Author Archives: Kirsten Johnson

Housing – where should it go?

I’ve been doing some research into housing as it has become a hot topic in Oxfordshire where I am a county councillor.

Young people want to get on the property ladder but can’t, houses are just not affordable.

Keyworkers wish to take jobs but can’t afford to live locally.

Our social housing register in Oxford city has over 3000 people on it.

There is a housing crisis, but it won’t be solved by landowners building houses which can only be afforded by London commuters.

At the same time, government is pushing for growth in the south – we have a Growth Board in Oxfordshire which comprises all the district, city and county councils, and we have just signed a Growth Deal with government which commits us to building 96K homes in Oxfordshire up to 2031.

But shouldn’t we be growing our economy in the north? The country is already unbalanced, and it will become even more so if plans to build a million more houses along the proposed Oxford to Cambridge Arc proceed. The National Infrastructure Commission report on that proposal is here. On p. 28 there is a chart showing housing planned for 2016-2050: 130K extra houses for Oxfordshire as “additional development required to meet corridor-level housing need”, plus another 70K homes for Oxfordshire required “to reflect pressures from land constrained
markets”.

To get my head around this topic, I’ve been looking at recent government data on where houses need to go across the country as a whole. It includes economic growth and population analysis. Evidently, we don’t need as many houses in Oxfordshire as the last Strategic Housing Market Assessment of 2014 shows. However, all local plans are using the SHMA figures, not latest government figures.

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Autumn Budget – what our Spokespeople say

The Lib Dems have been hot off the mark with what this Autumn Budget doesn’t do.  Here are 7 failures.

And leading Lib Dems have been speaking out about what the budget really means:

Leader of the Lib Dems Vince Cable MP says

Each person in Britain is set to be £687 worse off per year compared to forecasts before the election.

And as living standards are squeezed, the Government is setting aside £3.7bn to cover the cost of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

The Chancellor found more money in the Budget to plan for Brexit than he did for our struggling NHS, schools and police.

Liberal

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Plymouth Rock

Take a moment to be thankful.

For your job, your friends, that you have food to eat and a place to sleep, for the air we breathe and the freedom we have. Be thankful.

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 …

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£18,000 Education Pot – a good idea?

The papers today have been full of Vince Cable’s proposal that all 16-year olds should have access to an £18,000 endowment for education.

Here is an extract from The Sun:

Teenagers should get £18,000 to spend on further education to re-balance inequality between the generations, Sir Vince Cable has said.

The Lib Dem leader today unveiled his plans for an “endowment fund” which would be used for young people to spend throughout their lives.

And from the Daily Telegraph:

A new wealth tax could extract some of the housing value owned by older Brits, which Cable wants to use to give all 18-year olds

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Integrating Physical and Mental Health

There is a new initiative from the King’s Fund on integrating physical and mental health care. They are setting up an “Integrating Physical and Mental Health Care Learning Network”.

The King’s Fund learning networks provide an opportunity for peer-to-peer learning, challenge and information-sharing. Network members have the opportunity to work through local issues with colleagues facing similar challenges. External speakers will share insights on relevant topics, and the group will also draw on expertise from staff at the Fund, as well as our latest research and publications.

This follows on from their 2016 …

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Notes From A New Councillor: Bus Services Motion Passes!

I wanted to post an update to the blog I wrote in August on the poor bus provision in Oxfordshire due to cuts in bus subsidies.

There are two parts to this story – the motion I moved on Tuesday to Full Council which passed unanimously – hooray! – and how I got the motion to its final form.

We’ll start with the second part, as that was the real journey for me as a new councillor.  I had originally submitted this motion for September full council, but we ran out of time …

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5p Cup Charge Might Just Happen

Lib Dems led the way with hugely successful plastic bag charge, leading to a reduction of over 85% in plastic bags, and followed last year with policy to introduce a small charge on disposable coffee cups.

The plans were rejected by government last year, but there appears to have been a U-turn.

Yesterday, Environment Minister Therese Coffey told the environmental audit committee that the government will consider introducing a coffee cup charge to tackle the 2.5 billion disposable cups thrown away each year.

Liberal Democrat Environment Spokesperson Tim Farron commented

It is good to see

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Benefit Cuts Will Increase Child Poverty

A new report just released by the Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that benefit cuts will increase child poverty, especially in the North East and in Wales.

Absolute child poverty would increase by 4%, and three-quarters of that would be linked to the freeze to most working-age benefits and limiting of tax credits and universal credits to two children. Using forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, combined with current benefit plans, the study shows child poverty will increase in each English region and nation of the UK.

Liberal Democrat Work and Pensions Spokesman, Stephen Lloyd MP, says

These figures from

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#NotACompliment, Misogyny and Hate Crimes

Did you know misogyny is not a hate crime? Hate crimes include racial and religious slurs, but not gendered.

The Crown Prosecution service defines hate incident as:

Any incident which the victim, or anyone else, thinks is based on someone’s prejudice towards them because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or because they are transgender.

With #metoo and the more open discussion about omnipresent harassment, such that most of us are guilty of ignoring ‘minor’ incidences rather than acting on them, there is now growing pressure to make misogyny a hate crime.

This is not a new idea. Last year, there was …

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The Fight for Equality Goes On!

I have been inspired by Paul Walter’s excellent series on this site for Black History Month. If you have as well, I encourage you to write a blog for Black History Month and send it in.

American by birth, I am guilty of unconscious bias which permeated through my upbringing. Many people don’t recognise the racism which lies beneath the surface in the way they relate to one other. Of course overt acts of racism make the news, but it is the little interactions and assumptions which bother me, as they are …

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We Are More Unequal Than Ever

My dismay over inequality was one of the two main issues (the other poor mental health care provision) which drove me into politics in 2014. I jumped in with both feet, determined to be a voice for the voiceless and make the world a more equal place.

But here we are in 2017 and the IPPR report just out shows we are more unequal than ever. The report was commissioned by Channel 5 to mark the launch of the second series of Rich House, Poor House, which sees two families from opposite ends of the wealth divide switch places. The …

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The Love of Learning

What are we doing to our young people? Testing them until the joy is out of learning and school is just one tick box after another. The head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, said

The regular taking of test papers does little to increase a child’s ability to comprehend.

We have completely the wrong approach to learning. We need holistic education for our young people, encompassing the widest range of subjects, building character and instilling the love of learning.

This includes the arts. When I was 11, we moved to Missouri. I started at a new junior high school (years 6-7 in the English system) which had a school band. Up to that stage I had played a bit of piano and sung in the church choir. The music teacher asked if I’d like to learn the clarinet as he needed more players in his band. Within three months I was sitting 2nd chair in the clarinet section. I would never have learned an instrument if it hadn’t been for the opportunity at this state school. I remember my parents, who were on a tight budget, scraping money together for some private lessons later that year, costing $4 a lesson.

Years later, I’m a professional musician, wondering where the next generation of musicians is coming from. We need music, and all the arts, as an integral part of our schools. The economic argument is obvious – the creative industries contribute £87.4 billion per year to the economy. We would be denuded as a society without the undergirding of the arts which permeate and enrich our lives.

But I wish to make the moral argument, bringing me back to the opening point of school being too much about testing. Having an arts-inclusive curriculum builds a well-rounded intellect. The brain, when it has to marry the left and right halves in analysing and performing a piece of music, develops physiologically. Attention spans are lengthened when one learns to concentrate on playing your part in a band. Aesthetic awareness is broadened, that life is not about ticking boxes but about beauty, relationships and creativity. Learning to sing together builds community and teaches young people to work together. We learn that coming together produces something more wonderful than striving alone.

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Our New Disability Policy

Have you heard about the Disabled Children’s Partnership? It was launched over the summer by a large group of charities, including Mencap, Contact and The Children’s Trust. The network now links more than fifty organisations who support children with a range of conditions, from the Fragile X Society and the Down’s Syndrome Association to Young Lives with Cancer CLIC Sargent and the Myotonic Dystrophy Support Group.

So how do the Disabled Children’s Partnership priorities tally with our new party disability policy? (Did you know …

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Time To Get Ready For World Mental Health Day

What is your workplace doing on World Mental Health Day? It’s coming up on Tuesday, October 10th, and the theme is Workplace Mental Health.

Ask your boss, line manager and co-workers if anything is planned. If not, do something! There’s still time to organise an event to raise awareness on Tuesday that we all have mental health. De-stigmatising that conversation in the workplace is paramount.

The charity Mind has some excellent tips for improving Workplace Mental Health here. Maybe one of these can be something your office does together …

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