The huge rise in the income tax threshold has been one of the flagship policies of the Coalition. But did you realise it was the brainchild of an ordinary Lib Dem? Elizabeth Jewkes, researched the idea & campaigned for it to become Lib Dem policy. Elizabeth is also a member of the Christian Forum and has just been elected to our Exec.
This is her story.
When Nick Clegg was first elected leader, he announced a new tax policy – to reduce the standard rate of income tax from 20p/£ to 16p/£. The policy was duly passed at the 2008 Autumn Conference. Another delegate mentioned to me that he would prefer to see the Income Tax threshold raised and the lowest paid taken out of paying tax. ‘Too late now’ he said.
I loved his idea and looked for a way of changing tax policy. I attended my local Regional Autumn Conference and met Vince Cable. I asked him if there was any reason the income tax threshold couldn’t be raised to the level of the minimum wage. "Ah" he said "That’s my ultimate dream.”
Buoyed up by this, when Jo Swinson MP sent an email to Women Liberal Democrats asking for policy ideas for the Manifesto Day at the LSE in January 2009, I suggested to WLD that I look at raising the income tax threshold and they agreed. Jo agreed to ask the Treasury questions on my behalf so I could fully cost the idea. I prepared a set of proposals looking at how far we could raise the threshold, whether or not we should raise the NI threshold too and what it would all cost. Raising just the income tax threshold to the level of the minimum wage (then £11,552) would cost £29bn.
On the Manifesto Day, we were surprised by the number of MPs who came along to our discussion group as they wanted to support us. We had several discussion tables, and they all reported back with the same decision – we should raise the income tax threshold to the level of the minimum wage. I had a photo taken with Nick Clegg and introduced myself, admitting that my tax policy was in opposition to his. I was taken aback when Nick said he was supporting my proposal as it would help more people than his. Suddenly I realised we were onto a winner.
I wrote a policy motion, calling for the income tax threshold to be raised to the level of the national minimum wage and in May, WLD, along with several local parties submitted it for debate at the 2009 Autumn Conference. In July, I was astonished to see Nick Clegg on the news, announcing the Liberal Democrat’s new tax policy – the first £10k earned would be tax free. I’d succeeded. Liberal Democrat tax policy had been changed. It was so popular, I hoped that whoever won the General Election would implement the policy. I didn’t expect that the Liberal Democrats would have that opportunity, but we did.
At Autumn Conference this year, Danny Alexander announced that our new aim is to raise the threshold to the level of the National Minimum Wage - my original target.
It's easy to think that we are too insignificant to achieve change. But I did it and 26 million people, including the lowest paid are now better off.
To quote Margaret Mead:
"Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has."