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Bo Jo’s Domestic Agenda: A Policy Roundup

Updated: Oct 1, 2019

Boris Johnson carrying a red folder.

Boris Johnson’s premiership was not hard-won on an ideological battleground, much less on any official political programme. For the most part, his victory came down to winning the battle of the Brexit bullies. Nevertheless, occasional flurries of policy divulgence have given us glimpses of Bo Jo’s domestic agenda. In the weeks since his investiture, we’ve received a few more of these domestic policy nuggets. Here’s a quick round up of the Prime Minister’s major policy pledges to date.

Tackling crime

Johnson and the Home Secretary Priti Patel have been quite lucid about the Government’s law enforcement strategy, more so than about any other policy plan. Both took to tabloid outlets recently - the Mail on Sunday and The Sun, respectively - to reveal a string of policing policies.

Notably, the policies build on support for a tougher approach to law enforcement: The Home Secretary has called for greater deterrents aimed at making criminals and potential criminals feel “terror”. It’s worth mentioning that Priti Patel has previously voiced support for the introduction of capital punishment as a form of deterrent.

The PM concurred with the Home Secretary and called for tougher sentencing, suggesting that crime is caused, primarily, by a kind of opportunism engendered by a sense that the law can be exploited. An additional £85 million will be provided to the Crown Prosecution Service in aid of this.

A few key questions arise from the above, which are worth pondering before we go onto more concrete law enforcement policy plans:

  • Is tougher law enforcement the best form of deterrent and preventative policing?

  • Is Johnson right to frame the primary cause of crime as a sense that the law is weak?

  • Does framing the primary cause of crime as such allow the Government to avoid conversations about austerity and inequality?

20,000 police officers

Johnson first announced this during his introductory speech as Prime Minister. He pledged to have 20,000 more officers on the ground across England and Wales over the next three years. The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that an additional £1bn is needed for such numbers.

Between 2010 and 2018, the Conservative Government’s austerity measures reduced the number of officers by 21,732, while the overall number of the police workforce (including officers) fell by 45,000. In the same period, local authority funding for youth services, a key preventative resource, was cut by roughly £750 million, representing a reduction of more than 50%.

Stop and search

Restrictions on the application of stop-and-search will be lifted so that 8,000 more officers can use the powers without seeking authorisation. The level of certainty required to use stop-and-search in a designated area will decrease, allowing officers to deploy it without any suspicion of an imminent threat or prior incident.

The use of stop-and-search has long been criticised for its low efficacy and discriminatory nature. A recent report by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies revealed that it had no effect on recorded crime. In addition, a House of Commons Library briefing paper on stop-and-search stated that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities are disproportionately affected by its application.

Chicken Box Campaign

The Home Office has introduced a controversial scheme to tackle the current knife crime epidemic: It has invested £57,500 in a campaign to replace 321,000 chicken boxes with special #knifefree printed boxes that contain inspirational messages on the underside of the lid. The campaign will be extended to 210 chicken shops in England and Wales.

This has been met with critical responses, and rightly so. The campaign not only risks perpetuating harmful racial stereotypes, it also indicates a lack of desire to really engage with affected communities and to confront the reality of cuts to youth services, social services and education.

10,000 prison places

An extra 10,000 prison places will be created to alleviate the pressure on prisons resulting from the Government’s crack down on crime. Peter Dawson - the director of the Prison Reform Trust - has stated that 9,000 new prison places are required to alleviate current overcrowding and an additional 3,000 to accommodate sentences that have already been passed.

Tax Cuts

Just as up implies down, a Conservative government implies neoliberalism. Throughout the Tory leadership race, Boris Johnson boasted his affinity for lower taxes, greater fiscal freedom and less state intervention. His aim is supposedly to equip the UK’s economy with “rocket boosters” - most likely with a no-deal Brexit in mind.

To this effect, Johnson has flirted with lowering Corporation Tax, scrapping sin taxes - levies on fizzy drinks, tobacco, alcohol, and unhealthy foods - and introducing tax free zones, or free ports, after Brexit. The most concrete tax plans announced by Johnson have included raising the income tax threshold for higher earners and increasing the threshold at which National Insurance contributions start and stop.

Income Tax

Under the current income tax system, the higher marginal rate stands at 40% on every £1,000 earned over the £50,000 threshold. Plans set out by the PM would see the higher rate threshold increase from £50,000 to £80,000 - incidentally, the basic annual salary for an MP is £79,468. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, raising the higher rate threshold will create a £9bn hole in the Government’s pocket and will disproportionately benefit the top 10% of earners.

National Insurance

At present, National Insurance contributions (NIC) kick in when you start earning over £8,632, or £166 per week, and cease when you reach the state pension age - 65 for men and 64 for women. Beyond stating that the above thresholds will be raised, Boris Johnson has yet to provide details of NIC adjustments. Although, strategically speaking, raising the state pension age is seen as a way to offset the cost of changes in the higher rate income tax.

Education Funding

This was another policy area that became a focal point quite early on in Johnson’s leadership campaign. Since taking the reins at number 10, he has pledged to inject £4.6bn into education by 2022/23 to reverse the effects of school funding cuts and return per pupil funding to 2015 levels. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has revealed that per pupil spending has fallen by 8% between 2010 and 2018.

Luke Sibieta, an IFS fellow, speaking to The Guardian, said that the £4.6bn boost would be enough to reverse the aforementioned 8% fall in spending. However, he goes on to suggest that it would not be enough to quell the school funding crisis, which goes beyond per pupil expenditure. The NAHT school leaders union, the National Education Union (NEU), the Associated of School and College Leaders, and the f40 group have estimated that a further £12.6bn is needed to eliminate the crisis.

NHS Funding

The NHS in England will receive a one-off £1.8bn cash injection for “new kit”, infrastructure projects and upgrades for 20 hospitals. The Department of Health and Social Care have earmarked £850 million of this funding boost for the hospital upgrades, with the rest going on “capital spending” (equipment, R&D, tech and infrastructure).

A few disputes have arisen over the source of the funds. In the kind of Twitter dissertation (thread) that has now become the norm, Sally Gainsbury, a policy analyst at the Nuffield Trust health think tank, revealed that about £1bn of this funding will come from existing surpluses and cannot technically be designated as ‘new money’.

The Channel 4 site has a great summary of the funding sources debacle, which you can read by clicking here. Elsewhere, Nigel Edwards, the Chief Executive of the Nuffield Trust has stated that £6bn is needed to fully address the NHS maintenance backlog.

Immigration Restrictions

The Government has committed to easing restrictions on migration. Firstly, it has dropped the previous Government’s unrealistic net migration target - Theresa May’s administration set the target at 100,000 for non-eu citizens. Secondly, plans to introduce a fast track visa for the world’s top scientists, mathematicians and engineers, who may not need an offer of employment to enter the UK.

Boris Johnson has previously brought up the possibility of an amnesty for 500,000 illegal immigrants living in the UK and contributing to the economy. Additionally, he has floated the idea of an Australian style points system post-Brexit.

Fibre Internet Rollout

Things have gone a bit quiet on this particular front in recent weeks. Johnson pledged to extend FTTP (fibre to the premises) connections to every home by 2025, bringing the previous Government’s target forward by eight years.

The majority of fibre connections in the UK are FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) connections, which involve fibre cables running from exchanges to street cabinets. Existing copper wires cover the final stretch from street cabinets to homes. This method severely limits the speeds consumers receive.

This target has been criticised as unrealistic given that it would require a rollout rate of 400,000 homes a month. BT, the UK’s largest provider and the owner of the UK’s largest internet network infrastructure, otherwise known as the Openreach Network, is hitting around 80,000 homes a month.

Thumbnail source: United Nations Photo

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