UK Politics

What would the Lib Dems in government do for you?

The next general election will take place in seven months time. So, what did we learn about Liberal Democrat policies at the party's annual conference this week?

More money for people on low incomes

The Liberal Democrats propose raising the point at which you start paying income tax. Increasing the "personal allowance" is something they've pushed for in government - managing to get it up to £10,500 next April. The Lib Dems are now saying the allowance should go up again - to £11,000 in April 2016. The ambition? An allowance of £12,500 by 2020. Sounds familiar? The Conservatives are promising the same thing.

The rich would pay more tax.....

The Lib Dems would like to introduce a new tax on expensive property. They've championed a mansion tax for years - initially it was a one per cent tax on houses worth over £2m. The latest version would involve adding higher "bands" to existing council tax rates to capture £2m properties. It's outrageous, Lib Dems say, that people living in a house worth £500,000 pay the same council tax as someone with a £50 million mansion. The money raised - an estimated £1.5bn - would go towards getting rid of the budget deficit (the gap between the nation's spending and income). Sounds a bit familiar? Labour is now offering a form of mansion tax too.

A few other ideas to extract cash from the wealthy

There are plans to increase capital gains tax - paid on profits from selling things including a second home or shares - from 28% to 35%. The money would be used to fund that £11,000 personal allowance pledge (see above).

The deficit is huge though - any other ideas?

The party admits tax rises for the wealthy aren't enough. They say spending on welfare would have to be kept under control. The Lib Dems are choosing their words carefully though. Nick Clegg has said he would not accept Conservative plans to freeze working-age benefits WITHOUT taxing the rich too. He hasn't said he would block welfare cuts altogether.

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How would they keep benefits "under control"?

One proposal is to stop giving winter fuel payments and free TV licences to the wealthiest pensioners. There'd be a "yellow card" system to deal with claimants breaking the rules. If they don't put things right sanctions would follow.

Don't forget the economy...

There would be "strict new fiscal rules" to ensure the deficit has gone by April 2018. They are: 1) Once the deficit's gone, start paying off the nation's debt. 2) A balanced budget but with scope to spend money on roads and housing. 3) "Fairness", with the wealthy contributing the most to deficit reduction.

Everyone has an eye-catching plan for the NHS... what about the Lib Dems?

The big plan for the health service in England is the introduction of targets for treating people with mental health problems. At the moment, there aren't any targets at all for mental health. The Lib Dems say people who need therapy - for conditions such as depression - will be guaranteed treatment within 18 weeks. For patients experiencing psychosis - a disorder characterised by delusions and hallucinations - treatment will be provided within two weeks of being referred by a GP. This is all going to happen from April and Nick Clegg said if the Lib Dems are in government again there will be extra money to introduce similar targets for conditions such as bipolar disorder and eating disorders.

By the way....

The Lib Dems also promise to find £1bn more for the NHS every year. It would be funded by scrapping a few tax breaks. One in their sights is the "shares for rights" scheme. It was set up to encourage workers to accept shares in return for giving up employment rights. But it turns out executives are using it to cut their tax bills - because tax on shares is lower than tax on income.

Image copyright Garden City Collection
Image caption Letchworth - the first garden city

More cities...

The plan is to build 300,000 houses a year. The Lib Dems have even identified possible locations. They're proposing up to five garden cities - developments with plenty of green spaces - in Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. The Lib Dems say that new cities would get their own stations if built along the proposed railway line linking the two university towns of Oxford and Cambridge.

Staying with green issues... the Lib Dems are flagging up their environmental credentials...

The party is calling for five green laws on issues ranging from saving energy to installing a network of charging points for electric cars. As Nick Clegg colourfully put it: "It's not green crap to us." A reference to comments reportedly made in private by David Cameron

Image copyright PA

But when it comes to airports... U-turns can be dangerous

The Lib Dems have traditionally been opposed to airport expansion. Nick Clegg is trying to change policy to allow for a new runway at Gatwick. But the conference voted against him. Lib Dem party members do have a lot of influence over policy but it's not a hard and fast rule.

The "party of education"

There are promises to protect the education budget from cuts. And there's a parental guarantee of qualified teachers and a curriculum set by independent experts. There would be more money for disadvantaged school children and free childcare for all two year olds. For young people travelling to school or college the Lib Dems are offering discounts on bus fares.

Constitutional matters

The Lib Dems pledge home rule to Scotland - "no ifs, no buts" says Nick Clegg. There are promises of a new funding formula for Wales and more devolution in England.

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