Author Archives: Kirsten Johnson

Book Review: The End of Aspiration? by Duncan Exley

Subtitled Social mobility and our children’s fading prospects, Duncan Exley’s book explores the facts and myths around aspiration. Referencing many studies, linked with real-life stories of people who have moved from rag-to-riches, Exley asks how far the UK is from being an ‘opportunity’ society and whether social mobility should be a priority of policy-makers.

Duncan Exley is the former Director of the Equality Trust. In his book, he delves into issues of equality and poverty, probing the real factors behind people not being able to attain the life they would like to live.

Recently, I toured a secondary school in North Devon with the headteacher. I asked her what the biggest issue was for the young people there. She told me, without hesitation, lack of aspiration. She explained that many of her pupils came from families which could not afford to travel outside of the town, not to mention the county. Pupils stayed in school as long as they were required to and then left for local jobs. She had started taking groups of pupils to Oxford open days and was proud that several now were at Oxford and other universities. But she said one of the hurdles she faced was lack of funding for school trips so that young people could experience the bigger world outside of their own community.

This is one of the many themes Exley tackles – how to give young people from more deprived circumstances the opportunities to explore, experience and participate in the bigger world.

Creating opportunities, however, is not enough. Exley looks at the biology of poverty and cites studies which link the nutrition of grandparents to the birth weight and health of babies. Low birth weight has been linked to poorer attainment. A healthy population is one which can thrive, and child poverty must be tackled. Exley notes the effect of health on career progression:

Posted in Books | Tagged , , , and | Leave a comment

What would we do without the NHS?

Our family has used the NHS more this year than ever before – all five of us have seen consultants for a range of ailments.

Yesterday my husband saw the Haematology team to be told his cancer was in remission. We left the hospital grateful for the good prognosis, and thankful that we lived in a country with high-quality health care. Over the course of his treatment, from hospital stays to bone marrow biopsies, from chemotherapy to scans, we have been impressed with the professionals overseeing his care. We have not been made bankrupt through high medical bills and he had time off work for his recovery. It was horrendous and worrying, but the NHS was there for us.

However, lack of government funding means that not everyone is getting the same quality of care we have experienced. Recent stories in the papers highlight the shortfall now being experienced by many hospital trusts. There was a combined overspend of around £850 million by ten NHS hospital trusts in England in 2018. Funding per patient has been cut year by year since 2010.

The data is harrowing. Whilst my husband had a good experience with his cancer treatment, the statistics show many others do not.

Four of the cancer waiting-time standards were failed: two-week GP referral to first outpatient appointment; 14-day referral to first outpatient – breast symptoms; 62-day (urgent GP referral) waiting time target for first treatment; and 62-day screening from service referral.

These waiting times didn’t apply in the same way to us as my husband was hospitalised with a severe infection and in trying to figure out the cause of the infection, cancer was found. But for those being referred by GPs for outpatient appointments, the delay of treatment and the extended worry whilst waiting for an appointment adds even more stress to the uncertainty one experiences before receiving a diagnosis.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 10 Comments

Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 #EmpowerHalfHour

The Where’s Your Head At? campaign launched a Workplace Manifesto on Monday. As part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2019, this campaign is raising awareness of how employers and businesses can better support their employees’ mental health and well-being. It is a straightforward manifesto which the campaign is calling all employers to sign. The principals, in brief, are:

1. Everyone has mental health

2. We need to build a diverse and inclusive workplace to lead to a
happier and healthier working environment

3. We need to treat mental and physical health equally in the workplace

4. Employers need to turn mental health awareness into positive action

Point number three is the renewed call for equality of mental and physical first aid under health and safety legislation – an initiative I led at Lib Dem party conference in Liverpool in 2015 and which was first presented to parliament as an Early Day Motion by Norman Lamb MP. It has been debated in Parliament, and pressure is on to change this legislation.

Point number four calls for six specific actions, that workplaces

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 3 Comments

ICYMI: Lord Roberts demands more for those made homeless

It was a busy week last week, with local elections and all, but in the midst of the flurry of leaflet delivery and canvassing, Lord Roberts was busy in Parliament questioning the Government on homelessness.

This has been a big issue in North Devon, as it is across the country, with austerity having gone too far and people not able to afford a roof over their heads.

Lord Robert posited:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the decrease in local authority spending since 2009 on homelessness and the number of deaths of homeless people.

You can read the entire debate here and watch the video here.

Lord Robert’s office kindly sent over a piece on Rough Sleeping written by his researcher Shany Mizrai. We missed out on publishing it last week, but I think it deserves a read:

The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts has described the extent of homelessness across England as a ‘national crisis’. Appallingly, at any one time, there are as many as 9,100 people sleeping rough on the streets. In 2017 alone, 597 people died while homeless – a third of them, of treatable illnesses. Unfortunately, facts now suggest that homelessness in England has risen 165% higher than it was in 2010.

Importantly, the National Audit Office highlights that there is a high prevalence of mental illness, alcohol and drug dependency among rough sleepers: of the 70% of rough sleepers who had a support-needs assessment recorded, 47% had mental health support needs, 44% had alcohol support needs and 35% had drug support needs. The question is: what is the government doing to help rough sleepers deal with these dependencies?

Posted in Parliament | Tagged , and | 2 Comments

Social Mobility stagnates, with those from poorer backgrounds having life-long disadvantage

The report out yesterday from the Social Mobility Commission deserves a closer look. It says that inequality is entrenched from birth.

Lib Dems have argued for years about equality of opportunity – that some are born into families which provide many more opportunities and better life outcomes, a great many others are born into families stuck in a cycle of poverty, low pay and diminished life chances.

When I read Sir Anthony Atkinson’s book several years ago, Inequality, these points were made and the revered economist gave ideas as to how he thought they could be tackled.

But year in, year out, the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. The State of the Nation Report 2019 says that “urgent action needs to be taken to help close the privilege gap.”

Being born privileged means you are likely to remain priviledged, whilst being born disavantaged means you may have to overcome barriers to improve you and your children’s social mobility.

Their report says social mobility has stagnated over the last four years and something needs to be done about it. As this is a Government commission, I hope the Government is listening and does take immediate action. Austerity has gone on long enough and the effect is not only immediate but long-term.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , , and | 19 Comments

Great news that the Mental Capacity Bill is set to pass final stages

I have been watching the progress of the Mental Capacity Bill closely. One of the reasons I, and many activists I’m sure, became involved in politics was because of our concern over mental health, the marginalised, and mental capacity issues. Indeed, my other half researches in this area, so I have an in-house expert on mental capacity and I’m well aware the law needs improving.

The Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill as introduced in July 2017 was radically improved by the Liberal Democrats and is set to pass its final stages in Parliament before becoming law.

This is a very important piece of legislation which could apply to any of us. For example, if people are in care homes and are having to be locked in, protections are needed to make sure this deprivation of liberty is necessary for their safety and in accordance with their human rights.

This new piece of legislation aims to improve these protections for anyone who lacks capacity and may be deprived of liberty. It took the Liberal Democrats to lead a cross-party effort to force the Conservative Government to remove their exclusionary definition of the deprivation of liberty.

Our changes also included a commitment to review the Code of Practice.

Posted in News and Parliament | Tagged and | Leave a comment

Hungry children are suffering, here in the UK

I’ve been doing a bit of work in my constituency about the effects of Universal Credit on local people, the rising use of Food Banks, and the inadequate funding given to rural schools in North Devon.

With that perspective, I was dismayed but not surprised to read a recent article highlighting the social exclusion experienced by children living in poverty.

This is personal for me – I grew up in a military household, having enough to live on but not a lot, and when my father left the forces, we were poor for a couple of years until he retrained and got another job. For those years, I felt excluded. I wore hand-me-downs and home-made clothes. I didn’t fit in as we had moved into a rural community from outside the country. My accent was funny, my safety net of having friends from military families on base was gone, and I was bullied. Things settled down, but I will never forget that first year of leaving the ‘family’ of military life and entering civilian life as an 11-year-old child. But I was never hungry.

The new study by University College London, Living Hand to Mouth, published yesterday, looks at the impact hunger has on children’s lives. As readers will know, free school meals have been cut back by the Conservative Government. It is Lib Dem policy, however, to reinstate free school meals for all those on Universal Credit and, further, that all primary school children regardless of their income level should have a free school meal. Nutrition is ever so important for learning. A healthy child is one who can flourish and absorb knowledge. A hungry one can not.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 6 Comments

The State of Children’s Rights

The Children’s Rights Alliance for England just published their 2018 report into the State of Children’s Rights. Their report outlines “systemic failures to protect children in England”. They write:

National and local government is failing to protect children in England whilst policymakers focus on Brexit, leaving children traumatised, powerless and vulnerable to abuse in many areas of their lives.

CRAE have used new data, gathered through Freedom of Information requests, in writing this report. It has been thirty years since the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was adopted by the United Nations, yet the UNCRC has still not been enshrined in British law. I wrote about that four years ago here.

Areas of concern, amongst many, are child homelessness; how children are treated by the police; rising school exclusions; and the increased number of children living in poverty. It is an extensive report, so I can only give a brief overview of each section. Needless to say, I welcome these proposals.

The paper calls for children’s rights impact assessments to be part of any changes to the law in relation to Brexit, including statutory instruments. It also proposes a cabinet minister with responsibility for children’s rights be appointed and that there should be a

statutory obligation on public authorities to conduct child rights impact assessments in all decision-making affecting children, including in budgetary decision-making.

The fullsome section on Poverty and Homelessness has many good suggestions to take children out of poverty, including excluding children’s benefits from the benefit cap and getting rid of the two-child limit on child tax credit and UC. It calls for an abolition of the practice of housing children in B&Bs, hotels or caravan parks.

FOIs carried out by CRAE reveal that 1,173 looked after children were housed in independent accommodation for longer than 6 months.

There were serious issues raised in the Safeguarding section around the rising number of children in care and provision for them; the staggering rise of children suffering abuse and neglect; and the rising number of sexual offences against children. The report calls for children involved in county lines to be treated as victims of trafficking and modern slavery, not criminals.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , , , and | 1 Comment

Lib Dem bill to bring in mental health checks for new mums

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day. And today, in advance of IWD 2019 our Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse will introduce a Bill to improve mental health care for new mothers.

I welcome this legislation. As a mother of three, I am well aware of what is currently offered to new mothers. It is not enough. This campaign will tackle one aspect which could be improved: introducing the requirement that the current routine NHS post-natal check-ups given six weeks after having your baby must include mental health checks and support.

It is called the Postnatal Check-ups (Mental Health) Bill, and the first reading is in Parliament today.

Wera said:

It is extremely worrying that nearly half of new mothers who have experienced mental health or emotional issues have not had their problem identified by a health professional or received any help or treatment.

Postnatal mental health issues are not a new phenomenon and are not uncommon. It’s time to remove the stigma, encourage new mothers to discuss their emotional well-being, and provide them with the mental health support they need.

The full text of the proposed bill is

Posted in News and Parliament | Tagged , , , and | 1 Comment

Living costs more when you have a disability

Scope, the disability equality charity in England and Wales, has released a new report showing how life is more expensive for those living with disability. Their study shows that those with disability spend more on heating, insurance, equipment and other essential goods and services. Scope says

These extra costs mean disabled people have less money in their pocket than non-disabled people, or simply go without. Therefore, disabled people are likely to have a lower standard of living, even when they earn the same.

There are two parts to the report: The Disability Price Tag 2019 Policy Report discusses the key findings and recommendations; The Disability Price Tag 2019 Technical Report drills into the data, showing the detail of the extra costs those with disability incur in daily life. Both reports can be downloaded here.

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 1 Comment

Towards a level playing field between the high street and online

I welcome the report by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, High Streets and Town Centres in 2030, which calls on the Government to consider the options of an online sales tax and reforms to business rates.

It states:

We believe that high streets and town centres can survive, and thrive, by 2030 if they adapt. Our vision is for activity-based community gathering places where retail is a smaller part of a wider range of uses and activities and where green space, leisure, arts and culture and health and social care services combine with housing to create a space based on social and community interactions.

I spoke at a local business breakfast in Barnstaple recently. I was asked, “How can we revive the high street with online retailers undercutting our businesses?”  and “How can we make it fairer for high street businesses?” Local business owners wanted to know more about our policy to reform business rates – I told them about our proposal to abolish business rates and replace them with a Commercial Landowner Levy. But that wasn’t enough for them – they wanted to know about online sales tax and how we could level the playing field.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 60 Comments

Being a PPC – managing demands

One common interview question, which we used when hiring our Organiser and is used in many jobs, is that of prioritisation: you have lots of demands on your time and are faced with a long list of tasks, which do you do first?

Prioritisation seems to be an ever-present task as PPC. There is only one of you but 1001 things that need doing. Help?!

Yesterday I went through three sets of my list – the first version which I had written the night before on how I would get things done the next day as the asks seemed insurmountable; the second version made at coffee time before rushing out the door to a meeting, of the things that still needed doing and ranking which was most important; and then a third version, a yet-again-revised list of things that had to be absolutely done that day, with a new list of what could be left for the next day.

There is never enough time. Prioritisation is key, with an emphasis on delegating what others can do. I am more and more saying to those around me,  “I am going to concentrate on what I am meant to be doing as PPC.” But in the real world, it never works out that way.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 1 Comment

Being a PPC: building your team

Following last week’s blog on managing my work/life balance as a PPC, I’m writing this week on building a team in a constituency.

I have some expertise in working with volunteers – in the past, I chaired the Parent Teacher Association at my child’s secondary school. Leading a group of volunteers, who each had different amounts of time to give and various reasons for giving that time, was a challenge. Nothing like playground politics among parents!

A team in a local party can be similar – everyone is a volunteer, some with masses of time to give, others with very little time. All are motivated, but have a range of issues behind that motivation. Inspiring your volunteers is a balance between accepting what time they can offer and not asking too much, and learning more about them and why they would like to be involved.

In many constituencies, we run skills audits, finding out what talents people have to offer to pair with what jobs need to be done. I think it is really important to ask what people want to do. It could be they are highly skilled in one area, but that is their day job, and what they really want to do as a volunteer is something different. Having those discussions is important. Allowing people to give time on their terms and in the way they wish is key.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 3 Comments

Today is Young Carers Awareness Day

How many of you know a young carer?

Today we are celebrating the contributions many of our young people make as carers. It is Young Carers Awareness Day.

Caring can take many forms – a sibling caring for another sibling with a learning disability, a child looking after a parent, a young person helping aid a grandparent.

The world of care is diverse and often misunderstood, and many of our young carers are overlooked. They are balancing their care responsibilities with school work and sometimes have little time left over.

One issue I wanted to explore here is the symbiotic value of care. Yes, young carers are taking time to look after their relative, but what do they get in return? Not pay, in most cases. But they do get relationship.

Spending time together, in a care situation, creates an intimacy not found elsewhere. The relationship that develops can be deeper than it would have been without the aspect of care. The dimensions giving and receiving care adds to a relationship are profound.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 1 Comment

Being a PPC: The Work/Life Balance

Following last week’s blog on why I’m a PPC, I’m reflecting this week on the conundrum facing every PPC: how to manage a healthy work/life balance.

I’m starting from the premise that I am a much better PPC when I’m living in a balanced way, finding time for family, walks, reading books and (in my case) going to church. If all I did was politics, 24/7,  I don’t think I’d have perspective.

For many PPCs, it is a real struggle to balance work, downtime and the demands of being a PPC. I can relate. I’m self-employed, so in some respects it’s easier for me as I set my own schedule, and in other ways it’s more difficult in that I keep sacrificing work time for the never-ending asks coming my way.

I’ve managed to record two discs of music since being selected as a PPC in June. It has not been easy. But I am happier because of it. Until I am gainfully employed as a Member of Parliament, I need to keep up my day job – not only as a job, but also because it is who I am at the moment.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 6 Comments

Being a PPC: what’s your motivation?

Caron asked me to write a series a little while ago about being a PPC – and my response at the time was that a day-in-the-life blog might put people off ever applying to be a PPC!

Being a PPC is hard work – we are volunteers and unpaid, but expected to do a huge amount of work building our teams, supporting local elections, sending out press releases, attending local events, answering letters and emails, the list goes on.

However, I willingly signed up to the never-ending work. Why? In my case it was my anger at poor mental health provision coupled with my fury at the inequality in society. Those two issues pushed me over the edge from being an armchair activist to getting out and knocking on doors, trying to make a difference.

I didn’t like door-knocking the first time – I thought I was intruding on people’s privacy by interrupting whatever they happened to be doing. But I quickly found out that most people like being asked their opinion and listened to. What they don’t like about politics is the shouting of Westminster and the perceived lack of understanding about how the real world works. Someone knocking on their door, listening to stories about their world, the real world, means a huge amount to them.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 8 Comments

Parliament debates Mental Health First Aid

The Backbench debate on incorporating Mental Health First Aid into First Aid At Work legislation is scheduled to take place this morning in Parliament.

The Government statement on this is here, with a debate pack pdf link at the bottom entitled, “Mental health first aid in the workplace”.

One of the reasons I entered politics, as a career musician, was my concern over mental health care and the lack of provision for those experiencing mental ill-health.

In March 2015 I successfully amended Liberal Democrat party policy on Mental Health to include incorporating mental health first aid into physical First Aid at Work courses.

Posted in Op-eds and Parliament | Tagged and | 2 Comments

Paddy’s Dangerous Idea No. 2

Following on from my post last week on Paddy’s Dangerous Idea No. 1, I am delving into his second proposal. Paddy argued:

We have long understood that property owning rights are one of the foundation stones of democracy. Yet each of us gives away our most intimate of property free and daily to the most powerful corporations, who make millions and millions from it. I am talking of course, about our personal data.

Why do we Lib Dems not assert the citizens right to own their own data and to have control over how it is used? Why about proposing a law – perhaps a European one – which says to Messrs Amazon, Google, Starbucks etc, that they can use our personal data for their commercial purposes, but only with our permission and if they give us a share of the profits. Can you think of anything which would more alter the relationship between these masters of the commercial universe and the customers whose information they exploit for such enormous profit? Can you think of anything which would more empower the citizen in the market place? Isn’t that what we Lib Dems are supposed to be about? So?

I really like this idea. Ownership of our own data gives us not only control over who does what with our data but means we can expect to be paid if others use our data, especially if they make money from it. It might seem radical, but it makes a lot of sense.

The arguments over whether we own our bodies and separated bodily material have been extensively debated. If we do own our bodies, shouldn’t our data also be owned by us – isn’t our data inherently who we are?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 9 Comments

Championing Freedom of Belief

Jeremy Hunt has ordered a review into the persecution of Christians worldwide. We are fortunate in this country to be able to practice our faiths, or have no faith, whichever the case might be. But in many countries of the world this is not the case. 

Our 2017 General Election manifesto called for the UK to lead on establishing the right to religious freedom around the world:

Appoint an ambassador-level champion for freedom of belief to drive British diplomatic efforts in this field, and campaign for the abolition of

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 22 Comments

Digging deeper into No. 1 of Paddy’s Dangerous Ideas

I think the time has come for us to do a lot more with No. 1 of Paddy’s Dangerous Ideas.

We persist in the medieval practice of taking students to medieval ivy-covered buildings, to receive their education in the medieval manner from minds, too many of which, when it comes to delivering education, are stuck in the middle ages. Yet distance learning was pioneered in Britain at the Open University when communicating with your tutor meant stuffing your academic paper in an envelope, licking it, sticking a stamp on it and putting it in the local post-box.

Today the whole planet is into distance learning. Many of our own Universities make tons of money providing distance learning degree courses to students all over the world. But none of them are in Britain! If we were to convert at least part of our tertiary education syllabus to distance learning we might reduce the cost of degrees without diminishing their quality, give students more flexibility, force lecturers into the modern age, widen access and create a superb platform for adult education all at the same time.

Why, beloved Lib Dems, do we allow medieval vested interests to preserve our ivy-covered tertiary education system exactly as it is, loading more and more debt on students and preventing us from doing what much of the rest of the world is doing already? Just asking?

This idea has come back to me in North Devon. A local councillor in South Molton, not realising that it was one of Paddy’s Dangerous Ideas, spoke to me at length about how wonderful the Open University was. How in places like North Devon, where there are no universities, and a real lack of opportunity to advance skills, one can still access the Open University and get a degree. He asked me, how can we build on this model and enable everyone in North Devon to upskill and train?

I am suggesting that one of our best ways of honouring Paddy is to bring some of his Dangerous Ideas into fruition.

Let’s champion life-long learning, as Vince has promoted, by building online learning platforms so that people, whether they live in North Devon or in Shetland, can achieve the same level of accreditation and training as those who live in cities. Let’s put in place 21st-century methods of education, and not be stuck in the medieval model of tutorials and physical lectures.

We have a real opportunity to lead here and I think it is a fantastic opportunity for us. Promoting virtual education is education-for-all, not just those who can take time off for university or afford three years of tuition without working at the same time.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 26 Comments

LibLink: Sal talks about International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Yesterday was International Day of Persons with Disabilities and Lib Dem President Sal Brinton wrote a blog highlighting issues disabled people face. It begins:

I am very aware that one billion people around the world live with a disability – that’s roughly 15% of the global population. I am one of them, mainly using a wheelchair and sometimes walking with sticks. I could have written something smooth and supportive, but I am angry at having to be an afterthought in our society today.

I’ll be frank. Most people are not aware of the daily barriers and difficulties that we face, whether it is the benefits system using the medical model of disability, making decisions about us that bear no relation to our lived experience, or travel – whether by bus, train, taxi or plane – where both the companies running transport and the wider public have no idea of how difficult even the simplest journey can be.

As a senior politician, I turn up to event after event around the country, including TV interviews, where I cannot get to the stage or platform. As a traveller, I have been left on trains at 10pm at night, been reduced to tears in airports, been offered an accessible room in a hotel to discover it has a bath, not a shower…. Many other disabled people can add to this tale of frustration!

Sal continues:

I want to thank friends and colleagues who are supportive on social media when I post if things have gone wrong. But we need a more fundamental rethink. People with disabilities need everyone to come on side and help us to change the system.

Posted in LibLink | Tagged | 1 Comment

Happy Thanksgiving!

Plymouth Rock

This is a revised version of last year’s post…

The North American holiday of Thanksgiving was born of tragedy. The Mayflower, filled with settlers from England, docked in Plymouth, Massachusetts in December 1620. Of the 102 passengers and around 30 crew on board, only five women of eighteen survived the winter, and around half the men and crew.

The following spring, the Wampanoag, a native people, taught the incomers which crops were endemic to the New World, and how to fertilise their crops with fish. This act of good will let to a plentiful harvest, and gave the Pilgrims hope that they might survive the next winter.

American Thanksgiving was set as the fourth Thursday in November by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 when he signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday. Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October.

Posted in LDVUSA and Op-eds | Tagged , and | 5 Comments

The rest of us can learn from what the Welsh are doing with education….

Two recent press releases have caught my eye. As PPC for North Devon, a rural economy where, on average, schools get £300 less per pupil than in the rest of England, I am keen on education reform. Key to that is ensuring good teaching and supporting our teachers.

So I was pleased to see that Welsh Lib Dem Education Secretary Kirsty Williams has announced the single biggest investment in Wales’ teachers since devolution. This is through a groundbreaking £24m package to help teachers deliver Wales’ new curriculum. Kirsty says,

This major investment shows how highly we value teachers’ professional learning. It is an investment in excellence and we are aiming for nothing less than a wholesale reform of how teachers learn; a process that starts from the moment they begin initial teacher education and goes right the way through their career.

The National Approach to Professional Learning (NAPL) will focus on flexible ways of learning that don’t disrupt the school day. A much more accessible blend of learning will be available through Wales’ regions and universities. This will encompass learning outside the classroom, online learning, classroom learning and coaching.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds commented,

This announcement is yet another example of the transformational reforms the Welsh Lib Dems are implementing in our national mission to raise standards, reduce the attainment gap and deliver an education system that is a source of national pride and public confidence.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are committed to creating a Wales where every child has the opportunity to achieve their potential and determine their own destiny. This funding will help us realise this vision.

Not only are the Welsh investing in teachers, but they are also protecting rural schools.  Kirsty Williams introduced a new, stronger code last week which includes a presumption against the closure of rural schools. This is part of a wider Rural Education Plan which also includes a Small and Rural Schools Grant.

Posted in Op-eds and Wales | Tagged , , , , and | 6 Comments

God Speed The Plough

One of the pleasures of being a PPC is the opportunity to visit many venues in the run up to Remembrance Day on Sunday.

Last week I had a look around the Flower Festival at St Sabinus’ Church, Woolacombe. Many of the exhibits struck a chord – I, after all, grew up on military bases and appreciate from the inside out the sacrifices women, men and children make in service to their country. The embroidered cards with faded handwritten messages, sent back and forth (yes, some French ones sent home to girlfriends from the front line) were especially poignant.

However, one flower display stood out, and that was the tribute to the Women’s Land Army. “God Speed the Plough” honoured the vital work of women undertaken whilst the nation was at war.

The Women’s Land Army was originally set up in 1917 but then dissolved after the First World War. It was reinstated in 1939 as a voluntary service, and then conscripted women from December 1941. “Land girls” did a variety of jobs on grain, stock and dairy farms, including deployment in an anti-vermin squad (‘rat-catchers’).

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , , and | 4 Comments

The Agriculture Bill is Not Good Enough

At Autumn Conference I had the opportunity to speak with the National Farmers Union, receiving an in-depth briefing on farming issues in North Devon. I have been keenly following the passage of the Agriculture Bill through Parliament, knowing that this legislation will affect thousands of farmers up and down this country.

The Agriculture Bill seeks to provide for a range of enabling powers to ensure “stability” for farmers as the UK exits from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and compliance with the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Agriculture. It also introduces new measures

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 7 Comments

Every day should be Mental Health Awareness Day

We all have mental health, as we all have physical health. That is established.

I welcome World Mental Health Awareness Day – it is great that we can celebrate and work together on better mental health for all. However, we need to recognise that fighting for good mental health provision and raising awareness is a 365-day project.

Suicide is the leading cause of death in men under the age of 45. The Government, yesterday, announced a new role, Minister for Suicide Prevention. Suicide is sadly the final stage in what can be a deterioration of mental health. Regular readers will know that I am a Mental Health First Aider, and as such trained to recognise the signs of someone with suicide ideation. It is not an exact science, but at least I know what to watch out for. Picking up warning signs in colleagues, friends, family is key towards helping those who feel life is too bleak to continue.

Mental Health First Aid is being used by more and more workplaces in their health and well-being strategies. Training line-managers and pastoral care officers to recognise the signs of mental ill-health, whether that is stress, anxiety, depression, psychosis or a range of other conditions, is key to early intervention and prevention.

I welcomed Vince Cable’s demand yesterday for transparency over employers’ mental health strategies. He has called upon businesses to publish their mental health strategies, saying that if they don’t do so voluntarily, then the government should legislate to require such disclosure. Vince said:

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | Leave a comment

North Devon Council passes motion calling for Brexit symposium

There is increasing worry about the impact of Brexit on our local economies and the recognition that it is important to make plans for all eventualities.

Last night, the Lib Dems in Opposition on North Devon (District) Council put forward a motion to examine exactly that:

The impact of Brexit (hard or soft) will affect all North Devon residents. This Council believes that with Brexit fast approaching, it is both sensible and realistic that the potential risks and impact of Brexit on North Devon – good and bad, short term and long term – are fully understood as far as is possible and aired in public together with detailed discussion on how these impacts can be mitigated. To achieve this, this Council undertakes to organize and co-ordinate a public conference/symposium before Christmas in which North Devon’s experts and leaders in business, farming, tourism, education, health and social services and other areas are invited to participate, together with elected representatives at all levels. This council is uniquely placed to lead this initiative by immediately setting up a Cross Party Working Group. The findings and conclusions of the symposium would be presented as a report to full Council and other authorities. Furthermore we request that consideration be given to how this Council can assist businesses etc. before and during the transition period.

I am pleased to say that the motion passed, with support from some Conservatives and Independents who recognised the need for such a symposium.

Cllr David Worden, Leader of the Liberal Democrats on North Devon Council, spoke passionately for the motion:

Whenever we turn on the news or read the newspapers it appears that the headlines are all about Brexit. I don’t want to go into the pros and cons of whether we should or should not leave the EU but I am extremely concerned about the impact of Brexit on the economy of North Devon. We live in one of the most deprived areas of the South West. There are hardly any services which have not been hit by austerity cuts. We simply cannot sit back and let the disastrous No Deal scenario, which seems ever likely, to be upon us, unprepared.

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , and | 2 Comments

My view on our conference motion to end discrimination in mental health care

The problem with conference is that it is impossible to get to everything! I was hoping to speak on Sunday morning in our debate on the policy motion entitled, “Ending Discrimination In Mental Health Provision”. Regular readers of LDV know that mental health policy is an area I feel strongly about, so I am gutted I can’t get there due to a conflict.

 So I’ll blog my speech instead…

Currently, in our country if you are someone without a mental disorder you have an absolute right to refuse medical treatment or refuse to be detained for medical purposes.

However, if you have a mental disorder or have learning difficulties you lose that right and can be detained and treated under the Mental Health Act 1983 without giving consent.

As the charity Mind has pointed out, anyone with capacity who does not have a mental disorder should not be involuntarily detained. Forcibly detaining someone based on disability is completely discriminatory and should be stopped. As this motion says in lines 17-18, such detentions are in breach of the UN Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities.

I am particularly concerned that the Mental Health Act 1983, as amended by the Mental Health Act 2007, justifies the involuntary detention of those with learning difficulties whose behaviour is “abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible”. Behaviours in those with learning difficulties often have unrelated causes (sensory overload, for example), so understanding the cause of such behaviour, and treating the underlying symptoms is what is needed, not involuntary detention.

Posted in Conference and Op-eds | Tagged , and | Leave a comment

Travel for Sport Post-Brexit

Following on from the European Athletics Championships last week in Berlin comes this letter from the Government on the free movement of those involved in sport after Brexit.

It was in answer to a letter from the Chair of the House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee, Lord Jay of Ewelme. It begins,

The Home Affairs Sub-Committee of the House of Lords EU Committee recently concluded an inquiry into Brexit: freedom of movement in the fields of sport and culture. The Committee will publish a report on freedom of movement in the field of culture; this letter refers to the evidence that we took on sport, and asks for elaboration of a number of points that witnesses raised.

The inquiry considered how the UK’s decision to end free movement from the EU might affect the two sectors. We received written evidence from a range of individuals and organisations, and held two oral evidence sessions.

He goes on to ask the following questions:

  • Has the Government made an analysis of the number of EU27 citizens working in the UK sports sector?
  • Has the Government considered the effect of ending free movement on sports such as horseracing?
  • Has the Government assessed whether extra Tier 5 or Tier 2 visas will need to be issued for EU27 sportspeople wishing to enter the UK post-Brexit, and if so, how many extra visas might be needed?
  • How will non-elite EU27 sportspeople enter the UK after the end of the transition period? Will the Government introduce a preferential system for EU27 sportspeople, or will they fall under the rules that currently exist for non-EU sportspeople?
  • How, if at all, will the Government protect what Angus Bujalski called the “business of sport” from any negative effects associated with ending free movement?
  • Has the Government given any consideration to introducing a seasonal workers scheme for EU27 workers in the sports sector?
  • Has the Government assessed how UK sports, from the elite to the grassroots level, would be affected should the UK no longer be able to make use of the Kolpak ruling?
  • The Government’s current proposal is for an “association agreement” with the EU. Under the terms of an association agreement, would UK sportspeople be able to play in EU sports teams as “homegrown” players, post-Brexit? And could EU sportspeople continue to play in the UK as such?
  • How, if at all, will the Government protect what Angus Bujalski called the “business of sport” from any negative effects associated with ending free movement?
  • Has the Government given any consideration to introducing a seasonal workers scheme for EU27 workers in the sports sector?
  • Has the Government assessed how UK sports, from the elite to the grassroots level, would be affected should the UK no longer be able to make use of the Kolpak ruling?
  • The Government’s current proposal is for an “association agreement” with the EU. Under the terms of an association agreement, would UK sportspeople be able to play in EU sports teams as “homegrown” players, post-Brexit? And could EU sportspeople continue to play in the UK as such?
  • How, if at all, does the Government plan to ensure that sportspeople, other sports sector workers, and fans, will be able to travel and work in the EU after the transition period?
  • What will the Government offer to the EU in return?
Posted in Parliament | Tagged , , and | 24 Comments

Make time for football! The social impact of participating in culture and sport

As a professional musician and the mother of a keen athlete, I was interested to learn that the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee are looking into the social impact of participating in culture and sport.

On Tuesday they took evidence from three people: Darren Henley, Chief Executive, Arts Council England; John Herriman, Chief Executive, Greenhouse Sports; and Deborah Williams, Executive Director, Creative Diversity Network. The questions asked were around the power of culture and sport to address deep-seeded social issues.

Deborah Williams made the point that we need a broader understanding of what culture is, that it is not elitist, but that there are a breadth of cultural opportunities available and space for all to participate. She highlighted the need for education to be for the whole child.

Posted in Parliament | Tagged , , and | 4 Comments
Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarMick Taylor 23rd May - 8:39am
    John Marriott. Mt wife and I abandoned the Guardian once it started telling lies about LidDems in government. We took the I for a bit...
  • User AvatarRichard Underhill 23rd May - 8:27am
    The PM's statement on her Brexit bill did not include publication of the details. She intends to bring it to the Commons after the recess....
  • User AvatarJohn Marriott 23rd May - 8:12am
    Interesting that most of the glitterati, who intend to desert their normal parties, Heseltine, Parris, Callow, Cashman, to name just a few, appear to be...
  • User AvatarChristian 23rd May - 8:05am
    I’d be amazed if Change UK carry on after this election. There simply isn’t room in our political system to accommodate them and surely MPs...
  • User AvatarYeovil Yokel 23rd May - 8:02am
    For me it's been a bloody awful 5 years, not 3 - it was the surge by UKIP and the loss of our LD MEP...
  • User AvatarBill le Breton 23rd May - 7:38am
    TonyH - that is a very helpful and politically wise statement by Behr. There are good tactical reasons in many regions/nations to vote Lib Dem....