Why Vote Liberal Democrat!

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,

Nick Cleggdesigned 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 dStudent_finance_tableebt 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 stUnknown-1ance 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.

For more on the Worcester Lib Dems follow us on twitter @worcesterlibs and like our Facebook page – it’s Worcester Liberal Democrats

Martin Lewis (Money Saving Expert) – Labour’s Financially Illiterate Tuition Fees Policy

Interesting article by Martin Lewis on his blog from moneysavingexpert.com about Labour’s proposed tuition fee cut from £9,000 to £6,000. He highlights that it will only help well paid graduates, not those on low pay whilst costing millions pounds in the process. 

It also highlights that all is not perfect with the current system. Although it was a step in the right direction what is actually needed is a progressive graduate tax which ensures vast amounts of student loans. loaned out by the government, are not written off.

Labour has long touted that it may cut English tuition fees to £6,000 if elected. Today university chiefs wrote a letter about the proposal that made the front pages, saying that they’d struggle to survive on such a drop of income. Yet as I explained a year ago when it was first mooted, the biggest problem with cutting tuition fees is that it helps exactly the wrong people – only affluent graduates will gain.

This all stems from an illiteracy about how student finance works. People worry about “how much I borrow” whereas what really counts instead is “how much I repay”, and changing the level of tuition fees doesn’t do much to change that. So I wanted to bash out a blog to explain.

PS: Before anyone thinks I’m taking a political side, that isn’t it, only a few weeks ago I attacked the Government for its student finance policy.

How much will you repay?

The amount that you pay on tuition fees isn’t dictated purely by what tuition fees are set at but more by what you earn after you leave university.

After leaving, students repay 9% of everything they earn above a £21,000 a year threshold. And this threshold is set to rise with average earnings from 2017 (see my‘don’t change the threshold blog’ for more on that).

A graduate would then continue to repay until they had cleared what they had borrowed plus interest, or until 30 years had elapsed since the April after they graduated – whichever comes first (for a more detailed explanation see my 20 student loan mythbusters guide).

In practice, of the graduates who earn enough to repay – which is most of them – all but the highest-earning after university will be repaying for the whole of the 30 years.

Reduce tuition fees to £6,000 and only high earners gain

So let’s examine the real impact of this policy. The only people who would gain from it are those who would clear their entire loan for tuition fees plus any loans for living costs, plus the interest, within the 30 years. To do this you’d need to be a high earner.

To see the exact amount, go to my student finance calculator and play about with different scenarios – watching the impact of reducing tuition fees. It shows that only those with a STARTING SALARY of at least £35,000 – and then rising by above inflation each year after – would pay less if you cut tuition fees (we have assumed the student also takes out £5,555 in maintenance loans per year).

That’s a very high amount, mainly only City law firms, accountancy firms and investment banks pay that much as starting salaries. Is that really who Labour wants to target with this plan? Worse still, by cutting tuition fees it will reduce the bursaries that universities can give to attract poor students.

Thus, while it seems counter logical, cutting tuition fees this way risks being a regressive rather than a progressive policy – in other words it benefits those with more rather than those with less. I suspect if any other party had a policy which in tabloid terms meant “student from poor backgrounds would subsidise City Bankers” – Labour would be up in arms.

NB. The student finance calculator makes some assumptions over future rates of inflation and average earnings growth, changing those changes the answers – which the calculator allows you to do. Yet I’m using some pretty standard assumptions here.

There is a psychological gain to cutting tuition fees

The one positive of this plan is that cutting tuition fees is likely to reduce fear among those who don’t understand the system. Yet instead of spending billions to do this, why not spend £100 million on financial education for potential students and their parents to fight unfounded fears?

This is something I did with the Independent Taskforce for Student Finance Information, which I chaired, and we achieved fantastic results explaining the system with less than £100,000, never mind £100 million.

If I were in charge I’d up the repayment threshold and change the name

Much of this whole issue centres around the confusion over who is “rich”. Who is more/less deserving of help: a student from a wealthy background with a low income after university, or a student from a poor background with a high income after university?

We should ensure those from non-traditional university backgrounds aren’t unnecessarily put off university by the fear of debt. Yet we shouldn’t be doing that by pumping in extra cash to hugely affluent graduates.

If you want a more progressive system – and to stop the marketisation of universities (ie, different courses, different prices) – then make them all £9,000 but increase the repayment threshold, for example to 12% of everything earned above £30,000 (that’s a rough example, not a fully worked figure). Though of course that’d cost the Exchequer billions too…

And just as importantly to fight off fear – change the name! Student loans are as much a tax as a loan, in fact they’re somewhere between the two, and as I’ve said before (see student loans aren’t a debt – change the name to avoid a national tragedy), calling it a graduate contribution would both be more accurate and promote better understanding.

Labour isn’t the only one who gets this wrong

Labour isn’t the first one to be financially illiterate over the tuition fee issue. The Coalition itself did it when it set up the new 2012 system. Not just because it fundamentally miscalculated how much people would repay, but also because it allowed universities to offer some poorer students a choice between a fee waiver and cash as a bursary.

Yet, for the same reasons as above, a fee waiver did little to help, only very high earning graduates afterwards would have gained from it, so in truth I was out there shouting vociferously: “Make sure you take the cash.”

Below is a link to Martin’s blog:

http://blog.moneysavingexpert.com/2015/02/02/labours-plan-to-cut-tuition-fees-to-6000-is-a-financially-illiterate-policy/

For more on the Worcester Lib Dems follow us on twitter @worcesterlibs

The Gove Files : Why Britain needs a Liberal Influence in Government

The changes Michael Gove made to education during his four years as education secretary (2010-2014) will go down as the most catastrophic in recent times. Gove’s well publicised agenda of academies, free schools with unqualified teachers, and exam reform which encouraged the re-introduction of a ‘success or failure’ culture, have been deplored by teachers and those in the education industry.

The Gove Files – released by the Liberal Democarts yesterday (2nd Feb 15), highlight the policies of his which were stopped and the policies we have managed to implement despite him.

David Cameron’s announcement on education further highlights how the Conservatives can’t be trusted with our schools. He pledged that no further cuts will be made and the budget maintained. However, it is not set to rise with inflation, meaning that in real terms it will have reduced. Cameron’s attempts to mislead the public were foiled, as BBC political editor, Nick Robinson forced him to admit it during a press conference on the issue.

The Liberal Democrats have saved the system from being transformed for the worse during the current Parliament. The following have been implemented, despite Gove’s vocal opposition :

1) The Pupil Premium – A £2.5billion a year policy to help raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils and close the gap between them and their peers.

2) Universal Free School Meals – All children in Key Stage 1 (Reception – Year 2) are now entitled to hot, healthy free school meal.

3) Duty for Schools to Provide Career’s Advice – Enabling young people to be more prepared for the world of work after they leave formal education.

Without the Liberal Democrats none of this would have taken place. Gove instead wanted to do the following:

1. Have profit-making free schools
2. Bring back the old O-level and CSE divide
3. Cut new nursery buildings
4. Rewrite history in the national curriculum
5. Axe climate change from national curriculum
6. Change the Early Years Ratio
7. Axe speaking and listening and human rights from the national curriculum
8. Politicise Ofsted

All of these were successfully blocked by the Liberal Democrats.

All the above examples highlight the incompetence of the Conservatives on education and show how the Liberal Democrats have fought tirelessly to ensure young people from all backgrounds have more equal opportunities.

The the full ‘Gove Files’ click on the link below.

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/7474/attachments/original/1422868675/Gove_Files_-_How_the_Lib_Dems_improved_education.pdf?1422868675

GE2015: The Choice Could Not Be Clearer

The upcoming General Election is set to be one of the most closely fought in a generation. The UK’s two-party system has been blown out if the water and many parties, who for years could only dream of getting elected, are now relishing the prospect of having the balance of power in what is looking like an inevitable hung parliament. The choice you make will have a huge impact on the country. The following article should help you make your decision.

There are 6 parties who could realistically be in government, in one way or another, after the 2015 election. These are the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, Greens, UKIP and the SNP. You probably already know which one I will be voting for (Look at the web address!). This article is designed to help you, the voter, make an informed choice.

Conservatives – A party who seem to be hell-bent on making life worse for most people whilst maintaining the wealth of the rich. They claim to be making ‘difficult decisions’ which include, incidentally, changing the highest band of tax from 50% to 45% whilst cutting sure start centres and welfare payments for the most vulnerable. George Osborne recently set out what he would do if he were allowed to set his own budgets without a Lib Dem influence which includes a further £50 billion of ideological cuts which would see the state shrink to a size last seen in the 1930’s. A chunk of this would come out of local government, effecting local services such as buses and walk-in health centres.

Recent revelations also suggest a party in complete disarray with Home Secretary, Theresa May reportedly ignoring orders from Cameron after he fired two of her special advisers. It has resulted in a stand-off with May trying to gather support for a leadership challenge, should the Tories lose the election. Can we trust these people to govern us?

Labour – A party trying to distance themselves from the previous Labour regime, but oddly containing many of the same members – Miliband, Harman, Balls, Burnham, Alexander and Benn were all part of the Cabinet that lead the country into the deepest recession in living memory. Do you want to go back to those dark days? More worryingly, the party seems void of new, innovative ideas. On the economy, they have no credible plan to balance the books, only the current account. There is no doubt, that under Labour, borrowing would increase and the UK’s economic recovery put at risk.

They also claim to be the guardians of the NHS, saying that they are the only party that can be trusted with it. Seems very strange considering that the first privatised hospital was Hinchingbrooke in 2007, under the Labour government. They also gave sweeteners to private firms looking to invest in the NHS, something reversed as a result of Lib Dem policy in the current government.

UKIP – A party beautifully described as ‘angry men in suits’ this week by Nick Clegg. Everything seems to be the fault of Eastern European, congestion, housing shortages, unemployment (which is falling!) among other things. On top of this they do seem to attract a wide variety of ‘interesting’ candidates with antiquated views including Roger Helmer, an elected MEP who once supported gay conversion therapy and is against same-sex marriage, along with Kerry Smith, a PPC who was recorded using offensive language towards Asians and homosexuals. Whilst these views are not necessarily the views of the party, the prospect of being governed by people like this is a worrying one indeed.

Greens – A party that has taken over the far-left, abandoned by Labour in the late 1980’s. They make big promises which upon further inspection are unachievable, At council level, they pledge to install cavity wall insulation in ALL houses, without suggesting how to pay for it. They promise to make the ‘living wage’ legislation, against the advice of the independent Low Pay Commission, thus effecting employment numbers. Whilst in principle, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats have quite a lot in common, we recognize that the economy and reducing public expenditure is as vital as maintaining public services.

SNP – A one cause party in denial. Their dream of Scottish independence appeared to over for another generation, but Alex Salmond has other ideas. Even though Scotland voted against independence, he is willing to jeopardise the prospects of businesses again by pushing for greater autonomy, through Westminster, pushing Scotland further away from the UK. No does not mean no to this party and voters should be aware that every move they make is geared towards one thing; independence.

So this leaves only one party…..the Lib Dems. Whilst mistakes have been made, largely due to only having 1/6 of the power in the cabinet, many of the policies set out in the 2010 manifesto have been carried out. The pupil premium, free school meals, taking 26 million out of tax the list goes on. When a pledge was broken, Clegg offered an unreserved apology – when have you ever seen a politician do that! In addition, Lib Dems ensured that average monthly repayments for graduates fell! So if you want a government that works for a stronger economy and a fairer desire without the ideological austerity of the Conservatives or the irresponsibility of Labour then voting Lib Dem is the way to go.

For more news on the Worcester Lib Dems follow our Twitter page, @worcesterlibs

Clegg: Bite The Ballot Review

On Tuesday evening, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, appeared on Leaders Live – a programme supported by the youth organisation Bite the Ballot; that hopes to raise awareness of politics and political issues amongst young people. Clegg answered questions from a studio audience and from people on Twitter. Below are the main points that were raised.

Introduction : Clegg urged the audience to get involved in politics and to stand up against the ‘politics of fear’ currently dominating British politics (A reference to UKIP? We couldn’t possibly say) He then went on to reference his proudest achievements in government ; the pupil premium and free school meals.

Jobs – Clegg emphasized the need of a strong economy to provide jobs and referenced the drop in youth unemployment and increase in apprenticeships to emphasize how the government has increased opportunities for young people. He went on to say that if involved in the next government he would take more low paid workers out of income tax and make it easier for people to move up the career ladder.

Zero Hours Contracts – Said that exclusive zero hours contracts were ‘deeply exploitative’ and should be outlawed. Also said apprenticeship minimum wage (£2.73) should be abolished and that apprenticeships should be put on the age related minimum wage (£3.71)

Unpaid Internships – Said internships should be about ‘what you know and not who you know’ and should be completely meritocratic. He went on to say that companies that offer work masked as an internship should be clamped down on. In government he has quadrupled the penalties companies can receive for such an offence and increased the number of inspections they have to undergo. He also noted that it is now much easier for the public to report abuses.

Unequal Pay and Gender Discrimination – He noted that the gender pay gap has almost been eliminated for under 40s. For over 40s where gap is still wide, he suggested that all companies should have to publish what their pay back is, thus increasing scrutiny. He also spoke of the increase of women on the boards of FTSE100 companies.

Living Wage – He paid tribute to those who have implemented a living wage, including Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and several councils. However, he stopped short of saying it should be implemented as legislation due to the findings of the low pay commission, an independent body which sets the minimum wage based on maximum job creation. He said disregarding this would be foolish.

(58% OF TWITTER AUDIENCE AGREED WITH NICK)

Education – Emphasized the need to help children early – ‘before they’ve hung up their coat on the first day of school’. Referenced policies that help children from disadvantaged backgrounds from the age of 2 and universal childcare and pre-school support for 3-4 year olds. Spoke of the pupil premium that has pumped £2.5bn into schools for disadvantaged children. He added that vocational courses should not be seen as less worthwhile than academic courses – calling the current perception as ‘snobbery’.

Tuition Fees – Explained the reason for his well publicized u-turn, saying that scrapping fees would have been impossible due to economic restraints and a Labour-Conservative consensus against it. He went on to say that he’s ‘learnt his lesson’ and will not make a promise he can’t keep again. He went on to say how the rise actually makes the majority of graduates better off as nothing is paid until they are earning £21,000, up from £15,000 and that no up-front payment is required. Stated that more people from ethnic minorities and disadvantaged backgrounds are attending university than ever before. When asked about the Scottish paying no tuition fees he said that the system was ‘unsustainable’.

Political Studies in UK – He said that citizenship and sex education should be taught in all schools, including free schools and academies. He also said that he was trying to secure money to publicize the new electoral registration system.

Age of Compulsory Education – Said that he supports the rise from 16 to 18. Went on to say that a 2/3 reduction in bus fares for all 16-21 year olds would be included on the front page on the 2015 general election manifesto.

Gender Equality in School – He said that the best way of promoting this is to have successful women in schools that the girls want to emulate.

(45% OF TWITTER AUDIENCE AGREED WITH NICK)

Health – He said that we should ‘cherish, defend, promote and protect’ the NHS.

Mental Health – He said we should end the ‘dickensian’ treatment of mental health in the UK and that it should be put on an equal footing with physical health. NHS constitution has been changed to reflect this and £120 million has been put in to improving waiting times for mental health patients. He added that funding for mental health clinics is now on a par with physical health clinics. He then spoke of the mental health taskforce that he founded and currently chairs. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt is the vice-chair. A report is currently due on how to get treatment for children with mental health issues more quickly.

Governance – He said that getting involved locally is the best way. From this people can get involved nationwide. Noted the current trend of decentralisation of power.

NHS Privatisation – Noted that it was actually Labour who introduced private companies into the NHS and that privatisation has slowed under the current government. He said that he has outlawed the practice of giving sweetners to the private sector and that £1 billion extra should be put into the NHS pot, paid for by taxing the rich on their dividends, shares and assets at the same rate as their income. He finished by saying that ‘people should come before profit’.

(60% OF TWITTER AUDIENCE AGREED WITH NICK)

Immigration – He said that Britain needs to ‘fair but firm’. He noted the contribution of immigrants to Britain, 1 in 7 companies in Britain set up by foreigners, and that without immigration the NHS would disintegrate. He added the immigrants should be counted in and out as one of the biggest problems regarding immigration is people staying in the UK on expired visas. Illegal immigration needs to be clamped down on and exploitative companies paying migrants less than minimum wage should be reprimanded.

EU – He said the EU is very beneficial as issues such as climate change and cross-boarder crime must be done collectively.He also added that 3 million jobs directly depend on EU membership. He said leaving the EU would be ‘economically self-defeating’.

Benefits – Said that freedom of movement is not the same as freedom to claim and that immigrants should not be entitled to take benefits that they haven’t paid into. He said that the issue was not about race but principle.

Integration – Agreed that immigrants should learn English and that there is greater focus on this at job centres than under the last government.

(61% OF TWITTER AUDIENCE AGREED WITH NICK)

Do you agree with Nick? Comment you thoughts below. For more info on the work of Worcester Liberal Democrats follow us on twitter @worcesterlibs.

Tuition Fees : The Truth

Despite widespread criticism, the rise in tuition fees HAS NOT led to a decrease in the number of people applying to university.

Back in 2010, there was outrage when Nick Clegg broke his election promise by voting in favour of trebling tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000 a year. The student body, largely responsible for getting the Liberal Democrats into government, felt cheated and misled and took to the streets in protest. However, recently published figures suggest that the legislation has not led to people being unable to go into further education, in fact quite the contrary. More people from disadvantaged backgrounds are applying and attending than ever, partly down to conditions put in the legislation by the Liberal Democrats.

  1. People pay less in monthly repayments than under Labour.

Despite the rise in overall fees, repayment levels are lower. This is because of Lib Dem negotiations which resulted in a change in the amount graduates have to be earning before they make any repayments. Under Labour, repayments started if you were earning £15,000 a year, now it’s £21,000. As the image below shows, at almost every wage level, monthly repayments are down, making graduates better off. In addition, the poorest 30% of graduates actually pay less overall than under the old system.

Student_finance_table.jpg

2. New incentives for the most disadvantaged and talented students

Liberal Democrats made sure the new system came with fee waivers, bursaries, a £50m National Scholarship programme and higher maintenance grants for people whose parents earn less than about £42,000.

3. University applications are up!

Despite the initial fall in applications directly after the increase in fees, in 2013 applications were up by 2.8% and are set to increase again in 2014. This shows that people have not been put off attending university and more people are trying to better themselves through further education.

4. If your salary goes above £21,000 and then drops below it, you pay nothing until it goes back up.

The new system is effectively a 30-year graduate tax, in that graduates repay 9% of their income over £21,000. If they lose their job or their income falls below £21,000, they will not pay anything. We did look at a full graduate tax, but we discovered foreign students or people who move abroad after university would be able to avoid repaying the cost of their tuition.

So there you have it, the facts on tuition fees. Graduates are actually better off as a result of the reform.

Of course, critics will say ‘But you broke your promise!’, and whilst they are not wrong it was not something that was taken lightly. You only need to see Clegg’s apology to see how seriously he took the decision. It can be viewed on youtube, along with the very amusing parody song. Have the Conservatives or Labour ever apologized for their broken promises? Whist we cannot condone the breaking of promises, the very fact we entered a coalition with a party that has such different views to ourselves, meant that their were going to have to be compromises. Without supporting the Tories with their legislation we wouldn’t have got any of ours through, including taking 26 million of the lowest earners out of tax, something David Cameron told us was impossible, and delivering hot, healthy free school meals to primary school children. We have not done everything we would’ve had we won a majority but we have put through important legislation that has reduced the effect of the Conservative’s ideological austerity measures whilst stabilising the economy and creating jobs and apprenticeships.