Lynne Featherstone writes… Three Lib Dem policies really stand out for me in 2012

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.

Income tax halved for someone on the minimum wageBefore 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.

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13 Comments

  • Great news if you happen to be a Haringey school pupil. What happens to pupils in areas that don’t have lib dem
    MPs who need extra funding to avoid the charge that the pupil premium is a fig leave for cuts in education funding?

  • Kevin McNamara 22nd Dec '12 - 11:34am

    simon, you’re suggesting that lib dem areas are getting special treatment by the pupil premium. do you have proof for this?

  • I’m not privy to the decision making process. I’m suggesting the proof of the pudding is usually in the eating. You fail to address that for most school pupils the pupil premium is a fig leaf for wider cuts. I’m a fan of the pupil premium but as a supplement not compensation.

  • Peter Watson 22nd Dec '12 - 5:08pm

    Let’s not forget that the pupil premium was also in the Conservative manifesto. And Labour’s.

  • @ Peter Watson – though a pupil premium was mentioned by both the Conservatives and Labour neither made it a top priority nor committed any additional money to it in their manifestos.

  • Pupil premium is England only and equal marriage is England and Wales only. More focus needs to be put on national policies (of which the income tax reductions is a very good example of).

  • Richard Dean 22nd Dec '12 - 11:44pm

    Following on from Peter Watson’s comment, doesn’t everyone support income tax reductions for low earners, and isn’t equal marriage supported elsewhere too? What policies differentiate LibDems from the other main parties?

  • Kevin McNamara 23rd Dec '12 - 12:49pm

    richard dean, the tories made no mention of it in their manifesto and labour opposed it in negotiations. as for equal marriage, the tories made a vague commitment to explore the possibility and labour went into the last election opposing it. just because everyone is now jumping on our bandwagon does not mean we are not different.

  • Yellow Bill 23rd Dec '12 - 7:39pm

    First, let’s get the equal marriage bit out of the way. The bill isn’t written yet, and so is, at the moment, an aspiration.

    As far as the Pupil Premium is concerned, when I advocated this policy on the streets of the constituency I am in, I did so with the impression that the money would be ringfenced FOR THE PUPILS IT WAS ALLOCATED FOR. So any pupil who recieved it would not be as penalised by the low income their parents had. That is, penalised in not having the same opportunities as pupils in better off families. To belabour the point, it would pay for home computers, or tutors to get bright but enpoverished pupils into the constituencies grammar schools, or pay for those children to go on the school trips other pupils take for granted. It wasn’t for paying part of the wages bill, or new classrooms or to replace the monies taken away by this coalition government.

    As for the income tax personal allowance, alright as far as it goes, but don’t forget that the wealthiest get exactly the same.

  • Jonathan Featonby 24th Dec '12 - 10:41am

    @Simon – The Pupil Premium isn’t allocated through a decision process, so there’s no way for it to be gerrymandered. Schools receive the additional funding for each pupil who has been on Free School Meals at some point in the last 6 years.

  • @jonathan featonby
    I didn’t suggest thus. I was responding to Lynne’s delight that education funding has increased in Haringey in addition to the PP… this is contrary to the experience of school children in most other areas of the country.

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