Tuesday, 16 May 2017

What's the real intention?

Policies can invariably be presented in more than one way; and most policies have ramifications elsewhere, even if that isn’t entirely clear at the time.  Yesterday’s announcement by the Tories that they will legislate to allow people to take up to a year off to look after sick relatives appears a strange one, for several reasons, but I find myself wondering whether this isn’t a victory for presentation over substance.
Firstly, it seems to have emerged from nowhere and to have been given very little thought.  The implications for businesses are far from clear, as many businesses have been quick to point out; how they will be expected to cover for such absences is an obvious concern for them.  The implications for the staff themselves haven’t been made explicit either – whilst their jobs will be kept open for them when they return, it’s an open question as to how they will be able to support themselves unpaid for a year.  The detail is completely absent: it’s easy for the Tories to say that they’ll think about that later, but it means that voters are being asked to buy something superficially attractive without knowing how it will work in practice.
And secondly, it seems so un-Tory-like.  Imposing extra costs and bureaucracy on businesses is exactly what they normally claim to be against; their more usual approach is to talk about getting rid of rules and regulations.  Of course they’re trying to steal Labour votes by appearing to adopt some of Labour’s traditional approaches, but this one looks like an attempt to sound like they think Labour ought to sound without really understanding what that means.
There is, however, another possible explanation, and it’s much more in line with traditional Tory approaches.  There is a looming crisis for care services as the population ages, and the costs of providing care are inevitable going to increase.  Freeing up relatives to provide care on a voluntary basis is likely to help to ease that pressure, and reduce the demand for state-provided care.  This could, of course, merely be an unexpected consequence of an otherwise well-intentioned policy, and perhaps I’m just being my usual cynical self; but I can’t help wondering whether this new ‘right for employees’ is actually a cost-saving measure being spun as something it really isn’t.

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