Category: Explainers

How Does the UK Parliament Work?

Parliament Explained

Parliament Explained is an audio series that explains how the UK Parliament works.

You can listen to all the episodes below or subscribe to them in your podcast player:

Episode 1 – Parliament or Government?

Discover the difference between Parliament and the Government, how the Government is formed, and the roles of the Shadow Cabinet, backbenchers, crossbenchers and the Whips.

Episode 2 – What happens in Parliament?

Meet the doorkeepers of the House of Lords and the House of Commons to find out what a typical day in Parliament involves.

Episode 3 – Scrutiny: Questions and Debates

Hear how Parliament uses questions and debates to check and challenge the work of the Government.

Episode 4 – Scrutiny: Select Committees

Discover another vital tool of Parliamentary scrutiny – ‘select committees’ of MPs and Lords who check and challenge the work and spending of the Government.

Episode 5 – Making and Changing Laws

Learn how draft laws are debated and improved as they make their way through the House of Commons and the House of Lords before they can become the law of the land.

Episode 6 – Get Involved

Hear how you can get involved in your UK Parliament. From contacting your MP or a member of the Lords to sharing your views with a select committee, and of course by voting, you can have your say in how the country is run.


We’re covering the General Election over the next few weeks. Find out who the candidates are and subscribe for all the latest news.

Proposed Boundary Changes for Cardiff North

The Boundary Commission for Wales have published proposals for boundary changes to Welsh constituencies.

The number of constituencies in Wales must be reduced from 40 to 29. By law, every constituency proposed must contain between 71,031 and 78,507 electors.

Cardiff North currently has an electorate of 67,194*. The proposed changes would increase this to 78,014.

We would lose Pontprennau and Old St Mellons while gaining Taffs Well, Cyncoed and Pentwyn.

The Boundary Commission for Wales are hosting several public hearings. The Cardiff hearings are at the Mercure Holland House Hotel on Wednesday 26 October – 10am – 8pm and Thursday 27 October – 9am – 5pm.

You can have your say and find out more at the commission’s consultation portal.

*source – wikipedia

Do you know what your government is responsible for?

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Exterior of The Senedd (National Assembly building)

Roger Scully, Cardiff University

Devolution in the UK has meant that the non-English nations have divided government control over major areas of public policy. On some matters, UK government policies still affect people directly; on others it is the governments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast that decide.

Though devolution itself has great potential in theory, the division of control creates the potential for public confusion: do people actually know which government is responsible for what?

Public knowledge matters for democratic accountability. If people don’t understand which government does what then they cannot hold the relevant politicians accountable at elections. Some may receive blame, or credit, which they do not warrant; others may escape deserved responsibility.

The evidence thus far has not been encouraging. Previous studies in Scotland and in Wales have shown plenty of confusion about which government does what. Some work has also shown an asymmetry of policy attributions: with people in both Scotland and Wales tending to blame government in London for perceived poor performance in major policy areas, but giving credit to governments in either Edinburgh or Cardiff where things are believed to have improved. This may be convenient for some politicians in Holyrood and Cardiff Bay, but it is not politically healthy in the long-term.

Recently, however, there has been a major attempt by the Conservatives to address this problem in Wales. This has not stemmed from high-minded concern for democratic proprieties, but from raw politics: with public perceptions of NHS performance in Wales being poor, the Tories have wanted the Labour Welsh government to get the blame. Labour’s management of the NHS in Wales has been attacked in vitriolic terms, and the Conservatives suggested that this is emblematic of broader Labour incompetence.

Is this having any effect? And on health, or indeed in other major policy areas, are Welsh voters approaching the forthcoming National Assembly election with a clearer idea of who is responsible for what than they did in previous elections?

Devolution in practice

To explore these questions, I’ve examined evidence from two major academic surveys: the pre-election wave of the 2016 Welsh Election Study, conducted in early-mid March this year; and the first wave of the 2011 Welsh Referendum Study, conducted at almost the same time before the 2011 National Assembly election.

A near-identical set of questions was run in the two surveys. These asked, first, whether people perceived improvements or declines in key areas of public policy since the previous National Assembly election; and, second, whether people attributed any improvements or declines mainly to the UK government, the Welsh government, or both equally.

Four topics were asked about: health, and education, high-profile areas where policy responsibility has been largely devolved, and “standard of living”, and “law and order”, areas where power and responsibility largely remains with the UK government.

The figure below shows the balance of opinion (the net percentage of those perceiving improvements minus those perceiving declines) in each of the four policy areas in both 2011 (blue) and 2016 (red).

Roger Scully, Author provided


A few things are noticeable here: first, the balance of opinion on all issues is negative. In both 2011 and 2016, across all issues, more people perceived decline rather than improvement.

Second, and perhaps most strikingly, there has been a huge decline in public perceptions in the area of health between 2011 and 2016. Even if they haven’t caused such perceptions, attacks by the Conservatives and others on the Welsh NHS will likely have chimed with many voters’ views.

Finally, in the two areas under Welsh government control, the balance of opinion has become more negative since 2011, while in the two areas of UK government responsibility, public perceptions have become less negative.

But were perceived improvements or declines actually attributed to the “appropriate” level of government in any of these policy areas? Investigating this requires some careful unpicking of the data. Below are two tables, one for 2011 and one for 2016. They chart which level of government was assigned primary responsibility for perceived improvements or declines in each policy area.

Roger Scully, Author provided


We see that in 2011, those perceiving improvements in health and education in Wales tended to view the Welsh government as responsible. This is encouraging; much less so is that many people also credited the Welsh government for improvements in those areas where it had much less power. We also see that people who perceived declines were substantially more likely to blame the UK government than those perceiving improvements, and that this was true both of devolved and non-devolved policy areas.

Have things changed? Our new evidence suggests that they have, to some extent, in the field of health. Compared to 2011, Welsh people in 2016 are more likely to assign responsibility to the Welsh government for policy outcomes in health, whether it is for improvement or decline overall. But in the other policy areas there is now a clear general pattern, and there remains a tendency for people to be disproportionately likely to give credit to government in Wales, but assign blame to government in London.

The long-term health of a system of devolved governance surely requires clarity of policy responsibility. In Wales, the latest evidence indicates that the strong political attacks that have been made on the Welsh government’s management of the NHS may have induced greater clarity for many Welsh voters on this issue. However, health appears to be more the exception than the rule. In general, any clear division of government responsibility in the minds of voters, and accountability for what each level of government does, seems to remain elusive.

The 2011 Welsh Referendum Study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (Grant RES-000-22-4496). The pre-referendum wave interviewed 3,029 respondents between 3 February-2 March 2011; fieldwork was conducted via the internet by YouGov.

The 2016 Welsh Election Study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (Grant ES/M011127/1). The pre-election wave interviewed 3,272 respondents between 7-18 March 2016; fieldwork was conducted via the internet, by YouGov.

The Conversation

Roger Scully, Professor of Political Science, Cardiff University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Image credit – Marc

How the Welsh voting system could secure nine Assembly seats for Ukip

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Exterior of The Senedd (National Assembly building)

Jac Larner, Cardiff University

On May 5, voters in Wales will head to the polls to elect the country’s fifth devolved government. This forthcoming National Assembly is set to look dramatically different to all of those preceding it, namely because of the addition of one party – Ukip.

Polls in Wales have shown the party steadily increasing its support, building upon its strong 2015 General Election performance, when Ukip came second to Labour in six of Wales’ constituencies, and third overall in the Welsh popular vote. Indeed, it appears as if nothing is able to stop their march on the Senedd.

Despite a month of media coverage of Welsh Ukip infighting and lack of cohesion, the latest Wales Barometer Poll recorded the party’s highest level of support yet in Wales – 18% at both the constituency and regional level. With the Conservative party at 22% and Plaid Cymru at 19%, there could very well be a three-way struggle for the position of Wales’ second largest party.

For a party that at its peak had just two MPs, both from the South East of England, many outside Wales reacted with shock to the news that Ukip could achieve such significant levels of support in Wales. The Financial Times went so far as to describe Ukip’s position in Wales as “surging”.

However, this characterisation is mistaken. Ukip support in Wales is broadly in line with that of much of England. In the 2015 general election, Ukip received 14.1% of the vote in England – compared to 13.6% in Wales – while in the northeast of England – the region most similar demographically to Wales – Ukip received 16.7% of the popular vote. A YouGov poll on February 4 measured UK-wide Ukip support at 18% –- the same as that recorded in Wales.

The difference is that in Wales, Ukip could realistically convert this support into significant representation in the Assembly. It is less a matter of “surging” support in Wales and more a symptom of an electoral system that could bring them actual power.

The electoral system used in the UK for general elections in effect penalises the sort of broad support that Ukip has (think back to the Liberal Democrats in 2010). In order to win representation at Westminster, it’s necessary to have geographically concentrated support, to win in First Past the Post (FPTP) constituency contests.

For the Welsh Assembly elections, however, a different electoral system is used, one which combines two votes: one FPTP, and one which is a form of proportional representation (PR). This PR section of the vote “penalises” parties that win constituency contests, making it easier for smaller parties to win seats. This system suits Ukip very well, as, unlike Labour, the Conservatives and Plaid Cymru, their broad levels of support aren’t concentrated enough to win constituency seats.

So, while levels of support for Ukip in Wales are not particularly different from anywhere else, the electoral system in Wales is better suited to transform their levels of support into representation.

Interior of The Senedd (National Assembly building)

Though Ukip support in Wales may not be surging, it undoubtedly appears to be increasing steadily: Ukip support in the regional list has grown from 13% in a May 2015 Barometer poll to 18% in the most recent.

What is behind this steady increase isn’t entirely clear. One possible explanation is the dramatic increase in media coverage of the impending EU referendum. Ukip has attempted to position itself, with some success, as representing one side of that debate – so much so that a media discussion of the EU is often accompanied by a mention of Ukip.

With the EU referendum now confirmed to take place shortly after the Assembly elections in May, the EU vote is likely to supplant the National Assembly for Wales as the top political news story. As a result, the publicity Ukip receive will get a significant boost. Indeed, the same Barometer poll that measured Ukip’s support at 18%, also showed that 45% of respondents would opt to leave the EU, compared to 37% who would opt to stay. It’s possible that the interplay between these two political events will only increase as both campaigns get closer.

Whether Ukip can turn this support and coverage into seats in the Senedd, however, will likely be a question of turnout. Turnout is historically lower in Assembly elections – just 41.4% in 2011 – so “getting the vote out” is vital for parties to succeed. Plaid Cymru, for example, has historically been successful at this, achieving vote shares an average 10% higher in Assembly elections than general elections. Ukip, is somewhat of an unknown quantity here.

With the EU referendum just seven weeks after the devolved elections, it will be interesting to see what effect – if any – this has with their supporters. Will Ukip supporters have their attention focused on the “big one”, and neglect the Welsh vote? Or will they be galvanised and use the devolved elections as a launchpad for their campaign? How Ukip supporters react, could well decide the makeup of the next National Assembly for Wales.

The Conversation

Jac Larner, PhD researcher, Wales Governance Centre, Cardiff University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Image credit – Marc | Glenn Wood

Explainer: what are tax credits?

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Explainer: what are tax credits?

Christopher Coles, University of Stirling

The Conservative government has suffered two defeats in the House of Lords over plans to cut tax credits for 3m households.

Cue a row over the constitutionality of what has taken place and, more importantly, uncertainty over how tax credit reform will take place. But what are tax credits, and how will cutting them affect people? Here’s a break down of what’s at stake.

First off, the term “tax credits” is a misnomer. It does not mean tax relief, because you don’t have to pay tax in the first place to get tax credits. Rather, they are a benefit that is administered by HM Revenue and Customs. Having HMRC doing this not only removes the stigma of “the social” from claimants but is also highly convenient for administration, as knowledge of a person’s annual employment details and income is needed to accurately work out tax credit entitlement.

There are two main types of tax credits:

  1. Working tax credit for people on low incomes, which includes separate elements for circumstances such as disability and payments for childcare.
  2. Child tax credit, which can be claimed by all UK residents with children.

Entitlement to credits reduces and even ceases as claimants’ earnings increase – and the claims mechanism is rather complex. Claimants receive their payments based on their income in the previous tax year (April 6 to the following April 5), so overpayments and underpayments are not uncommon, leading to some people having difficult experiences with HMRC

Tax credits are not new, nor are they confined to the UK, with similar systems in place in Canada and Ireland. They were introduced in the UK by the Labour government in 2003. The then chancellor, Gordon Brown, had seen how they worked in elsewhere and was particularly keen on them as a way of assisting poorer people back into work, with a “safety net” to assist the low paid. They were introduced to replace family credit, which was a significantly less generous in-work benefit.

Tax credits have played a huge role in reducing child poverty, from 26% in 1997 to 18% in 2010. The Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has estimated that if tax credits had not been introduced and the previous system of family credit retained, child poverty would have risen to 31%. A less restrictive “claw back” of benefit provided incentives for people to work more and earn more. Additionally, payments for childcare were at the heart of the tax credits system, encouraging single parents to join the labour force.

Rt Hon George Osborne MP
Rt Hon George Osborne MP

Why the changes?

All this doesn’t not come cheap. Payments have almost doubled since they were introduced, rising from £16.4 billion in 2003-04 to £29.2 billion in 2011-12 and they are estimated to exceed £30 billion this year. The cuts are part of a wider plan to make £12 billion in budget savings from the welfare bill.

Thus, a saving of around £4.5 billion for the next financial year was proposed and several methods to reduce costs put forward, including a sharpening of the “taper” (or claw back) by which tax credits are reduced when one’s earnings exceed the threshold. This could have resulted in an effective tax rate of 93% in some (albeit extreme) circumstances

In addition, the income threshold for full tax credits was to be dramatically reduced from earnings of £6,420 a year to £3,050 a year for working tax credits and from £16,105 to £12,125 for child tax credits. Some commentators have expressed surprise at Osborne’s decision to apply the cuts universally and not just for new claimants, as one would naturally object more to having something taken away compared to never having it in the first place.

Who is affected?

The IFS estimated that around 3m people would be worse off every year by about £1,000 as a result of the cuts. Typically, these would be people in lower income brackets.

The government tried to allay fears by pointing out that the cuts would not take effect immediately and that increased economic activity would improve wages anyway. Plus, the introduction of a new National Living Wage is geared toward reducing the necessity of tax credits – the idea being that employers pay higher wages, reducing the need for government welfare. The IFS points out, however, that the National Living Wage would only go part of the way to meeting the shortfall caused by a reduction in tax credits.
Popular opinion turned against the decision to cut tax credits.

Finally, tax allowances themselves are to be raised, including a new marriage allowance, and some people will be taken out of the tax net altogether. But some people may still lose out. The new marriage allowance, which allows a spouse or civil partner who doesn’t pay income tax to transfer up to £1,060 of their personal tax-free allowance to their partner, is only worth £212 per annum at the basic rate of tax of 20%. This is scant compensation for what might have been a much larger cut through tax credits. Plus, the marriage allowance is available to civil partners but not people cohabiting.

What replaces tax credits?

The size of the tax credit bill and the complexity of the system are two arguments used for the introduction of a long-heralded system of Universal Credit.

A third argument for Universal Credit is one made by the government, drawing attention to the fact that tax revenue is already collected from all sectors of society, including the poor, and then recycled back to them in a complicated and inefficient system.

The argument is attractive to critics of the bureaucracy of the public sector. But this ignores the fact that seemingly circular transfers happen all the time. For example, public sector workers are remunerated from money paid by the taxpayer and are then subject to taxation both on their earnings and in other ways – such as VAT.

What’s next?

George Osborne wants to push through the cuts, but recognises that public sympathy for claimants who would be adversely affected by cuts is running high. The original proposals seem out of touch and contradictory to the message the Conservatives have been trying to tout that they support “hard-working people”. Osborne has stated that there will be a review, that he is listening to colleagues on the subject and new measures will be announced in the Autumn Statement on November 25.
The ConversationChristopher Coles, Senior Teaching Scholar in Accounting and Finance, University of Stirling

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Image credit – ukhouseoflords