This manifesto is a work in progress, it is intended for future development based upon the input of constituents, experts in their fields and YOU. Let me know what you would add or change!
Please use the comment box (at the bottom) or e-mail me at SuzieFerguson4MP@gmail.com to ask me to add an issue here and send me your thoughts on it. Thank you.
Affordable Housing for Reading
We need to sort out planning regulations, get councils to work together, outlaw long-term land banking, reuse brownfield sites, empty homes and empty office buildings, provide tax concessions on brownfield sites, end the right to buy and consider introducing at least some form of rent control.
To be more specific: I propose that we start a not-for-profit organisation with the purpose of providing affordable housing and social housing by buying up derelicts and brownfield sites and turning them into affordable and social housing. The money would be raised via a method such as crowdfunder.
The organisation would work closely with Reading Council to find the right locations, get through the required permitting and any clean-up of old industrial sites and in return would give priority to the council for its social housing needs. ALL other homes provided would be affordable homes with facilities adequate to support the number of people who would live in them (utilities, sewage, bus stops, shops and parking).
Construction provides a lot of jobs (and apprenticeships) in the Reading area, but through this organisation any profits would be channelled directly back into the community and would provide housing at the minimum possible cost, in turn driving down the market cost of housing in Reading. Read more here.
Tax Dodging & Unfair Taxation
- Make it harder for big companies to dodge UK taxes & ensure they’re not getting unfair tax breaks
- Ensure UK tax rules don’t encourage big companies to avoid tax in developing countries
- Make the UK tax regime more transparent and tougher on tax dodging
These measures could raise funds to help tackle poverty both in the UK and in developing countries.
Saving our NHS
A lot of people are very passionate about saving our NHS and I am right there with them! In the last 15 years it has changed a lot, but nothing like as much as the meddling, privatisation and mismanagement of the last 5 years.
A number of people have contacted me with stories of loved ones they have lost to cancer, in particular, because of delayed diagnosis and treatment, which we regularly hear of in the media, but which are so much more heartbreaking to hear from individual Reading residents. One of my best friends lost her mother in just this scenario less than a year ago, to think that she would still be with us if her treatment had been handled differently? It just doesn’t bear thinking about.
Then there are the less well told stories of the patients with motor neurone disease (MND), a fatal, rapidly progressing disease of the brain and spinal cord, where 80-95% of people lose the ability to speak entirely before they die, having to wait weeks for the equipment they need to be able to communicate with their loved ones, some of whom die before that equipment arrives.
We have a lot of work to do to find the best way repair and improve our NHS and I don’t for one moment think it should be a battle of numbers about “who will invest more money and where they will get it from” in the overall UK budget.
If I were elected I would swiftly review all reports and legislation which have affected such a change in the last 5 to 10 years, but more importantly, I would call a series of meetings with doctors, nurses, midwives and patients to hear their thoughts and ideas on how we can improve our NHS in Reading, and nationally, so that we can work on a solution together, based upon our combined wealth of knowledge and unique circumstance in Reading.
So far, the nurses, doctors and midwives that I have spoken to have recommended that; we must halt and reverse all NHS privatisation and meet the European average expenditure on healthcare. Priority funding must provide more life-saving frontline staff, on fair pay, working sustainable hours, with the medicines and equipment they need to do their job. Mental health conditions must be treated with the same care as physical illnesses because they are equally debilitating and life-threatening. Management architecture should be provided such that it is fit for the purpose of supporting medical professionals doing their job. NHSDirect should be brought back and car parking charges should be removed.
If you have further suggestions and recommendations please comment at the bottom of this page or e-mail me at SuzieFerguson4MP@gmail.com
Energy and Climate Change
We urgently need our government to take some decisive action on Energy and Climate Change. The UK has not had a functioning energy policy for over a decade. Wind power has been prioritized while other low-carbon technologies have been ignored. Now our existing power stations are so run down that they can barely cope (after the fire at Didcot power station a few months ago, the National Grid announced it was likely that we would not have enough generating capacity to meet demand this winter, resulting in regular power cuts, which has thankfully not proven true, yet).
We need a plan to achieve a low-carbon power sector as soon as possible and a fully renewable power sector in the not too distant future. We should thoroughly check our existing nuclear fleet, roll-out carbon capture and storage to clean up our existing coal and gas power stations and continue to invest in cutting edge renewables.
There is a real likelihood that a renationalised energy sector would be the most cost-effective way to achieve a secure and low-carbon energy sector, and we should be investigating this, based upon the facts and science involved.
This area is my specialist subject. I entered engineering with the intention of making industry and infrastructure greener and more sustainable. I am currently a leading expert in the design of utility-scale low-carbon power generation from fossil fuels via carbon capture and storage and have spent the majority of the last seven years assessing the technical and economic merit of various methods of low-carbon power generation for the UK (including hydrogen power, energy storage and energy from waste). I have presented at a number of international conferences and worked with the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI). I did my master’s degree research project on the nuclear fusion reactor at Culham, in Oxfordshire.
We do not need fracking in the UK. The fracking process and nature of the gas produced means that it is definitely not as clean as our conventional natural gas combined cycle power plants, thus we should not be spending our money and effort on developing a whole new energy sector which we do not need, when those resources would be better spent on genuinely low-carbon, cleaner and safer solutions. The economic case for fracking is now very weak in the context of a dropping or stable low oil price which we have seen since September 2014.
I plan to write more in this issue, but in the meantime, please also feel free to ask me questions about it (comment at the bottom of this page or e-mail me at SuzieFerguson4MP@gmail.com)
Poverty in Reading West
I wrote this a while ago, but really I only have my own experiences and what I might find in the news to use as a basis for this issue, so far. I know that, even though I had a good job and my husband was working too, we couldn’t afford to own a flat any more once we had two children under the age of three. From this experience I can conclude that there must be a lot (the majority?) of people in Reading West who are in much worse straits.
What are the small changes that could help you a lot? For me this would have been making childcare and student loan repayments fully tax-deductible in the way that pension contributions are – it sounds like a small technicality, but it makes a huge difference. Do you know of something which should be an equally easy and sensible thing to modify which would help?
In the long run, there are bigger issues behind the growing gap between rich and poor, but these will take some time and a lot of smart people in full public view to get them fixed. I would like to see a transparent and balanced assessment of wealth distribution, taxation and benefits which acknowledges and takes into account the fundamental flaws in our fiscal and monetary system, such as; you pay tax on interest on savings, but interest on debt is tax-deductible. Having a small number of large banks, combined with deposit insurance, means that vast sums of taxpayers money is used for bailing out banks which should be being invested in the NHS, education, getting young people into work and building the infrastructure which the real economy (businesses and services) needs in order to grow and provide sustainable jobs – such as superfast broadband, smart, reliable electricity grid, faster, cleaner, and cheaper public transport.
If you have further suggestions and recommendations please comment at the bottom of this page or e-mail me at SuzieFerguson4MP@gmail.com
Investing in Families
Have you ever been made to feel irresponsible for having children, like you were choosing to place a drain on society? I certainly have! While I realise that some people who chose to, or are unable to have a family and might feel that it is unfair that they subsidise others, but if you take a longer term view, society has no future without children. It is hard to bring up small children in the best of circumstances and some people have to work day and night juggling childcare with multiple jobs and still cannot make ends meet. Instead of respect, they are labelled as “irresponsible”, or “bad parents”, and are too exhausted to do their best for their family.
I would like to see a society in which parents are supported consistently. Right now, there is a huge financial gap caused by the lack of free childcare for children under school age. (Yes, there is some for children over 3 and for children whose parents are on benefits once they are over 2). Statutory minimum maternity pay is laughable unless you are also receiving other benefits – although thanks to the benefits cap it is probably impossible to live on in Berkshire even with other benefits. I wonder how families are supposed to manage for the first 5 years of a child’s life if it is not possible to survive on the income of only one parent? Childcare costs more than many people earn, especially if you have more than 1 child, so what can you do? Many people move far from their families in order to go to get a job, and it is illegal to pay a friend to look after you children.
I propose that free basic childcare should be provided from 6 months of age and that statutory minimum maternity pay, paid for by the state (to prevent employers choosing not to hire women of child baring age) should be increased to 100% for the first 6 months (instead of 90% for the first 6 weeks) and only reduced thereafter. There are plenty of details and modifications which need to be considered, not least to determine the facts about what this would actually cost, but the benefits to the family, and our society as a whole, would be so huge that it deserves serious consideration.
It may sound frighteningly expensive in the mindset of the prolonged austerity, but the potential financial benefits are also very significant, such that the system may pay for itself or result in a net increase in revenue for the state in terms of saved benefits and increased income tax from greater employment (parents and childcare professionals). Hopefully, I will have a chance to research some real numbers to back this up, because we don’t have to just guess as many politicians would suggest. There are facts, we can find them, and then decide which is the most sensible path to take, together. We can even request to pilot the scheme in Reading West – I would gladly request a local referendum on this issue.
Overall, the idea of the state cutting back all spending in order to cut the national debt is flawed if cutting back the spending hurts the economy, drives companies out of business and thus more people onto benefits. I’m no financial expert, but neither are most MPs, and the length of this recession and the fact that the “cost of living crisis” even exists is demonstrating that the strategies so far employed are not working and are causing a great deal of harm.
Both of my parents are teacher, as are many of my friends. I have also heard from a number of concerned constituents who are teachers themselves, citing excessive teacher workload as a particularly urgent challenge:
“Workload is at an unsustainable level and the number of teachers leaving the profession is at a ten-year high. The Government’s own figures show that the average primary teacher is working 60 hours a week. This is a 20 per cent increase since 2010. A recent NUT survey found that 90 per cent of teachers had considered giving up teaching during the last two years because of workload while 96 per cent said their workload had negative consequences for their family or personal life.
44,000 teachers responded to the Government’s ‘Workload Challenge’ survey last autumn. The Government’s response was bitterly disappointing. It failed to get to grips with the main drivers of unnecessary workload or to reconsider the current high stakes system of accountability.
Both of my parents were teachers, but my father left the profession before Ofsted even existed. The Ofsted system was stressful and challenging enough in its original incarnation, but I am hearing, now, that the new Ofsted/Estyn is even worse. In some places it has even been destroying schools by re-assessing them from Outstanding to Requires Improvement, crushing morale and reputation – based upon a 2 day inspection by people who are not qualified or experienced to even make such a judgement.
Education is absolutely crucial to both our economy and to social mobility and used to be a fundamental right in the UK. Now even our schools have suffered from creeping privatisation and we must stand up for them.
University Tuition Fees
If it were cheaper for our society as a whole for students to take out loans to pay for their own university costs and repay the money in a few years because they have wonderfully well paid jobs upon graduating; then the system we now have might make sense. But too many people are going to university and leaving with a degree which does not result in a relevant or well paid job, and even those who do go straight to work in the field they trained for will never clear their loans, because the interest charged on them (6%!) will almost always be higher than the repayments they make even if their starting salary were over £30,000 per year (I will add the very simple calculations that prove this as soon as I can). Effectively anyone who goes to university now will simply have to pay an extra 9% tax on all their earnings over £21,000 per year for 30 years. So it is better for the individual if they are modest earners because they will never clear the loan, but tax payers are still footing the bill when the loan is written off after 30 years. So who will pay for that? Tax payers in 30 years time when the current MPs who came up with this system are gone? Thank you very much.
This issue needs to be tackled urgently in this parliament to prevent a huge group of young people being pointlessly indebted for the best 30 years of their lives. Here is more I have written on this topic, including a shareable graphic summary.
Europe & Immigration
1) Leaving the EU would be dreadful for our economy, international relations and would significantly reduce our influence on world affairs. It would also not give us more autonomy, because the remaining EU would have a lot of leverage to boss us around.
2) Most people are aware of point one, above, so (hopefully!) an EU referendum would be a complete waste of time and money. So why do it? I cannot help thinking that this is a smokescreen for other issues that the main parties do not want us to focus our attention on, but I hate conspiracy theories, so let us just assume that they think it is what people want to hear.
3) The EU does need very significant reform. It was originally supposed to be a trade partnership and it has ended up getting involved in telling us that we have to charge VAT on tampons (seriously, there is a petition on this). There are much better people at explaining this than me, I highly recommend the writings of Philippe Legrain on this topic (I would like to add a link here to someone else who can provide a balance to PLegrain’s work, suggestions welcome please?).
4) Immigrants are not your enemy, in most parts of the UK (in some areas, yes they are taking jobs, such as harvesting, which would have gone to school leavers). But immigrants coming in, bringing their skills and their muscles and paying their taxes, will help to pay for your pension and your children’s education.
Yes, we need to ensure that immigration is regulated and that we do not permit the UK to be taken advantage of, however, we have a duty to help those who would be persecuted in their countries of origin and to ensure that those who add value and expertise to our country can do so. I think it would be more sensible to consider types of migrants than to get fixated on a total cap on numbers. Did you know that about the same number of Brits work overseas than foreign nationals work in the UK?
Here is some research by academics which uses actual numbers to base their conclusions upon, it is starkly different from what you will see in the media.
At the moment most of the money in the UK economy is created by private banks, in their own interests. A great deal more money is tied up in buying and selling of financial assets than is used in the “real economy” (businesses and services). In our current monetary system, which has developed at a much faster pace than the system to manage and safeguard it, banks lend money where they expect to make maximum, short-term profit, regardless of what is good for the economy and people.
We also have a system called deposit insurance, which means that our government has promised to pay each account holder up to £85,000 in the event that their bank becomes insolvent. Thanks to this, combined with the fact that we only have a few, very large banks, it will almost always be cheaper for the government to bail out banks than to pay up this deposit insurance to all the bank’s creditors – hence the term “to big to fail” (also refers to banks which would cause all the other banks to become insolvent if they themselves went insolvent). Since our banks know that they are “too big to fail” there is currently nothing to compel them to be cautious when lending money, because if the investment goes sour, then the taxpayers will foot the bill and the bankers in question will be largely untouched.
This is a terrible and dysfunctional system, and many experts in the field agree, including the former head of the Bank of England. Read more…
Background to the problems are summarised in this extract by Philippe Legrain from his book European Spring.
We need them, they are essential. Yet in last year’s budget we spent almost as much money servicing the national debt (5%) as investing in our Heroes (6%). Our key strategic allies are announcing that they are worried by recent UK cuts in funding for defence.
I am in no position to suggest actions right now, but I have friends who are, who hopefully will. Soon to be updated. What do you think?
Democracy should be “rule by elected representatives of the people”. Our system has two huge flaws right now, firstly, the candidates who stand are not usually representative of the general population, and secondly, the only opportunity the general population have to have a say is to choose between these 2 to 5 similar candidates, once every five years. The high turnout, and result, seen in the recent referendum on Independence in Scotland shows how excited people can become at the chance to have a say in a big issue which affects them directly, and how dissatisfied with the existing system people really are. Some of the last-minute promises made to the Scottish people were really significant, so it demonstrated that Westminster does in fact have to listen, and take action (or at least make promises) to the people when it realises that it might be voted out altogether.
During the last few weeks before the Scottish referendum there were a lot of sentiments flying around to the effect that; we would all like a chance to vote for “independence from Westminster”, I particularly enjoyed this one from Russel Brand. Hopefully this will prompt discussion of devolution of further powers to regional and local governments and councils and the formation of an English Parliament.
I would also like to talk about modernising our democracy and facilitating a huge step-change in engagement with the general population. It is not exactly hard to set up an on-line survey, for example. The ability to vote on-line seems like an obvious step as well – at least you can now register to vote on-line!
A big problem with having only one choice in five years is that the party manifesto will generally have a whole lot of points that it thinks people will like, with a few added to benefit their buddies, but it doesn’t matter because it is still the best manifesto in total…? And if they said it in their election manifesto then clearly they have a full mandate from the whole population to enact every item they proposed. Or they could fail to implement most of the good promises, and implement all of the self-serving ones, and there is currently nothing except writing to your MP or submitting a petition that the electorate can do about it.
I would like to see the ability to vote on important issues on an individual issue basis. I believe that greater autonomy in the regions and an English Parliament would be a good idea, but I most certainly do not think that leaving the EU is a sensible suggestion (significant reform of the EU is definitely needed though) for example. I also think that the general population of the UK has a lot of good ideas which could vastly improve our lives, if only there was a way for these bright ideas to be heard, considered in a transparent forum in consultation with the relevant experts and voted upon democratically. It is hardly rocket science, just modern thinking and creating a way to utilise the ingenuity and wisdom of our 63 million minds.
Here is some more that I wrote a while ago on this issue.
I am a feminist. I think that it is right that all people should have equal rights and equal opportunities. I agree with every word Emma Watson said in her recent address to the UN and could never say it better.
To bring this issue home to Reading West, what are your experiences and ideas for improvement in your everyday lives? I have never felt safe walking around at night unless in a group containing some large men. I thought this was just the way it has to be until I saw women (with and without small children) walking around in complete confidence at night in Dubai.
(There is not full equality in Dubai, there are perks for women – such as a women-only lounge with free tea at the main immigration centre and women and children only carriages on the metro so that women can choose not to sit with men if they want to. But there are downsides too – I needed a letter from my husband in order to get my alcohol license and you cannot report rape, because all extra-marital intercourse is an imprisonable offence. But I can walk alone day and night without fear because women are treated with respect and looked out for and that certainly feels like a good thing.)
I was going to put domestic abuse in with inequality, but actually it belongs under crime. Because that is what it is. I have friends of both genders who have suffered in abusive relationships so I have a small window into this complicated issue. I would like to ensure that Reading West has adequate support for victims of domestic abuse, including a proper shelter , if it doesn’t already. Sorry for my current ignorance on our facilities for this topic, I will rectify this as soon as I can (please comment to point me in the right direction if you have time).
I have not seen much lately on our police, my last impression was of another service which is over worked, under resourced and generally hampered from doing its main job – i.e. stopping crime. And picking up a lot of flack from the media and generally not being respected. I would really appreciate hearing feedback on your positive or negative experiences?
Stopping & Reversing Privatisation
A great deal of privatisation has happened in the last 5 years, much of which began under New Labour. Some is fairly obvious, like the controversial sale of the Royal Mail, but much is less obvious like the privatisation of school management and, of course, many services under the NHS.
The theory behind privatisation was that it would deliver better service and better value for customers because competition would increase innovation and investment (or if you are more cynical, it moves essential services for the running of a country away from the government’s direct budget to someone elses budget allowing them to make it look like they have cut costs).
In practise, however, we have learnt that private companies are just as susceptible to poor management and corruption as public companies, and many of the privatised sectors are now costing the tax-payer even more than they did before privatisation, such as railways and the NHS. Private companies intrinsically have higher overheads than public or not-for-profit companies or charities because they have shareholders to pay (and advertising and the expensive process of bidding for contracts).
The current government claim to have done a great deal to tackle our national debt, or deficit. But many of us are still feeling a lot worse off than we were before the financial crash. I would like to see an honest review of which essential services now cost us, the taxpayers, and private customers of these services, more than they should. Those sectors which could be run better and cheaper for all of us if they were renationalised (and well run!) should be seriously considered for renationalisation.
Related topic: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
Animal Rights, Animal Welfare & Cruel Sports
There are a number of great campaigns underway to ensure that we are talking about animal welfare and the status of cruel sports in the run up to the General Election in May 2015. I am currently aware of at least three, from Compassion in World Farming, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the League Against Cruel Sports.
I fully support all three of these campaigns, their requests are all very reasonable, well thought out and quite clearly the right thing to do in our modern, humane society.
I also support Hugh’s Fish Fight and the Campaign against badger culling. For more information on all of these, you can read more here.