Sarah Owen, Labour Party
On behalf of Hastings Online Times Sean O’Shea (SOS) asks parliamentary candidates about their image of the ‘good society’, how it might be organised and financed, and what they would do to address some of the specific problems affecting the people of Hastings and Rye.
SOS: Some people have become cynical about the way our society is organised e.g. finance, education, work, politics, the tax system and legal system, to mention just a few sectors. Furthermore, in the midst of growing inequality many of our core institutions are now perceived as serving a privileged elite, and neglecting or exploiting ordinary people. What is your view on this issue and what might you do to address the problem? What is your vision of the ‘good society’ and how might such a society be organised and financed?
Sarah Owen The last five years have really shone a light on how big corporations have been behaving, where the power is vested and how the gap between the rich and the rest has been expanding. This is not my vision of a future Britain and I want to reset that imbalance. My idea of real economic success and a fair society is one where we all have a chance to get on in life, have access to public services when we need them and at the very heart of it, should always be the value of working for the majority and not just a privileged few at the top. This also goes to answer what my vision of a ‘good society’ is as well – so I shall answer questions one and two together.
If you apply the principle of ‘working for the majority, and not just the privileged,’ to every area of our lives, then the decisions which have come from the current government would simply not have even been imagined, let alone enacted. In this section I shall try to get as much information out on how we would practically change things for the better.
Giving young people the best start
Childcare is expensive and in short supply, so for working parents in Hastings & Rye we will extend free childcare to 25 hours a week for three/four-year-olds, and double the number of Surestart children’s centre places. In terms of education I will ensure there is a cap of no more than 30 children in infant classes, cut the cost of University by at least £3,000 a year and look to reduce it further (I am still paying off my Student Loan). The Conservatives plan a further 10% cut to education funding in the future. We will also protect the education budget, bring back local accountability for education (giving academies the option of ending their academy status early) and bring back time for creativity in learning – making sport and the arts part of school life again.
Caring for and supporting people
Health services in Hastings & Rye have been reduced to their bare bones by the Conservatives. Women have given birth on the roadside between Eastbourne and Hastings after cuts to maternity services, people are waiting ages for a GP appointment and hardworking NHS staff are struggling to cope with the levels of cuts and staff shortages.
Labour will reverse the damage done to the NHS by recruiting and training 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 doctors and 5,000 carers, as well as giving mental health the support it deserves by rewriting the NHS constitution to include a right to therapy and not just treatment.
As a former health care assistant in the community and at the Conquest Hospital, I welcome our plan to bring social care in line with the NHS. With a population which lives longer, the social care system as it stands cannot be allowed to continue – so I am proud that we have the bold vision of building a publicly owned National Health AND Social Care Service.
Powering and protecting our country
Environmental policies aren’t just about saving our planet, they are also key to building a fairer society with better paid jobs, good transport links and decent housing standards in Hastings & Rye.
I want to see the UK, and our local area, as a world leader in Green technology by 2025, decarbonise our energy sources and create one million new jobs in the environmental sector. Labour’s environmental policies are why green energy companies like Ecotricity are now publicly backing us. I worked with Greenpeace and Parliament to get the recent Decarbonisation 2030 legislation passed, but it was narrowly defeated because disappointingly Lib Dems and Conservatives failed to support it, which damaged confidence in the renewables sector.
Fracking is not the right focus for our future. The current MP, Amber Rudd, has used her position in Government to push through fracking in the South Downs. I am deeply opposed to fracking and will fight her other Conservative pro-fracking plans.
A Labour Government will prevent rises in energy prices and will reorganise the current system to make the energy market work in favour of the consumer. We will insulate five million homes in 10 years, set up a state-backed Green Investment Bank for green businesses, scrap planning reforms which favour developers and cut the local community out of decisions, and end badger culls while maintaining the ban on fox hunting.
Locally, I’ve supported environmental campaigns like Save Ecclesbourne Glen. As a kayaker and a keen but rubbish surfer, I have an active interest in and will continue to support the Clean Seas Project. I am also a member of the Sussex Wildlife Trust and the RSPB.
Public control for transport
I will fight for a reliable, integrated public transport system for our area through giving local communities the power to control their bus routes, fares and providers. My recent Don’t Stop Our Bus campaign saved most of the 99 routes which were going to be cut by the East Sussex Conservatives. I held public meetings, negotiated with Stagecoach and organised a petition which was backed by 7,000 local people. Our local communities and economy rely on good bus networks and they are worth fighting for.
For train users, we need a realistic and fully costed plan for the long term future. My plan will include the electrification of the rail track between Hastings and Ashford to allow for faster trains along our coast and up to London, but also in the short term my priorities will be to cap rail fares, secure a future for our smaller train stations, and put the current failing franchise system in the bin so that public companies can run our trains again.
Backing local business
Hastings is full of fantastic small and medium sized businesses that need practical support to survive and thrive. We’ve businesses that provide parts to the Hadron Collider at CERN, that are world leaders in high-vacuum technology. We have fantastic creative small businesses, and one of the most sustainable fishing fleets in Europe. We need to boost these while protecting important retail and tourism industries that employ many thousands locally.
Our plans include reversing the 1% tax break given to big corporations and instead cutting the business rates of one and a half million small businesses instead, setting up a British Investment Bank to invest in home companies, supporting and financing apprenticeships and giving tax breaks to companies that pay the living wage.
I will continue to promote our ground-breaking local technology business, spread the word about our hub of creativity here and fight to ensure our fisheries are given the quotas they deserve.
What is your vision of the ‘good society’ and how might such a society be organised and financed?
This is answered above.
How does the tough regime of the DWP (Dept. for Work and Pensions) and their partners ATOS (a French multinational IT services company), and now MAXIMUS (a multinational company who run healthcare programmes in the US, Australia and Saudi Arabia) fit into the concept of a ‘good society’?
It doesn’t. On the regime of work capability assessments, a Labour government would scrap ATOS and replace the current system which has failed thousands of people. ATOS and the coalition government’s handling of the work assessments and treatment of vulnerable, sick and disabled people has been an utter disgrace. Having a welfare system that is there for people who need it most – to care properly for the majority and not just the privileged few – is at the heart of a ‘good society.’
What do you consider to be some of the specific problems and challenges affecting the daily lives of people in Hastings & Rye and what would your party do to address them?
The key need locally is to boost the income of local people. This is a great place to live, but there are not enough jobs and too many are low hours, with low pay, increasingly using zero hour contracts. We have suffered greatly from the Government’s cuts – especially around health, regeneration and children’s services.
Zero hour contracts are disproportionately used in accommodation and food sectors – two of our biggest. Labour will ban zero hours contracts with no guaranteed hours or those which require workers to work exclusively for just one business. Where people are working regular hours on zero hour’s contracts, they will be given a regular contract.
I am committed to ending this low wage trap; we need more jobs with decent wages and better prospects. As a dedicated living wage campaigner, I have worked with over 20 Labour local authorities across the UK to see them become accredited living wage employers and with Labour’s plans to give tax breaks to living wage employers, we will see more businesses join the likes of Aviva, Lush and even Barclays in paying their staff a living wage.
Hastings is known for its atmospheric pubs and vibrant music scene, yet pub landlords and musicians – not to mention the fishermen – are struggling to make a living, pubs in the UK are closing at a rate of 31 a week (Campaign for Real Ale, CAMRA, 2014) and it’s likely that there will be few left if the decline continues. How would you address this issue?
I have worked in this sector locally and if I am elected in May, people in Hastings & Rye can be assured that I will always support local pubs with deeds as well as words. Labour have campaigned alongside a broad coalition of groups in the industry – including the Federation of Small Businesses, the Forum of Private Business, CAMRA, FairPint and the GMB and UNITE trade unions – to call for greater protection for local pubs and put a stop to unfair treatment and restrictive practices by PubCos. Unlike the current MP for Hastings & Rye, I would have wholeheartedly supported and voted for a new cross-party clause to the Small Business Bill which offered new protections for local publicans and I will continue to fight for plans to give local pubs and landlords a fairer deal.
Why do you think people should vote for you personally?
Hastings is my home and where I was born. There are three generations of my family here, working in a range of sectors. You don’t have to come to Hastings to love it, but for me it’s very personal and I want to give something back.
I celebrate the excellent community spirit we have that creates so many spectacular events and much needed services. For over a decade I’ve been campaigning in our community from everything on transport to health. I’ve worked alongside many people who have dedicated many hours to the community – and that’s why I often use the tagline ‘create together’ – because while a politician needs a vision and driving force, it has to be one that others share. For change to be successful, we need to bring people along with us.
I value our environment from the fields and valleys around Brede to our seafront and from Bulverhythe to the dunes of Camber. I want all of our communities to have access to this and enjoy it, and I want to work with people to protect it where necessary.
Personally, what I offer is a deep commitment to this town, a proven track record of action and success, and an empathy that should stand me in good stead when representing people both in Parliament and in dealings with other agencies.
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