10 March 2015

The Importance of the NHS

The NHS has a very special place in my heart and the nation’s heart and rightly so. It is the envy of the world. But by no means is it perfect and there needs to be improvements in certain areas.

The nursing staff and the doctors do a tremendous job under difficult circumstances and with lots of pressure. We need to look at redirecting resources from middle management salaries towards extra front-line staff within the NHS to allow nursing staff to give the best care they can to every patient.

We also need to look at the Accident and Emergency system to ensure there is adequate service for patients to go to so they do not use A&E as their first point of call. By strengthening Out Of Hours availability, Walk-In centres and access to GPs we can help our stretched A&E services.

Mental Health also needs to be held in the same regard as physical health. Steps are already being taken to ensure that they are treated equally.

There also needs to be action taken to help those trusts who are struggling with huge PFI bills that are directing money away from use on treatments. We also need to end the ‘postcode lottery’ for treatments.

However, the one thing that needs to stay the same is the founding principle of the NHS – free at the point of delivery. 

Liberal Democrats have a clear guarantee that the NHS is excluded from the negotiations on TTIP and will not be affected. I will work with colleagues both at Westminster and in the EU to continue to ensure that this guarantee is protected. However, with an election looming, the outcome of the election is uncertain. Because there is no guarantee the Liberal Democrats will be part of the government after the election; a Conservative only government cannot be trusted with the NHS. For this reason, I will be signing the petition to protect the NHS in TTIP today.

26 February 2015

Tax Dodgers are stealing from all of us

Over the last few years we have seen scandal after scandal relating to tax avoidance or evasion. Schemes to avoid paying a fair share of tax are being used by a range of individuals and corporations, from celebrities like Jimmy Carr and Gary Barlow, to multinational corporations like Amazon, Starbucks and Vodafone.

Recently HSBC has been rightly criticised for helping their wealthy customers avoid tax by using Swiss bank accounts. It has been one of the most popular topics raised with me by residents.

Tax evasion is illegal, and since 2010 Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander has toughened the government stance on tax evasion. Nearly £1 billion has been invested in fighting tax evasion and avoidance, reclaiming £7 billion that would otherwise been lost. The number of prosecutions for tax evasion has risen from 165 in 2010/11 to 1,165 in 2014/15.

In contrast, tax avoidance is legal, but it is certainly not in the spirit of the values we hold in this country, that everyone must pay their fair share. Whether it is sheltering schemes used by celebrities or tax loopholes which enable companies to avoid tax, the Government needs to try and keep one step ahead.

Unfortunately, people will always be looking to avoid tax and they often have assistance, therefore I welcome the new regulations proposed by Danny Alexander that individuals or financial institutions that have assisted in avoiding tax will face prosecutions and financial penalties equal to the amount of tax avoided. I hope that these proposals will be accepted by all parties and be able to come into effect before the election.

These people who try to cheat the system are effectively stealing from each and every one of us. We all have a responsibility to our fellow citizens. Tax avoidance and evasion undermines our economy and affects the services we all use such as the NHS, the emergency services and our education system.

By not having that revenue, services will be cut further or hard working families will have to shoulder additional burden which is morally wrong when it is the richest in society who are most able to avoid paying tax, you won’t find many people on modest wages able to do so.

Article for my Lincolnite column - posted by The Lincolnite 25th February

11 February 2015

Mental Health Matters

Last Thursday saw ‘Time to Talk Day’, a day where we were encouraged to spend 5 minutes talking about mental health. It also saw the story emerge that ex-footballer Clarke Carlisle’s attempted suicide in December was a result of his mental health issues.

With one in four people suffering from mental health issues at some point in their lives, it is something that will touch many of us personally through our family, or our own mental health. Yet despite its prevalence, it is a subject too many people are hesitant to discuss.

 With mental health issues affecting so many, until recently there has been a gap in funding for mental health in the NHS. John Lucas, from the charity Mind, sums it up perfectly: “Why does the NHS pull out all the stops to stop me dying of physical health problems, but does not care if I die of mental health problems?”

Therefore I was pleased to hear that Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health minister, made a commitment last October that mental health will have additional funding to ensure it will receive an equal footing as physical health by 2020. For the first time, waiting times for mental health treatments are being introduced in April this year. To put this into context, patients needing talking therapies for conditions like depression will mostly be seen within 6 weeks and have to wait no longer than 18 weeks for treatment, and those patients who have experienced their first episode of psychosis will be seen within 2 weeks.

By putting mental health on an equal footing as physical health, it is also hoped that the stigma of talking about mental health will be removed. If you knew someone who had just had an operation, none of us would think twice about asking how they were. But people feel nervous about talking about mental health. Sometimes just doing the little things, like asking someone how they are, is all it takes to let someone know you're still thinking about them and make a big difference to how they're feeling.

‘Time to Change’ is a organisation, made up of the Department for Health, Mind and Comic Relief, that is informing people about mental health and asking people to talk more about mental health. The website offers everyone the chance to pledge to end the stigma of mental health. So far nearly 80,000 people have signed up to this aim. I would urge everyone to visit their website, find about more about the affects of mental health on people’s lives and to sign up to this pledge to help end this stigma.


 Article for my Lincolnite column - posted by The Lincolnite 10th February

31 January 2015

The reasons why I am a Liberal Democrat

Standing for Parliament is similar to a job interview. The only thing different is that instead of a panel of three or four people watching how you perform and interact, this has nearly 73,000 people watching how you do. Also, with just less than 100 days to go until the election, it is a very long interview.

My own political views were shaped during my teens with the backdrop of Tony Blair’s government and the Iraq invasion in 2003. The Liberal Democrats’ stance against the Iraq war led me to join the party during Freshers’ Fair when I started Lincoln University, but it was not the only thing that attracted me to the party.

One of the principles the Lib Dems were founded on is that no-on shall be “enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”.

For me this is the most important aspect of being a Lib Dem - allowing someone to achieve their full potential no matter what their background.

I have not had a privileged up-bringing but my parents believed in helping me to reach the goals I aspired to. My Dad worked as a carpenter in the building trade and my Mum has worked both as a dinner lady and in retail. They worked hard and I never could ask for anything more they have done for me.  I studied hard and, with the help of my parents and the staff at my old school of St Peter & St Paul’s, got good grades and became the first in my family to go to University.

I now want to help others reach their goals, dreams and ambitions; that is why I am a Liberal Democrat.

The other core principles the Lib Dems were built on are the “fundamental values of liberty, equality and community”.

The Lib Dems, and the Liberals before, have been at the forefront of issues such as human rights, the environment, devolution, social justice and many more, long before they have been taken seriously by the other main parties, often being ridiculed by them for raising these issues that affect so many people’s lives. It never stopped us and our resolve grew stronger.

Personally, the Lib Dems long history in supporting LGBT rights is another key element for me. As someone who has experienced homophobia and had friends attacked for being themselves shows that there is still a long way to go in the journey. Equal Marriage was a fantastic step by the coalition, but there is lots still to do especially we need to look at the way in which LGBT asylum seekers are treated.

Looking back over the last five years of coalition, I am proud that the Liberal Democrats have been able to implement policies that follow these principles - the increased numbers of apprenticeships and the Pupil Premium to help children from the poorest backgrounds, to scrapping ID cards and ending child detention, and giving an £800 tax cut to millions of workers.

If you believe in a society in which people have the freedom to be themselves and live without fear, a country which keeps its citizens’ privacy and human rights, a promise to preserve our planet for generations to come and a nation that helps an supports everyone from whatever background to achieve their potential in life then you are also a Liberal Democrat.

Article for my Lincolnite column - posted by The Lincolnite 28th January

11 January 2015

The Human Spirit

The tragic events of recent weeks in Sydney and Paris have shown us all how acts of incredible horror can lead to the pulling together of the human community and individuals can shine bright with acts of bravery and there are those who plummet us back into the mire of negativity. But even in our normal everyday lives, people show the good and the bad in equal measure.

In Sydney, the Lindt cafe siege resulted in the deaths of two innocent people who were caught up in that tragic episode. The cafe manager, Tori Johnson was shot whilst trying to disarm the gunman and Katrina Dawson was hit whilst protecting a pregnant friend. Their bravery shone out to Sydneysiders once the siege was over and they responded by saluting these two gallant individuals.

Paris saw waves of support from around the world after gunmen stormed the building of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo killing twelve people and injuring many more. This was the second time the magazine had been attacked after it was firebombed and had its website hacked in 2011. The response from around the world was one of solidarity over the issue of free speech. The hastag #JeSuisCharlie trended worldwide on Twitter and cartoonists delivered their own message of defiance in illustrations in papers and online across the world.

In everyday life, people have the power to do amazing things that benefit others. In November, over £32.6 million was raised for good causes in the BBC Children In Need night and in December ITV’s Text Santa raised over £5.5 million to be split between 6 important charities. Stephen Sutton, despite suffering from cancer raised over £4 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust and received acclamation from a number of important and celebrity figures.

But unfortunately there is still an ugly side to the human spirit we see. One of the most recent examples was Black Friday, with people fighting each other for the latest bargains. Those pictures shocked many. You also have those regular people who like to be controversial for the sake of it – and to be quite frank I am not giving them a name drop for it to help boost their egos.

I have been thinking about how good we are to each other since reading ‘Free Country’ by George Mahood. It tells the true story of two guys that tried to get from Land’s End to John O’Groats without spending anything. They started out in just a pair of boxers each and no transport, food or clothes to get them to their destination. Reading the book, you see acts of kindness and acts of complete contempt for our fellow man and that really got me thinking about I would have done if two complete strangers had come to up me and explained they were getting to John O’Groats without spending anything. It is a really good read and I would recommend it to you.

All in all, it looks like when the chips are down, people rally together and individual make those brave choices. We could all do a little more in our lives to improve things for those around us, whether it is helping someone with heavy bags to donating your time to help a charity to a simple smile when you pass someone. That is my New Year’s resolution.