Posts Tagged policy

Social mobility no better under Labour

I remember years ago meeting a councillor from one of the leafier bits of Sheffield.

We compared notes on our patches, including advice surgeries and casework. Most of mine was housing or planning; she agreed about the planning, but said she had hardly any housing casework. It turned out that was because she had hardly any council housing in the ward.

Nowhere’s like that in Islington. Part of the charm, and the challenge, of our community is that all kinds of people live side by side. In my row of council and ex-council flats, there are everyone from young professionals flat-sharing to respectable pensioners, to large families making do on small incomes. We share a postcode but our life chances are all very different. And Labour’s grand plans to tackle social exclusion and inequality, and improve mobility and opportunity, have failed.

As Martin Narey, Chief Executive of Barnardos, reported recently, “Britain today is a society of persistent inequality. The life chances of children remain heavily dependent on the circumstances of their birth. Children born to poorer families have less favourable outcomes across every sphere of life.”

He was writing in his role as independent Chair of the Liberal Democrats’ Social Mobility Commission. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg set up the Commission because as a party we care passionately about social mobility. Many Liberal Democrat supporters from a social democrat background have joined us because they feel angry and betrayed by Labour’s failure to deliver on what could have been a common agenda.

Instead, over the last five years, many of the key indicators of social exclusion have got worse, not better, according to research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Meanwhile, the extra money Labour has put into schools has largely benefitted children from better-off backgrounds. And the poorest families have been excluded from university because of tuition fees. Liberal Democrats are calling for a pupil premium, as extra money to support the poorest pupils, to try and redress the balance.

I’ve blogged before about child poverty. Islington-based charity the Child Poverty Action Group is running the 2 Skint 4 School campaign to highlight how poverty and bad education are linked in a vicious circle.

The waste of opportunity – for individuals and our country – is a tragedy; investing in the best start for young people is the right thing to do morally, socially and economically. The cost of crime, unemployment and poor health from doing nothing, is far greater than the cost of doing the right thing now.


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A better way to go

The Lib Dems on the London Assembly have published their response to the Mayor’s transport policy consultation.

There’s lots of good stuff in there, not least the way the Lib Dem approach links transport needs into Londoners lives, and the challenges of making our city greener, healthier and a nicer place to live, rather than some train-spotter focus on the hardware in isolation.

Did you know that Londoners spend the equivalent of one whole month per year travelling to and from work? Transport policy should be about reducing that, not just allowing more people to join the commuter grind.

As Caroline Pidgeon points out, “We should be developing a capital city where people need to travel less often and less far. This means keeping essential public services like health, police and post offices local, not consolidating them into larger and more distant centres.”

All things that Labour government policy of recent years has undermined.

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Heathrow: Labour dithers while Londoners suffer

The BBC is reporting that a decision on a third runway at Heathrow has been delayed.

Earlier this week I was woken at 5.40am – not by Percy (the cat) or any call of nature but by aircraft noise overhead. You don’t need to live next to Heathrow to be disturbed by it. Andrew Adonis, the new Minister for Transport, is an Islington resident, so he should know all about the noise and nuisance from Heathrow’s flight paths over our borough.

I’ve blogged before about my own opposition to expanding Heathrow. Adding a third runway at Heathrow would be a disaster. It would increase carbon emissions when we need to cut them, and demolish London homes when we need to build more. It will bring many more flights across our skies; but most of the passengers will be in transit, doing nothing for our economy.

As Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg told the anti-expansion rally earlier this year, “the case for extending Heathrow airport is so threadbare it’s embarrassing…. The government will never be taken seriously on climate change until they say no to Heathrow.”

And Lib Dems at every level are doing their bit. Our local MEP Sarah Ludford has taken up the issue with the EU Environment chief. Islington’s Lib Dem Council has joined the 2M group of local authorities opposed to expansion. Now the Government must listen and back down from these disastrous plans.

Lord Adonis must say no to a third runway at Heathrow. If he lets it go ahead, he won’t deserve to sleep at night – and the rest of us won’t be able to.

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Time for fairer taxes

No-one likes paying tax.

I remember the taxi driver who told me he agreed with the Lib Dems on abolishing council tax. “And we’d replace it with a low local income tax,” I added enthusiastically. The cabbie disagreed. “No, no, love, just abolish it, you shouldn’t replace it at all.”

I’m not against tax. I’m one of those who believes that redistributive taxation – funding public services through taxing income and wealth – is the membership fee for a civilised society. But even so, if I’m honest, I don’t enjoy paying a penny more tax than I have to.

And unfair taxes risk losing the support of the general public for essential taxation, especially when everyone is feeling the pinch. We’ve all heard the cases of lowpaid workers paying a higher rate of tax than the company directors whose offices they clean. So the least politicians can do is make sure that the taxes we do pay are fair.

With that in mind, this week Lib Dem shadow chancellor Vince Cable proposed a motion calling for an immediate and substantial cut in income tax to benefit low and middle-income taxpayers, paid for by closing the multi-billion tax loopholes which benefit the very wealthy individuals who profited disproportionately from the economic boom.

That’s exactly the sort of policy that would benefit local people who are lower income taxpayers facing high living costs in Islington. So why did Islington’s Labour MPs vote against it?

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Greener homes for all

Building greener homes should be a priority. It would help fight climate change and fuel poverty at the same time – and create ‘green collar’ jobs. What’s not to like?

So I was interested to be contacted by the National Housing Federation – who represent housing associations – about their ‘Green Homes Now!’ campaign.

The Conservative government banned local authorities from building new council homes; something Labour have done little to change. So new social housing is virtually all built by housing associations (Islington’s an honourable exception). And the government, who control funding to housing associations, are requiring them to hit high green standards, with 25% fewer carbon emissions than required by current building regulations.

That’s fine; but it’s not fair that private developers don’t have to meet the same standards until 2010. Not only is that a missed opportunity for the homes built in the meantime; but it makes it harder and more expensive for the housing associations to do their job.

If you support the National Housing Federation’s campaign for private developers to build to the same environmental standards and timetable as housing associations, then you can sign their petition here.

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Willetts rewrites history

Just heard David Willetts on the radio, touring Birmingham. He was arguing – bizarrely – that the experience of Victorian Birmingham under Joseph Chamberlain shows how the Conservative party is relevant today (and he had a totally uncritical hearing from Evan Davies).

David Willetts pointed to Chamberlain’s powerful role as leader of Birmingham council; how the King Edward foundation opened more schools when their original one was a success; and how the Bourneville chocolate firm, founded by the Quaker Cadbury family, built social housing.

That’s all true. But none of it has anything to do with the Conservatives.

Chamberlain could do great things in Birmingham because the Council was a real power in the city. They ran water and gas, health and housing. The Conservative governments of the 1980s and 1990s deliberately reduced and removed council powers. This has continued under new Labour. Responsibilities that were once given to councils have been taken away and given to unelected or semi-elected bodies instead. And these bodies are accountable to central government, not local voters.

The King Edward Foundation is interesting and unique. It is associated with 7 schools in Birmingham, 2 independent and 5 state grammar schools, the latter with the same ‘voluntary aided’ status as Central Foundation in Islington. Willetts argued that opening more King Edward schools meant the foundation was not exclusive. However they are grammar schools, which entrench social advantage rather than spreading it – as Willetts himself said last year. He got sacked from the education portfolio for sharing that uncomfortable truth with his party.

As for social housing, another item on today’s news is about the shortage of affordable homes. It was the Conservatives who introduced the ‘right to buy’, and prevented councils building new homes to replace those sold. Again, that’s continued under new Labour. And it was Conservative deregulation of financial services that led to first boom, then bust, in the mortgage market, one of the causes of today’s financial crises.

It’s true that Chamberlain started as a Liberal and ended as a Conservative. But Willetts glossed over that everything he was praising came from Chamberlain’s days as a Liberal. Chamberlain joined the Conservatives over the Irish Question (as divisive then as Europe is now) not social policy – and then split them, leading to the Liberal election victory in 1906.

Frankly it’s insulting to Chamberlain to try and claim his Liberal achievements for Cameron and Co. There’s more than a century of difference between Chamberlain and today’s Tories.

ps Chamberlain also has an Islington connection. He lived in Highbury (there’s a plaque on his former home in Highbury Terrace) and named his Birmingham home ‘Highbury’ in tribute.

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Honouring pensioners all year round

Westminster Council is promoting the idea of Silver Sunday; a day to honour older people, in the same way that Mothering Sunday honours mothers.

As their website explains, “It is proposed that Silver Sunday will take place every year on the first Sunday in October, this year on Sunday 5th October. The date will complement the newly adopted United Nations ‘Older People’s Day’ initiative, to take place in the first week in October, and the launch of Age Concern’s ‘Grandparents’ Day’, both of which aim to involve young people across the land in celebrating and valuing our older people.”

No harm in that. But pensioners deserve more than an annual greetings card moment. And that needs action elsewhere in Westminster.

This year marks the centenary of Lloyd George’s “people’s budget” and the foundation of the pension. For the first time, the state would guarantee an income for people too old to work, giving financial security for the poorest pensioners.

Since then, that pension has been eroded. First the Conservatives broke the link with earnings; then Labour reneged on plans to let women pensioners catch up on years of missed earnings. It’s shameful that women and carers, who take time out of earning for themselves to care for others, get penalised by Labour’s pension rules.

At our recent party conference, Liberal Democrats celebrated the achievement in setting up the old age pension; but we also looked forward.

We are demanding a restoration of the link with earnings; a citizen’s pension based on residency not just contributions; and the end of mass means-testing of pensioners, so people get the full benefits of the extra savings they’ve made.

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