Tricky business down the job centre

So it appears that the Department of Work and Pensions may not have been entirely correct. The Department initially denied that Jobcentre Plus employees were tricking vulnerable people in order to sanction them and stop their benefits, as reported in the Guardian last weekend. The Guardian yesterday continued the story with the news that:

The DWP has backtracked and released a statement confirming the practice had been going on in some offices due to a misunderstanding between the department and some jobcentre managers. It insisted this was no longer the case. Read more of this post

Is Cameron’s missing majority really the root of his problem?

Over at the Telegraph today Benedict Brogan posted an interesting piece under the title David Cameron isn’t a winner – and that’s where his problems begin. The thrust of his argument is clear from the title: Cameron’s failure to secure any sort of majority last May fundamentally weakens his position. Cameron is aware of this, Brogan argues, and that awareness infuses the whole business of government.

On closer inspection the rest of the piece turns out to be a rather loose collection of observations regarding things that are going wrong or not working very well. Or, as Brogan styles it, ‘the incidences of chaos are multiplying’. Anyone keeping even half an eye on the way policy is developing would agree that incidents that could appropriately be described as chaotic are not hard to find. But has Cameron’s lack of a majority got anything to do with it? Read more of this post

Groundbreaking economic finding during higher education policy development?

Today’s Guardian carries a piece entitled Plans for tuition fees in disarray, ministers say. There is concern that many universities are planning to charge students fees of more than £6,000, which means that the average of £7,500 for which the Government had budgeted is looking inadequate.  The implications for public spending are considerable. The piece contains the following observation:

Privately, ministers admit they have become victim of the so-called Giffen good, an economic theory in which people consume more as the price rises.

This statement is a worry. It certainly lends support to the argument that a little knowledge is dangerous. If higher education were a Giffen good then that would be a groundbreaking finding in economics. It would be surprising: not least because no one seems to have spotted it before. Read more of this post

Liberal Democrat alternative realities

Quite a few blog posts have now appeared offering a perspective on the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference. Some significant positive developments occurred. The amendments to the conference motion on NHS reform have attracted most attention. The support for the emergency motion on banking reform was equally emphatic. They both represent important interventions by the Social Liberal Form. Indeed, the growing influence of the SLF in the party was noted by Mark Pack over at Liberal Democrat Voice. Both motions were passed almost unanimously; Conference was equally united on the questions of political independence and electoral strategy; on reasserting the importance of the mobility components of the DLA and of legal aid for access to justice. These were clear statements of intent. Conference saw itself as sending a signal that Coalition hadn’t turned it into “forelock touching automatons” – to borrow Andrew George’s memorable phrase. The atmosphere in the hall was generally and genuinely positive. Of course, the question of what happens next – how to turn policy positions into reality in the context of Coalition, and whether the leadership is particularly inclined to so do – was not really addressed.

Conference was repeatedly regaled with more or less extensive lists of Liberal Democrat policies that have already been implemented by the Coalition government. Many went away from Sheffield relatively happy.

It feels a little churlish to register concerns. But I’m going to anyway. Read more of this post

Public service reform, zombie economics and the “Great Forgetting”

In his excellent recent book Zombie Economics: how dead ideas still walk among us John Quiggin, of the University of Queensland, provides an accessible account of some key economic ideas. These ideas provided the intellectual rationale for substantial social changes we have witnessed over the last 30 years. Many of these ideas boil down to theoretical justifications for the claim that markets are a better means of allocating resources than all available alternatives. Quiggin also summarises arguments against these theoretical rationalisations. The case against markets can be boiled down to the argument that whatever conventional economics might believe to be the case in theory, the real world just doesn’t follow the script. Working on the basis that it does is a recipe for disaster. This raises a crucial question: given that many of these ideas lack strong intellectual support – they are, or should be, ‘dead’ – why do they continue to exert such influence on policy? Societies are being subjected to “zombie economics”.

One of the topics with which Quiggin engages is privatisation. Read more of this post

Bluster and belief: Blue-tinged policy in health and housing

Today brought us two contrasting news stories which give further insight into the approach to policy making under the Coalition government. Today’s Guardian contains an interesting piece by Ben Goldacre on the reform of the NHS (available here), while the BBC have been carrying an item – triggered by a statement from the CIEH – about the problem of poor standards in the private rented sector in England, where it is estimated that 1 million properties are dangerous to live in.

What is interesting about these two policy areas is the way in which “evidence” features in the policy process and what leverage it has over the direction of policy. The contrast is sharp. Read more of this post

Should we be concerned about the Government’s attempted quangocide?

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 13/01/11]

Quangos – Quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations – occupy a strange place in the British political landscape. They tend to proliferate because governments can’t resist seeing new commissions for this or advisory panels for that as essential, while rarely deciding that existing bodies have outlived their usefulness. Yet, the term “quango” inhabits the same discursive space as “bureaucracy”. There is an engrained association with waste, inefficiency, red tape and pointless interfering. In many people’s minds, and frequently in political rhetoric, “quango = bad” by definition. (For a discussion of a similar equation regarding bureaucracy, see here on my blog.) So, the story goes, quangos need to be treated with suspicion and reined in whenever possible. Read more of this post

The housing policy jigsaw – a picture begins to emerge?

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 30/12/10]

In yesterday’s post I set out key policy developments affecting housing. So what can we discern about the current government’s approach to housing?

For a start there is a continuing emphasis upon choice. This is particularly clear when discussing how to encourage underoccupying social renters to move. The CLG rhetoric is of increasing choice and making choices easier to realise. They neglect to cross-refer to the DWP proposals to cut the housing benefit of any social renter deemed to be seriously underoccupying. The approach isn’t all “carrot”. Read more of this post

The housing policy jigsaw – identifying the pieces

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 29/12/10]

Yesterday, I suggested that it would be valuable to piece together the housing policy jigsaw in order to reflect on the picture that emerges. Policy in this field speaks directly to our fundamental values -freedom, equality and community – and how they are to be reconciled. My aim today is to identify more fully the key pieces of the current policy jigsaw.

So what can we make of the way policy towards housing is developing?

The key proposals on social housing reform in the Local Decisions consultation paper were heavily trailed. Many are embodied in the Localism Bill. They have been discussed in a number of posts here at Liberal Democrat Voice (for example, here and here) and beyond. The proposals are being pushed towards the statute book with what appears unseemly haste (as I discuss further here). Read more of this post

Piecing together the housing policy jigsaw

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 28/12/10]

The Coalition government is seemingly intent upon drowning us in a blizzard of consultation papers, green papers, white papers, and hasty legislation. No doubt there is also a bit of kite flying taking place for good measure. One problem with all this activity is keeping track of overlapping agendas. How do we sum the parts in a way that allows us to get a sense of the likely cumulative impact of change?

One area in which this is particularly acute is housing. Policy which impacts upon housing and the housing market sits with a number of government departments. Housing policy and planning policy are formally the responsibility of Communities and Local Government, while responsibility for housing benefit and the local housing allowance rests with the Department for Work and Pensions. At the same time, responsibility for aspects of housing finance that fundamentally affect access to and affordability of housing – such as mortgage market regulation – lie elsewhere. Housing also crops up in the Department of Health’s (DoH) bailiwick: it gets frequent, though vague, mention among the determinants of well-being in the recent public health white paper. Interestingly, one of the more specific housing initiatives the DoH white paper mentions approvingly is the ‘warm front’ fund, which the Department for Energy and Climate Change has just announced it is freezing (if you’ll pardon the pun). Read more of this post

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.