The General Election in 2015 is the most unpredictable in a generation.
It is fairly likely that there will be a hung parliament, with no party having an overall majority, but past that it is impossible to say what the result will be. Many of the potential combinations or coalitions would create uncertainty and threaten all the hard work done over the course of the last parliament to rectify the damage done to the economy during the financial crisis of the late noughties. A Conservative-UKIP government promises a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, leading to uncertainty, particularly among business and instability whilst a Labour-SNP coalition would lead to an increased nationalist agenda and the politics of division and blame, increasing tension between England and Scotland. Only the Liberal Democrats in government, limiting the extremes of both left and right, can provide Britain with the stability it needs to create a stronger economy and a fairer society for all.
It is also important to recognise the vital contribution made by Liberal Democrats in government. Many of our achievements have been overlooked by the media, but will certainly provide long-term benefits to the country. Some of the most important changes made by Liberal Democrats have come in education. We have ensured that all pupils in Key Stage 1 (Reception-Year 3) receive a hot and healthy school meal, free of charge, saving parents an average of £437 per year. The £2.5bn pupil premium scheme,
designed to reduce attainment gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds, has been implemented despite strong opposition from then education secretary, Michael Gove. This will ensure that all children, regardless of their financial or ethnic background will have an equal start in life. We have also restructured the tuition fees system, which has already started to have an effect. In 2014, more people than ever applied to attend university, including more from disadvantaged backgrounds and more from ethnic minorities. This shows that the change, lambasted by the media and political opponents alike, has not had the drastic effects on university applications as they predicted. Despite the rise in overall fees from £3,000 to £9,000 a year, the poorest 30% of graduates actually pay back less than they did under the old system. This is because the threshold at which you start repaying has risen from £15,000pa to £21,000. This means that all graduates pay back less per month than before (see table), and the lowest earning 30% of graduates actually pay back less overall as the debt is wiped after 30 years.
Healthcare, in particular mental health has also been a priority for the Liberal Democrats in government. Putting mental health on an equal footing with physical health is one of the key barriers in overcoming the long held stigma attached to such conditions. That is why Liberal Democrats have changed the NHS constitution to reflect this, putting us on a pathway to better understanding and funding of mental health issues. This has already begun to take place; with a 160% increase to £66 million in funding for dementia research and a £440 million investment to ensure psychological therapies are available to all, including children and adolescents. Liberal Democrats have also made progress in improving social care standards, something which is vital in ensuring the elderly and the most vulnerable in our society are looked after humanely and compassionately. This is why we have embarked on a professionalistaion of the industry. As of March 2015, all care workers must have a certificate proving that they are qualified within 12 weeks of starting work. This will ensure that atrocities such as those at the Rose Villa care home in Bristol in 2011, where patients with mental illnesses were physically abused, never happen again.
The Liberal Democrats have also done a lot of work to counter the politics of fear spread by the likes of UKIP over Britain’s position on Europe and on immigration. When times are tough for many people, due to extensive Tory cuts which punish those at the bottom with policies such as the so-called ‘Bedroom tax’ whilst giving a tax cut to rich (top rate of tax down from 50% to 45%), it is human nature to try and find a simple solution to a complex problem. UKIP and Nigel Farage have exploited peoples fears for electoral gain, saying that everything; from lack of school places and affordable housing to traffic congestion is a result of eastern Europeans settling in Britain. There is also a portrayal in the media of Poles and Romanians as benefit cheats and as people who do not pay their way. Both of these are untrue as statistics show that immigrants actually pay more into the tax pot than they take out and immigrants are also less likely to claim benefits than people who were born in this country. During every ‘wave’ of immigration experienced in the UK, from the Indians and Pakistanis of the 1950s and 60s to the present day, doom-mongerers have proclaimed that Britain will be irreversibly affected for the worse. On each and every occasion they have been proved wrong; immigration has culturally and economically enriched this country and will continue to do so. Liberal Democrats are proud of our pro-European, pro-immigration stance and will continue to support hard working people, wherever they are from.
So there is the Liberal Democrat perspective on three key election areas; education, health and immigration. For information on other areas such as the economy, environment and welfare among others visit the website www.libdems.org.uk.
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