Thank you to Susan for responding to our questions. Susan is the Lib Dem party candidate for Redditch.
1. A Caring Economy
What will you do to support carers – professional and family-based – and how will your social care policy understand their work as a vital social investment rather than as a financial drain? What will you do to build a caring economy?
- Equal Parenting: I am proud that the Liberal Democrats have a fully-costed care package of nine months shared parental leave and free universal childcare of 40 hours from 9 months.
- Equality for carers: I looked after my husband when he was ill before he died, so I have a very small insight into the needs of carers. For far too long the needs of carers have been ignored and overlooked. The Liberal Democrats want to introduce measures that will support the vital work they do. We recognise that carers are facing several financial pressures because of reduced earnings due to taking on caring responsibilities. Liberal Democrats want to do more to help carers make ends meet by making more families on modest incomes eligible for Carer’s Allowance, working to raise the amount you can earn before losing Carer’s Allowance to £150 a week and also reduce the number of hours care per week which is needed to qualify, from 35 to 20. This change will mean that more carers are more able to combine work with caring without losing out on Carer’s Allowance.
We will 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. We will also ensure those who work in the social care sector are properly trained, with accessible career pathways, and are suitable to practice by introducing a statutory code of conduct backed up by a care workers’ suitability register.
Current measures are inflexible and restrictive for both parents and children and that is why our manifesto makes several proposals on providing families with better childcare options.
- Childcare: We will immediately provide 15 hours a week of free childcare to the parents of all two-year- olds in England (currently it is only received by 40% of two-year-olds). We will next prioritise 15 hours’ free childcare for all working parents in England with children aged between nine months and two years, to bridge the gap between the end of maternity leave and the existing provision for two-year-olds. These changes are costed commitments in our Manifesto.
In the longer term, we will set a goal of 30 hours’ free childcare a week for all parents in England with children aged from two to four years, and all working parents from the end of paid parental leave to two years. This will not only help parents afford to work, but will also help all children start school confident, happy and ready to learn.
Provision should be fully funded at sustainable levels, provide flexibility for parents who work unsocial hours and enable parents to use free hours during school holidays.
In addition to extending childcare, there are other measures that would help to promote equal parenting. Whilst we were successful in introducing Shared Parental Leave in coalition government, we want to go further expanded with an additional month of paid parental leave for fathers to encourage greater sharing of parental responsibilities. We would also encourage employers to provide more flexible working, making this a ‘day-one’ right, so that there is a presumption that work is flexible unless there is a clear business reason it cannot be.
2: The Impact of Brexit
What will you do to ensure that the voices of women by which we mean all women – white women and women of colour, disabled women, migrant women, LGBTQ+ women, younger and older women – are heard and their rights and needs are protected?
The Liberal Democrats are a pro-European party and one of the many reasons we fought so hard to stay in the EU is because of how successful the EU has been in safeguarding the interests of women. The EU has introduced a series of directives which have been adopted into UK law; from minimum requirements on maternity leave, equal pay for equal work and permitting expectant mothers to attend prenatal hospital appointments without the fear of loss of pay. These measures have given women greater security and opportunity in the work place. If these rights are weakened, our society will be even more unequal than it is now. We are clear that the Brexit process must not destroy or dilute these hard-fought rights and we are clear that women’s rights are non-negotiable in the upcoming negotiations. That is why we will:
- Vote against any attempts to scrap the Human Rights Act or withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights – both of which have underpinned much of the success achieved in equality legislation
- Fight to ensure that equalities legislation that is designed to secure women’s rights is not revised or erased during the Brexit negotiations.
We will also introduce new legislation to advance gender equality:
- Following our success in gender pay reporting we will extend the Equality Act to all large companies with more than 250 employees, requiring them to monitor and publish data on gender, BAME, and LGBT+ employment levels and pay gaps.
- Fund more extensive childcare and provide better back-to-work support to get a million more women into work 2025 – this will ensure that the responsibilities of care and parental leave are divided between both parents, increasing the opportunities for women to return to work and advance their careers, should they wish to do so.
We will offer refuge to people fleeing countries where their sexual orientation or gender identification means that they risk imprisonment, torture or execution, and stop deporting people at risk to such countries.
3: Women & Migration
What will you do to restructure the migration system, so that it responds adequately to the gendered realities of migration, separation and multiple marginalization of women and girl refugees?
I am someone who has lived overseas and visited countries that have descended into crisis and conflict and seen the work done by those who work in these countries for organisations such as the UN and aid agencies.
I want our immigration system to work better for everyone. The UK has always been a place of refuge and safety for those fleeing conflict and war and we believe that now is not the time to turn our back on the world. We are fighting to ensure that Britain remains a sanctuary for those fleeing conflict from countries like Syria, this includes those most at risk of danger and violence including women and young girls. Our manifesto has made a commitment to offer safe and legal routes to the UK for refugees and to expand the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme to offer sanctuary to 50,000 people over the lifetime of the next parliament.
The sad fact is that those women with no recourse to public services are more likely to fall victim to poverty, homelessness and isolation and their independence is often reduced. We will introduce a number of measures to increase the protections of those seeking asylum.
- Liberal Democrats will speed up the processing of asylum claims, reducing the time genuine refugees must wait before they can settle into life in the UK- we want to ensure that genuine asylum seekers are not waiting an excessively long period of time for a decision to be made on their claim. It is perfectly sensible that asylum seekers who are able to work should do so if they are waiting for longer than 6 months- increasing their financial freedom
- Liberal Democrats want to end the use of the Azure card, which we believe leads to unnecessary hardship. Liberal Democrats believe that the Azure Card is unjust and impractical for several reasons. Firstly, it can only be used in designated shops. This means that the card cannot be used for travel, making it difficult for someone to travel to a hospital or legal appointment for example. It also means that card users are not able to get the best value for money.
4: Equal Pay
What actions will you take as Member of Parliament to close the gender pay & pensions gap?
It is shocking that in 2017 women are still being short changed in the work place. Our gender pay gap affects pensions because when women earn less than men and they have fewer opportunities to save and are more likely to have a lower state pension. We fought hard for gender pay gap reporting in coalition government. This became a law April 2017- requiring companies with more than 250 employees to report on their gender pay gap every year. But we know that the fight cannot end there, because ethnic minority and disabled women are still more likely to underpaid and undervalued compared to other groups. That is why we now campaigning to ensure that the Equality Act is extended requiring companies with 250 employees or more to monitor and publish data on gender, BAME, and LGBT+ employment levels and pay gaps.
We want to increase security in old age for all people therefore we will:
- Maintain the ‘triple lock’ of increasing the state pension each year by the highest of earnings growth, prices growth or 2.5% for the next parliament.
- Establish a review to consider the case for, and practical implications of, introducing a single rate of tax relief for pensions, which would be designed to be simpler and fairer and would be set more generously than the current 20% basic rate relief
5: Equal Education
What will you do to ensure gender becomes irrelevant in our education system and ceases to influence the life chances of all our children?
We are clear that equality of education remains a major issue and we need to destroy the toxic attitudes that discourage girls from studying certain subjects – based on the perception that only certain subjects should be open to either gender. We 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. Education should give pupils a rich and varied experience of different subjects and skills, that is why we need to dismantle the inherit sexism in the traditional boys vs girl jobs debate. We want to introduce a ‘curriculum for life’ which includes subjects such as financial literacy, entrepreneurship and science. We will also work with the Apprenticeship Advisory Group to increase the number of apprentices from BAME backgrounds, ensure gender balance across industry sectors and encourage under-represented groups to apply.
6: Equal Parenting
How will you work with us to implement universal childcare and our other proposals to enable all families however constituted – and in employment or self-employment – to have a full and productive family and working life?
7: WE require an end to violence against women and girls.
What will you do to ensure that women are safe in their homes, at work, study and in public, that they are believed when they report violence and harassment? What will you do to stamp out the culture that blames the victim and to reinstate vital women’s services that protect and support women and girls fleeing abuse?
The Liberal Democrats are clear that violence against women and girls must be brought to an end. Domestic violence remains a hidden crime that has a catastrophic impact on the lives of women. Between 2009 and 2015, 936 women have been killed by men – 598 (64%) were killed by their current or former partners; and there were an estimated 1.8 million adults aged 16 to 59 who said they were a victim of domestic abuse in the last year. This is simply unacceptable.
It has been revealed that police forces are ‘downgrading’ 999 calls and high-risk victims of domestic violence are being “reclassified” as only medium-risk because police forces are too “overwhelmed” by their workload to offer proper support.
Moreover, victims may not want to be involved in the prosecution for several reasons, for example due to the level of fear and control exerted by the perpetrator. Clearly more needs to be done to support victims during the prosecution process.
As a result, the Liberal Democrats will 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
What will you do as an MP to ensure that women are elected, appointed and promoted at all levels in politics, business, arts, culture, sports, education/academia?
The Liberal Democrats are proud that we have put several measures in place specifically designed to diversify our selection of candidates. Last year the party voted 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.
The party has also provided training and mentoring opportunities for aspiring female MPs such as our Future Women MPs weekends which is an intense residential course on aimed at giving women an unique insight into how they can secure a seat in parliament. We were also the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates. We also want the act to be extended to allow political parties to have all BAME and all LGBT+ shortlists.
We want 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 woman to consider a Parliamentary career.
We will also drive forward diversity in business leadership, pushing for at least 40% of board members being women in FTSE 350 companies.
As an individual I was the first person in my family to attend university. I have a PhD, Masters and a degree and had a successful academic and business career. I was a councillor for many years and served as the Leader of the Council for three of those years. My lead councillors group were an equal number of excellent women and men.
9: Equal Health
What are your proposals to create a health service that recognizes gender difference and offers equality of care and research for all?
There is no doubt that out NHS is in crisis and we need to put better measures in place to support both patients and NHS staff. Our pledge for a 1p tax rise to is a clear and credible plan for how we raise the money and get it into the NHS and the care system. This would ultimately raise an additional £6 billion a year- increasing care opportunities for women. We will also:
- Direct this additional investment to the following priority areas in the health and care system: social care, primary care (and other out-of-hospital care), mental health and public health. This represents the most efficient and effective way of spending these extra resources – ensuring they will have the greatest impact on the quality of care patients receive.
- Transform mental health support for pregnant women, new mothers and those who have experienced miscarriage or stillbirth, and help them get early care when needed.
10: Equality in the Media
How will you hold the media up to scrutiny and challenge the reductive gender stereotyping which it perpetuates? How will you act to end the attempts to suppress women’s and minority voices on social media?
The UK is diverse and that diversity should be celebrated and visible on in all forms of media. As Liberal Democrats, we believe in freedom of expression and condemn any attempts to silence or threaten women and other minority groups. Social media offers all people a platform to express themselves and everyone should have the freedom to do so freely, without fear of humiliation or abuse. Sadly, social media has made it easier to commit crime online. Many ethnic minority women are victims of racism online; we want to reduce by this by targeting the people who commit it and we will push for harsher sentencing of perpetrators.