Dear Prime Minister,
It’s been a tough few months, I know, but among the embers of the best forgotten election campaign is a glimmer of opportunity: Labour’s lead among the working-class voters has all but disappeared. In June’s general election, 37% of voters on incomes of less than £20,000 a year voted for you, that’s just 5 percentage points below Labour. Among people working in routine manual occupations the split was even, and you took a 12-point lead among those with no qualifications. Even under Thatcher, Labour enjoyed a 15-point lead in the working-class vote.
Granted, much of this is a vote for Brexit, but now’s the time to double down: Make the Conservatives the party of the working class. You may argue that’s what you’re doing, but I’m afraid the evidence doesn’t support this.
Rethink increasing the personal tax allowance
Helping the working poor by taking them out of income tax altogether was a good idea, but the continuing push to increase the personal tax allowance (PTA) is no longer the progressive policy it was. Those struggling to pay the bills aren’t going to thank you for your expensive efforts, because you’re not actually helping them. Just £1 in £6 spent on raising the PTA will actually benefit households in the bottom half of the income distribution. You should scrap the further planned increased and use that £1.3 billion to actually help those most in need.
Making work pay
My suggestion would be to invest that money (and some more) in reversing the awful cuts to in-work benefits announced in George Osborne’s 2015 Summer Budget – become the real champion of the “shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning” that he abandoned.
Let’s be honest about the real-life impact of the benefit freeze, because it’s too easy to talk about fiscal responsibility and reducing the deficit. It means that people whose wages are so low they depend on government top-ups are getting poorer because those top ups are not keeping pace with inflation. Paying for basics like rent and food and fuel is getting harder, not easier, under your government. And the cuts to Universal Credit (UC) are making a mockery of the Conservative commitment to ‘make work pay’. Massively reducing the amount a family can earn before UC starts to be withdrawn is hardly rewarding work.
Reversing these would put money back into the pockets of hard-working families. It would place you firmly on the side of the working class.
Fixing the broken housing market
I won’t labour the point, as everyone’s said it, but your policies on house building are pitiful compared to the scale of the challenge. It’s bad enough you’re inflating home ownership demand further with your £10 billion injection into Help to Buy, but at the sharpest end of the crisis, where paying rent is a daily worry for millions of low income families, your plan is non-existent. A big, bold council house building programme is needed. That says loud and clearly ‘we get it’.
It may feel like good politics to have ministers repeat by rote “Employment up to a record high. Unemployment down to a historic low”, but for many people it rings hollow. For the person working part-time who can’t get more hours, or the person cycling in and out of low-paid jobs, it doesn’t match their lived experience. And it’s little consolation to communities that have yet to recover from deindustrialisation (in Newcastle, for example, unemployment among men is around twice the national rate). May I suggest you get on with addressing the rise in insecure work, perhaps act on the months-old Taylor Review on modern working practices , and focus on increasing productivity in low paid sectors.
Prime Minister your government has a historic opportunity to transform the country. Don’t let your policies fall short.
On Friday, UnHerd’s Capitalism Editor Charlotte Pickles addressed the questions she’d like to see Jeremy Corbyn answer about the Labour manifesto.