A CONSERVATIVE MANIFESTO FOR UNLOCKING SOCIAL MOBILITY
Paul Maginnis is a Conservative Party member and author ofThe Return of Meritocracy: Conservative Ideas for Unlocking Social Mobility
If we are ever to unite as a Conservative Party again, we need to remember why we all joined the Party in the first place. We need to remember it is only our party who believe in equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. It is only our party who recognise the importance of individual as well as social responsibility. And it is only our party who truly believe in capitalism as the greatest way to improve the life chances of every individual in this country. Moving beyond Brexit, we need a vision that is just as powerful as Margaret Thatcher’s ‘popular capitalism’ or Ronald Reagan’s ‘Shining City on a Hill’. In short, we need a radical, Blue-Collar Conservative agenda to unlock social mobility.
I have spent my career working with some of the most isolated people in society. I have worked as a homelessness support worker, an employability adviser and currently with children in care. What has become more and more clear to me is the importance of promoting conservative values to combat the left wing bias in these jobs. Day in day out, I see the profligate mindset of the Left, i.e. ‘let’s just pay more in welfare and simply throw money at children in care to make up for their lack of family life’. Contrary to this, I have always promoted aspiration, work ethic and building a strong family, as opposed to a reliance on state subsidies as a long term solution. For example, when I worked as a homelessness support worker, I set up a job club in the hostel, helping young people with their CVs, cover letters and interviews skills. Rather than just helping them fill in their benefits application. As Blue-Collar Conservatives, we need to be engaging with everybody in society and spreading a message of aspiration.
Although the government has been consumed by Brexit for the last 3 years, we do have some great achievements which we should be proud of. There are over 3.5 million more people in work since 2010 and while there are issues with a minority of these jobs, it has overwhelmingly been a great success. The living wage which was introduced 3 years ago has led to the lowest paid receiving a pay rise of over 10% even after inflation has been taken into account. The raising of the personal allowance has led to basic rate tax payers keeping more than £1,200 of their own money per year – another policy to disproportionally benefit lower earners. We have also seen the introduction of the Pupil Premium, a £2.5 billion annual investment which seeks to close the attainment gap. In my current job I have seen first-hand how this extra money can significantly improve the academic, vocational and cultural opportunities for those in care.
Looking to the future, we need a bold agenda which will transform both the economy and society. We need a ‘Tory Blue-Collar Budget’ which will set out our priorities. Conservative tax cuts should be emphasised as the best way to redistribute wealth. The National Insurance threshold should be equalised with the personal allowance threshold, which would put a further £500 in basic taxpayers’ pockets. After leaving the EU we should cut VAT on all fuel resulting in a huge saving on household bills which would prove to be a popular and dare I say populist policy. Tax cuts, alongside lowering the living wage age threshold to 21, would prove to be a much better way of helping the just about managing, rather than increased welfare dependency.
A relentless focus on housing, education and promoting families is crucial to a future Conservative Government. As is so often stated, housing in many parts of the country is unaffordable so why should young people support capitalism if they have no way of obtaining capital? There needs to be a mission to build genuinely affordable homes and continue expanding government schemes to increase the rate of first time buyers.
When it comes to education, the government should pilot a new type of grammar school specifically in the lowest performing areas which primarily support the most disadvantaged pupils. Pupil Premium for the early years should be doubled, a sound investment for the future. Teachers in the most disadvantaged areas should be incentivised to stay in their school and careers advice needs to once again feature in every school. The government also needs to do more to help the poorest young people access internships within the top professions.
With a higher living wage and tax cuts saving the lowest paid hundreds of pounds a year, a Conservative Government will have the scope to promote stable families and reduce welfare dependency. The Troubled Families Programme should be extended to combat truancy, reoffending and worklessness. Welfare should be further reformed so it moves to a contribution-based system, similar to other countries across Europe. This will counteract cynicism and reassure the public that those who have paid in can get more out when they fall on hard times.
Jeremy Corbyn has tapped into genuine concerns over housing, education and inequality. Instead of ducking the debate with Labour, we need to take them on with pro-capitalist arguments and show that his policy solutions would destroy the life chances of the many, not the few. Instead of stale and bland rhetoric, we need a manifesto which will unlock opportunity for everyone who is willing to work for it.