26 March 2010

Doing fairness is difficult.

* The Libdems have announced they would abolish Labour’s winter fuel payment for people aged 60-64 who presently get it; people of 65 and over would still get it. Half the money saved would go, regardless of means, to the severely disabled and the terminally ill of any age as winter fuel payment of £200. Extending the payment to these people is good but many of those who presently get the payment and from whom the Libdems will take it are people who are poor. We should not be asking the vulnerable poor in their early sixties to pay for other vulnerable people. There are about 32 000 people aged 60-64 in Cornwall who would lose this winter fuel payment and the Libdems are silent about the poor and vulnerable in Cornwall who would lose by their policy. This loss probably won’t appear on Libdem election leaflets though I expect the extension will. Oh, and in 1999 the Libdems described winter fuel payments as “a gimmick of a policy” (Hansard 18 January 1999 column 648). I assume they’ve changed their minds about that.

* Upping the tax threshold to £10 000, at cost of about £17 billion, is presented as a Libdem fairness policy. Unfortunately this analysis shows that only about £1 billion of this would go to lift those at the bottom out of tax and £16 billion would go to cutting the tax of those on middle and high incomes and the policy would increase inequality. Of course, people too poor to pay tax would not gain anything at all. The Libdems say that all their policies have to be seen as a whole to measure the effect on rich and poor but I haven’t found any Libdem analysis of that whole comparable to the above analysis of the £10 000 threshold policy. In itself the increase in the threshold would give people on middle incomes much more than those on low incomes; the report devastatingly quotes Michael Howard rejecting such a policy for that very reason.

* The Libdems say they would add to Labour’s weighting for disadvantaged pupils with an additional pupil premium. This would cost about £2.5 billion. It sounds very progressive but look at this paper, A disadvantaged pupil premium, by the Institute for fiscal studies (IFS). The IFS paper indicates that there is a weak link between perpupil spending and attainment and that perhaps eight times more than the Libdem proposals is needed to make a difference.

* The other day Dan Rogerson, Libdem MP for North Cornwall, said that “scandalously” pupils in inner London get more perhead spent on them than pupils in Cornwall. It’s a familiar Libdem complaint, victim Cornwall; the figures are here. Yes, the inner London figures are higher.

Now consider this. Free school meals are an approximate proxy for deprivation. Look at the proportions of pupils known to be eligible for free school meals in Cornwall and inner London, to use Rogerson’s geographic terms though I think the variation in individual schools make the terms of limited relevance here. The proportions of primary and secondary pupils in Cornwall who are known to be eligible for free school meals are 11 percent and 9 percent. For inner London the figures are 34 and 35 percent. There are some schools in inner London where more than half the pupils are known to be eligible for free school meals; no school in Cornwall approaches anywhere near that proportion though a few have disturbingly high proportions. The tables are here (local authorities) and here (individual schools). Look too at the index of multiple deprivation (you can find it through the post Cornwall data on this site).

We have to look at reducing disadvantage as a whole. We can identify deprivation very finely and we should focus on the individuals and families in need wherever they are. In education, as an important part of that, while every school needs a substantial base of funds to operate, we should be pressing for the focus to recognise individual pupils and schools where the disadvantage and need are most keenly felt – and remember the IFS paper which indicates a vast input of funds is required, a difficulty as we struggle with a monstrous deficit. We should also be looking for a significant and also difficult boost to Labour’s Sure Start which helps before children get to school.

* The county council Libdems agreed the contract for the waste incinerator and now the party, well, what does it think should happen? This is the party that ran Cornwall county council as the council gathered troubling report after troubling report. The Libdems promised us millions of pounds of nett savings from their imposed unitary council. There are none apparently. I don’t suppose that’ll appear on their election leaflets either.

Let’s end with a quiz.

The Liberal Democrats: do you
1 Laugh
2 Cry