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A Six Point Plan for a social justice Budget next week...

As the Chancellor puts the final touches to his Budget the Centre for Social Justice has produced a Six Point Plan to help George Osborne deliver a historic social justice Budget next week. 

The mini-manifesto set out below includes putting rehabilitation at the heart of the criminal justice system, backing the campaign to re-focus the Marriage Allowance and support to help vulnerable children access the best of state boarding provision. Alongside these issues we have presented the Government with policies on helping low-income families put money aside and support for parents, issues raised by the Prime Minister in his Life Chances speech in January. 

As he stands up to present his seventh annual Budget, the Chancellor should build on the Prime Minister's ambition to put 'social reform' at the heart of his legacy.                                        

*Picture courtesy of HM Treasury

1. A national roll out of Problem Solving Courts

By Jonathan Aitken

The funding for Problem Solving Courts (PSCs) must be a priority item in the Chancellor’s budget.  This should be an easy decision for the Chancellor. These courts save money, reduce reoffending and play a key part in the rehabilitation revolution.

PSCs are flourishing in North America where over 1200 courts dispense speedy, rehabilitative, and often tough justice mainly to drug and alcohol offenders. PSCs are effective because they create continuing sentencing reviews by local judges assisted by a regime of regular and random testing.

The Prime Minister recently announced a study of PSCs. Its expected recommendations will challenge Civil Servants at the Ministry of Justice, who two years ago, closed down Britain’s trail-blazing PSCs in Liverpool and West London on the grounds that the essential testing regime cost too much, a bad mistake which needs to be remedied and reversed in the Chancellor’s Budget.

A CSJ paper which I am co-authoring with Judge John Samuels QC will set out the case for PSCs as a crime cutting and cost cutting innovation to our Criminal Justice System.

The Chancellor should demonstrate the Government’s commitment to rehabilitation by underwriting the roll out of PSCs in his Budget.

2. Incentivise Landlords to rent their properties through Social Lettings Agencies

In last year’s Autumn Statement, the Chancellor announced a £6.5 billion package to help first-time buyers realise their dream of home ownership. He also gave a helping hand to low-income people who live in social housing, by giving them an annual one per cent cut to their rents.

Now is the time to act for the millions of low-income people in the private rented sector who will be unable to buy, even with Government help.

In our recent report, Home Improvements, we pointed out that many low-income families suffer from unstable tenancies, and have their options limited because landlords are frequently unwilling to rent to housing benefit claimants.

We also pointed to the enormous potential of Social Lettings Agencies to improve circumstances for low-income renters. By guaranteeing rent to landlords for a period of five years, they remove the risks associated with renting to benefit claimants, and open up the private rental market to low-income families.

The Chancellor could kick-start a new generation of Social Lettings Agencies by giving landlords a further incentive to rent out their properties through them.

In last year’s Autumn statement he slashed mortgage-interest tax relief for buy-to-let landlords from 45 per cent to 20 per cent. By restoring the 45 per cent rate (or even a 30 per cent rate) for landlords willing to let their properties to Social Lettings Agencies, he could put rocket-boosters under the sector and so provide a better deal for Britain’s low-income renting families.

3. Expand state boarding school provision through a Government backed bursary scheme

At the end of last year, Education Minister, Lord Nash wrote to local authorities asking them to consider expanding the number of  places available in state boarding schools for ‘disadvantaged’ children.

The Chancellor should work with Lord Nash to investigate how a new Government backed bursary scheme for state boarding could help to turn around the lives of some of our poorest children.

In our 2014 report, Closing the Divide we demonstrated that in the right circumstances state boarding can help stabilise the lives for children who, without their support, might otherwise have gone into local authority care. By stepping in to prevent this, the Chancellor is potentially saving money and extending the Government’s life chances approach to children who need it most.

In our report we called on the Government to invest in state boarding provision for children where a chaotic and difficult home life meant the stability of a boarding school place would help these children to reach their potential.

We’re calling on the Chancellor to expand state boarding through the provision of a Government-backed bursary scheme where state boarding will change lives and really make a difference.

4. Introduce a 'Rainy Day Guarantee' for those on low incomes

In his Life Chances speech in January, the Prime Minister announced that the Government wanted to do more to help those on low incomes to save money. The CSJ is now calling for the Chancellor to fund a landmark 'Rainy Day Guarantee' savings policy in his Budget next week.

Putting money aside is a protection against life’s ups and downs; for low-income families this problem is particularly acute. It is estimated that four in ten adults have less than £500 in savings to help cover unexpected bills. This leaves low-income families with no buffer when faced with income shocks, potentially leading them into problem debt from which it may be hard to escape.

One potentially powerful way of encouraging greater saving would be to create an employer-based, auto-enrolment savings scheme for those in work, a Government backed ‘Rainy Day Guarantee’.  Saving could be further incentivised with a Christmas savings bonus for the lowest earners where they have consistently saved above a certain proportion of their income, or who have not made withdrawals.

Combined with improved access to insurance products and better options for lower cost credit, this could go a significant way towards protecting against problem debt and all the difficulties associated with it.

5. Back the campaign to target the Marriage Allowance

The Chancellor should consider refocusing the Marriage Allowance for low-income couples with children under five.

This payment should be significantly higher than the current level of £4.07 per week and targeted to couples where additional weekly income can make the biggest difference. Targeting the Government’s Marriage Allowance is a cost-neutral approach to supporting strong, couple relationships.

Enfield Southgate MP, David Burrowes is leading the campaign to get the Chancellor to rethink this issue, following the revelation that only eight per cent of eligible couples claim this allowance. 

There is a huge underspend in the amount the Government has set aside for spending on the Marriage Allowance. 

Last year the Treasury allocated £495 million to support marriage in the tax system. According to the Government's own data, if all 330,000 couples who claimed the Allowance last year received the maximum payment available the Government is spending c.£70 million on this policy.

This gives the Chancellor a big opportunity to double the value of this allowance next week, target the payment to families who need it most and still be well within the Government’s own spending plans. 

George Osborne can help low-income couples with young children maintain strong relationships by backing David Burrowes’ campaign to re-focus the Marriage Allowance to those who need it most.

6. Fund a one-stop-shop for parenting support

In January this year the Prime Minister stressed the importance of good parenting to improve life chances and announced that parenting classes and support for parents would be a key feature of his Life Chances Strategy to be published later this year.

The Prime Minister has already announced that he wants to make the provision of parenting support ‘an aspirational part of family life’ and to support families most in need with new parenting programmes.

The CSJ is calling on the Chancellor to fund a high profile public awareness campaign to promote parenting classes and change attitudes towards them, making attendance a genuinely ‘aspirational’ activity.

Alongside a new Government campaign the Treasury should underwrite an online ‘one-stop shop’ service for parents to access parenting support services.

The Chancellor should use his Budget to underwrite the expansion of parenting vouchers in a series of pilot areas where the need for high-quality parenting support is greatest.

The drive to encourage more parents to use parenting classes should have broad appeal, reaching out to both fathers and mothers, and seeking to engage them at every stage of childhood from babies to teenagers.