Monday 21 September 2009

Lib Dems lurch to the right - I think

I was riveted by the oration of Dashin' Tav (I've seen him dance; smooth as a very smooth person and nothing like John Travolta with a sprained ankle), leader of all things Lib Demmery in Scotland (and in Shetland, too), at his party conference - in England somewhere (Bournemouth, I think). You can read it yourself for your own delight and delectation, but I'd like to pick out just a wee bit to examine, and it's this bit:

Research I am publishing today shows that - over four years - the SNP will have spent £950m on a set of distorted priorities and hand-outs that give more to the rich than to the poor. Because this is what you find:

If you have two children and earn £100,000 then you will have gained £802 per year from the SNP. But if you have two children and you earn £15,000 then you will have gained just six pounds and seven pence.

So that’s enough champagne and lobster every night for the rich. A fish supper for the poor.

The grammar is just from the way that speeches are written, but let's have a wee look at the claims. I've managed to acquire a copy of the "research" (It didn't appear on the web at so we can have a nice cup of tea and discuss it - it turned out that Jeremy Purvis was involved, so the figures are bound to be wrong. I'll leave aside the issue of paying six quid for a fish supper while £2.19 gets you champagne and lobster (I'm taking it that Tavish doesn't do the shopping in his house - either for fish suppers or for his champagne and lobster). There are Scots living from hand to mouth 12 years after the coming to power of the 'poverty-fighting Labour party' and eight years after the Scottish Executive of which Tavish was a member introduced its Social Justice Milestones (then quickly dropped them when they started moving in the wrong direction - last was in 2003, a couple of years after they were launched).

Anyway, this 'research'. If I knew how to put it up here I would, you'll have to trust me that I'm quoting accurately, copying and pasting:

By 2011-12 the SNP will have spent £950million on four headline-grabbing manifesto policies.
Who has really benefited from the SNP give-away? The SNP has said that it is not possible to cut taxes under a fixed budget. But that is precisely what they have done with £950m. And the people who have gained most have been the richest people.
· A high income family will have gained £802.37 per year from these policies.
· A low income family will have gained £6.07.
This research looks at the four headline policies:
· Council Tax freeze
· Free prescriptions for all by 2011
· Free school meals for all P1-P3 children by 2011
· Abolition of bridge tolls.
These four policies will have a cost a total of £900million by 2011-12.
The benefits have not been felt evenly across income groups.
The richer you are, the more you will have gained.

Of course, we all spotted straight away that they started off talking about £950 million and finished the introduction by talking about £900 million - the more the Lib Dems speak the better the value from the SNP Government.

Four policies they want to concentrate on, then, Council Tax freeze; prescription charge cut; Free school meals; abolition of bridge tolls.

Here's the families they're looking at:

A Low Income Family, earning £15,000 per year. They live in a Band A house. More than 40% of Scottish households earn less than £15,000 and most of those that do live in Band A homes.

A High Income Family, earning more than £100,000 per year. They live in a Band G house, the second most common Band for the highest earning households.

Each family has two children in P1-P3 of primary school.

I'm sure you noticed it - the low income family lives in the most common house band for low income families, the high income family lives in the second most common banding for high income families. That'll be because the numbers didn't work if you used the most common banding.

Council Tax Freeze
The analysis assumes that the Low Income household lives in a Band A property, as 130,000 of the lowest income households do[1].

You might, like me, wonder where that figure of 130,000 households comes from. It's a Parliamentary Question (I've put the link in the footnote marker) asked by one Tommy Sheridan and answered by Tavish Scott - in 2004 - 5 years ago and calculated using data that was two years old at that time (from the Family Resources Survey). None of the children in either family would have been born at the time the data was collected. They could have looked at the Households Below Average Income statistics produced every year by the DWP to find the percentage of children living in poverty and then turned to the General Register Office for household numbers. But they didn't, they just used old information - so old that it's from when they were in power.
The Low Income Household is entitled to receive a rebate of 100% on Council Tax through Council Tax Benefit[1]. The High Income Household does not receive any rebate.
The source they used (again in the footnote number) is Glasgow Council's benefits generator - you have to go through the calculation, so I did - and the low income family doesn't receive 100% benefit at all, the figure from Glasgow was 60% benefit, so the low income family was still paying 40% Council Tax - Glasgow's Band A is £808.67 (before water and sewerage), so the family would be paying £323.47. Just covering the money given by the Scottish Government to cover the Council Tax freeze this year would mean rises of 10.7% in Council Tax across the country (£210 million on top of the £1.9 bn billed), quite clearly costing the poorest households most. The Lib Dems calculate that the better-off family saves £138 (an underestimate based on inflation rather than actual costs - which means that they think that the Scottish Government has been giving councils too much money) - they should have supported our Local Income Tax and removed this unfairness.

The poorer family currently pays 2.1% of its income in Council Tax - even with CT Benefit, and that would go up to 2.5% without the Scottish Government money. For a family that's living on the edge of poverty that's a rise they'd be better off without. Table 2 of the Council Tax stats shows that in-year collection is improving - even better if we could get rid of it altogether though.

Free School Meals
Prior to the change to free school meals, a person could claim free school meals for their children if they were receiving Child Tax Credit with income less than £15,575[1]. This means that the Low Income Family is currently entitled to free school meals.
[1]. Source:

I've just left the link here because it doesn't actually go anywhere (and, considering they just published the paper today it really should), but you can find on the Scottish Government website that it's actually a higher amount:
Who is eligible for free school lunches?
You can claim free school lunches for your children if you are receiving:
Income Support (IS)
Income-based Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA)
Child Tax Credit (CTC), but not Working Tax Credit, and your income is less than £16,040 (in 09/10 as assessed by the Inland Revenue)
If you are between 16 and 18 years old and receive any of these benefits in your own right, you can claim free school lunches for yourself.

The Lib Dem paper then says
The savings for each family are calculated using the average cost of a standard school meal in Scotland, found by the Scottish Government to be £1.48 in 2007[1], and a 5-day school week over a 38-week term. That is, annually, £281.20 per child or £562.40 for two children.

The link, you'll find, goes to the 2007 edition of the school meals statistics and doesn't have an average cost for Scotland. I wonder why they didn't use the 2009 figures? Well, it might be that they found that, of the 5 local authorities which took part in the trial of the free school meals programme, two found their costs reducing and only Glasgow saw a substantial increase in costs (£2.5m)?

Prescription Charges
The individual adults in the Low Income Family qualify for full free prescriptions already through the NHS low-income scheme

The source the Lib Dems used for this was HC11 – Help with health Costs (2004). You'll note that this is the English scheme and that the leaflet pointed to has been superseded - they should have gone to the Scottish scheme - which, of course, they used to be jointly responsible for running. They then go on to say that they are assuming that only one adult gets any prescriptions but that the Scotland-wide average is 14 prescriptions per year - and they point here - which shows the average to be 15. They might have been better looking at these figures from that document:
Total cost of prescriptions dispensed 1066.95
Net ingredient cost 882.98
Dispensing fees & allowances 183.98
less Charges paid by patients 49.50
Exchequer cost prescriptions dispensed 1,017.46

(they're in £millions). We already pay by far the biggest chunk of prescriptions and the link between poverty and ill-health is well rehearsed. How many people not on benefits and not eligible for the low income scheme forego prescriptions to avoid the cost? What's the economic cost of that to the country and the financial cost to the NHS of having to treat more serious conditions down the line? Never mind the personal and societal costs.

Bridge Tolls
In 2007, the number of crossings made by private and commercial vehicles over the Forth and Tay Road Bridges were 10,820,000 and 4,163,000 respectively[1]. Those vehicles paid tolls of £14,150,400. There are 2,332,000 such vehicles in Scotland[2]. That implies an annual toll charge of £6.07 per vehicle in Scotland[3].
If both families – Low Income and High Income – each have one car then, they each save the average £6.07.
[1]. Scottish Transport Statistics: No 27 - 2008 Edition
[3]. Transport Series Statistical Bulletin Main Transport Trends

That link they gave doesn't tell you that there are 2,332,000 such vehicles in Scotland, it says:
The total number of motor vehicles licensed in Scotland was over 2.6 million at the end of 2007

If you look at the detailed stats it tells you that the figure the Lib Dems used for all vehicles in Scotland is the figure for private and light goods vehicles rather than all vehicles which paid tolls.

Then there's the common sense bit about a nurse who lives in Dunfermline because the family can't afford to live in Edinburgh and has to drive to work at odd times of the day when public transport isn't available getting more benefit out of the abolition of bridge tolls than the consultant surgeon who lives in the Grange will ever get.

I wonder what Willie Rennie thinks about Tavish Scott - his own party colleague - saying we should put tolls back on the bridges?

I wonder what other Lib Dems will say about their party saying they'd prefer to increase the Council Tax rather than seeking to abolish it?

I wonder how many Lib Dems are happy to go along with the idea of removing free nutritious school meals from children aged 5-7?

I wonder how many Lib Dems will baulk at telling pensioners that they should go back to paying for prescriptions so we can run a huge charging bureaucracy for a small income?

I wonder whether the Lib Dems will mind how they go?


Bill said...

I'm not often moved to comment on blogs, but that's a cracking post, no matter what one's political leanings. Well done and keep it up!

voiceofourown said...

"How to spatchcock a rubber chicken with a laser-guided scalpel."
Superb stuff Calum.

Jim said...


Of course, if you'd run such incisive lines at rugby you could have been a real contender to lace Campo's boots ;-)

Calum Cashley said...

I tried, I tried! In the end I just had to let Campo get on with it - I'm sure he was scared for a while, though ...

Calum Cashley said...

"How to spatchcock a rubber chicken with a laser-guided scalpel."
What a turn of phrase you have sir!

Anonymous said...

You say " they should have supported our Local Income Tax"

Will that be the one that you dropped without even publishing the Bill?

Anonymous said...

Surely they are right to suggest that the savings to the "family" they have chosen come from the car and light vehicle category rather than "all vehicles". How many of these nurses that you quote actually go to work in a 44 tonne HGV?

Calum Cashley said...

"Will that be the one that you dropped without even publishing the Bill?"

The one the Lib Dems refused to back.

"Surely they are right to suggest that the savings to the "family" they have chosen come from the car and light vehicle category rather than "all vehicles". How many of these nurses that you quote actually go to work in a 44 tonne HGV?"

Then the figures for the toll income from each family vehicle are wrong because total toll income has been divided by the figures for what may be domestic vehicles (but may also be commercial vehicles), so the tolls for buses, HGVs, taxis and so on, many of which will cross the bridge far more often than a family car, contribute to the supposed family saving of Lib Dem figures. Proves my point, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

No. My reading is that the gain to the "family" is from the amount they save from the average number of car and light vehicle journeys. The "cost" to the Government (part of the £950m) comes from the loss of income from all classes of vehicles - including your nurse's 44 tonner.
[I have forgotten my blog password, so I am grateful for you allowing these to be published anonymously]

Calum Cashley said...

I know that was your reading of it, but I'll keep you right, I'm nice that way!