Tuesday, 18 April 2017

UK General Election Fever 2017 #AnyoneButTheTories: A Framework For Contemplation.

PM #CruellaDeMay's gone and done it. She's called for a snap General Election to take place on June 8th in an effort to consolidate her power so she and the maniacal Tories can push forward with the Hard Brexit that Remainers like me most definitely didn't want. On the upside, I now have the chance to vote directly against the party that I feel has changed the UK for the worse since May 2015 and the Brexit referendum result:

  •  A party that's introduced policies that harm young people directly, such as the draconian removal of Housing Benefit for 18 to 21 year olds, increase in tuition fees to £9,000 a year, removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance and a party who places a far too narrow emphasis on expanding grammar schools and free schools rather than expanding non-selective school places and increasing per pupil funding  (instead of cutting it by 8% in real terms) to the point where kids who receive free school meals in grammar schools will get free public transport but those in non-selective state-maintained schools will not. The Conservatives haven't pledged to lower the voting age to 16 or establish parity in National Living Wage for those aged 16 and over either. 
  • A party that cares little for those on the National Living Wage who are struggling to afford private rents, let alone save up a deposit for their own house or flat. 
  • A party that's failing to address our Social Care crisis. Carer's Allowance is far too low for those who have had to give up full time work to help their relatives to recover or young people aged 16 juggling A Level studies with caring for a terminally ill parent. Is £2bn enough to help relieve pressures in the public social care system that are years in the making? According to the Kings Fund, after 6 years of budget cuts, the number of people able to access publicly funded social care has fallen by at least 26%. The 2% increase in council tax allowable under the Social Care Precept will only benefit better off councils, meaning that some will be struggling to pay the increase in the NLW to care assistants (adding £660m to costs in 2017/18). See more at: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/blog/2017/04/allocating-social-care-funds.
  • A party that's lost its way on NHS policy, with nurses now threatening to strike after years of low pay growth and the unfair removal of their training bursaries and new Private Finance Initiative contracts being signed despite strong public disapproval.
  • A party that has little Arts policy other than deciding not to increase funding to community Arts projects (funding from local councils fell from £89m in 2010 to £69m in 2015 according to the Arts Council) supporting cuts to library services and not facilitating access to arts materials or musical instruments in state-maintained primary schools . Where's the passionate defence of free access to museums, art galleries? Where's the ambition to create bursaries and scholarships for working class artists? 
  • A party that has made little progress on trans and non-binary equality, having refused to commit to reforming the Gender Recognition Act so non-binary and intersex people can use non-binary X markers on their legal documentation or removing the Spousal Veto for married trans people. 
  • A party that threatens House of Lords reform without having a comprehensive plan as how to enact it (maybe they're afraid of abolishing Bishop and hereditary peers as they'd lose Conservative votes in the House). 
Based on what I believe seems to be missing policy wise from the Conservative platform, I've come up with my own interrogative framework that I'll use when deciding who to vote for in the General Election on June 8th:


Arts:
  1. Will you match funding currently coming from the EU (including EU Social Fund) for community Arts projects?
  2. Will you commit to re-staffing our public libraries and ensuring every library has free computer access for 0-18 year olds?
  3. Will you increase funding to Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council? 
  4. Will you introduce an Arts premium for primary school children in England? 
  5. Will you recognise the importance of Dance and Art to the secondary school curriculum and ensure that arts materials are available to every state-maintained school in England?


Health and Social Care:

  1. Will you repeal the disastrous Health and Social Care Act 2012?
  2. Will you pledge to stop signing Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) and find a way to free the NHS from them (e.g. through a National Investment Bank scheme)? 
  3. Will the Nursing Bursary be reinstalled and the £120 registration fee scrapped for new trainee nurses?
  4. Will you conduct a national review into mental health services in England, including looking at expanding funding streams to allow for the recruitment of more permanent psychiatric nurses, psychiatrists and psychologists? 
  5. Will you consider launching a national campaign to fight the stigma of loneliness?
  6. Will public health budgets be protected from further budgetary cuts?
  7. Will the pay freeze on all NHS staff be lifted? 
  8. Will the Social Care budget funding be increased beyond the £2bn already announced in the Spring Budget 2017? 


Young People & Education:

  1. Will you commit to lowering the voting age to 16?
  2. Will you at least protect per pupil funding for state maintained schools in England?
  3. Will you introduce LGBTQIA+ age-appropriate Sex and Relationships Education into all schools regardless of faith?
  4. Will you consider introducing Mental Health awareness training, First Aid training and basic accountancy skills into the National Curriculum?
  5. Will you conduct a review into the feasibility of charitable status for independent schools?
  6. Will you reinstate the Education Maintenance Allowance for 16-19 year olds?
  7. Will you consider reducing the Tuition Fee cap from £9,000 back to £3,000?
  8. Will the 3,000 places offered for PhDs and fellowships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) be available to all students, regardless of nationality?
Employment and The Welfare System:
  1. Will you increase the National Living Wage to £10 an hour and/or establish NLW parity between 18-24 year olds and those over 25?
  2. Will you increase the Apprenticeship Wage?
  3. Will you scrap the 1% pay freeze on public sector workers and increase their pay by 4% in October 2017?
  4. Will you ban exploitative unpaid internships that last over 4 weeks?
  5. Will you ban exploitative zero-hours contracts?
  6. Will you increase penalties for businesses who refuse to pay the NLW, who refuse to treat their workers with dignity and respect by falling foul of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 or who try to avoid paying the correct amount of tax?
  7. Will you scrap employment tribunal fees and re-introduce "dual discrimination" claims?
  8. Will there be pay ratios in place for private firms who want to secure Government contracts? Will they be encouraged to take a minimum of 3 Apprentices on who are British BAME, LGBTQIA+ or disabled to help increase their chances of finding long-term employment?
  9. Will you make changes to the late payment system, including making sure all government contractors pay their suppliers within 30 days?
  10. Will you commit to safeguarding EU-derived employment legislation, including the Working Time Directive 1998 and Agency Worker Regulations 2011? 
  11. Will you maintain the Capital Requirements Directive 2013, which capped the bonuses of some bankers (the bonus can't be more than the yearly salary but can be extended to twice the yearly salary with shareholder approval). 
  12. Will you pledge to fully fund nursery places of 30 hours for parents of 3 and 4 year olds in England? If not, will the policy still apply to those working parents earning over £45,000?
  13. Will you scrap the benefit freeze for out-of-work and in-work benefits including income based Job Seekers Allowance?
  14. Will you reinstall Housing Benefit for 18-21 year olds?
  15. Will you review the benefit Sanction system to make sure that it is fair?
  16. Will you reverse the Personal Independence Payment cuts and scrap the bedroom tax?


Law and Order:
  1. Will you commit to increasing funding for rural policing areas such as Lincolnshire to recruit more frontline police officers and police community support officers?
  2. Will you commit to creating a national campaign to raise awareness of hate crime, including homophobic and transphobic hate crime?
  3. Will you review the Policing and Crime Act 2017 to ensure that collaboration between services does not lead to a reduction in effectiveness?
  4. Will you provide direct funding to help keep domestic abuse and violent shelters open in England and scrap the Housing Benefit cap on them?

    Environment and Housing:
    1. Will you commit to safeguarding existing EU environmental protection policies, including the Birds Directive, Habitats Directive and Air Quality Framework Directive?
    2. Will you end the Badger Cull?
    3. Will you commit to keeping the ban on Fox-Hunting? 
    4. Will you commit to honouring the Paris Agreement on Climate Change?
    5. Will you fund new clean renewable energy projects in Lincolnshire? 
    6. Will you commit to banning fracking? 
    7. Will you commit to reviewing the Common Fisheries Policy to ensure that catch allowances can be co-ordinated effectively with our EU and non-EU neighbours?
    8. Will you provide more funding for coastal communities to help promote local tourism inside and outside the UK?
    9. Will you commit to building social housing in England?
    10. Will you commit to getting more empty homes in inner city areas back into social housing use, through Compulsory Purchase Orders?
    11. Will you commit to enforcing minimum private tenancy agreements of 5 years?
    12. Will you consider looking at private rent caps in areas of high demand?

    LGBTQIA+ Issues:  

    1. Will you protect the Human Rights Act 1998 from being eroded post-Brexit, including the right to freedom of expression? 
    2. Will you commit to a reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (to remove the Spousal Veto, remove the requirement to have a medical diagnosis, remove the requirement for Gender Reporting Panel validation and allow non-binary and intersex people to use X gender markers on legal documentation?)
    3. Will you commit to a reform of the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that people of all different gender identities and intersex people are specifically protected from discrimination?
    4. Will you commit to reviewing the situation of trans healthcare in England, including preventing transphobic abuse, educating GPs about trans issues and increasing the number of Gender Identity Clinics and specialist staff?
    5. Will you commit to funding PrEP and the HPV vaccine for high risk groups, including men who have sex with men in England?
    6. Will you commit to entirely ending the Blood Ban on men who have sex with men? 

    Other: 
    1. Will you pledge to protect Lincolnshire farmers' subsidies beyond 2020?
    2. Will you increase local government funding for the people of Lincolnshire (currently third lowest in the country at £88)?
    3. Will you commit to safeguarding existing EU consumer protection including the Payment Surcharges Regulations 2012 and Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013?
    4. Will you ensure that money raised from the Tampon Tax does not go towards funding Pro-Life charities?
    5. Will you commit to reviewing immigration policy to ensure that it is fair to non-EU and EU migrants?
    6. Will you review UK Asylum policy so that waiting times for application processing are reduced, LGBTQIA+ people aren't forced back to a country where they cannot be openly themselves and detention facilities are fit-for-purpose with gender-neutral facilities in place for non-binary asylum seekers? 
    7. Will you protect the Foreign Aid budget?
    8. Will you commit to scruitinising the terms of the EU deal and not be afraid to ask for it to be amended?
    9. Will you pledge to look at House of Lords reform, to get rid of Bishops and Hereditary peers and use the freed up spaces to increase the number of Crossbench MPs in the House?
    I'll be using this framework to scrutinise Labour, the Lib Dems, Greens and  Women's Equality Party policies and manifestos over the next 51 days. I'll try and share as many thoughts as I can as I work through the mountain of policy proposals that will come through my email inbox, letterbox and revealed through articles and news conferences. As you can see, whilst I am an ardent Remainer I'm prepared to consider policies based on their merit. If Labour can sway me on their Brexit approach, I'll be more likely to vote for them on June 8th but if not, I've got plenty of other partyt options on the Left to consider. What's more important for me to say now is that you should never come to the conclusion that your vote will not matter. Now it's easy for me to say that as I live in a marginal constituency (in fact Lincoln's the oldest intact Parliamentary constituency in the UK) but it's important to exercise your right to vote. Women and men died so that we could have the right to vote regardless of gender, class or disability. If you feel strongly about an issue...any issue, you should use your vote to send a message to the Powers that Be that you care about the future direction of the country, whether we end up Brexiting or not. Brexit's not the only issue of importance on the cards, after all. For me, preserving our cultural Heritage for future generations and increasing access to the Arts for working class children matters to me greatly. That's why I voted for my local Labour City and County Councillor Rosanne Kirk, who helped to set up the Birchwood Youth Theatre in 2013 and protected the Birchwood Library from closing. A party that cares about Arts provision matters more to me than a party who talks about expanding selective schools and privileging STEM subjects above Arts ones. As a working class dyspraxic creative who worked damn hard in a non-selective school to gain the grades they needed to attend a Russell Group university, I care about increasing access to arts materials, drama groups, debating societies so that other working class people with a learning disability can have the same chance or a better chance than I had. I'm just not convinced the Conservatives can deliver on that and that's one major reason why I will go out and vote for the party that can offer a comprehensive education policy in June. 

    So be prepared to stand up for your values. Discuss your ideas and opinions with family and friends. Examine key policies whenever you happen to chance across them on the Internet or in your email box. But most important of all, check to see if you're registered to vote and if not, get yourself on the electoral register here before May 22nd:  https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. This is your chance to have your say. Don't squander it!