Federal Policy Committee
Mover: Christine Jardine MP (Spokesperson for Work and Pensions).
Summation: Paul Noblet (Chair of the Policy Working Group).
Conference is appalled at the level of poverty in the UK today: over a million people can't afford food and other basic essentials.
Conference deplores the facts that the Conservatives have overseen a huge rise in child poverty and the shambolic roll-out of the under-funded Universal Credit system, and that the current government has cut public spending in a way that disproportionately hits the most vulnerable in society.
Conference believes that urgent action is needed to redress this situation and ensure that nobody is enslaved by poverty.
Conference notes with particular concern that:
- Around 30 per cent of children are living in poverty, an estimated four million people have been driven to use foodbanks and holiday hunger is a growing problem for people dependent on free school meals to feed children.
- The Conservative government shows no understanding of what life is like for people on low incomes and who rely on the benefits system, and little desire to correct their many mistakes.
- Access to modern economic infrastructure is not available to all: too many people can't access decent broadband and public transport is far more expensive than it is in many other western European countries.
- Regional inequalities are stark: the average income in the West Midlands is 20 per cent lower than it is in the South East, while child poverty is heavily concentrated in the poorest local authorities. In addition, child poverty is heavily concentrated in the poorest local authorities, including, for example certain coastal towns, parts of London and many parts of the Midlands and the North, which have suffered disproportionate reductions in Government grants.
- The growth of the gig economy means that nearly five million people are working in jobs with no security and irregular hours.
Conference believes that:
- Everybody should have sufficient income and access to services to ensure they can support themselves and their children or others that they care for.
- Long-term unemployment and economic hardship are unacceptable in a modern and developed economy and come at an often-huge human cost including poor mental and physical health.
- Paid work - at a fair rate - should not only help people to be financially self-sufficient, but should also offer dignity, build self-esteem and improve health.
- Everyone in the UK should have access to the fundamental building blocks that they need to access opportunities and fulfil their potential.
- Access to our digital society and economy should be available to all.
- The key to growing economies across every region, both in urban and rural areas, is to rebalance capital funding from central government and to invest in opportunities throughout the UK.
Conference endorses policy paper 136, A Fairer Share for All, as a statement of Liberal Democrat policy to meet these challenges and as an ambitious plan for a society in which everybody has the opportunity to flourish.
Conference calls for the following measures as priorities to tackle poverty and inequality:
- Invest £5 billion per year to make the benefits system work for people who need it and reduce the wait for the first benefits payment from five weeks to five days.
- Introduce universal access to basic services as a guiding principle to ensure that people have somewhere warm and safe to live, a healthy diet and access to the digital and transport infrastructure needed for 21st-century life.
- A £50 billion capital Rebalancing Fund allocated to and administered by, devolved authorities to address the historic investment disparities between our nations and regions.
Conference also calls for measures:
- To ensure that everyone has a sufficient income to allow them to live with dignity:
- Tackle child poverty by removing the two-child limit, scrapping the benefits cap and seeking to increase the child element of the benefits system.
- Make work pay by increasing work allowances, reviewing the taper rate and introducing a second earner work allowance at 50 per cent of the main earner.
- Introduce a system of incentives, rather than ineffective sanctions, to encourage people into work, and pilot a secure income guarantee to test the impact of introducing an unconditional element to the benefits system.
- Separate employment support from benefits administration - making Jobcentres places of training and support into work.
- Reassess PIP descriptors in line with decisions made by tribunal judges and bring work capability assessments in-house, ensuring that they are conducted fairly and in a sensitive manner.
- Set a 20 per cent higher minimum wage for people on zero-hour contracts at times of normal demand to compensate them for the uncertainty of fluctuating hours of work.
- Equalise the level of the job-seeking element of the benefits system so that those aged 18-24 can claim the same rate as over 25s.
- To guarantee universal access to basic services:
- Ensure access to homes by increasing the rate of housebuilding to 300,000 a year, 100,000 of which will be homes for social rent, and helping people into homes by introducing a new Rent to Own model.
- Establish a legal right to food to enshrine in law the government's responsibility to ensure that existing and new public policy is audited to ensure that it will not leave people hungry.
- End holiday hunger by empowering local authorities and schools to build social partnerships to continue provision of meals in school holidays.
- Commit to ending rough sleeping within five years, publish a plan within the next twelve months to end all forms of homelessness, and provide councils with the resources to deliver the Homelessness Reduction Act.
- Ensure central government grants to local government increase in real terms every year.
- To empower people to access work and opportunity in every part of the UK:
- Improve access to childcare for working parents by increasing the number of weeks for which free childcare is available and ensuring that at least 15 hours per week is delivered by nurseries so that children benefit from a good pre-school education.
- Open more public internet access points, and permit people using the benefits system to request access to a basic smartphone for a year to aid with their benefit claim and job searching.
- Invest in transport infrastructure throughout the UK, focusing on improving bus services including the Transport for the North Strategic Transport Plan, with a focus on improvements to, and integration of, local rail and bus services.
- Invest in a national 'business standard' digital infrastructure that enables businesses of all sizes to grow to stimulate local economies throughout the UK.
Applicability: Federal; except 3. a) (lines 107-111) which is England and Wales; and 2. a) (lines 90-93) and 2. c) - d) (lines 98-104) which are England only.
Mover and summation of motion: 16 minutes combined; movers and summation of any amendments: 4 minutes; all other speakers: 3 minutes. For eligibility and procedure for speaking in this debate, see page 4.
The deadline for amendments to this motion - see page 6 - and for requests for separate votes - see page 3 - is 13.00 Monday 2 September. Those selected for debate will be printed in Conference Extra and Saturday's Conference Daily.
In addition to speeches from the platform, voting members will be able to make concise (maximum one minute) interventions from the floor during the debate on the motion. See pages 3 and 4 for further information.