To put it mildly, last year was not a good one for the Coalition. The Conservative Party dropped nine points in the polls and was divided over gay marriage and the EU. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats battled UKIP for third place in opinion polls and Nick Clegg’s attempt to apologise for the rise in Tuition Fees unintentionally became a Youtube sensation. Unsurprisingly the government has realised that it is time to refocus.
As a government they have conducted a Mid Term Review and set out a number of new priorities going forward. These will go alongside the guiding principles laid out in the Coalition Agreement. These six areas of policy focus are:
- Childcare – “We will support working families with their childcare costs.”
- Housing – “We will build more houses and make the dream of home ownership a reality for more people.”
- Transport – “We will set out plans for long-term investment in Britain’s transport infrastructure.”
- Pensions – “An improved state pension that rewards saving.”
- Social care – “more help with the costs of long-term care.”
- Freedom – “And as we take these steps to reshape the British state for the 21st century, we will take further steps to limit its scope and extend our freedoms.”
Taken on their own, each of these aims seem admirable. Plans include a childcare voucher which will cover up to £2 000 for each child, raising pensions to £140 a week and capping social care costs. These aims should be supported by all parties.
However, this government has not shown a talent for converting their aims into reality.
In a joint foreword to their document “the Coalition Programme mark 2” Clegg and Cameron write:
“We are dealing with the deficit, rebuilding the economy, reforming welfare and education and supporting hard-working families through tough times.”
Such a statement highlights the way the Coalition has fallen short. Although the budget deficit is falling, the government will not succeed in eliminating it by 2015. As the economy teeters on the brink of a triple dip recession it is difficult to say quite how they are ‘rebuilding the economy.’ Additionally, many of their policies such as benefits cuts and a rise in VAT are certainly not ‘helping hard-working families.’
The government may say one thing, but it often fails either by not succeeding in delivering a policy or it introduces other policies that conflict.
The government’s continuing programme of deep cuts will jar with the ambition to help working families. David Laws has said that “there are still cuts to come.”
This is on top of the the three year freeze on benefits and tax credits which looks set to cause many problems for families up and down the country. Figures show that 4.6 million women will be affected.
Much of what the Coalition has outline for renewed focus are deeply important. For example, when it comes to childcare Britain has some of the most expensive in Europe. Also in regards to housing, as Lord Whitty wrote last week, it is vitally important that ‘at least 250,000 homes are delivered every year for the next 20 years.’
Although the government has some good ideas it remains to be seen whether they will succeed.