Lib Dem plan for pensioners' tax break
Pensioners will get a tax cut if the Liberal Democrats succeed in raising the personal allowance, senior Westcountry Liberal Democrat MP David Laws has said.
The Yeovil MP, who is drafting the party's 2015 election manifesto, has told the Western Morning News he expects the party to agree plans to increase the income tax threshold to £12,500 at its party conference, starting today.
While raising the amount of income that is tax-free for the working age population, the move would also benefit the over-65s. Moves to push the personal allowance to £10,000 in this Parliament have not been pegged to the pensioners threshold.
Mr Laws, a senior minister, said the plan would have among the biggest benefits in the South West, given its older population.
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He added he was "pretty confident" voters would not desert the party despite spending cuts in coalition with the Tories. "I'm an optimist about our prospects for 2015," he said.
Lib Dems will gather in Glasgow today for its annual conference amid criticism of Mr Clegg from Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott.
He warned the party should consider ditching their leader before the 2015 general election and warned the contest could be "disastrous" for the party unless it severs ties with the Conservatives months before going to the polls.
But Mr Laws said the peer should stop "throwing pebbles" and "share the load" in championing the party.
"The overwhelming majority of Liberal Democrat supporters think Nick Clegg has been doing a fantastic job as leader and Deputy Prime Minister and, frankly, I don't think people are paying an awful lot of attention to these noises off and they wish every single member of the Liberal Democrats was focusing on our opponents," Mr Laws said.
The Lib Dems have been instrumental in getting the personal allowance up to £10,000. At £12,5000, anyone on the minimum wage would not pay income tax at all, Mr Laws.
"That sends out a very powerful message that they would be better off in employment than on benefits," he said. "This would give working people not just pensioners a lot more money free of tax.
"That's important at times when household budgets are very squeezed for people both working and retired. They will appreciate having help and support from the Government in easing their living costs and putting more money in their pockets."
The tax cut would be paid for in part by yet to be decided tax rises for the wealthy, but also a "mansion tax" levy on £2 million-plus homes, he said.
Despite the party's flagging poll rating, the Somerset MP believes the Lib Dems will not face wipe-out at the 2015 ballot. He said: "I think the conclusions voters will draw about us ahead of the next general election is, firstly, that we did the right thing in going into coalition and not leaving the country without strong and stable government.
"Secondly that we've taken the right decisions to get public finances under control.
"Thirdly, that the Government has been a better, fairer Government for the presence of Liberal Democrats in it."
He went on: "People coming to the next election will be thinking whether they want to go back to Labour – a party with no credibility on the economy – or allow the Conservatives to govern by themselves and give priority to people on the upper end of the income distribution scale, junk the environmental agenda and go back to the CSE from the 1950s. I don't think those alternatives are very attractive options."
The Westcountry is the Lib Dem's heartland and it is facing pressure from the Conservatives to hold its MPs in the region. Mr Laws said it would be "astonishing" if its part in austerity did not knock Lib Dem popularity, but thinks voters will "come to a fair judgement".
He said: "I am pretty confident a lot of the people who we might have lost after the 2010 general election are going to come back onside by 2015. I'm an optimist about our prospects for 2015."