MOST reasonable people would, I suspect, be able to agree on what the basic principles of a fair social security system should be. It should strongly encourage and incentivise work.
Special consideration should be taken of the elderly and disabled who are not in a position to boost their incomes.
There is also a consensus in most western democracies that the social value and added cost of children should be recognised in the system. Most people would probably also favour an element of compulsion or sanction for the able bodied of working age who refuse to take jobs offered them. This is the rationale behind Labour's proposal for reducing the benefits of those who have been out of work for two years, are then offered a job, but refuse to take it. These are the basic values of a 'something for something' society where rights come with responsibilities. That is why it is so strange that most of the people who will be hit by the Government's 'benefits freeze' are people who are in work whose low incomes are boosted by tax credits. They are the nurses, care assistants, Armed Forces personnel, classroom assistants, cleaners and many others for whom tax credits make work pay. That's why the last Labour government introduced tax credits and they were extremely successful at encouraging people back into work and helped create record employment levels before the global banking crisis. Two-thirds of the people who will be hit by the Government's freeze are in work receiving tax credits.
They are the very "strivers" the Government claims it wants to encourage, but their incentive to work is being reduced in one fell swoop. Surely the Government could have devised a system that differentiates between people receiving 'in work' and 'out of work' benefits.
THE news that the number of new homes being built in England has fallen to its lowest level since the 1920 is depressing for young and some not so young people desperate for a home. The number of new homes planned has fallen by 270,000 since the Government scrapped Labour's regional targets for house building. The South West is the worst affected region in the country with a cut of 108,380, nearly twice as much as the fall in the next most affected region, the South East. Some local authorities like Exeter are still doing their best to provide as many new homes as possible.
But it's just a trickle in terms of what is needed if all our young people are to be able to start a home of their own, something their parents' and grandparents' generation took for granted.
We in the South West already have the biggest gap between incomes and housing costs of anywhere in the country. We are now also suffering the worst drop-off in home building of any region.
I HOPE this week's announcement on the next tranche of rail investment includes improving the flood resistance of the First Great Western line at Cowley Bridge in Exeter. During this winter's spells of heavy rain we've suffered unacceptably long and repeated closures and disruption to the line. Apart from the inconvenience to individuals, if this isn't addressed it will be bad for our local economy, which depends on good transport connections with the rest of the country.