Author Archives: Kirsten Johnson

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.

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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’).

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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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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?
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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.

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Christine Jardine’s personal story on why we need to legalise cannabis

I was moved to read Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine’s take on the legalisation of cannabis. She has epilepsy and tells her personal story about why she feels legalising medicinal cannabis is necessary.

“The doctors could not then, and cannot even now, offer an explanation as to what caused me to have a major grand mal seizure in my sleep.

For many years, I was afraid to sleep alone if my husband was away in case I had attack and there was nobody there to look after me.”

She also shared the story of a constituent who is desperate for medicinal cannabis for her young son.

Medicinal cannabis has the potential to alleviate the suffering of thousands of children in this country.

Children like my constituent Murray Gray, whose rare myoclonic astatic epilepsy can put him through multiple seizures a day, have their schooling interrupted, their health affected and their families constantly worried for their safety.

Christine’s empathy and angle on this subject is well worth a read. You can find the full article here.

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Parity of esteem for mental health – petition to change Health and Safety legislation

Back in 2016 I wrote a blog explaining my efforts to raise awareness of mental health first aid which led to an Early Day Motion being submitted by Norman Lamb MP.

There is now a further campaign led by MHFA England to change health and safety legislation so that there is parity of esteem between mental and physical first aid. Where’s Your Head At? is calling for every workplace to provide Mental Health First Aid as well as physical first aid.

The call is simple:

By law, all workplaces, schools and colleges must make provision around physical first aid. Why not the same for mental health?

Mental health issues including stress, anxiety and depression are the biggest cause of sickness absence in our society. Mental Health First Aid courses teach people to spot the signs of mental health issues, offer initial help and guide a person towards support. When support and treatment is accessed early, people recover faster and have better outcomes for their health.

Training people in mental health awareness and skills also helps to build an open and supportive culture around mental health. This can stop preventable health issues arising in the first place, and empower people with mental health issues to thrive in work.

We believe that mental and physical health should be treated equally – because we all have mental health. Let’s change the law to reflect this.

Besides the profound benefit this will have to those suffering mental ill-health but remaining unsupported and undiagnosed, changing this legislation will also save businesses an estimated £35 billion per year.

Please consider signing the petition. It can be found here.

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Vince’s IPPR speech

Lib Dem leader Vince Cable MP was invited by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Commission on Economic Justice to speak this morning. You can watch the speech here, with Vince’s bit from 10:38 in.

The entire speech is a long-read for lunchtime, from the end of this blog, but here is an overview of what Vince is calling for when it comes to outsourcing public services, which has come under fire in recent months following the collapse of Carillion and the financial woes of Capita.

Vince’s five-point plan calls …

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82% back increase in taxes to fund NHS

Several NHS stories have caught my eye over the past week, and I wanted to bring them together into a blog that emphasises, yet again, that our NHS needs funding, and needs it soon. I have a heightened awareness now, having travelled the length and breadth of North Devon over recent weeks and seen the lack of provision in the communities there, with the nearest hospital for some being an hour away – and the nearest hospital for many non-urgent appointments being two hours away.

The NHS matters to all of us and needs sorting. We as Lib Dems are proposing a 1p rise in income tax to fund health and social care services. A poll announced yesterday in the Mirror shows that 82% of the population would back a 1p rise in National Insurance to fund the NHS. In answer to the question, “Would you be willing to change your vote in favour of a party who pledged additional NHS funding?” 18% of the respondents said ‘definitely’ and 33% said ‘probably’.

We set out our plan to put 1p on income tax in our 2017 manifesto. Our plan includes an eventual restructuring of National Insurance contributions with ring-fenced money for Health and Social Care. It is party policy that the NHS needs funding and taxes will have to be raised to do it. In the ComRes Mirror poll, almost an equal number of Tory (81%) and Labour (86%) voters agree.

This ComRes poll follows on the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Health Foundation joint report released two weeks ago showing that

Just to keep the NHS providing the level of service it does today will require us to increase spending by an average 3.3% a year for the next 15 years – with slightly bigger increases in the short run to address immediate funding problems.

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Jo Swinson introduces Private Member’s Bill on parental leave

Well done to Lib Dem Deputy Leader Jo Swinson on introducing her Parental Leave and Pay Arrangements Private Member’s Bill yesterday in the Commons. Here she is talking about it:

This bill would require firms which employ more than 250 people to publish their data on parental leave and pay arrangements. As reported in the BBC

Ms Swinson said more than 54,000 women a year lose their jobs because of pregnancy and maternity discrimination, while fathers were worried about taking shared parental leave because of the negative effect on their careers.

Well done Jo on leading the charge! If enacted, this will greatly help parents and prospective parents up and down the country get the support they need from their workplaces.

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Recent stats on caring

I’ve been delving into the Department of Work and Pensions Family Resources Survey 2016/17 published recently. It contains statistics in five broad categories: Income and State Support; Tenure; Disability; Care; and Pensions.

It is the Care statistics which I’d like to highlight today. I’ve written previously on this site about carers, highlighting the prevalence of women doing the majority of care-work around the world.

These recent Family Resources Survey stats show that the largest portion of informal care is for ageing parents. 33% of this care is for parents not living in …

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Shocking refusal of citizenship to former Lib Dem mayor

Lib Dem Inga Lockington, the former mayor of Ipswich, has been refused citizenship. It is covered extensively here.

Inga came to the UK in 1979 when she married her British husband. That resonates with me as I moved to the UK twenty-four years ago when I married my British husband. Inga was given indefinite leave to remain at the time, and has been a resident ever since.

Not only has Inga lived in this country, but she has contributed greatly to community life. She has been a councillor for 19 years, and …

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Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. The theme is this year is stress. Stress can pervade our lives, but one aspect is stress at work. Keeping a mentally-healthy workforce is best for everyone: the employees, the business and the customers.

Being self-employed as a musician, workplace stress has a slightly different connotation. I’m preparing this week for a solo piano recording on Friday. It can be highly stressful and intense, but I’ve done enough of these projects to know how to manage my stress.

And it is in managing stress that workplaces are now realising they need to put provisions in place. Stats show that mental ill-health cost UK businesses £35 billion last year. A massive sum, made up of absences for illness, lost productivity and staff turnover. And it doesn’t take into account the personal cost to each of those who suffer mental ill-health. Mental Health First Aid is being rolled out in many businesses.

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The Learning Disabilities Mortality Review Annual Report

The Learning Disabilities Mortality Review Annual Report was published recently by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership. In it are harrowing statistics of people with learning disabilities dying far too young.

The report highlights the extraordinarily high incidences of preventable death. The Connor Sparrowhawk case has brought this to public attention recently: a young man with learning difficulties left in a bath unattended, he drowned whilst having an epileptic fit.

Between July 2016 and November 2017, 1311 deaths were put forward for review, often by a Learning Disability Nurse. Of those, 27% …

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Children’s mental health – the Government is not getting it right

I’m following up my post from February on children’s mental health and the Government’s Green Paper on the issue.  Yesterday, the Education Committee and Health & Social Care Committee issued a joint statement saying that

The Government’s proposed Green Paper on Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health lacks ambition and will provide no help to the majority of those children who desperately need it.

Having three teenage girls, this rams home. The girls tell me of the myriad of mental health issues going on around them – peers self-harming; experiencing psychosis; anorexia; depression; anxiety; the list goes on. This is their world, it is our world, and we are failing our young people.

The Government is rolling out Trailblazer pilot schemes, but it is too little and not being done quickly enough. Hundreds of thousands of children are missing out on the help they need now. I recently spoke with someone who works in CAMHS and she lamented the lack of provision locally for the girls she was working with. Staff know the pressures, parents are living with the pressures, young people are suffering needlessly.

The need for more resource in schools to support young people was highlighted, with the report saying existing CAMHS staff could not do any more than they are already doing. People are stretched to capacity.

Participants in the workshops highlighted exam pressure as being a major cause of mental ill-health. The report suggests the Government needs to commission a study on the effect of our exam-based system on mental health.

Young people excluded from school are far more prone to mental ill-health, but the Green Paper does not address this issue. How can we better meet the needs of these young people?

A major worry for many parents is the transition from children’s to adult mental health services. It is not happening. Young people are falling through the gaps and not receiving the services they need as they enter adulthood. Currently, young people transition at 18, but the report suggests that 25 would be a more appropriate age. What is scary is that seemingly a third of young people drop out of mental health care when they turn 18 and don’t make the transfer to adult services.

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And Music Services continue to be cut…

Lib Dem MP Stephen Lloyd is supporting a campaign to save the East Sussex Music Service. He wrote in his newsletter:

Sadly the budget cuts just keep rolling in from East Sussex County Council, and they’re now planning severe reductions to our music services.

The absolutely brilliant East Sussex Music Service (ESMS) are celebrating their 84th year; they deliver music lessons to around 7000 children in schools across the county per annum and 1000 children, aged between 4 and 18, attend area music centres each week. Despite this success, the county council have announced plans are being made to close the music instrumental service by 2019. This will result in the loss of valued music provision for many and destroy a service which has introduced thousands of Eastbourne children to music over the decades.

I believe such proposals are unnecessary, wrong and shortsighted. I’ve also been told that staff believe savings can be made without slashing such a much loved music service. We need County Hall to pause, listen to the people they serve and go back to the music staff to ask them how the funding circle can be squared, rather than just propose a decimation of the entire instrument teaching provision. A decision which if it goes through, will be horrendously difficult to reverse. Please join me in opposing this cut by signing the online petition here.

I remember being amazed when studying the music systems of Albania under Enver Hoxha’s regime, that every child, from nursery onwards, was taught music. By the age of four, those showing talent were given individual lessons. By the age of six, some children were learning two instruments. Music was a celebrated part of culture, not a sideline. I wondered why we didn’t do the same.

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It’s Election Day!

Good luck to all our candidates up and down the country! We wish you and your teams well for what will be a very long and exhausting day. Some tips to survive:

  1. Have fun! There is nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of getting out the vote on election day and all the excitement of the count. Make sure you enjoy as much of it as you can. It is a wonderful experience which many of our new members are having for the first time.
  2. Hydrate. Drink lots of water, it’s a long day and brains as well as body need to be kept alert and oiled for action.
  3. Listen to your Committee Room manager or Campaign Organiser. They will have an overview of how things are going and will be targeting resources where they matter.
  4. Have some downtime and take short breaks, but don’t distract others who might be beavering away.
  5. Make sure you eat. It’s a bit like the television show 24 where the characters never seemed to stop to eat. An election day can be like that. Eat healthy carbs and avoid too many chocolate bars and cakes. The sweet rush lasts a little while, but sandwiches and bananas give you the endurance to last the day.

Remember to vote – it is easy to become distracted with election day chaos and forget! I remember my first election campaign, getting to the polling station at 9:45pm as I had left voting until the end. Well actually, I forgot. Someone reminded me. So do cast your vote!

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Rise of Foodbank Use Linked to Universal Credit

I’ve just spent some time reading Early Warnings, Universal Credit and Foodbanks. In it, the Trussell Trust reveals the rise of foodbanks linked to the roll-out of Universal Credit.

The statistics are sobering. From April 2017 to March 2018, the Trussell Trust’s foodbank network supplied 1,332,952 three-day emergency food supplies. This was a 13% increase from the year before. Of these, 484,026 supplies went to children.

I will pause and let you process that.

Our families are so hard up, not being given enough money to live on, that almost half a million children have been found in need of emergency food supplies.

The main reasons for being referred to a food bank were:

  1. low income (on benefits, not earning)
  2. benefit delay
  3. benefit change
  4. debt

I have argued before that a universal basic income would remove the first three reasons – if everyone in the country gets enough to live on, you eradicate the lowest level of poverty instantly. UBI does not need to be high – £4500 has been shown to be a workable figure which keeps food on the table for families, removing children from extreme poverty.

The Trussell Trust shows the figures going back to 2012-13, when the number of 3-day emergency supply packs given out was 346,992. Almost four times as many packs are being given out now.

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We need to ban upskirting

Lib Dem members yesterday would have received an email from our Bath MP Wera Hobhouse asking for support in her campaign to get upskirting banned.

If you want to sign the petition, the link is here.

What is upskirting? The OED defines it as “the action or practice of surreptitiously taking photos or videos at an angle so as to see up a woman’s skirt or dress.”

It is sickening and appalling that people even think they have the right to do this!

Wera is calling for upskirting to be made a criminal …

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New report out shows more paediatric consultants needed

As a mother of three, we have been to A & E more times than I would have liked and have had help from paediatricians and other consultants. The NHS is wonderful!

But sorely understaffed.

A report out today by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, “Facing the Future Audit 2017”, has recommended drastic increases in staff to meet need. Up to 752 more paediatric consultants are required across the UK: 520-554 in England; 84-110 in Scotland; 84–91 in Wales; and 30-31 in Northern Ireland.

There are clearly not enough paediatric consultants …

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New Committee report out saying tenants needed more protection

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has released a report today saying that the “most vulnerable tenants need greater legal protections from retaliatory evictions, rent increases and harassment so they are fully empowered to pursue complaints about repairs and maintenance in their homes.”

This report on the private rented sector found that many properties were sub-standard, calling on the Government to address the ‘clear power imbalance’, with

tenants often unwilling to complain to landlords about conditions in their homes such as excess cold, mould or faulty wiring.

I am appalled that this …

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Inequality – it’s getting worse

The Office for National Statistics published data yesterday on economic well being. One of the main points from the ONS report was on household property wealth. This data shows that we now have even more inequality between generations. The report reads

The gap in net household property wealth between those aged 30 to 32 and 60 to 62 years has widened in the last 10 years; the net household property wealth of those aged 60 to 62 years was six times that of those aged 30 to 32 years during July 2006 to June 2008, however, this difference increased to 17 times by July 2014 to June 2016.

Also, research showed that consumers’ perceptions of their own financial situation has worsened for three consecutive quarters.

In Quarter 4 2017, the average aggregate balance was negative 1.6 – a decrease from positive 0.7 recorded in Quarter 4 2016. The chart shows a steady drop over the last two years.

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Brexit: what will happen to the European Social Fund?

The Work and Pensions Committee has been conducting an inquiry into the future of the European Social Fund.

This fund provides £500 million each year

“for employment support programmes for people who struggle to access and benefit from mainstream support.  This includes disabled people, ex-offenders, and the long-term unemployed.

The future of ESF-type funding after Brexit is currently uncertain. Leaving the European Union could offer the UK an opportunity to design its own, improved version of the funding. The Committee is considering the case for a successor fund to the ESF, and what this fund might look like.

The report released yesterday says the government will create a UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) which “will serve a similar purpose to the existing European Structural and Investment Funds (ESI—of which ESF is one)”.

But will it?

Witnesses in the inquiry emphasised that the transition between European Social Fund monies and future funding must be “seamless and immediate”. A gap in funding would be a ‘nightmare scenario”. 

Just one example given was the testimony by Steve Hawkins, Chief Executive of Pluss. This is a Community Interest Company who supports people with disabilities in finding employment. Mr Hawkins outlined some of the issues faced:

Rural isolation, for example, where people are further away and require additional support, whether it be housing issues, transportation needs, training or confidence building, a whole range of things that need to be addressed fundamentally before they are in a position to sit in front of an interview panel and secure a job.

The Work and Pensions Committee says:

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Sure Start centre closures hit vulnerable families hardest

One of my main election platforms last year when running for Oxfordshire County Council was the closure of our local children’s centre. I’m glad to report that it has re-opened as a community initiative, run by a committee of volunteers.

But that is not the case in many areas of the country. Research published today by the Sutton Trust and conducted by academics from Oxford University shows that as many as 1,000 Sure Start centres have closed since 2009, with 69% of local authorities reporting a budget decrease in the last two years.

Professor Kathy Silva, one of the authors of the “Stop Start” report, writes

We surveyed local authorities across the country and found reductions in senior staff and ‘hollowing out’ of open-access services, the kinds of non-stigmatising activities aimed at all families in the surrounding neighbourhood and not just those on the books of Social Services.

…Hard-pressed local authority officials described that cuts necessitated a major shift away from open access activities such as Stay & Play or Rhyme Time, to statutory duties of child protection or social work support for families whose children are ‘at risk’.

‘Stop Start’ has five key recommendations, one of which is

Children’s centres should reconnect with their original purpose. Shifting the balance too far towards referred children and families, away from open access, and merging children’s centres into preventative teams working with a very much wider age group, serves a very different function and requires very different skills. It does not seem to fit well under the label of a local ‘children’s centre’. A good mix of children is important for social mobility and children’s social development.

This report follows on last year’s paper Closing Gaps Early, which analysed the role of early years policy in promoting social mobility. As the party who introduced free school meals, the pupil premium and shared parental leave, we understand that children need a good start in life. Equalising opportunity is key in fighting societal inequalities. The Closing Gaps Early report states:

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The dire state of mental health services

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s recent report on mental health provision is damning.

Titled Maintaining momentum: driving improvements in mental health care, Rob Behrens’ analysis confirms what we already know: mental health services are in crisis and people are suffering and dying because of it.

The case studies are harrowing. Mr Behrens’ says:

The cases highlighted in this report starkly illustrate the human cost of service failures. These cases are not isolated examples. They are symptomatic of persistent problems we see time and again in our complaints casework and, moreover, they represent failings throughout the care pathway.

In the most severe cases,

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Bercow, Ten Years On – the #SLCN campaign

I CAN, the children’s communication charity, and The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists have launched Bercow: Ten Years On. This report delves into the support, or lack of support, children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) receive in England.

Over 2,500 people were consulted about speech and language therapy provision for children and young people. Only 15% thought that adequate speech and language therapy is provided.

Why is this a liberal issue? Well, we advocate free speech, in its many forms, one of which is oral. If we do not help children and young people with speech and language difficulties, they face a lifetime of communication hindrance.

We, as Lib Dems, also want to give children the best start in life. We are behind free school meals, the Pupil Premium and shared parental leave, so we should also get behind the call to improve speech and language services so that these children can better engage with education, more easily make friends and have communication skills for life.

Only 50% of children and young people with speech and language communication difficulties are identified. So one of the calls in this report is for early diagnosis and early intervention.

I was surprised to learn that 60% of young offenders in England have been found to have speech and language communication needs. With early intervention, many of these young people would not have communication difficulties.

Some of the recommendations of what must be done to improve the situation at a local and national level address social mobility:

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It’s International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world. The theme this year is #PressforProgress. One startling fact: the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report shows that gender parity is 217 years away!

And on to harassment in its many forms – our own Wera Hobhouse MP is calling on the government to make upskirting a criminal offence as reported by Caron on Tuesday. Wera says,

The fact that this is not a sexual offence in England baffles me, as much as it horrifies me. In Scotland upskirting was made an offence back in 2009. There is simply no excuse for ignoring this issue any longer.

Relying on outraging public decency is absurd. It should not matter how public it was or who else saw it. The law should focus on the individual victims and the crime committed against them. It is their body that is being taken advantage of without their consent.

But true equality is about resolving power inequality. Professor Mary Beard’s latest book, Women and Power, discusses the structures inherent in society which need to change. In discussions with a friend this week we realised that until we get most histories written by women, most laws written by women, society governed by women in the majority at every level, we will never achieve gender equality. The world is not only run predominantly by men but is also contextualised in books, histories, films, etc., by men. The whole world is skewed by a man’s perspective on everything. Living is framed by men.

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  • User AvatarDavid Raw 16th Nov - 10:45pm
    To be frank, Congressman Cherin, I'm getting pretty fed up with people putting a gloss on things and pretending that a cruel disaster (UC) is...
  • User AvatarChris Bertram 16th Nov - 10:19pm
    I have seen an explanation of possible reasons for the Dursley result. I have copied them to the private forum, so if you want to...
  • User AvatarDavid Walsh 16th Nov - 9:53pm
    Great to hear this is available. Anything that brings down barriers, making things equal for all, is a step in the right direction. There's so...
  • User Avatarmarcstevens 16th Nov - 9:52pm
    Good results in all 3 seats except for Stroud DC where there was a collapse in vote share from 24.1%. It would be good to...
  • User AvatarSean Hyland 16th Nov - 9:52pm
    The day Charles Kennedy was forced to step down was the day I left the party.
  • User AvatarGraham Evans 16th Nov - 9:21pm
    @ David Raw. Yes, indeed. Surely someone from LDV should find out what went wrong in Stroud.