Lib Dems unveil plans to tackle poverty

The Liberal Democrats have today unveiled their plans to tackle poverty in the UK.

Party leader Menzies Campbell, in a speech to the IPPR think tank, promised to end mass means testing, simplify the benefits system, and change child benefits.

“I am determined to take the fight for a fairer Britain into the mainstream of British politics, and into the heartlands of the Labour party,” Sir Menzies said.

“The Liberal Democrats must be a party not only of the affluent and compassionate middle class, but of those struggling to make ends meet.”

And the Lib Dem leader had particular criticism for the current means testing system.

“Gordon Brown’s strategy of mass means-testing is undermining work, saving, and families,” he said.

“If you work all your life, you now get a basic state pension which is over 25 per cent lower than if you had not worked at all.”

To tackle poverty, Sir Menzies pointed to five new ideas from the Lib Dems.

Firstly, stop encouraging couples with children to split up, removing the financial penalty which low-income parents face if they choose to stay together.

“We could introduce a couple’s premium into child tax credit – ending the bias against two parent families – whilst cutting child poverty at the same time,” he explained.

Secondly he proposed raising child benefit to the same level for every child in a family. This could move 300,000 children out of poverty, at a cost of £1.7 billion.

Thirdly, lower the age of the youngest child which the government expects lone parents to work. “We ought to ask whether we should make changes to a benefit system that provides very little incentive or support for lone parents to return to work until their youngest child is 16 years old,” Sir Menzies said.

“In most other European countries, the age at which parents are expected to look for work is considerably lower.”

Fourthly, to not only sign-up to the child poverty target, but to two more goals for 2020. Increasing child literacy and numeracy and halving the number of people claiming incapacity benefit.

And finally to simplify the benefits system to reduce the number of benefits from 50 to 25 as well as halving the number of people facing marginal tax rates of 60 per cent or more.

“We will set an objective to cut 50 benefits to 25 again, as there were 30 years ago,” Sir Menzies said.

“Under Gordon Brown, and his strategy of mass means-testing, over 1.7 million people face higher effective tax rates than the rich will ever now pay – 60, 70, 80 or even 90 per cent.”