-Iain Duncan Smith suggested wealthy pensioners should voluntarily hand back their universal benefit payments
-The commons public accounts committee said the Chancellors £310bn plan to boost economic growth through infrastructure projects was unrealistic about how much private capital there was and said that taxpayers could end up shouldering the cost. This follows IMF comments on a week private sector
-Gov proposing to encourage communities to drop opposition to local fracking in exchange for cheaper energy bills
-Surgeons commissioned by government to determine when patients should be offered treatment in acknowledgement of the postcode lottery
-A majority of the public believe the governments economic plans have failed according to a com-res survey
-EU votes for ban on pesticides
-Cabinet launches attack on ring-fenced NHS budget, uprising within the cabinet is being dubbed the ‘national union of ministers’ by the treasury
-Cuts may be hit hard on early years as Department of Education looks to cut 2.5bn but the schools budget remains protected
-Prisoners have to work harder to earn privileges, 10,000 is the 2015 target for no. of inmates working in jail
-largest privatisation programme since 1980 is to be implemented by coalition as 1 in 6 civil servants could be transferred into the private sector including the nudge unit and possibly the ONS. They are to become ‘mutuals’ like co-ops, part owned by workers, the private sector and government.
-Osborne faces being forced to set aside up to £9bn for a stand alone bank crisis fund for the EU after being cornered in Brussels, previous allies Germany and Sweden agree with the principle.
-The £5bn work programme will reallocate contracts to different private firms if the current private firms don’t get people back into work quicker
-Following awful radio interview for Miliband on VAT tax cut causing an increase in borrowing, the tories say it will lead to 18.8bn more borrowing
Judicial Review: “Frivolous”, “meritless” and “… a cheap delaying tactic” – says Justice Secretary Chris Grayling
The Ministry of Justice plans to increase legal fees on Judicial Reviews and put in place tighter deadlines for applications on planning permission decisions to reduce the number of Judicial Reviews.
From Channel 4 News
From the Today Programme
Some commentators have said Philpott’s lifestyle illustrates “all that is wrong” with the benefits system.
When asked if the Philpotts were a product of Britain’s benefit system, Mr Osborne said: “It’s right we ask questions as a government, a society and as taxpayers, why we are subsidising lifestyles like these.
“It does need to be handled.”
He said Philpott “was responsible for horrendous crimes, crimes which have shocked the nation”.
His comments came amid pressure from the Tory Right to restrict child benefit to two children per household.
Former Conservative leadership challenger David Davis told The Times: “I don’t think it is a good idea to make policy on the back of one story. But there is a strong argument to restrict child benefit whether it is to two, three, or four children.”
Government figures show that the vast majority of the 7.9m families claiming child benefits have just one or two children – some 6.7m families.
The number of claimants with three children is 901,685, while 239,055 claim benefits for four children and 86,235 claim for five children or more.
The HMRC figures do not break it down any further than that. However numbers obtained by a Freedom of Information Request last year show that the numbers drop significantly after five.
In May 2011 there were 8,780 claimants with six children, 3,200 claimants with seven children, and 1,080 with eight children.
The number of claimants with nine or ten children drops down to just a few hundred, while there were less than 100 claimants with more than 10 children.
The Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has previously floated the idea of limiting benefits.
In the lead up to the Conservative Party Conference last year Mr Duncan Smith proposed a two-child cap on benefits.
He questioned whether jobless families should be able to expect endless support for every child they have, when working households have to make tough choices about what they can afford.
At the time, he was backed by Mr Osborne but the idea was quashed by the Liberal Democrats in the Autumn Statement
As a raft of changes to the tax system come into effect, the government and opposition clash over the winners and losers.
-New government backed mortgage guarantee – effectively the tax payer underwrites the risk of up to 20% of mortgage values
-Budget 2013 declared changes where you can now buy a home up to £600,000 with only a 5% deposit – the treasury says this will support building 190,000 new homes but it also risks creating a housing bubble and Labour calls it a ‘subsidised mortgage for the rich’ as they buy 2nd homes. Balls goes on to compare this to the bedroom tax which hits the poorest
-Help to Buy scheme reminds us of Thatchers Right to Buy scheme and is a loan scheme – Liberal peer Lord Oakeshott says the gov has done well with private housing but needs to turn to public housing situation
-Working parents get 20% tax relief on childcare costs which equate £1,200 per child
-Tax free childcare vouchers – 20% off first 6k of childcare costs
-£200m for low income families so 85% of childcare costs are met under new universal credit 2016 – more generous than the 70% under the existing tax credits system but the resolution foundation says only 4 in 10 low paid families will actually see this 85% met by the government and that the criteria means low income families may miss out
-400,000 more people are made eligible for the basic pension
-New flate rate of £144 a week means thousands more qualify including 85,000 women for the first time
-6 million workers to face higher NI payments as the practice of ‘contracting out’ the state second pension to employers is ended – basically with this if you were going to retire soon you could contract out your money to your pension scheme while paying less NI – this is ending – hitting richer people more.
-Ending this contracting out will generate an extra £5.5bn in national insurance contributions
-Funding for Lending scheme gives banks cheap funds in return for commitments to lend to business and households but there has been a 2.4bn contraction in lending in the past year. Scheme is to be extended and ‘put on steroids’ as the credit creation programme is failing small business
-State backed business bank is to be created as credit is not getting through to smaller banks. Designed to widen sources of finance for small business, this spring it will invest £300m alongside private backers
-Project Merlin was an agreement between the government and 4 major high street banks about banking activity incl. lending and pay and bonuses
The coalition government promised to ‘reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour government and roll back state intrusion’ to what extent has the coalition delivered on its civil liberties agenda?
During New Labour’s time in power we lost many civil liberties. Blair justified such authoritarian measures as a necessity for more security; even Ed Balls now recognises that Labour got the balance between national security and civil liberties wrong. The coalition embarked on an ambitious policy of undoing these human rights infringements; however they have failed to meet their own targets and in some cases, caused even greater damages to our freedoms.
The coalition’s plans for secret courts, which were recently pushed through parliament, are a heightened example of the coalitions failure to ‘reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties’, rather, they are adding to it. The Justice and Security Bill, refers to “closed material proceedings” which mean that in the trial of terrorist suspects and serious criminals, the accused would not be present, nor would their lawyers or the press and the public. The victim is left unable to question or challenge the evidence or even find out why they lost. This is undemocratic and terrifying. This wasn’t mentioned in either the Liberal Democrat or Conservative manifesto, or in the Coalition Agreement. The coalition have no mandate to threaten habeas corpus as they are and the resignations of Jo Shaw MP and Dinah Rose QC, who represented Binyam Mohamed, express the dissatisfaction with the coalitions attacks on civil liberties. The coalition has failed to deliver here because the right to a free and fair trial and equal and open justice, principles which have been a pivotal in British justice system for hundreds of years, are under great danger. The coalition has had some success in other aspects where they have rolled back the power of the state. The Identity Documents Act of 2010 reversed the introduction of Labour’s ID cards (Identity Cards Act 2006) and removed the profiles of one million innocent people held on the national DNA database. The coalition was by praised campaign group Big Brother Watch for reversing the authoritarian scheme.
Though the coalition got rid of control orders, they did just replace them with another very similar policy; Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures. The coalition has failed to roll back the power of the state in this instance because TPIM’s include electronic tagging and an overnight residence requirement, heavy restrictions on where they go, but still allows for restrictions to be imposed on who they can meet and where they can go, including foreign travel bans. The main problem is that TPIM’s will still be initiated by the Home Secretary and will be run outside of the criminal justice system of investigation, arrest, charge and conviction. Liberty believe that the TPIM’s “place dehumanizing sanctions on people based on suspicion rather than evidence.” This is a violation of civil liberties and has been instituted by a supposedly liberal government. Although there are some circumstances where the coalition have reinstated civil liberties back into the law, they have not entirely “reversed the substantial erosion” like they pledged to. One such example is the Protection of Freedoms Act (2012). Introduced by Home Secretary Theresa May, the Act concerns many fields such as biometric data, regulation of surveillance and counter-terrorism measures. The Act benefits civil liberties as it removes the ‘stop and search’ regulations of the Terrorism Act 2000. The Terrorism Act was one of Labour’s most controversial acts and the stop and search powers were so extreme that they were ruled illegal by the European Court of Human Rights.
The government plans to cut £350 million from legal aid meaning it will no longer be available for tens of thousands who cannot afford legal representation. Ken Clarke believes mediation can be used in less serious cases. The legal aid reforms could affect the right to a fair trial (Article 6, Human Rights Act 1998) because one may not be able to take a particular person or issue to court due to lack of funding available. The Coalition believe the British legal aid system was too ‘generous’ and put this exaggeration before the needs of the most vulnerable in society. It is in effect an attack on civil liberties. When questioning whether the coalition has delivered on its civil liberties agenda it’s interesting to note that the coalition has gone even further in some cases. In the case of the Intercept Modernisation Programme, the coalition has actually continued the “substantial erosion of civil liberties”. This is because the IMP previously applied to terrorism alone but has now been extended into other conventional crimes. Rather than giving back civil liberties the Coalition is continuing to further hinder them. A success of the coalition’s record on civil liberties is the extension of the Freedom of Information Act (2000). This shows Clegg is keen to expand our right of access to information held by public authorities.
The particularly Conservative, but Coalition nonetheless, plan to remove the Human Rights Act shows the erosion of civil liberties is set to continue. The justice secretary, Chris Grayling wants the Human Rights Act to be scrapped; this would rid the ECHR convention from British law. The Home Secretary, Theresa May wants to go further and proposes leaving the court as well as the convention. Both of these senior Conservative ministers have no regard for the rights which the HRA gives citizens. These liberties include rights to freedom, free speech and freedom of religion. Each is fundamental and losing the Act would be a terrible blow for civil liberties in the UK. Cameron says he would be making much quicker progress on removing the HRA if it wasn’t for the opposition it has been met with by his Coalition partners; so there are some liberal tendencies remaining in the Liberal Democrat Party. One cannot be fooled by such a pledge to replace the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights. What would the Bill of Rights entail that the Human Rights Act doesn’t already cover? Clearly Cameron plans to include restrictions on civil liberties in the Bill of Rights or there would be no need to introduce it. One of the most influential changes Nick Clegg has made during the coalition is reducing the pre charge detention limit from 28 days to 14. This is a step in the right direction. There has been some progress toward reversing Labour’s authoritarian tenure
The coalition is yet to meet their promise. In terms of secret courts, the coalition seems less concerned about national security and instead worried about what happened under Labour happening again. Embarrassingly the government had to admit British intelligence services had been complicit in rendition and torture. Civil liberties were supposedly an aspect of policy where the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats saw eye to eye… Unfortunately this hasn’t proved to be the case as reform is slow and minimal. The Coalition has failed to deliver on its civil liberties agenda.
Upon entering office, Osborne said he wanted the UK’s AAA credit rating to act as a ‘benchmark’ for his performance as Chancellor. Compared to Osborne, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander at the time described the credit rating as ‘not the be all and end all’. Moody’s downgrade of the UK’s credit rating to AA1 and many other services comes at a painful time for the Chancellor, for whom the Spring budget will be crucial in appeasing backbenchers and fellow ministers already looking around for a replacement.
Following 2 years of u-turns and delays, with 70% of budget cuts yet to come into force yet, Osborne is reluctant to make another u-turn on the governments economic plans. Promising ‘we won’t change course’ Osborne seemed out in the cold among his Tory peers until Cameron came to his semi-rescue responding that the credit rating demonstrated that ‘we have to go further and faster on reducing the deficit’.
However, recent discussions on the 2015-16 budget proposals have highlighted frosty relationships in the cabinet as Cable, May and Hammond among others argue with Osborne over his proposals. The estimated £448m cut to the Home Office is equivalent to 9,800 police officers and the proposed £1.4bn cut to local government many argue will eventually lead to councils only being able to provide services they are legally required to.
As the ONS confirmed its figures for 2012 Q4 it was a reminder for the Chancellor of targets missed. The 2011 budget forecast that investment would be +2.9% while instead it was -0.6%. Furthermore as Osborne planned to ‘rebalance the economy away from a reliance on government and household spending’ it was projected that household consumption would decrease 1.7% while instead it rose 1.8%.
Another sad story for Osborne this week were the results of his high tech enterprise zones. 24 zones promised to create 30,000 jobs by the end of parliament however after a year of being set up, only 1,700 jobs have been created and some zones have barely any tenants.
Looking forward, Osborne in meetings with backbenchers was warned several times not to repeat the ‘omnishambles’ of the last budget and after coming under fire for making each budget a different fiscal plan creating uncertainty in the economy, it’ll be interesting to see what the Chancellor proposes on 20th March.
Government policy towards shale gas, like many things, is split. The PM and Chancellor support extending fracking as it could reduce energy bills, whereas the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary, Edward Davey seemingly doubts this idea. The ban on fracking was lifted in December and if shale gas lives up to Conservative expectation then the economy would indeed benefit. Shale gas does have the potential to supply the UK with much cheaper energy, but this is just potential rather than guarantee. Davey recently stated “we don’t know whether we will find lots of technically recoverable shale gas in the United Kingdom and the chances that it will affect our gas price I think, most experts think, is unlikely.” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9742662/Coalition-split-over-whether-fracking-will-cut-your-gas-bill.html) Though almost 60% of Britain’s land can be found to host shale reserves, it’s unknown whether this is useful, and the price of the extraction process remains unknown. Therefore, automatic assumptions and comparisons to Shale Gas in America are of little use at present. The idea that energy prices would significantly fall in Britain is unlikely, if not, premature.
Regardless or not of whether shale gas would reduce our energy bills, its environmental impact could be detrimental, especially for a Conservative Party who’s election campaign was based around regaining the green vote (and thrashing Labour, of course). Shale gas is extracted by blasting the shale rock; found thousands of meters underground, with chemicals and water. This is known as hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’. The extension of shale gas extraction could be detrimental for the environment, as it causes Co2 emissions as well as methane and the risk of contaminating the ground water (http://www.bgs.ac.uk/research/energy/shaleGas/environmentalImpacts.html), this occurred in Texas as a result of fracking. The Liberal Democrats proposed a 40% cut in carbon emissions by 2020 which was 6% higher than the recommended target; it will be interesting to see how manageable this target remains now we see the extension of fracking.
Shale Gas is just another fossil fuel and though it is useful in the sense that it will make Britain more self-sufficient and hopefully leave the UK with more oil; the ideas that it’s cheaper and better for the environment are yet to be fully explored. In 2011, the Coalition was off target to meet climate change targets (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14949188) and the extension of shale gas will do nothing but increase the chances of completely missing Co2 targets because of increased Carbon emissions. In addition to this, the small earthquakes witnessed in Lancashire show that increased production in the British countryside could easily damage land (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-15550458) if not homes. It’s important to understand that just because something has achieved relative success in America; it does not mean that it automatically will here!
Politically, Osborne’s ‘dash for gas’ comes as a result of the Chancellor not wishing to seem like the environment comes above the economy. Public concern about the environment has dipped since 2009 and concern about Britain’s stagnating economy has risen. Osborne vowed that environmental targets would not come at the cost of the economy hence his focus on shale gas. Osborne is becoming known for moving his political goalposts. Firstly with budget forecasts, possibly with the BoE inflation/growth targets and now trying to twist the environment targets to focus on CO2 emissions rather than renewable energy. The argument goes that shale gas can be a ‘transition’ resource however many environmentalists would just like to see the coalition sticking to the original plan.
Shale Gas will be expensive, to begin with at least. The effects on the environment will not fall short of appalling. The Blue Conservatives and the Yellow Lib-Dems will not make a greener environment! (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/dec/13/shale-gas-burning-carbon-fracking)
The row over the coalition’s energy policy is said to have been reignited with the threat of a backbench rebellion on the new energy bill, led by former Tory minister Tim Yeo.
After months of speculation and lobbying, Energy minister Ed Davey has unveiled the government’s much-trailed Energy Bill, setting out the roadmap for the UK’s switch to “a low-carbon economy”.
However, Yeo, who is chairman of the Energy and Climate Change select committee, is not completely convinced as to whether the bill will really produce ‘a low carbon economy’ and so gave a speech urging the coalition to accept an amendment to put a decarbonisation target in the bill.
Although, amendments cannot be made at this stage, when the bill enters the committee and reporting stages early next year, an amendment is likely to be brought forward.
The measurements of the bill and consultations proposed include:
- Household energy bills to rise £100 on average by 2020
- “Green” levy charged by energy firms to rise from £3bn to £7.6bn
- Switch to clean energy to cost £110bn over ten years
- Bill aims to encourage investment in low-carbon power production
- Energy-intensive companies may be exempt from additional charges
- Possible financial incentives to reduce energy consumption
The Energy Bill aims to move the UK’s energy production from a dependence on fossil fuels to a more diverse mix of energy sources, such as wind, nuclear and biomass.
This is to fill the energy gap from closing a number of coal and nuclear power stations over the next two decades, and to meet the government’s carbon dioxide emissions targets. By allowing energy companies to charge more, the government hopes they will have the confidence to invest the huge sums of money that are needed to build renewable energy infrastructure such as wind farms.
Yeo told the Guardian that a 2030 target on removing carbon from power generation was essential to giving certainty to investors and ensuring the UK meets its long-term carbon-cutting targets: “I have been having a dialogue with investors, and this is a constant theme – the need for certainty. This would be very helpful in boosting investor confidence. Consistency of targets is very important.”
Yeo’s decarbonisation proposal would have a reasonable chance of success, as the opposition party Labour, strongly supports a decarbonisation target, as do many Liberal Democrats and a sprinkling of Tories. Yeo’s committee made the case for such a target in a report earlier this year.
The CCC (Committee of Climate Change) has advised that power generation should produce emissions of no more than 50g of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour by 2030, which would require even gas-fired power generation to be fitted with technology to capture and store the CO2 generated. The currently figure is roughly 490g/kWh. Yeo said he would accept a compromise of a range for the target, of 50g to 100g.
Instead, the government has agreed that a decarbonisation target could be discussed in 2016, after the next general election. The rebellious spirit was awakened due to Yeo conveying his disapproval, arguing that this was not good enough, as the review of the next carbon budget will come in 2014, and the two are tied together.
Caroline Flint, the shadow energy and climate change secretary, said: “Government splits and infighting on energy policy have already seen billions of pounds in investment going elsewhere or be put on hold, and added to the cost of capital, which is a totally unnecessary cost for families and businesses struggling with soaring energy bills. The government’s failure to include a clear commitment to decarbonise the power sector by 2030 just creates more uncertainty for investors who want to invest in British businesses and jobs.”
Ed Davey’s office said that the Liberal Democrats had made a deal with the Tories on the policy, and that the 2016 review was the best way to approach any target. No decision has yet been made on whether Lib Dem MPs will be whipped to support the policy.
Davey came under pressure from green groups over the inclusion of aviation and shipping emissions in the UK’s carbon targets. Jean Leston, senior transport policy advisor at WWF-UK, said: “A delay, or worse rejection, of the CCC’s advice would undermine the integrity of the UK Climate Change Act and would be the first time any government has rejected the CCC’s advice. As such, it’s a serious test of the government’s commitment to being the greenest ever.”
Andy Atkins, executive director of Friends of the Earth, said: “Excluding planes and ships from UK climate targets would be like going on a calorie-controlled diet, but not counting cakes.”
These concerns stress why Yeo and his select committee are unwillingly to simply accept the word of the government, but rather press for a decarbonisation target to be set.
David Cameron seems to have made a U-turn on electricity decarbonisation, persuaded by George Osborne, who has taken a strong stance against green regulation. Asked by Yeo in a committee hearing in 2010 whether electricity should be “substantially decarbonised by 2030″, Cameron replied: “Basically, yes, for the reason people are only just waking up to, which is that if we are going to move to a world of electric cars and more ground-source heat pumps and, effectively, electricity-backed heating in our homes, we are going to see a potentially massive increase in electricity demand. If we don’t decarbonise electricity, we’ve got no hope of meeting all the targets that we’re all committed to.”
Rumor has it that the Coalition wishes to enhance their abilities on monitoring modern technology. The main force behind this is the Conservatives where Theresa May proposes that the police need to have greater power in monitoring emails and need more control on social media sites. The government believes that the Draft Bill would update existing procedures for allowing access to “vital” information. They even proposed that the M15 and M16 are missing out on key information that can prevent terrorism and that internet surveillance will assist greatly. May argued that if this goes through crime can be prevented and the most terrible of criminals stopped. She insisted that pedophiles, terrorists and criminal groups would be caught and that this bill can really help society. Information from the Internet, Social network sites, and webmail and internet phone calls should be stored for 12 months in order for police to access. Theresa May went out her way to even claim that this Bill will ‘save lives’ and prevent major crimes being committed.
Some believe that social media sites are out of control and to an extent encourage criminal behavior. As seen in August when the riots sprung, Twitter was being used to plot places to loot against. If police have more power they can be more assertive against riots and be more prepared. As witnessed in Tottenham and elsewhere in England, the police showed a lack of organization and knowledge and perhaps this new bill may gave the Police an advantage in decreasing criminal behavior and maybe the events saw in 2011 may have been prevented.
A Draft of this Bill has been published named The Communications Data Bill: http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm83/8359/8359.pdf
The Bill proposes that data telecoms firms will have to store data for up to 12 months. The data will include first time messages sent via network sites, e-mails and voice calls. The data also includes the time and duration of the communication and also vitally the location of where the information was created. The bill however does state that police need a warrant to access the content of messages.
According to May, 30,000 of the cases dealt last year where police had to request urgent communication data, 40% resulted in people’s lives being saved. We must ask ourselves whether this Bill can really help and perhaps lives can be saved. But this bill has been under fire and many oppose this upcoming bill. In particular the Lib Dems has shown their stance, Julian Heppert claimed that this Bill will infringe on private lives and this raises concerns.
Nick Pickles, director of the privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “We’re seeing moves at an international level to make it easier for the content of communications to be intercepted. For Home Office officials behind the communications data bill, spying on who we are emailing or Skyping is not their final objective. Officials from Britain are working internationally to force service providers to ensure that their systems are easy to tap into.”