The government thinks there is child poverty and fuel poverty. Today – and next week in Parliament – the pressing issue is tax poverty.
Poverty is a shortage of income for people to pay the necessities and have a decent lifestyle. There are three ways of tackling it.
The political parties all agree the best way is to create a climate in which the economy generates enough well paid jobs, so people can go to work to earn what it takes to afford to keep themselves and their dependents.
They agree that for some, it is necessary to take money from the many to give to the few who cannot find or hold a job.
The third way would be for the state to let people keep more of their money, instead of taking so much from them in tax. If those on lower incomes paid less income tax they could afford the fuel bills and could manage the food and housing bills without requiring a benefit top up.
The government is hoist on its own targets to cut so-called child poverty. It is a curiously misnamed set of targets. Practically all children are poor. We have legislated to make sure they remain so, as we believe we should prevent children under the age of 16 from working for pay to take them out of poverty. (Please note, I support the banning of child labour!) We also usually prevent children from inheriting or receiving larger sums from relatives with property and money to give them an independent savings income which they control as minors. This government wishes to take this approach further, by preventing 16-18 year olds from entering full time work for pay without an educational component, something I do not support. I want 16-18 year olds to have opportunities for more education if that is what they want, but I do not favour compulsion.
What the government means is it wishes to cut parent poverty. That’s a good thing to want to do. I also want to cut it, along with cutting poverty for childless couples and for single people. The government’s determination to tackle parent poverty has led it into the dangerous political quagmire of abolition of the 10p tax band, offering compensation to some parents through benefits and tax credits, whilst taxing single people and childless couples more. Transferring money from one group of low income earners to another is not what a lot of Labour MPs came into politics to achieve. It is certainly not what I am about. I want to tackle the low net incomes of all.
Today there is a summit on fuel poverty. Yes, the fuel bills are spiralling upwards. No, there is nothing in the short term the government can do about the ever higher oil, gas and coal prices. Yes, the fuel companies have to pass on most of the increased costs of fuel to them. Yes, that will make them unpopular and the objects of political diversionary attacks.
Yet if you buy fuel for your car or van, for your working vehicle or for the delivery vehicle to your home, more than two thirds of the rip off price is tax. The energy companies are great tax collectors, taking money from poor and rich alike for their product, only to hand over lots of it to the government. People could afford even today’s high bills if they kept more of their own income. The government’s removal of the 10p tax band undermines everything and more besides that it is trying to do to alleviate fuel poverty. There would be no fuel poverty for the many if taxes were cut.
I believe the best anti poverty programme you can have is cutting taxes. Under this government, far from playing Robin Hood and taxing the rich to pay the poor, as socialists would like, the government is playing Sheriff of Nottingham. It is taxing the poor to give to the new rich, the Chief Executives of the ever expanding state, to the well paid bureaucrats, to the legal advisers, the management consultants, the spin doctors, pollsters and focus group masters, to the computer contractors and the PFI/PPP providers who cluster attentively around Labour’s great public sector money making machine. Labour even wants to add the political parties to the list of those who deserve more tax cash from the poor to sustain their expensive habits. There are just not enough multimillionaire footballers and movie stars to take the money off, especially when they can leave the country at the very whiff of higher taxes on their fabulous incomes.
If the government were serious about tackling parental poverty and fuel poverty, if it understood that it needs to tackle single person and childless couple poverty as well as pensioner and parent poverty, it would curb its own insatiable appetite for cash for the grandees of the public sector. It would cancel or seek value from all those consultancy, research, financing and management contracts that festoon in the profligate public sector. Ministers would curb the Ministerial drinks cupboard and cut back on the air travel.
So come on Labour. Put in place a real anti poverty programme. Understand poverty is a shortage of spending power for anyone who is poor, whether they are young or old, single or married, with or without children. It is bad news for anyone suffering from it. The best and quickest way to get more people out of it is to lower taxes. That means reining in the excesses of the multilayer government and the quango state.
Cross-posted from John Redwood's Diary