WE are grateful to Bobby Dean for answering our questions. Bobby Dean is the Lib Dem candidate in Lewisham Deptford.
1. A CARING ECONOMY
The Lib Dems made a big commitment to social care in its manifesto by pledging a third of the revenue raised from its penny on income tax policy (£2bn) towards tackling the issue. This vital investment will mean that we can provide health services that fit around people’s lives, rather than forcing people to fit around their health needs.
Carers are often trying to stay afloat by switching between supporting their loved ones and earning a living, but are punished for earning even the most modest incomes. The Lib Dems would raise the amount you can earn before losing the Carer’s Allowance to £150 a week and reduce the number of hours of care per week needed to quality for it from 35 to 20. Combined, these initiatives should give carers more support for the vital social work that they do.
The Lib Dems would also give the NHS a legal duty to identify carers and develop a Carer’s Passport scheme to inform carers of their NHS rights, such as flexible visiting hours and access to support – as well as benefit from proper career development opportunities, training and practice guidelines.
2. Equal Caring and Parenting
As somebody who very much looks forward to being an active father (one day!), I wholeheartedly support any initiative that looks to make it easier for parents to share family and working responsibilities in the optimum way to suit them.
The UK’s policy on childcare at the moment isn’t good enough. The crucial stages to address are of course the periods before starting school and the Lib Dems have designed policy into two stages – from the end of paid parental leave to two years and from two to four years old.
Our aspiration is for 30 hours’ free childcare a week for all working parents in the first period, and for all parents in England for the second. For the moment, we have a listed priority of providing 15 hours for the first period and a costed provision of 15 hours the second. We hope this is a positive immediate step towards our stated aspiration.
The period of Parental Leave in itself also needs to be addressed. I’m proud that we introduced Shared Parental Leave in coalition, but we can go further still to encouraging fathers to take onn parental responsibilities. That’s why in our manifesto we have provided for an additional month of paid parental leave for fathers on a use it lose it basis.
3. The Impact of BREXIT
I’m a staunch internationalist and it’s one of the main reasons I identify with the Liberal Democrats. As you will know, we fought hard to stay in the EU and amongst the many good reasons to remain were the safeguards and protections it led on for women and other underrepresented groups.
Whether it’s on minimum requirements on maternity leave or equal pay, the EU has always sought to strengthen women’s role in society and the workplace and I fear that upon leaving some of those hard-earned rights will be under threat.
The Lib Dems are committed to the Human Rights Act and would resist any attempt to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. Any deal that is a bad deal for women, is a deal not worth having and I believe that it is the people that should get to determine whether or not the deal we negotiate with the EU is satisfactory.
4. WOMEN AND MIGRATION
The immigration debate in our country is appalling. Instead of acknowledging some of the great benefits that migration can bring, we seem to have settled on the view that it is only something to be curbed. The knock-on effect this has had on our willingness to offer safety to those fleeing conflict is deplorable, with the most recent Government’s record on refugees a disgrace.
Women and young girls in particular are disproportionately at risk of violence during war and conflict and the UK must continue to be a refuge for those fleeing there unthinkable circumstances. That’s why I’m proud our manifesto has a commitment to offer sanctuary to 50,000 people from Syria over the course of the next Parliament.
Those that seek asylum need to be able to get back to normal life quickly. This particularly applies to women, who can often find themselves forced into isolation from wider UK society if this opportunity is not present. To tackle this, we will reduce the waiting time for decisions made
5. EQUAL PAY
As you will know, the Liberal Democrats fought hard for gender pay gap reporting in Coalition and I’m proud that it eventually became law earlier this year. For a liberal, it goes without saying that the gap is intolerable in modern day society and we must do all we can to close it.
As you noted, the is gap particularly bad for BAME and disabled women and so we are now campaigning for the Equality Act to be extended to require companies with more than 250 employees to publish data on gender, BAME, and LGBT+ employment levels and pay gaps.
With regards to pensioners living in poverty, we have pledged to maintain the ‘triple lock’ on pensions that we introduced in Coalition. That means the state pension will go up each year by the highest of earnings growth, prices growth or 2.5% for the next parliament.
6. EQUAL EDUCATION
It beggars belief that a woman hoping to be re-elected as Prime Minister of our great country can encourage the idea that there are boys jobs and girls jobs. There are not – and the same applies to school subjects.
It is particularly dispiriting for me to see how we have so many young women excelling in STEM subjects at school, yet proportionally so few follow through their academic success into careers. A friend of mine’s father has set up a school in Ghana specifically for young African girls to study STEM subjects, partly as a way of nurturing talent but also to make a point about gender issues. I think the UK could do with a dedicated initiative of its own.
To tackle all of this, the Lib Dems have made a manifesto commitment to challenge gender stereotyping and to work with schools to break down outdated perceptions of gender appropriateness of particular academic subjects.
7. WE require an end to violence against women and girls.
Violence against women and girls, both in the UK and across the world, must be brought to an end. In my daily work at an international development charity, I see the scale of suffering that women and young girls experience from gender based violence, to Female Genital Mutilation, to Child Marriage and so on.
But this experience is not unique to developing countries. According to Plan, Lewisham is among the worst places in London to grow up a girl. This is in part due to the level of sexual harassment that young girls experience in our schools. I think that this is a disgrace to our community and that Lewisham Council should appoint a Cabinet champion dedicated to improving the lives of young girls and women in our borough.
The Lib Dems are committed to ending FGM and other forms of violence against women on an international and national scale. They will also review the investigation procedures and rules of evidence in cases of domestic violence, bringing together experts and practitioners to conduct the review in the first half of the new Parliament.
8. Equal Representation
I am lucky enough to benefit from working in an office full of inspiring, powerful women with around 70% of our head office staff female. However, I am all to aware that my working environment is rare. I am personally committed to doing all I can (including getting out the way!) to ensure women are properly represented in all walks of life. I cannot help that I am male but I can help to support initiatives that will increase diversity in our party. I am supportive of the party’s decision to adopt all women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs. This has increased the female representation in both our target and non-target seats; 50% of our target seat candidates are female. We also have almost 60 more females standing for election than there were in 2010. If elected, I would also help to make Parliament more family-friendly, and establish a review to pave the way for MP job-sharing arrangements, which will make it easier for women to consider a Parliamentary career.
9. EQUAL HEALTH
I must be honest here and say that while I recognise the gender differences that exist in healthcare, I would like to consult further with WEP and others on potential policy solutions to this issue. The Lib Dems are committed to raising the revenue we need to fix the NHS, with an honest and realistic policy of a penny on income tax to raise £6 billion a year towards social care, primary care, mental health and public health – all of which could benefit from a gendered perspective in its implementation. For instance, additional mental health support could be directed towards supporting pregnant women and new mothers.
10. EQUALITY IN THE MEDIA
Working in international development for a progressive charity that condemns the use of imagery that encourages reductive stereotypes of “Africa” and developing countries, I’ve developed a keen eye for when the media and social media fail to represent groups and individuals appropriately. I will call out attempts to suppress women and other minorities voices online and in other spaces and believe that everyone has the right to express themselves freely, without fear of abuse. The Lib Dems would like to see more done to target people who commit discriminatory offences online and will push for harsher sentencing of perpetrators.