Green Manifesto 2010 Welfare
Let’s start with decent pensions
After 13 years of Labour rule we still have unacceptable levels of poverty. It is particularly offensive that 25% of pensioners and 20% of children still live in poverty. Our creaking welfare system gets ever more complex as it attempts to fill the gaps, yet it often fails to reach those entitled to benefits but who do not claim them.
In the longer run a fundamental reform is needed, where most of the complicated benefits, means tests and qualifying contributions are swept away, and all citizens receive as of right a basic income – a Citizen’s Income.The cost of this would be recovered through a more progressive income tax system. We recognise that with the public finances in their present state this is not the time to introduce such a scheme. However, we can make a start by helping the two vulnerable groups above, with a decent Citizen’s Pension scheme and a major increase in Child Benefit.
Our present pension system is a disgrace. We pay an inadequate state pension (only £97.65 per week for a full state pension for a single person), the level of which is still not linked to average earnings (and which is not up-rated at all for UK pensioners living abroad in certain countries). It depends on an individual’s contribution record, discriminating in particular against women, but also against others with poor contribution records such as those with poor health or a broken work record, or who have been carers. This is in theory topped up by means-tested Pension Credits, which discriminate against anyone with very modest savings, creating a massive disincentive to save to provide for yourself. As many as one in four pensioners live in poverty.
Introducing a Citizen’s Pension
We need a new system of Citizen’s Pensions. The Citizen’s Pension would be paid unconditionally to all pensioners in the UK (independent of contribution record) at the rate of the official poverty line (currently £170pw for someone living alone, and the rate would be £300pw for couples), and would be linked to average earnings. It would also be paid to, and up-rated for, the one million pensioners living abroad. Housing Benefit and disability benefits would continue to be paid.The demeaning Pension Credits would be abolished.
Defending sheltered housing residents against service cuts
In December 2008, Brighton and Hove’s Green Councillors joined forces with local residents in defence of services provided to those living in Sheltered Housing. As a result, Brighton & Hove City Council was forced to drop plans to switch to a ‘floating’ style of support for sheltered housing tenants, which would have seen a reduction in the number of ‘on-site’ scheme managers.
How would we pay for Citizen’s Pensions
There are about 12 million pensioners living in the UK and a further 1 million living abroad.
Paying a single rate of £170 per week and a couples rate of £300 per week will cost £110 billion a year.
But the basic state pension already costs £56 billion, and when certain other specific pensioner benefits like the Pensions Credits paid to those of pension age are abolished the total saving will be almost £70 billion.
That leaves £40 billion to find. Abolishing tax relief on pension contributions raises £20 billion, and a further £19 billion would come from abolishing employer national insurance contributions and employee National Insurance rebates associated with pension schemes.
The final £1 billion will come from increased income tax receipts from pensioners. Because the number of pensioners is gradually rising, and we would link the pension level to average earnings, Citizen’s Pension will cost a further £0.8 billion by 2013–14. This figure is included in our figures for general taxation.
There will also be savings (not quantified here) on Council Tax Benefits and Housing Benefits.
And it is right too to do something significant about child poverty. Rather than add further to the complex and means tested Child Tax Credits system, we would simply more than double the existing and universal Child Benefit payment, by paying an extra £20pw, which would be taxable, for each child.This would cost a further £14bn per year, much of which would be recovered by increased taxation on the most wealthy.
A fair deal for social carers
A vast proportion of social care in the UK is provided by unpaid family carers who save the NHS £87bn a year. Carer’s Allowance (CA) is an income-capping straitjacket. CA paid to family carers aged 16 and over is the ‘Cinderella Benefit’: £53.10 for a 35-hour week minimum commitment is no real compensation.
Child carers under the age of 16 receive nothing at all.They are perhaps our most vulnerable child labourers, often working very long hours and bearing emotional burdens far beyond their years.These children receive no financial support and in many cases work longer hours than their older counterparts.Their schooling and education are often compromised and some simply never have the chance to ‘play’.
The Green Party is committed to:
• A more generous Carer’s Allowance, increased by 50% to £80pw.
• Offering support to people who want to give care, recognising their pivotal position while increasing the amount of care available.
• Healing the rift between adults’ and children’s social services that was created by New Labour.
• Providing more short breaks to families, including disabled people or those with long-term illnesses. Such early intervention schemes have been shown to save money by preventing crises.
• Improving working conditions for professional staff at all levels, paying for preparation time and follow-through, as well as contact time, and providing more in-service training to help cope with the vast spectrum of service user requirements.
• Instituting workforce health checks as advocated by UNISON.
• Repealing the oppressive Welfare Reform Act (2009) as a prequel to supporting people through lifelong development for their own and the planet’s well-being.
• Cancelling the DWP benefit entitlement assessment contracts with private sector.
• Restoring the link between state benefits and earnings.
• Giving carers cheaper local travel on bus, trains, tube and trams.
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