On Monday, the Labour party announced details of its “job guarantee” scheme for Britons aged 18-24 who have been receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance, the standard unemployment benefit, for more than a year. The Conservative party says that Labour is making an unfunded and unaffordable commitment.
The Treasury estimates that the scheme would cost £1.04bn per year. If that sounds conveniently like ONE BILLION POUNDS, I think you are on to something. The real figure would almost certainly be less than that.
Raising the personal allowance further won’t help the poorest, never mind “just the very poorest”. With 4.6m workers (17 per cent) already not paying income tax, including an additional 2m due to the coalition’s policies, more of the gains will go to those on middle incomes. That might be a perfectly good thing to do but it is not helping the poorest.
the IFS calculates that 69 per cent of the £12.2bn cost of raising the Personal Allowance to £12,500 would go to working families in the top half of the income distribution, 16 per cent to pensioners, and a mere 15 per cent for working families in the bottom half of the population. Of course, any big tax cut like this one would mean public spending cuts elsewhere, which would likely fall harder on the bottom half.
The politics of the personal allowance rise is obvious but so too is its flaws. If you would like to help the low paid, there are better ideas.
In January I visited my old school in Edinburgh, where I met four pupils from its gifted and talented programme. When I asked the 12-year-olds what they had been doing that day, one explained they were rewriting fairy tales. Her friend picked up the thread; once upon a time Ariel, from The Little Mermaid, had turned Jasmine, the heroine from Aladdin, into a similarly semi-aquatic character. Jasmine drowned. This ploy was meant to clear the way for Ariel to seduce Aladdin. Unfortunately for the princess, he turned out to be gay. His marriage to Prince Charming was imminent, continued another pupil. The End.
This story would not score well on the Programme for International Student Assessment. Pisa compares student achievement in OECD countries. Its latest results have worried western governments and parents; Chinese pupils, even those from poor backgrounds, are scoring higher than most of their American and European peers. Perhaps I should be horrified that the clever kids I met were sounding more like Roald Dahl than mathematicians. Read more
If you are an overseas investor curious about British people, or at least their property, I suggest you spend an hour watching the popular television programme Location, Location, Location. A typical episode will feature two couples, each looking for a house. At the outset, they tell us about their budgets, which are tangible, and their dreams, which are intangible but often manifest themselves through the medium of original fireplaces.
The tension between reality and aspiration, heightened by a pair of plummy presenters, makes the show. After a tour of the local market and the ritual sacrifice of an interior design fantasy, prospective buyers will find a place and make an offer, usually from a pub. Cue music. Will the owner accept the bid? Not for that price, surely? Yes! I would not say I enjoy the anxiety but, like millions of others, I cannot turn it off.
They call it reality television for a reason. Britain has mass angst about housing. Prices and rents are rising across the country, particularly in London, where growth is in double digits. In December, official figures showed that the average UK house price had for the first time risen above £250,000, or about 10 times median income. The divide in wealth between those who own property and those who do not is growing, and with it a gap between equity-rich baby-boomers and “Generation Rent”. Read more
The Scots who have yet to make up their minds ahead of September’s referendum are the most important people in Britain. They will decide whether the 307-year old political union will come to an end. In the third of our videos for the FT’s Scotland series, I tried to figure out who they are and what they want. Read more
At times it can seem there are more data released on Scotland and independence than there are caramel wafers made by the Tunnock’s factory. Below are some of the charts I find most useful when thinking about independence. I have pulled them all together here. The last two charts are almost certainly the most important. Read more
The FT’s “If Scotland goes” series includes three short videos. In the first, I looked at the changing nature of Scottish nationalism. The second, available below, considers whether the pro-union campaign is making enough of an emotional case; Better Together has focused on practical issues ahead of the independence referendum.
This is perfectly sensible: the economy is the most important issue in the referendum. And when asked by pollsters, Scots typically express a dual identity, feeling both Scottish and British. Still, travelling around Scotland, I could not help but notice the enthusiasm gap between nationalists and unionists. Read more
James lived with his father in a council flat in Edinburgh. He was 17 years old but a hormone deficiency and malnutrition made him look 12. His reading age was lower still. I was his “support worker”, a job I took during holidays from university. My goal was to help James become “autonomous”, according to the Action Group, my employer; the charity works with young people to find them employment, further education and safe housing.
I failed. On a good day, James and I would tidy the flat to an incongruous soundtrack of Dolly Parton, his favourite singer, and we might – might – fill out a college application. On an exceptional day we went to a college. But on most days we went backwards. I would spend my shift calculating how much James’s father had stolen of his son’s benefits, or trying to get through to a James numbed by Ritalin or keeping him away from gangs. I left angry with myself, with James’s parents, with him and at what I called the “system”. Read more
When I was eight or nine I was given a digital “sports” watch. The Casio F-91W is cheap and hardy, with black plastic straps and an octagonal face. It can tell the date and time to the nearest second. Its alarm emits tinny bleeps. But the claims made for its sportiness are exaggerated. As a land-based child, I was excited to learn that the F-91W claims “water resistance” at a depth of 30m. Thirty! I dreamt of taking my sleek timepiece on scuba dives. That is, until I read on; “not safe for snorkelling”, the manual said.
My scepticism of “wearable technology” runs deeper than my old Casio’s water resistance. This is not only because in 2011 it emerged that al-Qaeda had used the F-91W in making a slapdash bomb – a surreal reminder that technology is often morally neutral. No, it is because I am sceptical of the wearers of wearable tech gadgets, including myself. We ask too much of technology and too little of ourselves; we expect the digital watch to turn us into scuba divers. Read more
In the previous post I wrote about the reasons why a rise in Britain’s minimum wage is being reviewed by the main political parties.
Here, again drawing on the work of the Resolution Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, I suggest the options for how the minimum wage could be increased. Read more