Jenny Willott writes…Mending the Safety Net – our proposals for reforming working age social security

Since last October, I have been chairing the Social Security Working Group, which has been taking a fresh look at party policy in this area.  We had a wide ranging remit covering all aspects of working age social security, from supporting people with disabilities to tackling child poverty.  We have now published our policy recommendations: it has been a big challenge, but thanks to a working group of passionate, talented people, ranging from experienced policy makers to new enthusiastic party members, I think we’ve produced a paper of which Lib Dems can be proud. You can find Mending the Safety Net here.

I thought it would be helpful to set out some of the key things we are proposing.  We heard a lot of different ideas and proposals from party members, experts and NGOs, and have sought to propose policy that is liberal and distinctive, but which, crucially, could make a real and practical difference to people’s lives.

Reducing child poverty

From the outset the group agreed that reducing child poverty should be our priority. We know that a child growing up in poverty will already be attaining less than their better off peers by the time they start school, they will be bullied more, have poorer health and are less likely to leave school with five A* – C GCSE passes. We felt strongly that it should be a real priority to tackle the barriers created for children that grow up in poverty.

Unlike when Labour first came to power, the majority of children growing up in poverty now do so in households where at least one person works. That’s why one of our key recommendations is to introduce a second earner’s allowance to Universal Credit. This could transform the lives of many children by dramatically increasing the amount of money going to some of the lowest paid families in our country. We also want to see an increase of £5 a week to the child element of Universal Credit for the first child in a family to help new families afford the high costs associated with a first child.

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‘Don’t let the SpArC go out’ campaign reaches another level

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Little did I know that the press release I put out on August 8th would hit national TV. The following day our funding crisis at SpArC – the Bishops Castle Leisure Centre in south west Shropshire –was front page of the Shropshire Star. Most of the County has been given a year’s reprieve to try to find revenue funding for their Leisure Centres. Not so for four centres in the South of the County. We face an extra 25% cut and a cut of £65,000 in education funding  for SpArC alone.

The community are rallying. We are fundraising to raise £50k to insulate the pool, the building and reduce energy costs and usage. We have raised over £36k already. The cuts for us this year were a kick in the teeth.

Last week I was minding my own business delivering leaflets (for our by-election) at the base of the Longmynd with my colleague Cllr Nigel Hartin from Clun (who had just been bitten by a farm dog) when my mobile rang – a novelty in itself with our poor mobile signal –  Channel 4 News wanted to come and film. Could I get parents and children there? Was this possible? It is August. Teme Leisure who run the Centre pulled out all the stops and parents and children poured in. We managed it together.

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Reminder: Wikipedia editing event at National Liberal Club tomorrow

Last week, Kat Bavage told us about an event at the National Liberal Club in London tomorrow. Liberals will gather to pore over the NLC’s vast array of historical resources and edit Wikipedia entries to make sure that the Liberal and Liberal Democrat contribution to history is properly recorded. Kat said:

The irony is however that although very many people read Wikipedia’s content (half a billion people a month or thereabouts) very few actually engage in creating it. In the UK there are perhaps only around 15,000 editors, and of these the majority only occasionally chip in to correct a typo

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What would you do if you were the Mayor of Calais?

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Inside the Jungle in Calais

I was part of a Local Government Association delegation last week to the ‘jungle’ in Calais.

The ‘camp’ is essentially a shanty town with tents and shacks (including ‘restaurants’) built from scrap materials. It is set in sand dunes next to an industrial estate and alongside one of the key roads heading towards the Channel Tunnel. Its occupants are mainly male and there are over 800 residents classed as children – including many teenagers. The bulk are Afghan, fleeing Taliban conscription and in places combat zones. There are some Syrians as well as Eritreans and Somalis.

The authorities are clearly hostile to the camp: residents feel that the inhabitants are responsible for nuisance and crime. The response to this in March was partial demolition –which meant that 127 children simply disappeared. Meanwhile the CRS (the riot police in other circumstances) harass the inhabitants – confiscating phones, destroying SIM cards – and using plastic bullets, which can cause life-changing injuries.

The camp does not officially exist. Nevertheless, provision has been made for some inhabitants to go into adjacent freight containers – adapted to provide a form of accommodation, aimed at women with younger children, because of the dangers posed by people traffickers in the main camp.

Posted in Europe / International and News | Tagged , and | 16 Comments

Corbyn and NATO

 

That an absolute neophyte at serious politics like Donald Trump becomes the first American presidential nominee (from either the Democratic or Republican Party) to question Washingtons NATO article 5 obligation of “Collective Defense” shouldn’t surprise anybody.

But that a sitting Labour party leader fighting to continue in that job, and hoping to win the next general election, does the same is absolutely incredible. And the fact that he did so only a couple of weeks after flip-flopping over EU membership (from a very conditional “Remain” before, to a “get out now” the day after the Referendum)  creates the impression that he thinks the UK can go it alone, without the support, let alone the trust of European partners, on all foreign policy issues.

At the Birmingham hustings for the leadership elections last week, Corbyn said that when Russia threatens to attack or invade any NATO country, he hoped to avoid that by diplomatic means, and that he “doesn’t want to go to war”. But any historian can tell you that diplomacy can only speak softly if you carry a big stick for people who don’t respect any other kind of argument.  To put it in a Marxist metaphor: without the material fundamentals the political superstructure won’t function.

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Is Labour really the natural home for those concerned about human rights?

 

I read the report by Shami Chakrabarti into alleged racism in the Labour Party over the weekend.  It’s a good report and an interesting read for a number of reasons – but I was looking for lessons for our Party.

What particularly struck me was that right upfront she explains why she joined the Labour Party as soon as she was appointed to lead the Inquiry. She states that she has always supported and voted for the Labour Party but that her various jobs (Civil Servant and then Director of Liberty) required her to be non-Party political.  She goes on to say that Labour is however the natural home for anybody concerned about human rights, that all significant legislative improvements in human rights in this country have happened on Labour’s watch, and that Labour has consistently been the first Party to accommodate immigrant voices and to achieve significant support among successive waves of immigrants -whether they be Jewish, Irish, BAME.

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Can the nation somehow unite around the values represented by Money Saving Expert, NSPCC, TK Maxx and M&S?

Our esteemed editor, Caron, returned yesterday from a very well earned holiday and, revitalised by sun-soaked walks on Rosemarkie Beach, underscored the party’s need not to “go wobbly on the EU“. She concluded:

The future prosperity of our country depends on us winning these hearts and minds and we need to get on with it. We need to provide the glue that helps this very divided country to come back together and solve the problems it faces.

According to research based on years of mass polling by YouGov, uniting the country could boil down to somehow responding to the common themes represented by four brands: Money Saving Expert, NSPCC, TK Maxx and M&S.

Based on affinities identified in the polling, Emily James, chief strategy officer at advertising agency Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R says that the brands that are most likely to determine whether someone voted Leave or Remain in the referendum are:

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