Brian Paddick writes… A seat in the House of Lords

When Nick called me to ask if I would be a Peer, he said, amongst other things, that it was time I had my own political platform. So that got me thinking about what my political platform might look like. Here are some initial thoughts.

I know we are in Coalition with them but I can find few redeeming features in Tory economics. Of course work should pay more than benefits but have benefits really have reduced to the level where families have to resort to food banks? Are those with disabilities having to give up independent living and are families being forced into bed and breakfast accommodation because their housing allowance no longer covers their rent? If so, then this cannot be right and seems to me to be a false economy. If you want work to pay more than benefits, then should we not pay workers more?

To some extent we have. Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government have pushed through tax reforms to ensure the 2.7m lowest paid no longer have to pay income tax and standard rate tax payers now pay £700 a year less tax. That’s great, but could we not enforce a ‘Living Wage’ rather than a ‘Minimum Wage’? Workers have been making their contribution to help the recovery from the economic crisis left behind by Labour, so isn’t it time shareholders made theirs? The predicted rise in unemployment when we enforced the ‘Minimum Wage’ did not materialise. Surely big business can afford to shave a little off shareholder dividends in order to pay their workers more? Perhaps changes could be made to employer and employee National Insurance contributions to help small and medium sized enterprises pay a ‘Living Wage’ without going bust. This might mean the rich paying more but is it not time for those with the broadest shoulders to help those less well off, rather than using their broad shoulders to barge them out of the way? Big businesses employing people on zero hours contracts, where the motivation is simply to maximise profit, is morally wrong.

What I would like to see is a decent minimum level of remuneration for those who work and a reasonable (but lower than employment) level of benefits for those who don’t.

Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government have done a lot to support the disadvantaged including £1,200 a year to help with childcare and more money to help pupils from poor backgrounds. We have also restored the inflation link for state pensions to provide dignity in old age. Yet the next most important thing after being paid a decent wage (and we have helped create a million new jobs and over a million new apprenticeships) is having a decent place to live.

Providing help for people to buy their own homes is all very well but the only way to take the heat out of the housing market is to address the imbalance between supply and demand in a way that does not allow buy-to-let investors and the well off to snap-up the few homes that are being built. We need a massive social house-building programme.

When I ran for Mayor of London, we worked out that, if we used publicly-owned land and private investment, we could build high quality homes that could be rented out at low cost in perpetuity. Because the most costly element of building new homes, the cost of the land, could be taken out of the equation, we could still give investors like pension funds a decent return on their money while keeping rents genuinely affordable.

Giving people a decent wage and a decent place to live is not just morally right. It would make this country a far safer place, where very few could genuinely say “what has society ever done for me, so why should I be a good citizen?” It would make government’s attempts to eradicate poverty overseas far more acceptable to those at home and it would completely cut the ground from under the racists and xenophobes who want to blame anyone who is different from themselves for what are, in fact, injustices created by the current system.

The last 13 years of Labour government destroyed the British economy. Now the Liberal Democrats in government are making the economy stronger. The Conservatives have always looked to maintain self-interested inequality. Liberal Democrats are making society fairer but we have a lot more to do and I want to do all I can to make sure that we continue to do exactly that.

* Brian Paddick Is Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Home Affairs. He was Deputy Assistant Commissioner in London's Metropolitan Police Service until 2007, the Lib Dem candidate for the London mayoral election in 2008 and 2012, and a life peer since 2013. He is joint President of LGBT+ Lib Dems.

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  • I am not happy that Brian is being made a lord rather than someone elected to the Interim peers list. I am not familiar with his politics but I am quite impressed by this article. He has a few loyalist sentences but most of article looks away from the coalition and to what we should be doing. While I am not sure about enforcing the Living Wage because I am quite happy with the policy passed this week. I do support increasing the Minimum Wage towards the non-London Living Wage and believe that stating we would move it so that by 2020 the MW will beat least at the non-London LW rate of 2015 would be a good move.

    Brian’s heart seems to be in the right place over welfare and hopefully he wouldn’t vote for the “bedroom tax” and the annual increase for three years below inflation (i.e. 1% pa). Maybe Brian would support increasing the non-working benefits by either 2.5% or the rise in inflation or the rise in earnings (which I think is what we have achieved for pensions). I think non-working benefits are about 60% of the state pension and I don’t understand why someone out of work needs less to live on than a pensioner.

    If Brian is looking at National Insurance hopefully he would support increasing the threshold to the same level as Income Tax.

    Hopefully Brian supports our policy to get 300,000 houses built every year which involves more social housing being built and using Quantitative Easing to give organisations such as housing associations the money to build new social housing.

    Also hopefully Brian will comment on the comments made when he write an article here and will like Lord Greaves post in other articles and engage people in debate here.

  • Brian Paddick 20th Sep '13 - 8:20am

    Amalric. Thank you for your comments. I do hope to engage in debates in this forum. The only factual accuracy point is, because of the (failed) attempt to reform the House of Lords, there was no Interim Peers list that year and the Interim Peers list from 2008 is therefore still current. I was elected top of that list. Be happy!

  • Tony Greaves 20th Sep '13 - 8:43pm

    When are you coming in, Brian? (The sooner the better!)


  • @ Brian Paddick
    Thank you for your post and your correction. I apologise how could I have missed your name and the fact that you came top? I am happy.

    @ Dave
    You are correct that if no Income Tax is paid on the Minimum Wage the level of the Living Wage will fall, but the National Insurance threshold would also need to be raised to the Minimum Wage level before the non-London Living Wage fell to the Minimum Wage. Also as the Minimum Wage does not keep up with real inflation over time the Minimum Wage would still be lower than the non-London Living Wage this is why I talk about getting to the 2015 level in 2020.

    With regard to part-time work I am not convinced as some people would prefer part-time work and the alternative might be split shifts which I think are exploitative forcing an employee to take long breaks but extending the length of the day.

  • Really good article that highlights many of my own major concerns about our society: low wages, lack of social housing and lack of genuinely affordable housing to rent or buy. I hope you will do your best to enact these policies now you are a Lord.

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