Did Cameron and Clegg’s commitments live up to the hype? Our panellists give their thoughts on the coalition’s midterm review
Gaby Hinsliff: ‘Sticking-plaster babies don’t make things all right’
They call it the sticking-plaster baby phenomenon: the tendency of unhappy couples to conceive a child in the hope that somehow it’ll make everything all right again.
And that’s a bit how today’s midterm review feels. The logic of endlessly renewing coalition vows – it’s only seven months since the two leaders’ last hot date in a tractor factory – is to keep creating reasons to stick together, something to look forward to. It’s clearly meant to mark a switch to upbeat election mode, emphasising not austerity but the cheerful, spendy stuff: and since many of the promised goodies may not be delivered until after 2015, these two parties will now effectively fight the next election not just on a shared record but also on a partly shared future manifesto.
But Lord Strathclyde’s hideously timed resignation as leader of the Lords, amid suggestions that relations have already broken down between peers, reminds us that sticking-plaster babies don’t address a couple’s underlying incompatibility. David Cameron and Nick Clegg deserve praise for focusing on what voters actually care about, like buying a home or security in old age, instead of being sucked in by their parties’ narrower obsessions. But Tory MPs will look at today’s wishlist and ask what’s there to stop Ukip: Lib Dems will wonder if it’s enough to spare them annihilation. Those questions need answering sooner, not later.
• Gaby Hinsliff is former political editor of the Observer
Anand Shukla: ‘We need root and branch reform of childcare’
A key part of the government’s “renewal of vows” will be next week’s launch of the childcare commission’s report. We know the government is looking at tax breaks where parents will be able to pay some of their childcare costs pre-tax. This is already the case for some parents with childcare vouchers that can be paid for as pre-taxation salary sacrifice. Extending such a scheme would be welcome, but this will benefit parents who pay the most tax. It will do little to make childcare more affordable to those on modest incomes who have seen their tax credit support for childcare costs scaled back.
The government is also looking at increasing the number of children that childminders can care for. At the moment a childminder working by herself can care for up to six children. The Daycare Trust believes that changing the ratios risks compromising children’s safety and any savings may not be passed on to parents.
The detailed proposals from the commission will emerge next week. But tax breaks, regulation changes and the £2m childcare business start-up are unlikely to fix the childcare challenges faced by parents. We need root and branch reform and to learn from practice outside Britain. State subsidies need to be simple, with income contingent fees for higher income groups. We need to ensure that there is childcare for parents with atypical work patterns and that all parents are able to benefit from family-friendly employment practices.
• Anand Shukla is chief executive of the Daycare Trust
Hilary Osborne: ‘There’s nothing new for would-be homebuyers’
Anyone hoping that the coalition’s document would make a difference to their prospects of home ownership will be sadly disappointed, as it held nothing new for would-be buyers. The document said the government would boost housebuilding “supporting first-time buyers through an extension of the FirstBuy equity loan scheme, as well as continuing to champion the NewBuy scheme to increase the availability of mortgages on new build property”.
That NewBuy scheme, launched in March 2012, was designed to help 100,000 homebuyers who were locked out of finance. So far, according to the Home Builders Federation, just 2,500 reservations have resulted from it. Although more than 50 developers and six of the country’s biggest lenders are signed up, it has proved a slow burner. The FirstBuy scheme has hit its target of allowing 10,000 new homes to be bought through loan deals, but the extension seems to be money that had already been committed in September.
The coalition has made some progress on home ownership: Funding for Lending, launched in August to make money available to banks and building societies and encourage them to lend, seems to have had a positive impact, and it looks like more mortgages will be available this year. But lenders say consumer sentiment is a problem. People who might be able to get loans are put off – by falling house prices, and uncertainty about their job prospects. As long as we continue to hear about more austerity, many people will think it’s safer not to commit to a house purchase.
• Hilary Osborne is editor of the Guardian’s money site
David Brindle: ‘What level of cap for long-term care costs?’
There may be no detail, but the review confirms that the coalition is inching towards implementation of some form of cap on individual liability for costs of long-term care for elderly and disabled people.
A full 18 months after the Dilnot commission recommended a cap, and suggested it be set at £35,000, the review says ministers “support its principles” and will make care funding in England a “big reform” of the second half of parliament.
David Cameron spoke of “capping the potentially huge costs of long-term care faced by many families so that people can have the certainty to plan for their long-term needs”.
Nick Clegg added: “We will act to make social care more affordable.”
One big question remains over the level of a cap: it is clear that ministers will pitch it higher than £35,000, possibly as high as £75,000. Another question is how it will be funded: former Lib Dem care services minister Paul Burstow has called for £1.5bn to be raised by means-testing the winter fuel allowance, withdrawing it from three in four pensioners.
Implementation would not happen until after the next general election and a cap would provide only partial protection for people as it would not cover accommodation and food costs, which can make up 50% of care home fees.
• David Brindle is the Guardian’s public services editor