Lib Dem canvassers in Tower Hamlets say there’s been a noticeable increase in the number of residents they speak to raising concerns over higher and higher grocery store bills; a problem they say staying in the Single Market would help solve.
The Bank of England also warned this last week it now expects salaries to be up to £1000 a year less as businesses either leave the country or put off raises until they see what kind of Brexit deal Britain gets. Over the same time period, government statistical offices have recorded price increases of around 30 percent for many vegetables, and as high as 60 percent for fruits, like strawberries.
“It’s often called a ‘Brexit Squeeze, but in Poplar & Limehouse, it’s more like a vice,” says Lib Dem candidate, Elaine Bagshaw. “We have so many families here that are already struggling to make ends meet. Their wages are freezing right as the pound falls--sending those grocery bills up. A living wage is very important, but without a plan to address fast, rising prices, it’s a half-done job.
“Staying in the Single Market would signal clearly that Britain is open for business and help halt the pound’s fall. That’s going to keep those grocery bills from wrecking already thin household budgets.
“Yet despite this, and our emphatic constituency vote to remain in the EU, the incumbent Labour MP voted with the Tories to trigger the process of taking us out of it. Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats believe that’s against our local interests, as well as our votes, and that’s why we’re fighting this election to keep us in the Single Market.”
Lib Dems canvassing in Poplar & Limehouse are warning that the Conservative manifesto commitment to reduce net migration into Britain to below 100,000 a year will have a disproportionately negative impact on Tower Hamlets, by making it more difficult to recruit skilled workers for the local NHS, curry houses and banks at Canary Wharf.
“Like most Conservative proposals, these targets are going to hit us even harder than the rest of the country,” says Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, Elaine Bagshaw. “Being able to attract skilled workers from Europe and around the world is critical for our local economy.
“Visas for family reunification and refugees make up approximately 70,000 of new arrivals to the UK every year, whilst skilled workers make up about another 70,000 on top of that, which means the 100,000 target is exceeded well before students and other labour are counted.
“With numbers like that, you’re starting to see how harmful the Conservative target is,” Bagshaw says. “Even if all other forms of immigration were restricted, it would force us to choose between being a compassionate country and attracting the workers we need at Canary Wharf, in our NHS centres and in our local curry houses.”
Bagshaw also points to the Conservative manifesto proposals that would see the Immigration Skills Charge double from £1,000 per employee a year to £2,000. “Small business owners know that making the most of a tight budget is key to success. Our curry houses can’t afford surcharges like that.”
“Leave campaigners like Priti Patel and Boris Johnson promised the curry industry that voting for Brexit would make it easier for them to recruit skilled chefs. These manifesto proposals show how empty that promise was to them.
“For Liberal Democrats, especially here in Tower Hamlets, our choice is simple: Keep Britain open, tolerant, and united, and scrap divisive targets like this that harm our prosperity.”
An estimated 6,144 schoolchildren in Tower Hamlets will lose out on free lunches, under plans announced in the Conservative manifesto. The Liberal Democrats originally introduced free school lunches for pupils from reception to Year 2 while the party was in government. Theresa May now plans to scrap them.
The changes would cost families an average extra £480 a year for every child. The Conservatives are also proposing to make older people pay for social care costs from the value of their own homes when they die. This means on average, families in Tower Hamlets would expect to see 77.5% of the value of their home spent on care costs.
Poplar and Limehouse Liberal Democrat candidate, Elaine Bagshaw, commented: "This Conservative manifesto shows the nasty party is back and is nastier than ever. Theresa May is snatching meals away from thousands of children in Tower Hamlets, while the elderly receiving care in their own home will face a ‘Personal Death Tax’ charged against their home.
“This is on top of the average family’s grocery bill already rising by £500 a year due to the drop in the sterling and wage freezes, because of business uncertainty around Brexit,” Bagshaw adds. “How much more do the Conservatives think the average working family’s budget can take, especially here in Tower Hamlets where child poverty is already the highest in the country?
"The Liberal Democrats will offer a brighter future by extending free school meals to all primary schools. If elected, I will stand up to Theresa May’s cold, mean-spirited Britain, protecting those that need the most help and fighting for more funding for our schools and hospitals."
Local Liberal Democrats say their national party’s proposal to require businesses to report their ethnicity pay gaps would be a great step forward for East London.
The Lib Dem policy would make it mandatory for organisations employing 250 people or more to provide information on how much staff from ethnic minorities earn relative to their non-minority counterparts.
National Lib Dem Leader, Tim Farron, commented, “it’s shocking that racial inequality still exists in 21st century Britain” and that being able to collect data on the ethnicity pay gap is an important first step.
“The country is failing to make the most of talent in the workplace. Information is powerful, and while organisations are allowed to get away with keeping patchy records, we'll never know the full extent of the gap,” said former Business Minister, Jo Swinson. “Transparent data on the Black and Minority Ethnic pay gap will help employers focus on what they need to do to ensure equal opportunities at work for people of all ethnic backgrounds.”
Swinson pointed to a report for the last Parliament showing that an end to ethnic minority inequality at work would boost the British economy by £24 billion a year.
“We would certainly feel those gains in Poplar & Limehouse,” said Lib Dem Poplar and Limehouse candidate, Elaine Bagshaw. “Two-thirds of people living in Tower Hamlets are non-white British.”
“Plenty of people in our communities here are making less than they should be, while the Hard Brexit our incumbent Labour MP voted for squeezes the value of the pound and makes living more expensive. We’ve got to address both wages and prices, and reporting on the ethnicity pay gap is an important part of addressing the first one.”
Tim Farron is warning that unless developers build the homes Britain needs, a Liberal Democrat government will. The Liberal Democrat manifesto will commit to ensuring 300,000 homes a year are built for sale and rent by the end of the next parliament.
Under the Lib Dem plan, the government would become a house-builder itself, bringing in contractors to construct homes and then sell them into the market. Farron says the only way to get a grip on the housing crisis is by firm government action, as the market is broken and has failed to deliver.
“Getting a place of my own and then making a home for my family was one of the proudest moments of my life. But for many people in the next generation, it is virtually impossible to get on the housing ladder. They deserve a helping hand.
“If we have to penalise developers for land-banking and let local authorities hike up council tax on empty or un-built homes, so be it. We will set up a Housing and Infrastructure Development Bank to provide long-term capital for new settlements.”
Poplar & Limehouse Lib Dem candidate, Elaine Bagshaw, added that both Labour and Tory governments have failed to get a grip on the housing shortage; a crisis that’s particularly acute in East London, where over 19,000 people are on the waiting list in Tower Hamlets alone.
“Labour controlled Tower Hamlets’ council for decades and of the 20 years our incumbent Labour MP has been in Parliament, his party was in government for 13 of them,” Bagshaw said. “We’re still not seeing meaningful results when it comes to addressing the housing crisis. That’s why a tough Lib Dem policy is needed.”
The Liberal Democrats have announced that £1 billion of the party's additional health funding would be spent tackling the "historic injustice" faced by people with mental ill health.
Last weekend, Liberal Democrat Leader, Tim Farron, and Shadow Health Secretary, Norman Lamb, unveiled a Five Point NHS and Care Recovery Plan to increase funding for health and social care services, including a penny on income tax to provide a £6 billion funding boost.
Today the Liberal Democrats announced that £1 billion of this extra money would be ring-fenced as dedicated funding for mental health services.
This would help to deliver on 12 key priorities, including improving waiting time standards for mental health care on the NHS and providing support for pregnant women and young people suffering from mental health problems.
The Liberal Democrats will also set out to end the inappropriate use of force against people with mental ill health, end out-of-area placements for mental health patients and prioritise national action to reduce the number of suicides.
Elaine Bagshaw, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Poplar and Limehouse said:
“Every Mental Health Awareness week, we are reminded that one in four people experiences a mental health problem each year. Newer studies indicate that two in three adults experience mental ill health at some point in their lives.
“This Mental Health Awareness week. I want us to look beyond the numbers of who is and who isn’t affected; it would sound ridiculous to claim that only one in four people gets ill each year. Each of us experiences changing mental health through our lives, even though we won’t all seek professional treatment.
“Today I’m calling on us to take mental health seriously: the Liberal Democrats would invest an extra £1bn per year on transforming mental health services in our country, but we also need to lose the stigma that some of us are affected by poor mental health while others are unaffected.”
Commenting on the plan, Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, Norman Lamb, said:
“The Liberal Democrats are committed to ending the historic injustice against people with mental ill health.
"Under the Conservative government, services have been stretched to breaking point at a time when the prevalence of mental ill health appears to be rising.
“Neither Labour nor the Conservatives have outlined how they will fund mental health services. We’ve made it clear that our priorities will be funded from our ambitious plan to inject £6bn a year into the NHS with an additional penny on income tax.
"We will invest in improving waiting time standards for mental health care in the NHS, end the scandalous use of force against people with mental ill health and prioritise national action to dramatically reduce the number of people who take their own lives.
“The Liberal Democrats are the real opposition to the Conservatives, and the only party fighting for genuine equality for those who suffer from mental ill health.”