Author Archives: Kirsten Johnson

Come to our Lib Dem Voice fringe at lunchtime!

Lib Dem Voice is sponsoring a fringe event (yes, free food!) from 1:00 – 2:30 today at the Highcliff Marriott, Bournemouth, in the Dorchester North room.

Focussing on climate change, our panellists will be asked “What sacrifices are you prepared to make for the planet?”

We have Ed Davey, MP, now Deputy Leader of the party, coming to give his ideas of policy areas that could help shift society’s habits. Joining him will be Baroness Cathy Bakewell, our Lib Dem Lords Spokesperson for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Luke Murphy, Head of IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission; Paul Sheeky from Extinction Rebellion; and Mark Campanale of the Carbon Tracker Initiative.

There will be lots of time for questions to our panellists – and also the opportunity to give your own ideas of what sacrifices you would be willing to make to save our planet.

Please come and be part of the discussion. I hope to see you there!

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Teachers’ voting intention switching to Lib Dems

Check out this link to a recent survey of teachers. When asked how they would vote if a general election were held now, 30% of those surveyed said Lib Dem!

This is remarkable, as 60% in a previous survey said they voted Labour in the 2017 election. The move towards Lib Dems shows we are getting our education policy right – calling for increased funding and reversing school cuts; increased teachers’ pay and allowing teachers to teach rather than being put under unnecessary pressure from inspections; and supporting SEND pupils with increased provision.

You can read more of the Liberal Democrats plan for education here, Demand Better for our Schools.

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Government watchdog confirms the huge scale of the SEND funding crisis

The National Audit Office has today published their investigation into special educational needs support. Entitled “Support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities in England“, it has revealed that more than four in five local authorities are overspending their high needs budget.

A couple of months ago I sent a survey to all headteachers in my constituency asking how education cuts affected their pupils. All the surveys returned highlighted cutbacks in SEND provision as being a huge area of concern.

1.3 million pupils in England are identified as having special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Over a million (79%) do not have Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans.

The NAO report looked at how well pupils with SEND were supported, examining

  • the system for supporting pupils with SEND (Part I);
  • funding, spending and financial sustainability (Part II);
  • the quality of support and experiences of pupils and parents (Part III).

The report is a long read – 60 pages – but includes detailed analysis and charts to outline the current dire state of affairs. The conclusions reached are:

How well pupils with SEND are supported affects their well-being, educational attainment and long-term life prospects….The system for supporting pupils with SEND is not, on current trends, financially sustainable. Many local authorities are failing to live within their high-needs budgets and meet the demand for support. Pressures – such as incentives for mainstream schools to be less inclusive, increased demand for special school places, growing use of independent schools and reductions in per-pupil funding – are making the system less, rather than more, sustainable. The Department needs to act urgently to secure the improvements in quality and sustainability that are needed to achieve value for money.

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Being a PPC with a Snap GE looming….

Needless to say, I have been busy lately! As have been PPCs and candidate selection teams up and down the country with the threat of looming General Election. Exciting times!

This uncertainty plays havoc with our mental health. We all have mental health, as we all have physical health. Not knowing whether one’s life is going to be put on hold in a few hours time for the next six weeks can be extraordinarily stressful.

At our local exec last night our team well-being was raised by a wise and concerned seasoned campaigner. He wanted us to first of all recognise the dangers of a 24/7 campaign and the huge pressure it puts everyone under; and secondly have a way of supporting our activists.

I have been at a lot of training sessions over the years since approved as a PPC in 2014. I can not remember any ALDC or party training in protecting and preserving the health and well-being of our campaigners and activists. There are usually lots of jokes about the junk food we all consume and the weight we gain due to poor hours, lack of sleep and not looking after ourselves – a feeling that our bodies might take a bashing during the campaign but its all worth it in the sacrifice for the Greater Good, i.e. winning.

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Is the Green Paper on Social Care happening or not?

I spent some time yesterday in a long meeting with a local resident. He had cared for his mum for many years and sadly she died. The circumstances leading up to her death and the nursing home care she received tell a grim tale. My local resident called for an investigation and has written numerous letters demanding social care reform. He has written to MPs, Prime Ministers, Parliamentary Health Ombudsmen and the CQC. His activism and call for changes to the system has gone on for fourteen years.

I tell that story to highlight the recent Government announcement that the Social Care Green Paper, which was originally to be published in the summer of 2017, might not be produced after all. There is the suggestion that Boris Johnson’s government might publish a white paper instead.

I think it is all about a General Election – get the white policy paper out with strong proposals so that it looks like the Conservatives are taking action.

However, will it be the right action? The idea of a Green Paper is to bring together experts and have a proper consultation on proposals. One of the things my local resident is calling for is a high-level round-table, cross-party discussion on the best ways forward for social care. There are various views and proposals which should be given careful consideration. I personally like the idea of revisiting the Dilnot Report and capping personal contributions to social care; but I also think basic care should be covered in England as it is in Scotland.

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Radical yet practical ways to improve food production

The RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission has published its final report, setting out radical yet practical ways to improve food production in the face of current challenges. They say

The actions we take in the next ten years, to stop ecosystems collapse, to recover and regenerate nature and to restore people’s health and wellbeing are now critical.

Our Future in the Land makes fifteen recommendations. First, under the headline “Healthy food is every body’s business”, they suggest a greater commitment is needed to growing our own food using sustainable agricultural practices. Increasing UK food production would help reconnect people to nature and boost all of our health and well-being. Further, community food plans should be established, bringing people together to meet their area’s needs.

The second headline, “Farming is a force for change, unleashing a fourth agricultural revolution driven by public values” includes recommendations such as establishing a National Agroecology Development Bank and formulating a ten-year transition plan to fully sustainable farming by 2030. In addition, the report highlights the role of farmers, saying that innovation by farmers should receive more backing and that every farmer should have access to advice through farmer support networks.

The report includes reference to the need to implement the ten elements of Agroecology as set out by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. These were developed by the UN to achieve Zero Hunger and other Sustainable Development Goals. I’m keen on the promoting the Circular and solidarity economy, to

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Lord Roberts is fighting to protect child asylum seekers

On Tuesday, the Lord Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler, asked the following question in the House of Lords:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of Project 17’s report Not Seen, Not Heard: Children’s experiences of the hostile environment.

Liberal Democrat Lord Roger Roberts responded with a speech fully in support of protecting children seeking asylum in this country, extracts of which are here:

I want a world fit for children to live in, a world where the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is respected in all parts. We talk of so many people who, because of various circumstances, do not receive this care. This could be because of famine, disease, conflict, poverty and so much else. I think the UN’s latest figure was that about 66 million people are in some sort of statelessness. There are nearly 100,000 unaccompanied children in Europe alone. I would love to say that we can resolve all these problems and help every child, but we do not have a magic wand. However, we do have the ability to remove many obstacles and transform the world of thousands of children.

On a worldwide scale, in the last two months, the conflict in Syria has led to 544 deaths, 100 of which were children. In the same area, unregistered migrants in Turkey have been rounded up and many have been returned to areas where death is a great possibility. On the other side of the Atlantic, on the Mexico-United States border, we have pictures of a little girl drowning in her father’s arms and we read of the President’s intention to round up unregistered immigrants.

But would the UK treat its asylum seekers any better? If we distance ourselves from Europe and co-operation with European countries, will things be better? If we give up our co-operation with countries such as Italy, Greece and France, will conditions improve? Will the kids have a better life? How will Brexit improve the condition of unaccompanied children in Europe? How will Brexit affect the work of the churches, especially the Catholic Church, and their pan-European activity to help refugees? There are many other organisations which deserve the most wonderful praise for all the work they are doing. They know no borders, but the UK is now guilty, with the whole attitude of the hostile environment, of digging ditches instead of building bridges. We are doing something that in itself will cause children to suffer.

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Government under increasing pressure to fund social care

This blog is a week late – but I’ve been busy! I wanted to highlight the Lords’ Economic Affairs Committee report published July 4th. This cross-party group of Peers calls for an immediate investment of £8 billion pounds into our care services “to restore social care to acceptable standards”.

North Devon, as many areas of the country, has an ageing population. Many move here to retire, and then as they enter their twilight years increasingly rely on stretched care services. I have been meeting with care providers and care users – there is a lot that needs improving in North Devon and it comes down to funding. £8 billion more for our care services nationally would make a real difference in North Devon.

In England, over a million vulnerable older people do not have proper care support. However, in Scotland, where health and social services are a devolved matter, care is free for the over 65s.

Many family and friends in England have caring responsibilities as their loved one does not meet the criteria for social care. This is wrong. The report highlights that most unpaid carers are women. 63% of women who care are aged between 50-64 and care for at least 50 hours a week. Our society is being propped up by the unpaid work of millions of carers.

I welcome another recommendation of the report, notably that a further £7 billion a year should be spent to extend free personal care to all by 2025. This would include help with cooking, washing and dressing. We need an integrated health and care system, with care paid for out of taxes. Any of us could need care at any time – this should not be a lottery where some get good care and others not.

Key findings are here, and include that the lack of funding means “local authorities are paying care providers a far lower rate for local authority-funded care recipients than self-funded care recipients, and those care providers with a high proportion of local authority-funded care recipients are struggling to survive.” North Devon in a nutshell.

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Making a difference – the first Mental Health First Aid Impact Report

I blogged several years ago about my experience of training as a Mental Health First Aider. Since then, I’ve lobbied and worked to bring equal parity of esteem to mental and physical first aid.

So I was keen to read the first Impact Report from Mental Health First Aid England: does MHFA really work?

The statistics which open the report remain shocking. An average of fifteen people per day took their own life in 2017. The approximate cost per year of mental ill-health in England is £105 billion. And that does not include the personal cost of lives changed and relationships altered forever.

Over 140,000 people were trained in Mental Health First Aid in 2018/19. That is from the beginnings of training 9,000 in 2009. To date, over 400,000 people have had mental health first aid training. This includes the full course as well as the bespoke Armed Forces course; the course for those working in Higher Education; and the course for those working with young people.

Many employers now use Mental Health First Aid in training line-managers and promoting well-being in the workplace. The evidence shows that 72 million working days are lost each year due to mental ill-health. Several testimonials in the Impact Report give strength to the argument that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Alan Millbrow of Three UK says,

Mental Health First Aid is an essential part of our well-being strategy…..It has had an immediate positive impact on our people….We are keen to continue to break down barriers.

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The Truth about Europe

I had the opportunity to visit the EU Parliament in Brussels last week with a group of PPCs. We were hosted by Sir Graham Watson, former Lib Dem MEP (1994-2014), and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. Our group heard informative talks by the EU Commission’s Director General of Trade, by the Senior Advisor to Renew Europe (former ALDE) and by the Research Director from the European Policy Centre, amongst others.

Representing a constituency which voted Leave in the EU Referendum, I thought it would be useful to post some of the information sources on the workings of the EU. So much of the 2016 Referendum was shrouded in hearsay and untruths, here are the facts.

There is a great resource online, “What the EU does for me” which has information on EU projects in your area, briefings on EU policies, and a large section on how the EU affects various aspects of daily life. This website is a great place to start.

An issue which came up several times in our discussions was how to combat fake news. There are several websites which tackle the myriad untruths:

And here is a download of the June 2019 report on the EU’s action to fight fake news.

The ‘EU Citizenship Portal’ contains information about people’s rights and how to get involved in EU policy making. The ‘Have Your Say’ portal on the Europa website is for citizens and stakeholders to send their concerns and interests directly to policy-makers and decision makers.

European Citizens’ Initiatives (petitions) allow citizens to initiate legislation themselves, such as was the case with the Right2Water citizens’ initiative. The European Commission responds to all citizen correspondence it receives, in the language of the citizen contacting them.

We all know that in campaigning, emotional appeal works better than facts and figures. So for stories on how the EU makes a difference in people’s lives, check out the #EUandME campaign which includes short films highlighting European values and experiences.

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VIDEO: Campaigning in Brecon is child-friendly – all are welcome!

Lib Dem activist Theo Butt Philip brought his child along to campaign and tells us about the experience here.

From a baby in a front-pack to a teenager with younger legs (I speak from experience) delivering to houses with long drives, bring your children along! Everyone is welcome in Brecon and Radnorshire to win this seat back for the Lib Dems.

And if you can send in toys, books or games to the campaign offices to help keep younger children entertained, the addresses to post to are here:

Llandrindod: Liberal Democrats, Haslemere, Park Crescent, Llandrindod, LD1 6AB

and

Brecon: Liberal Democrats, 26 High Street, Brecon, LD3 7LE.

Happy campaigning!

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Building an inclusive society #LDWeek19

This week is Learning Disability Week. The theme is sport and inclusion.

According to a Mencap survey of 18-35-year-olds, one-third spend less than an hour outside of their homes on a Saturday. Many feel isolated, excluded and lonely. Can you imagine only getting out for an hour and being at home the rest of the day? 49% of the survey respondents want to get out more but can’t.

We have 1.4 million people with learning disability in the UK. They are often marginalised and misunderstood. A lot of work still needs to be done to break down the stigma around learning disability.

Enabling those with learning disability to join in leisure activities such as sport has many benefits. It improves mental and physical health, helps build self-worth and confidence and improves communication and social skills. Additionally, including people with learning disability in leisure provision breaks down barriers and improves social attitudes towards learning disability. Misconceptions around learning disability exist because many people have not met or interacted with someone with a learning disability.

Positive direct contact with people with a learning disability is an effective way of improving attitudes towards them. We found that an inclusive sports programme helped to challenge negative views of people with a learning disability, and created bonds between the participants with and without a learning disability.

As some regular readers will know, I chair the board of the Fragile X Society. Fragile X is the leading genetic cause of learning disability. The Society works to raise awareness of Fragile X and its range of effects on intellectual ability. I have learned a lot, and continue to grow as a person, through my interaction with those with Fragile X.

Building an inclusive society is about having relationships with people who are not like us. It is about being willing to explore and wonder at the gifts every one of us brings to our communities. One lady with Fragile X has the most fantastic sense of humour. She doesn’t get maths, but she can be hilarious, loves the theatre and shopping. Another man loves to talk, go out for meals and kick a football around. Getting to know the person and seeing beyond the disability is key. It enriches all of our lives.

Mencap is running a new survey for adults with learning disability. Here is a link if you or someone you know would like to take part.

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Lib Link: Wera Hobhouse MP on banning exports of plastics

Wera Hobhouse had a piece published on Politics Home yesterday on banning the export of plastics.

It goes without saying that the wealthiest countries, like us, who have the privilege of the means to be able to sustainably deal with waste, need to accept responsibility instead of shipping plastic waste around the world for poorer countries to deal with.

This begins with increasing and developing our recycling facilities. If we cannot recycle it, we shouldn’t be using it. 

In the article, Wera also discusses the Plastic Pollution Bill, presented to Parliament in February by Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael. It sets out to

  • ensure that by 2042 no plastic which is not capable of being recycled is
    produced or used
  • eliminate the use of non-essential plastics by 2025; and
  • progressively reduce plastic pollution.

Just as Lib Dems led on the 5p plastic bag charge, we are leading the fight against plastic pollution and fighting for measures to protect our environment.

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Lib Dems table legislation to tackle air pollution crisis

Air pollution is a big deal in Braunton, North Devon, where a traffic bottleneck (the only way to get to one of the country’s most beautiful beaches) causes terrible air quality problems. So I was pleased to see that today we are tabling legislation to tackle one aspect of air pollution.

Today is World Environment Day, a UN sponsored day where communities around the world are encouraged to #BeatAirPollution. The campaign is drawing attention to all types of air pollution, including household and industrial forms of pollution, air pollution as a result of agriculture practices and waste disposal, and transport pollution.

Wera Hobhouse MP, our Liberal Democrat Climate Change, is tabling a bill to give local authorities more powers to issue fines to idling vehicles. The Vehicle Emissions (Idling Penalties) Bill is a bill

to increase penalties for stationary vehicle idling offences; to grant local authorities increased powers to issue such penalties; and for connected purposes.

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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:

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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.

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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

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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
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