Tag Archives: poverty

A Fairer Share for All – a missed opportunity

At our Conference next month we will be discussing the policy motion and paper A Fairer Share For All.

What I particularly like is the policy to have “a £50 billion capital Rebalancing Fund to address the historic investment disparities between our regions and nations”. (I proposed a motion on poverty last year and it included a Rebalancing Fund but it was rejected by Federal Conference Committee.) 

The policy paper is not radical enough. It does not call for the end of relative poverty in any timescale. Also it does not include all of our existing policies as set out in our 2017 manifesto, such as reversing the cuts to Employment and Support Allowance for those in the Work Related Activity Group; 

It is unclear about what it wants to increase the benefit levels by. Existing policy is to increase benefits by the CPI rate of inflation each year, but the policy paper only states we would consider this “if more needs to be done (2.2.15 and 2.2.16). Other policies in this category are restoring the benefit level to its 2015 real value and increasing it by the increase in median earnings if higher than the CPI rate of inflation (2.2.16). 

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It’s worse than you think

The other main British parties don’t care enough. Do we?

About the plight of ordinary working families with insufficient income to keep bread on the table. The distress of troubled teenagers unable to find a quick response to mental health problems. The struggle to make ends meet for single mothers with more than two children. The worry of people with disabilities facing proving again their need for Personal Independence Payments. The hopelessness of people losing their homes because of delays in Universal Credit payments. The alienation of young people who can’t see a future beyond gang culture and drugs. And the despair of people in dead-end ill-paid jobs or ill and alone at home who can’t see any prospect of their life ever getting better.

There are all these people struggling in Britain today, yet we have a Conservative government indifferent to them. Indifferent to what people have gone through with the austerity of the last few years, to the rising poverty levels, and to the expectation that the standard of living for ordinary people will worsen if Brexit happens, with or without a deal.

Professor Alston, the UN Rapporteur of extreme poverty, put his finger on it in his Statement, after his 11-day fact-finding tour of Britain last November.

In the Introduction, after describing in devastating detail the situation he had found here, he wrote, “It is the underlying values and the ethos shaping the design and implementation of specific measures that have generated the greatest problems. The government has made no secret of its determination to change the value system to focus more on individual responsibility, to place major limits on government support, and to pursue a single-minded focus on getting people into employment at all costs. Many aspects of this program are legitimate matters for political contestation, but it is the mentality that has informed many of the reforms that has brought the most misery and wrought the most harm to the fabric of British society. British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach.”

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The best way to answer Coalition guilt-shaming is to challenge austerity and poverty today, head-on

The election of a new Liberal Democrat leader has been followed by a predictable burst of accusations and guilt-shaming – mostly, but not only, from Labour sources – regarding the Lib Dems’ part in the Coalition, cuts and austerity. Responses on Liberal Democrat Voice and in other Lib Dem groups have often followed a familiar pattern too. A fair amount of irritated defensiveness. A lot of detailed discussion of the financial situation in 2010, deficit levels, etc. Sometimes a feel of this being a rather theoretical economic argument a bit far away, only raised to torment us.

I think this is to miss the point. The best way to get over endless guilt-shaming and raking-over of the Coalition is not to get sucked into circular arguments over just what part any Lib Dem minister played in this or that decision in 2014 but to say very clearly we’ve moved on, there are urgent matters to be dealt with, and that today, in the here and now, 2019, the Liberal Democrats see poverty as a real crisis, care about it and are prepared to tackle it.

What doesn’t leap out from current Lib Dem responses is any sense of urgency. An urgent awareness that there is an atrocious crisis of poverty in this country, and it’s getting worse. Galloping homelessness, thousands dependent on food banks, more and more people in work but so poorly paid and so insecure they barely keep going. Public health indicators that had been improving for decades now stalled or going backwards, as the United Nations’ Alston Report on Poverty in the UK highlighted.

And behind this worsening poverty are some very old ideas, like the assumption that anyone in need of support is potentially a ‘scrounger’ culpable for their own poverty who needs to be kept in check through such things as the benefit sanctions regime.

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Leadership and the C-word

Venn diagram of Lib Dem/Tory influence on Coalition policies“Two non-entities” – the curt analysis of historian David Starkey on the Lib Dem leadership race seems unduly harsh. But as a semidetached

Lib Dem looking for an excuse to reattach I have at the very least been struck by just how similar the two Lib Dem leadership candidates are.

The Lib Dems are now a very new and fresh party in the sense that most members have joined in very recent years or even months. For those of us with decades of libdemmery under our belts, Ed Davey and Jo Swinson almost feel like extended family. They are resilient folk who have been around for ages. Both of them are very much to be admired for withstanding the humiliation of losing their seats and then clawing those seats back.

White, middle-class, Oxbridge/Russell group, neither at first sight really exude life’s hard knocks. In fact, both have put forward moving accounts of just how searing real life can be. Jo Swinson’s speech in Parliament on combining politics and early motherhood was an astonishingly frank tour de force. Ed Davey’s poignant radio interview on his experience of early bereavement was truly memorable.

But, and it’s a very big but, how do we process their work in coalition? There is a poverty of debate in the party about the Coalition and about… err… poverty. The Lib Dems dropped austerity unceremoniously in 2015 (almost as suddenly as it was adopted back in 2010) and by 2017 it was almost as if the Coalition had never happened.

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It’s time for us to prove our progressive credentials

We want to hang on to the Remain voters who flocked to us in the Euro elections. We believe that our party could radically change our conflicted country for the better, while we see that the two main parties at present are, in the expressive vernacular, of as much use as a fart in a bottle.

This husk of a government continues to do harm. As if it were not enough that Chancellor Philip Hammond ignored the poorest in his March Spring Statement despite bumper tax receipts, the continuing impact of the roll-out of Universal Credit, the two-child limit on some welfare payments and the continuing benefits freeze will, according to research by experts, cause a big increase in families unable to make ends meet this year. Cover-up attempts by Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd to alleviate the effects have done little. For example, repaying the advance payments for UC will plunge one in ten low-pay households into deficit. Although UC has made 56% of households better-off by £172 a month, 40% are worse off and will lose an average of £181.

Amber Rudd’s latest wheeze to stem the flow of criticism is denial. She is to complain to the UN about the final UK report of its Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, which was published last month, apparently on the grounds that his personal fact-finding tour was only eleven days long and his conclusions on the Government’s approach to tackling poverty are ‘completely inaccurate’. The 20-page report, which upholds the statement made in November discussed here in LDV is in fact extensively referenced by many authoritative public bodies. 

The report’s summary points out that one-fifth of Britain’s population, 14m.people, live in poverty, and that the policies of austerity introduced since 2010 continue largely unabated. Its final conclusion is that Brexit presents an opportunity to reimagine what the UK stands for, and that recognition of social rights and social inclusion rather than marginalization of the working poor and the unemployed should be the guiding principle of social policy. The report combines recommendations of practical steps to tackle poverty with humane proposals for restoring our social contract.

So, its fourth recommendation demands reversal of the “regressive measures” pointed out by experts and ignored by the Government  (see above) –  continuation of the benefits freeze, the two-child limit, the benefit cap, and the reduction of housing benefit including for under-occupied rental housing. This is already Liberal Democrat policy, and we would also support the recommendation to eliminate the five-week delay in receiving UC benefits.

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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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You’re on free school meals – you can’t have that

Frustrations are ten a penny in politics at the moment as Parliament blunders its way through Brexit.

Few things are as heartbreaking, though, as some of the experiences outlined in this Guardian article at the weekend.

In the fifth richest country in the world, children describe the pain and embarrassment of being poor. This should not happen.

Maddy, 16, described her embarrassment at being identified as being on FSM. “When she was like ‘You can’t get that, you’re free school meals’, like I was really embarrassed ’cos people were waiting behind me, I was kind of like “Oh my God”. And it’s like you’re really restricted to what you can eat with free school meals. So now I just get what I know I’m safe with … so a small baguette and carton of juice.”

The whole point of free school meals is that those who are poorest should be able to have a hot meal once a day.

Have you ever had the experience of there not being enough food in your house to go round everybody? How awful must that be?

Parents often go without food to ensure their children eat. Bryony, 13, said: “If there isn’t enough food, we’ll get it and sometimes mum will go hungry and starve and stuff. Even if it’s not that much food for me and , it’s enough that we’ve actually had something, whereas mum hasn’t, and it gets a bit to the point where we’ll start feeling guilty because mum hasn’t had anything and we’ve had it.”

Time and again the cruel and inhumane policy of “no recourse to public funds” comes up. This is  a policy Lib Dems intend to reverse. It means that some people subject to immigration control cannot get emergency state help even when they need it. That means that if they lose their jobs, they can’t get help with the basics. Earlier this year the Scottish Parliament’s Equality and Human Rights Committee where horrified to discover from Shakti Women’s Aid’s evidence that some women were using pillowcases as nappies because they were destitute. No wonder that the Committee called for a destitution fund to stop things like that.

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Alleviating poverty in our country. How should Liberal Democrats aim to help?

Should Universal Credit simply be abolished? That’s not our policy. .Perhaps we should replace it with a new benefit, National Credit, as suggested here recently by Michael BG. But how about abolishing the Department for Work and Pensions?

That is the radical idea just advanced by a man who worked in national mental health policy for more than ten years, and who latterly was seconded to the DWP for 18 months to advise on mental health across a range of policy issues. 

Tom Pollard of the think-tank Demos has written a short paper, Pathways from Poverty: A case for institutional reform, published by Demos this month. He writes that the Government should consider abolishing the department after its failure to help ill and disabled people out of poverty. He maintains that the DWP is “institutionally and culturally incapable of making the reforms needed to deliver better outcomes for society’s most vulnerable.” 

Referencing the post-war Beveridge social contract, he declares that modern governments have failed to deliver a parallel radical agenda. Specifically, he complains that the DWP has a ‘benefit lens’ where case-handlers perceive employment as a condition for receiving benefits, rather than as a means for enabling claimants to pursue fulfilling work. Speaking at a recent Demos discussion with industry experts and senior parliamentarians, he maintained that for many claimants the problems were not a question of their motivation, but of their disability or illness that impeded their securing work.

His conclusions recall points made by the UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, whose hard-hitting report  was discussed in LDV articles on November19 and 28 and December 2. 

Philip Alston observed a ‘command and control’ approach to Universal Credit which imposed harsh sanctions which the evidence tended to show were counter-productive. He too referred to elements of the Beveridge contract having been overturned, inflicting misery on the poor and the disabled. While discussing practical needs such as the restoration of local authority services, with the viewpoint of a compassionate outsider he also deplored what he saw as a decline in British traditional values of compassion and concern for everyone.

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“Not even a tin of baked beans!” A visitor shows the need for radical reforms.

Ten per cent – TEN PER CENT – of the population of Cumbria are using food banks!

said a fellow church-goer to me in horror, after a Sunday service in a West Cumbrian village church. We were discussing the local bearing of the damning findings by the UN rapporteur Philip Alston, reporting on the effects of austerity policies on Britain today.

After a twelve-day tour of Britain’s towns and cities, Mr Alston, UN expert on extreme poverty and human rights, spoke in stark term about his findings, in London on Friday.

Clearly shocked by what he had found, according to the Independent’s report …

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In full: Vince Cable’s speech on universal credit – how the Lib Dems would tackle poverty

Yesterday Vince Cable gave a speech on tackling poverty to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. He addressed the growing poverty faced by working families and called for changes to Universal Credit – including putting back the £3 billion a year that George Osborne took out with indecent haste the minute we Lib Dems were out of the picture.

He said that the principles behind UC were right, but the implementation was wrong and called for its rollout to be halted until the problems were fixed.

Universal Credit hits Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen at the end of November. This means that thousands of people face a miserable Christmas as the first payments will be made (or not) the week before the holidays.To put people in the position where they can’t afford to pay their rent, heat their homes or put food on the table at the coldest time of the year is cruel.

Vince addressed the issue of a Universal Basic Income. He is sceptical although he can see the attractions. This is something I really want to believe in as so many people that I normally agree with are big fans of the idea. My worry is that it might entrench other forms of inequality as it doesn’t take into account needs of sick and disabled people and couldn’t be set at a high enough level to properly get everyone out of poverty. If someone can show me how that can be done, then I’d be really open to it.

Anyway, here is Vince’s speech in full:

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OPINION – Poverty in the UK

Below are some troubling facts:

  • Over any ten-year period, there have only been two periods of worse wage growth (compared to the last ten years), and that was during the wars;
  • Currently, in the UK people persistently in poverty is equivalent to about 4.6 million;
  • The trussell trust has identified over 1 million people who are given three-day emergency food supplies;
  • The average FTSE chief executive earns 386 times more than a worker on the national living wage (UK living wage is £7.83 per hour);
  • More than 20 per cent of the UK’s working population earn a salary below the living wage;
  • The austerity program has reduced welfare spending, school building programs, spending in local government and increase VAT.

Furthermore, there are many people trapped in the “gig economy” and are working very hard for little reward. As unemployment goes down in the UK, the actual wage earned is also falling. The usual justification for CEO’s earning so much is that only such entrepreneurs create wealth. I believe that they are many who can do and this is not as unique as it is stated (I can think of more examples where CEO’s have raided or destroyed a company that created a world-class enterprise). I do agree that CEO’s should be paid and paid well but for FTSE companies 386 times more than a worker on the national living wage is irresponsible.

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How can we make sure families have enough to live on?

On the Six O’clock News on BBC1 on Thursday there was a report on children living in poverty.

Mark who is a single dad is not working so I suppose we should expect him and his children to be living in poverty. He lost £340 a month because of the benefit cap. It is our policy to abolish the benefit cap but that is not enough to remove Mark and his family out of poverty.

The report correctly states that those who work more than 15 hours are not subject to the benefit cap. Therefore the problem must be the level of benefits.

Corey is working being paid the minimum wage but he and his partner Danielle and their children are living in poverty.

The report states that Corey some months receives no Universal Credit because he can receive two lots of wages in a month. I assume he must be being paid every 4 weeks. On the government web site it states, “If you’re paid weekly, every 2 weeks or every 4 weeks, you’ll receive more than one set of wages during some assessment periods. This means your earnings might be too high for Universal Credit. You’ll be told if they are and whether you’ll need to reapply to continue to get Universal Credit”.

This is a madness. Surely Universal Credit should be paid on the assumption you receive the same amount of wages each week and then if you earn more for a particular week then the amount is adjusted downwards for that week which is being paid on the day of the month allocated to that claimant, but that you don’t end up with no benefit just because there are two pay days in one calendar month.

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The fundamentals of Brexit don’t change – so opposition to it is a matter of principle!

“If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs, then you have seriously misjudged the gravity of the situation” – goes the rather silly adaptation of Kipling’s famous line.

I am not suggesting that Liberal Democrats are losing their heads. But I am suggesting that we are the only British political party that appears to have judged the gravity of the situation on Brexit. For certain, we are the only political party that is brave enough to oppose it explicitly. We know that the least privileged households will be the most harmed by Brexit.

I have …

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Poverty and homelessness figures show how children are being let down

The End Child Poverty Coalition reveals in a report today that in some parts of the country, more than half our children are living in poverty. What a way to treat the next generation!

Lib Dem Education Spokesperson Layla Moran said:

This is an appalling indictment of a Tory Party that are failing to protect the most vulnerable in society.

The gulf between children born in the richest and poorest families is widening, but Theresa May is more preoccupied with the gulf in her cabinet over Brexit.

When we fail our children like this we fail as a society. The government must take action.

Cuts to social security, benefits for people in and out of work and low pay push more and more families into poverty. The roll-out of Universal Credit sees the poorest families lose over a four-figure sum every year. And let’s not forget the benefits freeze – effectively cutting benefits as prices increase. The Benefit Cap was a bad enough idea when it was introduced under the Coalition but the minute we were off the scene the Tories cut it even further. And what is even more terrible about that is that it’s applied directly to the housing cost so that people fall into rent arrears and face eviction and homelessness.

That would explain why figures in Scotland showed that 10% more children were in temporary accommodation last year than the year before. It is absolutely heartbreaking to think of those young lives in turmoil.

Imagine being 8 and being made homeless and having to stay in temporary accommodation, maybe a Bed and Breakfast, with lots of strangers around, with your entire family in one room which is unlikely to be in great shape. 

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How we could abolish relative poverty in five years

Do we want to abolish relative poverty in five years? Here’s one way we could do it.

In December the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published its report UK Poverty 2017

The report states:

14 million people live in poverty in the UK – over one in five of the population. This is made up of eight million working-age adults, four million children and 1.9 million pensioners. 8 million live in families where at least one person is in work.

The question for Liberal Democrats is how can we eliminate relative poverty over the course of a five year Parliament.

The JRF report defines relative poverty as “when a family has an income of less
than 60% of median income for their family type, after housing costs”. They set out levels of income (after Income Tax, National Insurance and housing cost have been deducted) needed for different types of family units:

Family type £ per week, equivalised,

2015/16 prices

Couple with no children 248
Single with no children 144
Couple with two children aged 5 and 14 401
Single with two children aged 5 and 14 297

Source: Households Below Average Income 2015/16, table 2.2db

It is depressing to recognise that poverty among pensioners is increasing (from 13% in 2011/12 to 16% in 2015/16). In 2015/16 the Pension guarantee was set to £151.20 for single people and £230.85 for couples while the pension rates were only £115.95 (single) and £185.45 (couples). To eliminate poverty for couples we could increase the couple rate by 1.5% above the normal increase for 5 years (totally 7.73% compared to a shortfall of 7.43%)

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Does it matter what colour your passport is?

My reaction to the news the other day that blue passports were going to be coming back after Brexit was one of frustration and annoyance.

I am not young by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve never had an old style passport. My first one, issued in 1993, was the burgundy European Union one.

It’s not the colour change that upsets me so much but what it symbolises. Those words European Union signify openness and co-operation. That translates into meaningful rights for me as a citizen. It means that I can travel freely across the EU. It means that I am part of something that protects my rights – even when my own Governments, Scottish and UK, seek to undermine them.

I absolutely cherish those words. The change in passport colour symbolises a retreat from those values.

Tom Brake made the point the other day that there is a huge financial cost to each of us that he put at £721 per passport. That’s based on a £35 billion settlement to the EU divided by 48.5 million passport holders. He said:

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Baroness Olly Grender writes…Give renters fair access to affordable credit #makerentcount

Creditworthiness, yet another poverty gap issue, is one that could be so easily closed.

You’ve paid your rent all your life in full on time. You go online to buy a washing machine. You fill in your credit details. But because you’re renting in social housing, that washing machine will cost you somewhere between £300 and almost £1,000 more than someone with a mortgage.

Over two thirds of renters, in private and social housing, pay their rent. Renters are often managing bills, juggling finances and paying a far higher proportion for their housing costs than many owner-occupiers.

Last week, The Big Issue’s John Bird introduced a Bill to make this fairer. It will mean that rent paid in the past, and council tax, will be included when someone applies for credit. It will ensure that renters have as much of a digital identity as owner-occupiers. It will make rent count.

A version of this scheme has already been set up by Big Issue Invest by using rental data. This brilliant project, the Rental Exchange, is transforming credit freedoms. In almost 80% of cases, tenants can gain an improved credit score when rent data is shared, and the evidence also shows a jump from 39% to 84% in digital identity authentication when rent data is included in credit files.

Fairness for renters was the reason for my Renters Rights Bill last year, which focused particularly on banning tenancy fees to lettings agents. Many Lib Dems got behind it and, thanks to our successful campaign, it’s now a Government Bill.

By 2021, nearly one in four of us will be renters, still paying the poverty premium, currently an additional £1,300 for the basics of energy, phones, white goods and furniture. But people living in poverty must not be forgotten about. The financial system drives renters into the arms of the most unscrupulous lenders, which, in turn, drives a vicious cycle of poverty.

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Changing the mood music of politics: Let’s get angry about poverty and refuse to stand by while papers demonise the poor

I remember the feeling of sadness when I saw these figures from a Scottish Lib Dem freedom of information request. In Christmas 2015, 26,320 adults and 11,200 children were homeless. Those figures are up 8% and 16% respectively in two years. As the party’s housing spokesperson, I wanted to highlight this and, as the photo shows, the story was picked up by the Sun. I said:

It is absolutely heart-breaking to learn that more than 11,000 children were homeless last Christmas. It is intolerable that the number of families without a permanent roof over their head continues to rise.

Across the last three Christmases, 100,000 people were homeless, almost a third of them children.

We judge the strength of a society by how it looks out for its most vulnerable. These figures are a stain on the national conscience.

The Scottish Government have failed the children and families who don’t have stable warm home at Christmas. Many will have been in temporary accommodation but that it hardly a suitable or sustainable way of tackling homeless in the long term. The failure of the SNP to deliver on their previous social housing promises has undoubtedly contributed to this situation.

That is why the Scottish Liberal Democrats will continue to press SNP ministers to get a grip of the housing crisis and increase the number of homes for social rent.

11,200 children would almost fill Scotland’s concert venue, the Hydro. It’s about a fifth of the population of the town where I live. For each of these children, homelessness means insecurity, disruption and uncertainty that limits their life chances. They could be placed anywhere in their local authority area and moved to another part of it at a moment’s notice. Imagine what that feels like to a young child. Being taken away from your familiar surroundings, school and support networks is hard enough once, but what if you have to wait months or even years for a permanent home and are constantly moved. Add to that that you may not be actually accommodated in a house, but in a hotel or hostel, sharing facilities with others. Read this family’s account in the Sun last week, of being made homeless after their father lost his job as a forklift truck driver because of a back injury.

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Willie Rennie talks about solutions to poverty, poor housing and low wages

Holyrood Magazine has been asking Scottish political leaders what they would do to tackle poverty. Here’s his ambitious answer to a question about whether the Scottish Government’s child poverty targets (less than 10% in relative poverty and 5% in absolute poverty by 2030) were acceptable:

Any child in poverty is unacceptable and any government should be working towards eradicating poverty altogether. Obviously, that is quite a challenge but we should set ourselves to be that ambitious. ​

And if we had to pay more taxes to ensure that? His answer isn’t surprising given that he’s the only Scottish leader to propose a rise in income tax for a “transformational” investment in education.

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A policy solution to poverty-promoting pre-payment meters

It is frequently asked how we reach the lower paid and those in poverty who have made up a large proportion of whose who may have been disenfranchised or chosen to vote for UKIP in the past. A big part is about getting the message across in a way which isn’t patronising or condescending but it’s also the day to day issues that need addressing. Liberal democrat policies need to be addressing these issues.

Those who have struggled financially, having fallen in to arrears, or are in rented accommodation are highly likely to be placed on pre-payment meters for their energy needs. The BBC today reported that these customers are likely to pay on average £220 more a year than customers who are not on the pre-payment meters.

The Ofgem report released today promised:

Those on pre-payment meters, who are among the most vulnerable and least likely to switch, will be protected by an interim price cap which will save them around £75 a year from next April.

I don’t think this goes far enough, pre-payment tariffs will still average a cost of around £145 more a year and, furthermore, the use of the word ‘interim’ highlights that the cap is not even a permanent reduction to pre-payment tariffs. This potentially means that pre-payment tariffs may become even more unfair after any proposed cap expires.

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In full: Baroness Margaret Sharp’s valedictory Lords speech – on relationship between poor education and poverty

Margaret SharpAs Mark told us yesterday, Margaret Sharp has retired form her position as a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords. Yesterday she made her valedictory speech in a debate on poverty. She emphasised the importance of improving education, making the curriculum more vocationally orientated, as a tool to get people out of poverty. Here is her speech in full:

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for initiating what has proved to be a very timely debate, given the commitment made by our new Prime Minister yesterday evening. I applaud the work the noble Lord has been doing over such a long time with the Big Issue and with fighting poverty. I congratulate him on his determination to use his time in this Chamber to continue that fight

As noble Lords are aware, this is my last speech in this Chamber. I was introduced in October 1998, so I have served nearly 18 years and, as many noble Lords know, I am leaving because my husband has just celebrated his 85th birthday and I want to spend more time doing things with him: going to plays and concerts, travelling, seeing friends, reading books—not papers—and even perhaps watching television more often. In saying farewell, I want to say what a privilege it has been to be a Member of this Chamber over this time and how much I have valued the companionship and intellectual stimulus that it has given me. I would like to add a special note of thanks to the staff of the House: the clerks, many of whom I have got to know through work on Select Committees; the officers under Black Rod who are for ever helpful, patient and courteous; and the catering staff who have looked after me and my guests so well over the years. Thank you very much.

The subject of today’s debate is to take note of the causes of poverty. I have spent much of my time in this Chamber on issues of education, being a Front-Bench spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats between 2000 and 2010 and pursuing in particular the cause of part-time, further and adult education. It therefore seems appropriate that I should say a few words about education, or perhaps more importantly the lack of education, as a cause of poverty. This becomes increasingly relevant in this world of globalisation, where we observe a growing dichotomy between the well-qualified who hold down professional and managerial jobs and those with low or no educational qualifications who move in and out of low-paid jobs, often on zero-hours contracts and earning the minimum wage. Many call it the “hour- glass economy” and it helps to explain the phenomenon we see these days of poverty among those who are fully employed. As I think two other speakers have mentioned—the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, certainly raised it—it is reckoned that 20% of UK full-time employees are in low-paid jobs and 1.5 million children live in families with working parents who do not earn enough to provide for their basic needs.

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Farron: Rise in UK deaths related to hunger a “national scandal”

The Huffington Post reports a rise in the number of deaths in which hunger is a factor in the UK. It’s up from 255 in 2005 to 375 in 2014. In 2013, that figure was even higher at 392.

Tim Farron was horrified to hear this, saying:

This shouldn’t be happening in 21st century Britain and the Government’s response is hopelessly complacent.

We seem to be creating ‘Breadline Britain’ for some of the most vulnerable people in society.

People are living under greater pressure and hearing thousands of people have died, in part, due to malnutrition is a national scandal.

We wonder if there …

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LibLink: David Laws: George Osborne needs to prove his cuts won’t stall improvement in education

As Schools Minister, David Laws introduced the Pupil Premium, extra money for disadvantaged kids in school to help close the attainment gap.

He has written for the Independent to say that the Government needs to do more to ensure that people have a route out of poverty:

The Government also needs a new drive to raise educational standards, and to keep the focus on improving attainment for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds – those who are much more likely to end up in poverty and on benefits. We are not going to address poverty and create opportunity while 60 per cent of young people from poor households fail even to achieve the old and unambitious target to secure five GCSEs at C grade or higher, including English and Maths. This figure is a national disgrace.

The last Government had a strong record on education – with the introduction of the Pupil Premium, swift action to tackle failing schools, and the clean- up of English’s discredited qualifications system. But there is nothing at all to be complacent about. If the country’s main anti-poverty and pro-opportunity strategy is now to rely on education and work, then we have got to do an awful lot more and more intelligently

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Report shows how extensively this country fails vulnerable children

Yesterday the UK’s Children’s Commissioners published a joint report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. It makes very grim reading. If a child is poor, bullied, suffers mental ill health, gets involved with the criminal or immigration systems or suffers the effects of domestic violence, this country simply does not provide them with what they need. I seriously recommend that you read the whole thing because a few headlines from the press doesn’t quite give the flavour of the extent to which we should be ashamed of ourselves.

We can have all the arguments we like about austerity measures and to what extent they were necessary but this report provides an extensive list of the sorts of problems that we liberals should be putting all our energies into solving. Top of my list would be access to justice and reversing the cuts to legal aid that prevent children being properly represented in cases that affect them. Second would be mental health. The range of things that affect young people’s mental health is huge and we need to look at prevention as well as treatment when things do go wrong.

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Opinion: Be ambitious for London – end child poverty, improve child wellbeing

 

While you know London has a booming economy, and is a centre of job and wealth creation, the largest city of one of the world’s largest economies, you may be less aware of the issue of child poverty; it is also a city where significant numbers (over six hundred thousand children, around two fifths of the total) grow up in poverty.

As a political party we need to continue to become more well known for committing to improving children’s lives in our capital and I believe that by drawing attention to this issue we will improve life for all. The present situation has developed, persisted and augmented on the watch of successive London Mayors, whether Labour, Conservative or sometime independent. As a matter of strategic importance to London, there is no question that the issue is the responsibility of the Mayor.

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Have SNP abandoned their plans to reverse welfare reforms?

Nicola Sturgeon gave a speech on tackling poverty today. In it, there is much that I think many Liberal Democrats could agree with.

The First Minister announced that SNP MPs will use their influence after May’s election to:

·  Push for child tax credits and child benefit to be uprated instead of frozen as the Conservatives plan.

·  Promote action that supports in-work families by calling for an increase in the minimum wage to £8.70 by the end of the next parliament.

·  Support an increase in the work allowance – helping those in work benefit from their earnings.

·  Deliver an end to austerity and oppose the renewal of nuclear weapons to help fund a further expansion of childcare.

·  The SNP Government has already extended free childcare provision to 600 hours and has pledged that if re-elected at the next Holyrood election, childcare provision will be extended further still to 1,140 hours per year.

We’ll gloss over the fact that the SNP had to be dragged kicking and screaming to provide better childcare for the poorest 2 year olds. In England, Nick Clegg has made sure that 40% of the poorest 2 year olds get nursery education to give them the best chance in life. It took a persistent and tenacious campaign by Willie Rennie and the Scottish Liberal Democrats before the SNP expanded Scottish provision.

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Why talking about global poverty reduction without talking about economic growth is a mistake

chinese by Kenno McDonnellBetween 1990 and 2010, the proportion of those living in extreme poverty around the world halved (from 43% to 21%), despite significant increases in the global population. Approaching one billion fewer people are living in extreme poverty now than two decades ago. One of the key United Nations Millennium Development Goals was met 5 years early.

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Inequality “narrows” due to Liberal Democrat policies

imageAn interesting report (£)  in the Sunday Times yesterday tells how official figures show that the gap between the richest and poorest is narrowing.

While most people have suffered a squeeze on incomes since Britain was plunged into recession six years ago — and only now is the economy getting back to pre-crisis levels — those on lower incomes have done relatively better than those at the top. Households Below Average Income, an official report published last week, showed income inequality, measured after taking into account housing costs, had fallen to

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Opinion: Time to renounce the Tories’ War on the Poor

William BeveridgeLib Dems don’t need a change of leader. What we need now is a radical change of policies and direction. This starts with a total repudiation of the War on the Poor, waged by Tories through austerity and so-called “welfare reform”. Waged, it must be said, by stealth.

But waged in a manner that should have been more obvious to Lib Dems in Parliament and in government. The cause of this myopia can be debated. What is clear is what occurred while we were looking the other way.

First they came for tenants on benefits living in central London. It destroyed the lives of people who rented homes in boroughs where covetous Conservatives thought they should live

Posted in Op-eds | 78 Comments

Opinion: Are payday loans impoverishing our neighbourhoods?

There is a central moral conundrum at the heart of the payday loan phenomenon.

It is that payday loan companies are designed to help people through what are intended to be unusual and temporary periods of financial difficulty.  Long-term and repeated use of payday loans is seriously expensive.

Yet – and here’s the rub – the business plans of most payday loan companies envisage growth.  Their business purpose, and the purpose of their investors, is to maximise their profits – and this is bound to be at the expense of some of the poorest families and the most vulnerable places.

My report for …

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