Here are some of the policies the SMF believes that any prime minister, of any party, should implement in order to deliver fair markets and better public services.
Competition and Markets
- Automatically switch sticky customers to challenger companies in the energy and fixed-line telephone markets – We would like to see an automatic switching scheme introduced, whereby regulators, the State or another non-profit entity automatically switch “sticky” customers to new, cheaper challenger providers. That would provide strong incentives to suppliers not to impose “loyalty penalties” on long-standing customers.
- “Click in, click out” – end the asymmetry between subscribing and unsubscribing. Companies often make it harder to unsubscribe to a product than to subscribe. We would like to see this asymmetry removed from consumer markets. If it is possible to sign-up online to a product, such as a pay TV or broadband service, it should be possible to unsubscribe online.
- Give regulators including the Competition and Markets Authority Commission a new mandate to deliver “trust and confidence” in the market economy. A new ONS British Markets Survey should track the public’s “trust and confidence” of markets as institutions. Competition law should be reviewed to raise the threshold for companies to bring legal challenges to regulators’ decisions.
- Allow buyers of newbuild homes to retain a portion of the purchase price until the developer has fixed any defects and dealt with any “snagging” issues.
Education and Skills
- The Government should lead a national conversation aimed at raising the profile and status of technical and vocational qualifications. Promoting an open discussion on the appropriateness of these qualifications for a variety of routes should be encouraged.
- The DfE should ensure that the implementation of the new Careers Strategy does not overlook the route into all forms of higher education for students from vocational and technical backgrounds.
- Higher-level apprenticeships should carry new honourary titles for holders, who could be addressed as “Master Craftsman” just as the holder of PhD can be called “doctor”.
- Launch a new programme of educational support for children in low-income areas, including:
- Schools in disadvantaged areas to get funds to help teachers with renting or buying a home, to enable them to attract and keep good teachers
- Teachers to have to teach in disadvantaged schools if they want to obtain the headship qualification
- A government-funded programme of primary school after-school “family literacy” classes in poorer areas
- More support for commuting students including timetabling, flexible accommodation, and more appropriate facilities on campus for universities (and making it easier for students to use the facilities of other London universities).
- Promote higher quality apprenticeships via ‘Apprenticeship Value Premiums’ that clearly show candidates how their future wages may rise. Apprenticeship funding should be adjusted to steer candidates away from jobs in sectors that are at the greatest risk of being lost due to automation.
Health and Social Care
- Personal adult social care should be free for all, and funded from the assets of the wealthy, not the wages of the poor. This would mean a new one-off charge on people with significant assets when they reach the age of 65. The one-time payment, made by anyone with assets worth more than £150,000, would ensure that no-one had to pay for personal care in later life. The new charge would raise around £7 billion a year for care.
- NHS trusts should be encouraged to prescribe personal technology and digital skills training for people on low incomes who are most likely to be digitally excluded. Technology promises a revolution in healthcare, but if the benefits are felt only be the better-off, the concept of the NHS as a universal service may be undermined.
- The Department of Health should trial an outcomes-based system of reimbursement of medicines for innovative treatments with a view to adopting the approach more widely.
Work, Income and Savings
- Require large companies in the UK to report on the extent to which profit and productivity gains are translating into higher employee wages – applying social pressure on companies to share productivity gains with employees. Any cuts to corporation tax should be made contingent on better employee outcomes, such as wage rises and job security.
- Create a ‘Fund at Fifteen’ scheme, using money saved by reducing ISA allowances to give all 15 year olds £1,500 to invest for their futures. ISAs currently cost the Treasury almost £3 billion, much of it subsidising the savings of people on high incomes who would simply invest elsewhere if tax relief was reduced. Some of that money should be allocated to helping youngsters instead.
- Give the National Retraining Scheme a broader remit, to offer a wide range of retraining opportunities across the whole economy – including through the widespread provision of online, evening and weekend learning solutions.
- Women returning to the labour market should be one of the target groups under the Government’s widening access policies for apprenticeships. To this end the Institute for Apprenticeships should consider how latent demand for part-time schemes can feed through into supply from employers and providers.
- A better deal for family carers. Employees should be required to record the number of their staff who have caring responsibilities towards elderly parents or other adult, and publish policies for supporting workers who care for relatives. ”Care pay gap” reporting should be considered for large companies
- The Government should launch a ‘Financing Future Health” fund to support local action on supporting disabled people into work. For London, this would set aside £1 billion for pilots that aim to provide better social, health and employment support for people claiming ESA.
- Government should start measuring and tracking the size of the “poverty premium” in the UK, whereby low income households pay more for items such as electricity, gas and insurance – and set a target date for dramatically reducing the poverty premium.