10 things the Government should do for hard pressed families in 2014

Families had it pretty tough in 2013, with well documented squeezes in living standards for those on low to middle incomes (this squeeze took place well before 2013 I hasten to add) and record numbers  of families using food banks in some areas of the UK. With this in mind, below is a list of 10 things I’d like the Government to do for hard pressed families in 2014.

  1. Ensure that the marriage tax break finally announced by George Osborne in the Autumn Statement is in people’s pockets before May 2015 and is more generous than it currently stands. At present, couples stand to gain around £200 per year. This however doesn’t include considerations relating to the Universal Credit, which will reduce benefits for Universal Credit recipients. After all, in 2013 it did plenty for single parent and dual earner couple households ( see for example its plans to increase childcare provision for single and dual earner parents.)
  2. Given that rent is the biggest cost many families face on a month to month basis, it would be well worth the Coalition embarking on a significant affordable house-building project, or promising to do so in the near future. Doing so would increase supply of property and therefore drive down the cost of renting and home ownership in general.  Alternatively, if the Government doesn’t fancy a big social housing building programme, it might want to consider reforming planning laws to make it easier for property builders to develop and build on available land.
  3. More radically, the Government should consider (i.e. investigate, commission a report etc.) introducing rent controls. This might make sense given the rate at which rent has increased in recent years.
  4. Do more to recognise the cost (financial, emotional, relational, social etc.) of relationship breakdown, currently estimated as costing the taxpayer £50 billion per year. 2013 saw the creation of the Relationships Alliance, whilst this year there is a review due to come out on the issue, which should make for interesting reading
  5. The Government should do more in 2014 to protect the unborn. In 2012, according to the Department for Health, over 185,000 abortions took place whilst the then Director for Public Prosecutions Kier Starmer said that as the law currently stands, gender selective abortion (that is, abortion based on the gender of the child) is not prohibited. What is more, a 2004 study indicated that in the UK 95% of babies diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome are aborted. I therefore call on the Government to be bold in 2014 in protecting this most vulnerable group of society.
  6. The Government should continue to increase rights relating to freedom of speech. Following the success of the Reform Section 5 campaign, one hopes the related ‘feel free to annoy me’ Reform Clause 1 campaign, which aims to prevent ‘Ipnas’ (Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance)coming into force, will also be a a force for championing free speech. The present signs are encouraging, with the House of Lords passing an amendment to remove the words ‘annoying’ and ‘nuisance’ from the legislation. In brief, Ipnas have the potential to subject an individual or group to court orders if they are deemed to be causing a ‘nuisance or annoyance.’ It is therefore crucial that the Government make the changes necessary to ensure that groups or individuals can be free to express themselves without fear of being castigated for being ‘annoying.’ Thus, whilst this might not strictly be a ‘family issue’ Ipnas have the potential to cause unnecessary distress for families whose members might be subjected to such a measure.
  7. Better recognise the contribution of unpaid care undertaken within many family homes, whether it be for adults, disabled loved ones, or children at home. Whilst the transferable allowance for married couples is a start, I feel there needs to be other support given to those who undertake unpaid care. This could be in the form of better practical support for those caring for those who are disabled, elderly or vulnerable (many social care visits which are supposed to assist unpaid carers only last 15 minutes for example!) and greater efforts to tackle loneliness amongst unpaid carers.
  8. Do something about the prohibitively high marginal effective tax rates facing UK one-earner and single parent families at the moment. At present under tax credits, many low to middle income families face rates of 73%, meaning for every extra £1 earned, they only see 23p come into the household.  What’s more, under Universal Credit, many of these families will face rates of 76%! Two policy responses to this problem are reducing the rate of withdrawal of benefits as one increases their income, particularly from low to middle incomes ,or moving support for family responsibility from the benefits system to the tax system. For more information on the latter, see CARE’s recently published review of Independent Taxation.
  9. On a slightly different tip, the Government should pledge to do more for families with a loved one in prison. Maintaining family links when someone is in prison can be key in reducing the likelihood of reoffending once that person is released. Thus, the Government should consider ways in which (when possible and appropriate) prisoners can be kept in prisons where they are relatively close to their family.
  10. Given that there are over a million NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training) although below average for Europe it would be well worth the Government creating a ‘youth guarantee’ scheme which gives NEETS (and perhaps Graduates and young people looking for employment) further education or vocational training. This would not only help young people themselves, but also potentially families whom children are living with due to the inability to live independently.