I’m just back from wet, windy Brighton, and the Lib Dem conference. ‘Fairer Tax in Tough Times’ was the motto of the conference – so here’s my take on three policies for tough times that made the news:
Pensions for homes
This was the idea that you might use older people’s pension pots for property for younger people. Most organisations seemed to respond with a cautious ‘we have some concerns, but we will wait to see further details’. I think this is a polite way of saying: ‘It’s crackers, but we understand that conferences are an occasion for announcements and kite-flying to the party faithful, so we’re not taking it too seriously at this stage.’ What’s interesting to me is that this is a politician trying out an idea that is explicitly about intergenerational transfers – using the assets of one generation to support the next. That’s an interesting principle. Meanwhile, on the specific idea of using pensions for property, I have some concerns, but will wait to see further details.
Have a look at Simon Jenkins in the Guardian this morning, arguing that a mansion tax makes no sense when council tax is so daft, and JRF’s recent paper on housing markets suggesting that revaluing council tax should be a policy priority. They both have the same message: council tax is regressive and outdated and could be reformed into something much better. Start there.
While we’re on the topic, Scotland and Wales are increasingly areas to watch on the topic. Wales because, as Jenkins notes, it has changed its council tax bands to better reflect higher property prices, and Scotland because the SNP are tinkering with tax more generally, and changing the structure of Stamp Duty to be a bit less odd (which I blogged on here). We live in devolutionary times, and the most interesting things in tax are not always to be found at the conferences of the Westminster parties.
Cutting universal benefits for older people
It’s not something JRF have looked at specifically, but it’s an argument that’s only going to grow over coming years. Clegg was clear he was talking about post-2015 decisions, and given the Conservatives are the party most publicly committed to protecting older people’s benefits, this might be another example of conference kite-flying. His words make it easier for others to talk along similar lines, though – and I don’t think this is something the Lib Dems would say unless they intend to stick with it. So, expect more commentary on free bus passes, TV licenses and winter fuel allowances from the Lib Dems in coming months and years. And expect connections to be made with the ongoing big debate on care funding, and how far older people’s estates can and should be protected if they need to fund the cost of care.
That’s a view on the main policy issues of the Lib Dem conference.
Away from the headlines, JRF was doing something slightly different this year.
With the magazine Total Politics, we put together a special Coffee Club – a place for delegates to meet and have a decent coffee, on the basis that the best conference experiences tend to involve substantive conversations when you can actually find somewhere to sit and have non-disgusting coffee. It worked very well at Lib Dems, and we were happy to host a great selection of delegates. If you’re going to Labour or the Conservatives, we’ll be there too – have a look at www.totalpoliticscoffeeclub.com for more information.