Deregulating childcare to ease family budgets. The government has hinted at plans to deregulate the childcare sector by raising the cap on the maximum number of children a childminder can look after, in an attempt to lower the cost of childcare and ease the cost of living for working families.
It’s important to address the high costs of childcare… Childcare is an under analysed driver of the cost of living crisis. A couple with median incomes and two young children pay more than 50% of the mother’s net income in childcare costs, more than double OECD average and worse than any other OECD country. In a survey of mothers by the campaign group Pregnant then Screwed, almost half of respondents had considered quitting their jobs because of childcare issues and a quarter of respondents skip meals or heating to pay for it. (Read the Women’s Budget Group’s recent briefing on the costs of childcare and the impact of the pandemic.)
Why does childcare cost so much in the UK? Despite government subsidy worth billions of pounds to provide a certain amount of ‘free’ care, the cost of childcare in the UK still remains among the least affordable in the world. Government-subsidised ‘free’ childcare only applies to children of certain ages, and does not cover the full amount of time necessary, leading to costly gaps to be filled by parents. The cost of plugging these gaps is then exacerbated due to the inadequate funding from the government for the 30 ‘free’ hours which drives up prices elsewhere in the system. In fact, leaked documents show that government ministers knew that this scheme would result in higher prices for parents. Underlying these issues, private sector childcare providers often extract large sums for debt repayment and paying shareholders, rather than being invested back into the frontline service.
Free, publicly-provided universal childcare provision. The Women’s Budget Group is calling for the government to invest in a universal and free system, delivered as a public infrastructure service on an equal footing with school education. (Watch The Social Guarantee’s Maeve Cohen explain “why the decade long attack on public services is driving the cost of living crisis” and that it can only be addressed by properly funding public services, such as free childcare.)
The cost of living will define the next election. The TUC’s snap poll on local election day found that 73% of the public think the government has not done enough to help with the rising cost of living (53% among Conservative voters) and 71% think cost of living is the most important issue facing the country. (Read a Twitter thread summary of their results from Opinium’s Chris Curtis and for the latest analysis of the economic impacts of the cost of living crisis read this thread from NEF’s Dominic Caddick.)
Bank of England continues to raise interest rates. The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee voted to raise interest rates from 0.75% to 1% in an attempt to slow inflation. NEF argues that “putting the brakes on the economy and raising the cost of borrowing for families and businesses across the UK isn't going to tackle the drivers of international price rises” and the Guardian’s Phillip Inman explains why the Bank of England is ‘duty bound’ to trigger a recession in an attempt to curb inflation.
Competition, monopoly profits and rising prices. Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has warned that corporate concentration in UK markets is driving up higher prices for lower-income households. The I’s David Connett reports that “a lack of market competition and its impact on prices during the cost of living crisis is certain to feature high on the agenda of the new CMA boss” who is yet to be appointed. (Read Frank van Lerven’s summary of analysis from the CMA’s latest report.)
Support for wealth tax on centre-right. Last week, centre-right think tank Bright Blue launched a project proposing fair taxes on ‘luck, rent-seeking and externals’ and the promotion of ‘effort, enterprise and entrepreneurialism’. They argue for using the tax system to discourage ‘unproductive and harmful activities’, identifying four areas in which this could take place: Capital Gains Tax, Inheritance Tax, Business Rates, Carbon taxes. Ryan Shorthouse and Sam Robinson outlined their 9 principles for tax reform in a piece for ConservativeHome.
The case for a windfall tax. After Italy introduces a 25% windfall tax on energy companies to help fund a €14 billion aid package for consumers and companies that are struggling due to high energy costs, the debate around the value of a windfall tax continues in the UK.
Passive investments. A new Common Wealth report explores the rise of passive investment strategies and their increasing ‘dominance within the UK shareholder structure’. It finds that the gap between traditional, active investment management strategies and passive index-tracking funds is closing, particularly in the fossil fuel sector in which active funds are beginning to withdraw investment.
Stakeholder capitalism and monopoly power. A new report by Denise Hearn and Michelle Meagher analyses monopoly power and the extent to which ‘stakeholder capitalism’ can be a remedy. It argues that the stakeholder capitalist and anti-monopoly movements, whilst both growing, rarely intersect. The Balanced Economy Project’s ‘The Counterbalance’ newsletter has a summary.
Data ownership. The Open Data Institute (ODI) warns that the UK's government plans to scrap EU data protection laws could backfire, arguing that we need a data economy that is ‘inclusive, sustainable & equitable’. The ODI also calls for new data institutions such as data unions and data co-ops to level the playing field and improve access (more here on ‘bottom-up’ data institutions).
Public ownership of energy distribution. The only way to combat the enormous profit margins of energy distribution networks is to bring them into public ownership, argue Joseph Baines, Sandy Brian Hager and Adam Peggs. The recent focus on the profits of energy companies such as BP and Shell is right, they argue, but allows distribution network operators (DNOs) and gas distribution networks (GDNs) to get away ‘scot-free’.
Public ownership of nature recovery. The passing of the Environment Act in 2021 could lead to ‘a new era of local, public ownership of nature recovery responsibilities’ argues Flora Parkin. The Act requires local authorities to produce “Local Nature Recovery Strategies” (LNRSs): ‘spatial documents (organised geographic information about a location or area, such as maps) to guide and prioritise local conservation’. Parkin argues that the production of LNRSs must be as participatory as possible and that the issues addressed via LNRSs must be properly addressed via public investment.
Economic security for all. Common Wealth’s Amelia Horgan and Mathew Lawrence argue that the cost of living crisis is ‘also a crisis of working time’ and have put forward five proposals to ‘guarantee economic security for all’. Proposals include restoring sectoral collective bargaining, taking back control of time by boosting workers’ rights in the Employment Bill, introducing a Living Income social security system, reforming the rules of the company to give everyone a stake and a say, and organising care as a public good free at the point of use to reduce unpaid work and gender inequalities.
Pay growth vs dividend growth. Shareholders are the ‘indisputable winners’ of the economy, according to new analysis by Common Wealth. Since 2000, average incomes from work has increased (in nominal terms) by 25% while dividends from UK non-financial corporations have risen by 142%. It also finds that the top 1% own 39% of directly owned shares, more than the poorest 90% combined.
Trade unions as green allies. Writing for centre-right think tank Bright Blue, General Secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, argues that progressive conservatives should see Trade Unions as an ally in the fight to ‘deliver green skills and jobs of the future’.
Planning is good policy. Political economist Max Krahé explores the politics of green transition policy and the benefits of good planning. He argues that markets are a ‘risky’ solution as ‘lock-in effects’ push firms towards marginal change.
Raw materials for a just transition. The Green Alliance has published a report exploring the ways in which the raw minerals needed for energy transition can be sourced sustainably. It argues that mineral mining can be environmentally damaging itself and we must therefore focus on improving efficiency and cutting energy demand.
Government ‘net-zero’ aviation strategy. The New Economics Foundation’s Alex Chapman summarises why the government’s new aviation strategy will be ‘putting us all at risk'. The Department for Transport aims to increase the UK’s air capacity by 70%, or 200 million passengers above 2018 levels, by 2050 despite visions for a ‘net-zero aviation sector’.
Macron’s victory a win for the environment? Green Alliance’s Robbie MacPherson says that environmentalists should be ‘satisfied’ with Emmanuel Macron’s recent election victory, arguing that the Overton window has shifted in support of French environmental policy. MacPherson argues that green policies are increasingly winning votes at the ballot box and that this will increasingly be the case not just in France, but also in the UK.
Health professionals in the climate debate. We must recognise the climate crisis as a health crisis, argues Public Policy Projects’ Francesco Tamilia. Not only will medical professionals be forced to deal with climate-related issues on the frontline, but they will also play a role as trusted community figures in mobilising the fight against climate change.
A precautionary approach to sustainable financial policy. The Inspire research network has published a paper arguing that climate change and biodiversity risks are seen as ‘market failures’ and are therefore addressed with ‘market-correcting’ financial policy. Policy should instead be preventative, the paper argues. Recommendations include penalising ‘dirty loans’ and forcing central banks to give greater consideration to sustainability in their activities. The key points of the paper are summarised by co-author Frank van Lerven.