Wednesday 30 January 2008

An Attempt by the Labour Left to Tackle Inequality and Poverty Blocked.

Parliament is debating today the Government's National Insurance Bill, which will set the earnings limits for paying national insurance contributions. Sounds like a dry bureaucratic issue but actually this is a key decision on whether the Government is serious about tackling poverty and inequality in today's Britain.

The National Insurance system which came out of the Beveridge report was a central plank of the Attlee Labour government's welfare state. It established the system whereby national insurance contributions are paid from our individual earnings into the National Insurance fund to pay for retirement pensions, unemployment and sickness and other benefits. It offered us all a basic level of security whatever life threw at us.

In the 1970s to protect the rich an upper limit was placed on the contributions paid by high earners. This was the uppper earnings limit. As a result those on average earnings today pay about 8.6% of their earnings in NI contributions but those earning £100,000 pay only 3.9%.

I wanted to use today's debate in Parliament on the Government's National Insurance Bill to highlight the unfairness of the earnings limit and to gain support for reform of this system. So I tabled a series of amendments to the Bill abolishing the upper earnings limit so that the high earners would pay the same share as everybody else. This would not only be fairer but it would also raise £8.8 billion for the national insurance fund.

This money could be used to increase child benefit by £14 a week, lifting 400,000 children out of poverty. It could be used to make all personal care for the elderly free or increase the basic sate pension or restore the link between pensions and earnings that Labour has been promising for over a decade.

Regrettably the amendments have been rejected for debate so the Government has lost a critical opportunity to address very practically the inequality which disfigures our society.

Last month the Institute for Fiscal Studies reported that in Britain "inequality is at its highest level since the late 1940s." The IFS actually found that "those at the bottom of income distribution and especially the poorest 15% of households saw their income go up at below average rates and in some cases even fall."

Abolishing the NI upper earnings limit which protects the wealthiest in our society could have been a small but significant step in reddressing this inequality. However in Parliament today we will not even get the chance of discussing this proposal. Welcome to Gordon Brown's Britain 2008.

Saturday 26 January 2008

Blogging to Start Again Next Week

Sorry I haven't had time to blog since the start of the New Year.

I have been up to my kneck in various campaigns both in and out of Parliament, not least the attempt to tarmac over a sizeable part of my community with a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow. I have also been participating in the setting up of the LRC's regional and branch structures around the country. I have been doing meetings on this and other issues both in my constituency and around the country virtually every other night and at weekends over the last few weeks.

In Parliament we have also been stretched in covering all the issues the Government has been throwing at us ranging from the Euro Treaty legislation to the Sale of Student Loans and Pensions legislation.

In addition I am trying to develop and consolidate much more active and accessible forms of democratic participation in my constituency building on the community conferences and local groups we have set up as part of our concept of community socialism.

Anyway I will be starting to blog again on a regular basis next week.

I see someone was very kindly correcting the punctuation on my blog. The problem I have is that many of the commas and apostrophes etc I insert come up as gobbledeegook when I put them in. I will try and sort this out for all those who are offended by a lack of punctuation!

On the wider political front there is an immense range of activity and campaigning going on so I am keen to get back to blogging just to share information and people's views on these campaigns.

To try make it easier to get ideas across and maybe more accessible for comments I am going to experiment with a bit of film blogging if we can get the technology operating ok.

See you next week.