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Conservative MP Wants Children's Clothing Tax Relief Extended To Ease Cost Of Living

Rehman Chishti has urged the government to "get creative" with policy ideas (Alamy)

6 min read

A Conservative MP has called on the government to extend children’s clothing tax relief and come up with more “creative ideas” to win back voters who are feeling the bite of the cost of living after the party was faced with a tough set of local election results.

Rehman Chishti, MP for Gillingham and Rainham where the council has just turned Labour for the first time in 20 years, has written to the Treasury calling for the tax exemption to be expanded beyond clothing for under-13s. He told PoliticsHome he is planning a renewed push to highlight the issue and gain support from MPs in the coming weeks. 

Current HMRC guidelines state that children’s clothing will have zero VAT applied when within the average measurements for children up to the age of 13, as “this is when the body dimensions begin to merge with those of the general adult population”.

Conservative MP Christopher Chope introduced a Private Member’s Bill last year to extend the definition of children’s clothing for the purposes of exemption from VAT and extend the VAT exemption to further categories of school uniform.

Chishti told PoliticsHome the so-called “tall tax” presents an issue for his constituents whose children are outside of average measurements for that age, adding further strain on family finances in the cost of living crisis.

“What if you're young and you're growing and you don't meet the average height?” he asked. 

“My constituent now finds herself in a situation where she will be paying for clothes for her child on adult rates. That can't be right.”

The Treasury has so far responded by saying they need a policy that applies across the board rather than on a case-by-case basis, but Chishti said they should be open to looking at the issue “differently”. 

“Government is about creative ideas and looking at new ways of doing things,” he said.

“Therefore, on my to-do list for the next few weeks is to follow up from those conversations with my constituents, look at how those issues affect wider constituencies around the country, and work with members of Parliament to help bring direct representation to government and get the government to start looking at things differently.”

As Chishti pushes for specific measures to ease cost of living pressures for his constituents, he has his eye on how his party can appeal to the wider electorate after a bruising set of local election results which saw the Conservatives lose control of 48 councils and 1,061 council seats.

With Labour still retaining an average 12-point lead over the Conservatives in the polls, MPs are looking to focus on matters of public priority. The economy and cost of living top the list.

“We absolutely have to deliver on the issues that matter to local residents, like public services and health services,” Chishti said.

“Cost of living is so high and where people are working hard and doing the right things, they need the government to find creative ways to support them. The government [needs to be] imaginative in how we do that.”

The Kent-based MP said while he believes the Conservative Party can still turn things around, despite a “difficult” past year, he said it will “absolutely” be challenging for them to do so. 

James Sunderland, Tory MP for Bracknell in Berkshire, echoed Chisti’s comments when he told PoliticsHome podcast The Rundown that it would be a “big mistake” for any of his colleagues to think they are safe in their seats. 

Across the country, Conservative MPs have different ideas on how the government should be approaching policy. 

Ten Conservative MPs in ‘Red Wall’ seats in the Midlands wrote a letter to Rishi Sunak last week MPs asking the Prime Minister to “urgently” help them "demonstrate clearly on the doorstep what Conservative policies mean in the real world for jobs, families".

Urging Sunak to bring a more positive vision to voters, Conservative MP and leader of Nottinghamshire County Council Ben Bradley wrote in the letter that the much-delayed Levelling Up Bill needs to be passed through Parliament as soon as possible. 

“It is our area’s best hope of addressing these problems, and our constituents should not have to wait years for Westminster politicians to decide to unleash the potential of devolution in our region,” he wrote. 

However, while Chishti agrees with the principle of levelling up, he issued a word of caution on how the allocation of resources is decided by the government. 

"You can't level up the north at the expense of the south,” he told PoliticsHome.

“There's 650 Members of Parliament, and each and every one of us will have to fight for allocation of resources. The government must ensure the criteria that is applied is fair across the board."

He argued that there can be a "sloppy" allocation of resources where local authorities are given funding that is not targeted to specific areas that need it most. 

“You need to break it down, look in more detail at the challenges across the country,” he said, describing how some towns in his constituency, while they have pockets of wealthy areas, also have some of the highest levels of deprivation and inequality. 

Keir Starmer in Kent
Keir Starmer celebrated with Labour members in Chatham, Kent, where Labour took control of Medway Council for the first time since 1998 (Alamy)

When the last round of levelling up funds were announced in January, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said all projects had been subject to a “rigorous assessment process under robust, fair and transparent rules”.

“Successful bids are spread fairly across the UK, with around 45 per cent of investment across both rounds allocated to areas held by opposition parties," a DLUHC spokesperson said.

Housing is another issue Chishti said is at the top of the public’s priorities; a topic which proved controversial in the run-up to the local elections.

He told PoliticsHome he does not agree with “top-down housing targets” set by the central government that “do not take the local dimension into account”, but accepts the crisis needs to be addressed. 

"I’ll take my fair share of housing,” he said. “But it's got to be the appropriate number with big infrastructure and in accordance with working with local communities."

Medway Council, which covers Chishti’s traditionally Conservative constituency, was won by Labour in the local elections for the first time in more than 20 years.

With many voters not turning out to vote Conservative in this area and across the country, both the Tory government and Chishti’s own seat could be on thin ice. 

“You can never predict what you're going to get in an election,” he said. 

“I think as a member of Parliament it is a huge privilege to serve your hometown, but like anything in life, you never know how long you have.

“Every day you're here, you do everything you can to make a difference.”

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