Thursday, 3 October 2013

New policies at conference

The month long party conference season has finally drawn to a close. As always, those whose job it is to plan and manage such events have had to battle against the various noises off and awkward questions from the media as they try to get their policy announcements heard.

The Liberal Conservative government has made a number of significant announcements. Firstly, we have announced plans to introduce free school meals for all children of infant school age. When I visit primary schools in this area, one of the issues head teachers raise is that they have many children on their school roll whose families would be eligible to receive free school meals but are either too proud to apply or are unaware they are eligible. Sadly, some children also prefer snack foods to wholesome cooked meals. Making it automatic for all young children to receive free school meals will encourage healthy eating at a young age and there is evidence that this can improve attainment at school.

Next was the decision to accelerate the ‘Help to Buy’ scheme which is helping thousands of first time buyers get on the housing ladder by underwriting some of the lenders exposure to enable mortgage companies to offer 95 percent mortgages on new build houses. Last week I visited a Linden Homes construction site at Pool and it is clear that this policy has enabled them to get on with the work of rebuilding derelict sites in our towns. Margaret Thatcher made home ownership in Britain the norm rather than the exception and it would be a backward step if home ownership became the preserve of a privileged few again. Until the credit crunch, 95 percent mortgages were very common but now first time buyers are being given the impossible task of raising a 30 percent deposit. If we want to help people get on in life, we have to help people buy their first home.

We also saw more proposals to help the long term unemployed back into work. The evidence is overwhelming that experience of work is the single most important thing we can give the long term unemployed to help them regain their confidence, move closer to the job market and find a paid job.

When I worked for David Cameron in opposition, he was always clear that marriage should be recognised in the tax system and this pledge has finally been delivered. Most other countries already do this. In future, all married couples on basic rate tax will be able to transfer up to £1000 of their tax free allowance to their spouse. It will be especially beneficial to those couples who have young children and where one partner juggles working part time with caring for the children. When you are married you share many responsibilities. It is only right and fair that the tax system should reflect the way people live.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.