Conservative) MP for the Gainsborough Constituency in the first of a series of regular articles, published on his website, in which he will talk about the issues that matter leading up to the election, Mr. Leigh presents his views on the topic of social security.
If I am going to ask the people in my constituency to vote for me over the next four or five months, I think they have a right to know what I believe in and what I would like to see a Conservative government achieve.
I am delighted that the Party is focusing on aspiration and responsibility. Years ago during the last Tory government I wrote a paper entitled Responsible Individualism. I know that this is an untidy phrase but by it I meant empowering the individual not to be selfish and self centred, and by improving his lot to help society at large, particularly in education and social security.
I am a Tory because I believe in our history, our traditions. Some may argue that it was the eighteenth century rational enlightenment that was the cause of our liberal tolerant democratic society, but in my opinion so many of our institutions and our society as a whole grew slowly over centuries. It is important therefore to place an emphasis on our history and traditions if we are to keep developing as a nation.
I believe that reason, science and progress can march side by side with the personal reassurance given by religious belief and that religious participation (although worryingly in decline) and ethics has contributed to the undeniable advances against poverty. And it is the decline of religion that has made Western society a less happy place in terms of personal fulfilment and supportive family, despite the immense advances made against poverty. The point here is that despite the huge economic advances and the population being better off why aren’t people happier?
Despite this however, there has been a decline in the supporting structure of the family. Of course, families can take many forms and any one of them can be valid in itself, but for most people the model of a man and a woman making an honest attempt at commitment to each other for life is best. Tax and benefit policies should reflect this.
In truth tax and benefit policies on their own are not going to make people stay together, but they send out a message.
One thing is certain. Benefits can influence behaviour enormously for lower income groups.
If you are faced with marginal tax rates, greater than anything faced by the very rich, and you increase your earnings but end up receiving fewer benefits, leaving you less well off overall, then that is a powerful disincentive to work and aspire to self reliance.
For many years I have argued for a much simpler tax and benefits system.
One of the most successful benefits is child benefit. The level of fraud and error is minimal. This is because it is modest and non-means tested.
During the years of which I have been the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee we have published numerous reports outlining the worrying cases of fraud and error in the current system.
What a Conservative government must do is gradually simplify the system and reduce means testing. It will take enormous political will to implement and carry this out but given the £100 billion bill from social security, the harmful effects to the economy of not doing so would be harder to bear in long term.
Next week I shall share my views and beliefs on the subject of education.
Acknowledgement: Edward-Leigh.net | Edward's Ramblings | 07/01/10