Dear Jeremy Corbyn,
Congratulations on the election result. You didn’t win, but there’s no denying that against near universal low expectations, you came pretty close. Your positive message of change resonated with almost 13 million voters. You stood for those struggling to make ends meet; for a fairer, more equal Britain; for the many against the few. And yet, can I just clarify a few points…?
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Scrapping tuition fees
Your pledge to scrap university tuition fees was undoubtedly popular among young people. It’s hard to disagree with your Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, when he talks so reasonably about not wanting to “burden our kids with debt for the future”. You yourself talked about the policy as “part of our plan for a richer Britain for the many not the few”. And I must say, I wholeheartedly agree that university education should be accessible regardless of background and that barriers should be removed.
The problem, however, is that increased tuition fees – and therefore student debt – hasn’t proved a barrier. More disadvantaged students than ever are attending university. Your policy is, in fact, a £10 billion bung to those graduates whose earnings would have been high enough to start paying back their student loans. Did you not look at Scotland, where university is now free and analysis shows middle class families and students are £20 million better off as a result?
Could you explain how this helps the delivery driver earning minimum wage, or the teenage apprentice, or the single mum working two jobs, because they will be paying for it? And I hate to be picky, but how will this help ensure the poorest children – whose school performance remains woefully below their wealthier peers – achieve the grades to get into (free) university? Aren’t these the people you’ve been championing?
Maintaining the welfare status quo
Can we also talk about who benefits from your pledge to keep the state pension triple lock and pay all pensioners the winter fuel allowance (we’ll park the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ comment that the triple lock is “financially unsustainable”). Sixty-five to 84 year olds are now the least likely of any age group to be in poverty, and 65-74 year olds own more wealth than the entire population aged under 45. That’s a transfer of billions of pounds from poorer working age people to wealthier pensioners.
Yet at the same time, you’ve u-turned on your pledge to reverse the benefit freeze, which is predicted to push half a million more people into poverty. In fact, the Labour manifesto pledged to reverse just £2 billion of scheduled welfare cuts totalling £9 billion. Were you just paying lip-service to protecting the poor?
Because I’m struggling to see why a baby boomer enjoying their generous defined benefit pension in their mortgage-free retirement should receive overly-generous taxpayer-funded benefits, while low wage families struggle to make ends meet as their benefit top-ups are worth progressively less?
Funding social care
And while we’re on the subject of intergenerational unfairness, there is a whiff of hypocrisy in attacking as “appalling” the idea that pensioners in need of costly social care should use their property wealth to help pay for it.
Sure, dubbing the Conservative manifesto proposal on social care a ‘dementia tax’ was sharp politics, but your alternative proposal – ‘national care service’ funded by taxation – would mean poorer households funding services for wealthier ones.
Why should a young family, struggling to get on the housing ladder, pay the care costs of a pensioner who, having benefited from ballooning property prices, owns a half a million-pound property?
None of this seem very fair to me (or to James Kirkup).
UnHerd’s Capitalism Editor Charlotte Pickles has also addressed the questions she’d like to see Theresa May answer.