In the run up to the General Election, think tanks, NGOs, social policy bodies and political groups of all political stripes are publishing reports and research into a variety of issues.
Housing is widely expected to be a major issue in the coming election and think tanks in England are responding accordingly by publishing a slew of reports in January on various issues related to housing. Policy Network released a report on how to accelerate house building in the UK. It argues that housing policy should be directed towards reducing the levels at which residential land prices are acquired at in order to generate a transformation in the business model of building houses.
IPPR North meanwhile focused on how policy makers can bring empty homes back into use noting that there are an estimated 635,000 empty homes in England. It suggested that the existing cap on the ’empty homes council tax premium’ should be removed, effectively allowing local authorities to determine their own banded premiums charged on long-term empty dwellings as well as giving LAs greater control over the definition of ‘long-term empty’ properties.
The Social Policy in a Cold Climate (SPCC) report, a series of papers being undertaken by a team of researchers from LSE and the universities of Manchester and York, found that families with young children and the poorest in society have been hit the hardest by changes to taxes and benefits. The consequences of this for financial exclusion will no doubt be familiar to all of you working with clients in debt or on low incomes.
The effects of various Government initiatives have been prominently featured in many reports, particularly the JRF’s paper on Minimum Income Standards (MIS) which showed that the proportion of people living in households with an income below MIS increased by nearly a third between 2008/9 and 2012/13.
The impact of welfare reform was also charted by the National Housing Federation’s impact assessment of welfare reform in conjunction with the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research An on-going initiative undertaken by the Government is the ending of the ring-fence for Local Welfare Assistance worth around £120m a year. The Centre for Responsible Credit found that around half the money set aside for local welfare had been left unspent suggesting it was kept in the coffers of local authorities instead of being spent.
While many think tanks have focused on the impact of the present welfare reforms, other think tanks, such as Policy Exchange, are focusing on how to better the welfare system. Their Welfare Manifesto includes ideas such as a new unemployment insurance scheme that reflects personal contributions (like the scheme found in Germany which you can read more about here); limiting child benefit to four children and mitigating the social and well-being pitfalls of JCP sanctions by instead introducing a pre-paid benefits card where sanctions would usually be issued.
Income standards are likely to be an important election issue and this is again reflected in a body of research from various groups. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has found thatBritain’s poorest families have suffered the most from the coalition’s welfare cuts and tax rises worth around an average of £1,127 a year after the implementation of reforms since 2010.
A major focus of parties of all colours is the need for greater devolution to regions in the wake of the Scottish Referendum. The Centre for Cities published a health-check of the performance of cities across the UK to see if Government policy is making a difference to the prosperity of cities across the UK.