International Development minister Lynne Featherstone writes a monthly column for one of her local newspapers. Here is the latest one…
What a year 2012 has been! There are three Lib Dem policies that really stand out for me this year: the Pupil Premium, income tax reductions for low paid and middle income workers and equal marriage.
Before entering Government, the Lib Dems knew there were serious social mobility problems in the UK. Only one in five young people from the poorest families achieve five good GCSEs compared to three out of four from the richest families. Through the Pupil Premium, the Lib Dems in Government are giving schools extra funding, specifically targeted at children from deprived backgrounds.
In summer I wrote to schools in my constituency and asked them what they were spending the extra funding on. I got a very encouraging response. For instance, some schools were using money to employ more staff who have had particular training to support children from troubled backgrounds.
Haringey schools alone will receive an extra £8.8 million next year, just in Pupil Premium money.
Before the last election, we also knew that low paid individuals and low income families were struggling to cover all of their bills. Our number one commitment was to make sure that the lowest paid were taken out of tax altogether and middle income workers also got money back in their pockets. We are taking steps towards this, and in April, the personal allowance will rise again to £9,440. This will save all workers £600, and take 2.2 million out of paying tax altogether.
We’re funding this by cracking down on those who seek to exploit the tax system. The 2012 Autumn Statement announced new action to clampdown on £10bn of tax dodging a year by 2015. Extra investment in HMRC will help secure an extra £2bn a year in unpaid tax. A tax cut for low paid workers, and the rich paying their fair share – this is how it should be.
The Lib Dems have always believed that marriage should be an option for all couples – gay or straight. I was absolutely delighted when, last week, the Coalition Government announced that it will introduce legislation to open marriage up to same-sex couples. It was a truly amazing day for equality.
The process all started two years ago when, in September 2010, Liberal Democrat members voted to support equal marriage and end the separation between same-sex and opposite-sex couples. I took that vote to heart, saw an opportunity and telephoned Nick Clegg to say that I was going to go for equal marriage in my role as Equalities Minister at the Home Office.
I feel very proud to have played a part in making this happen, as should anyone who supported equal marriage and responded to the consultation. This was a real Lib Dem-led achievement which I hope will impact people’s lives for the better.
My party, the Liberal Democrats, have really settled into Government this year and are working hard to make positive changes.
In Hornsey and Wood Green, two long standing constituency campaigns have also been successful this year. For five years, I fought for fairer funding for Haringey’s schools. In April, as a result of the campaign, Haringey’s schools have received an extra £7.3 million (that’s on top of the pupil premium money!) And, after a four year campaign, a safer W7 bus stop has finally been installed in Muswell Hill – on a trial basis.
But as those campaigns drew to a close, others started. The Haringey Lib Dems and I are currently fighting hard to protect local rail services and to save our local sorting offices and mail collection services. We’ve also launched a campaign for fairer funding for Haringey’s health services. I particularly look forward to meeting the health minister on this in the New Year.
The local Lib Dems are also fighting against proposals for a huge waste facility in Pinkham Way and for the Labour-run Haringey to rectify bin collections. We’ve been campaigning for free parking to help out local high streets – and putting pressure on Haringey Council not to raise council tax.
So it has been a busy year, particularly when you also factor in my switch to the Department for International Development – and the 17,000+ pieces of casework processed through my office. But it has certainly been rewarding – an increase in personal allowance, millions more school funding, legalising equal marriage and fighting for my constituents is worth working round the clock for, and I hope for more of the same next year.
Until then, I wish everyone a happy festive holiday, and all the best for the New Year!
* Lynne Featherstone is a minister at the Department for International Development and blogs at www.lynnefeatherstone.org.