John Glen is MP for Salisbury.
Winning a majority in the General Election demonstrated that the country trusts the Conservative Party to govern; we now have five years to win the public’s hearts too. With his ‘One Nation’ speech outside Downing Street on May 8th and his insistence to the new cabinet that they are to serve as “the real party of working people”, the Prime Minister has made a convincing start.
David Cameron was right to use his first major speech to focus on the NHS. In the battle for hearts, the ‘weapon’ of the NHS must be removed from the left’s armoury and be claimed by the Conservatives.
To follow up on the commitment to give everyone the opportunity of living a fulfilling and good life, the same must be the case for compassion and social justice: they must no longer be allowed to be the domain of the left.
Over the election campaign questions were asked over how the pledged £12bn welfare savings would be found. In making choices in this area the government must continue to emphasise, in words and in action, the Conservative’s compassionate response to poverty.
It is remarkable that unemployment has fallen to 5.6 per cent and that over 2 million more people now have the security and purpose that comes from a regular wage. It is right that we will legislate to ensure that those who work 30 hours a week on the minimum wage will not pay tax.
Ensuring that the welfare cap will continue to mean that it always pays to work, helping families out of the vicious cycle of state dependency, adds weight to the principle that “those who can work should, and those who can’t will be supported.”
However, there are further lessons to be learnt from the last five years about how to help the very poorest in our society.
As the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Hunger and Food Poverty’s report, “Feeding Britain,” made clear, the very poorest often have complex underlying needs – they are struggling with extensive debt, with health or addiction problems or with family breakdown and domestic abuse. As a result, a wide-ranging and thorough answer is needed.
The response from the left has been to treat poverty as an exclusively financial issue and not acknowledge the more complex, ongoing issues that entrench inter-generational poverty. By not facing up to these underlying causes state-dependency on benefits became the norm for too many.
For too long under Labour generations of the poorest have grown up with the belief that aspiration was for others and a life on benefits was all they could look forward to. Where is the compassion in that?
For the Conservatives, as we look ahead to the next five years, it is imperative we reflect and build on the lessons of initiatives such as the Troubled Families programme of the Coalition government. This initiative worked with families who are involved in youth crime or anti-social behaviour, have children who are regularly truanting, have an adult on out-of-work benefits and cost the public sector large sums in responding to their problems.
Working across six governmental departments, the Troubled Families programme had turned around the lives of 105,671 families by the end of February this year. Employing a range of intervention practices, this programme is an example of the “true social justice and genuine compassion” that David Cameron insisted his cabinet offer.
This kind of creative and holistic strategy, which joins up departmental budgets, requires collaboration between different ministers and different layers of Government, and often demands investment of political capital. However the long-term benefits are evident. As thoughts turn to the first Budget, it is this form of collective and inclusive project that must define ‘blue-collar’ Conservatives’ approach to poverty.
If we get this right, and are not squeamish about talking about tough long-term issues, we will win the battle for people’s hearts and become the enduring trusted party for working people.