the means tested activity. End of life care is one that I don’t have too much sympathy with and just needs to be dealt with. My Mum dies in 2011 and left some assets to my sister and me. Neither of us would have minded if we had received nothing from Mum’s estate except memories. The money that she and Dad had accrued in life was for them to live a good life and was not money which needed to be passed to my sister and me who had already been given the biggest asset we could ever need – a good start in life. Some of the estate of people like my Mum should and could rightly be used to pay for the services that they need. Someone has to decide how much.
- Sort out problems for young parents. The real problem that they have is child care for those wanting to work. Child care costs have been going up far faster than inflation and for many parents it is just not worth working. A commission is now looking at this and looking at why the costs of providing child care are far greater here (whether paid for by state or individual) than in other Countries.
- More investment in capital activities such as infrastructure and housing. Whilst it would be imprudent to do what Labour did and shovel more money into the economy on revenue activity (that’s what got us into this mess) investing for the future in transport, port, education and employment creation activities is of paramount importance. Indeed my biggest criticism of the Government is that it has not done enough of this long-term planning activity.
So three areas that are absolutely vital for new activity with the vast majority of the work of government now not being legislated on but acted upon and delivered. Those are my preferences. I’ll do a report on what Cleggy has managed to achieve later today!