Thursday, October 14, 2010

Labour's on your side, if you're rich

So, Labour have decided they are against taxing the rich -- sorry, 'middle income families'.

Miliband Junior's performance in his first Prime Minister Questions can at least reassure those who were worried that New Labour might have fallen off its perch and gone to meet its maker. Lord Mandelson can sleep soundly in his satin pjs.

Now, let's accept that there is a flaw in Master Osborne's plan to remove child benefit from higher earners. As has been pointed out ad infinitum (immo, ad nauseam), a household where two earn, say, £40k a year will continue to receive the weekly sum, while a household where one is getting an income over the higher tax threshold will not get it. This is certainly an anomaly: it would obviously be far better for the benefit to be withdrawn from both these examples. The reform does not go far enough but at least it is a start.

It used to be the Tories who insisted that state benefits should not be means tested, as that would penalise, they said, the better off. But, if we are going to protect the welfare state, which was damaged so much under Thatcher and Blair, resources do need to be targeted. And it can surely not be said that a high-earning family is at the sharp end of need, can it?

Clearly, Labour would now disagree. But the logic of their position is more insidious than a spat over child benefit. Young Mr Miliband describes those on the higher rate of income tax as 'middle income families'. If that is the case, then they should surely not be paying the higher rate -- the logic would be to raise the threshold to take those on 'middle incomes' out of the higher bracket. Is the new leader of New Labour really going to call for tax cuts for those who, on any reasonable measure, are rich?

But what is most disappointing is that the opposition has followed the media in concentrating on the minor issue. The more significant and the more worrying of Osborne's announcements was the cap on welfare benefits per 'family'. This begs so many questions, and they're the ones that need to be asked.

On that first performance, Miliband: non satis.

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