David Lofts, Respect 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?
David Lofts Ultimately it comes down to money being spent on services and resources that serve those who already have more than enough money of their own. Tax breaks, disparate education systems like Academy and Free Schools, putting public services into private ownership so they can be raped for profit and a failure of Government to deliver any hope to the millions of us who live on low incomes has caused the cynicism and anger we now feel.
The austerity measures implemented by David Cameron and George Osborne are not working. Our borrowings and deficit are now no better than when they came to power. And in spite of an appalling education system that teaches our children to tick boxes to pass exams rather than to think for themselves, we can all understand that both of these privileged, elitist politicians are lying through their teeth when they claim economic or fiscal success.
Money needs to be redeployed to where it’s needed. As Tony Benn said, “If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people”.
The big question of course is, why we don’t do just that?
A simple reorganisation of spending priorities would make a massive difference to the lives of millions of people struggling to make ends meet.
We need to ask, “Why?” Why are we spending £110 billion on nuclear weapons? Why are we putting our healthcare system into the hands of profiteering business? Why do our train fares increase at twice or three times the rate of inflation every year?
Why does the Government not collect the £45-ish billion in unpaid taxes, £25-ish billion of which is owed by corporations making even more offshore – from the sale of products or services to the British people, who pay taxes on the money we earn, and then again when we spend it?
Given the opportunity, I would collect the taxes, scrap Trident, remove our armed forces from every foreign conflict they’re engaged in and bring the NHS back into full public ownership. I’m not an economist, but I make that somewhere between £600 and £800 billion over the next Parliamentary term. It’s not enough money to cure all our problems but it would close a lot of food banks, pay for the doctors, nurses, teachers, emergency services and housing we need to put people on a better footing, and provide some much needed hope.
Government investment in non-profit organisations is essential. House builders, banks, insurance companies, energy providers, prisons, ISPs – all of these, and more besides, could be easily set up as Government funded non-profits, with licences and contracts awarded when they come up for renewal.
So the City would cry “Unfair competition”…But isn’t competition what Capitalism reveres so much as the driver to prosperity? Try competing with a Community Interest Company that has no need of profit and puts all its resources into providing jobs and security for its employees. A business committed to delivering ownership to the very people that work there. This is my solution.
Additional taxation is of course also essential, and I favour both a ‘Mansion tax’ and additional taxes on second and buy to let homes. A Tobin tax of some kind would also be a good thing.
What is your vision of the ‘good society’ and how might such a society be organised and financed?
Money aside, ‘Good society’ starts with good mental health. Just this week I read a statement by the Quality Care Commission highlighting a 100% increase in absenteeism due to mental health problems in our NHS, while the mental health budget has been put in the hands of ‘Partners’ via the Improved Access to Psychological Treatment (IAPT) system, which hires clinical managers who exploit trainee therapists to deliver services on a voluntary basis. These clinical managers now run highly profitable NHS funded businesses.
IAPT has increased waiting times for talking therapies from 13 to 18 weeks for assessment, with a further 13 weeks before treatment. And where does the nurse, doctor or midwife, signed off work with depression go for treatment? Into the IAPT system. The irony is not lost on me.
The people who staff the NHS do some pretty soul-destroying work, with poor pay that is falling in real terms. They cope with 24/7 criticism from the likes of Nigel Farage and abuse from angry patients and grief-stricken relatives, and budget cuts have left too few people to do too much of our dirty work, under constant pressure. Is it any wonder the carers in our society have mental health problems?
Good mental health starts with good education. We teach our primary school children about the Bible, geography, history and, to a degree, health and nutrition. But we fail abysmally to provide education about mental health, family life and how to fit into and contribute to society.
Being married to a psychotherapist is a constant reminder to me that the vast majority of non-genetic mental health problems can be traced to some form of childhood abuse or neglect, and it is these problems that affect our ‘Happiness’ index later in life. This is the key to ‘Good society’. We fail to adequately protect and educate our children, and are then outraged when they behave exactly the same as adults as we allowed them to as kids. Inequality, bigotry, racism, sexism, violence, extremism – these are learned behaviours which blight the entire world and prevent the ‘Good society’ we long for.
All the problems in our society can be summed up in a single sentence: we should not teach women how to avoid being raped, but instead teach men not to rape.
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. ‘Partners’ has become a popular word in Government. It replaces ‘Quangos’ but adds profit into the equation. Fit for work and benefit assessments should be in the hands of people who care about the services they deliver, not those responsible for creating profit for the organisations they work for. There are enough people who show a high enough ‘caring’ score on a psychometric test to virtually guarantee that these organisations could treat people with dignity if they wanted to. Hiring the right people for the job isn’t rocket surgery; you just have to want to do it.
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?
I set up a public opinion website at the beginning of the year – www.whatweneed.uk – as I’d been away from the area quite a lot and felt I may be out of touch. I wanted to find out what the main concerns were.
The following chart shows the responses of just over 800 people in the Hastings & Rye constituency:
Poverty, housing and education make up the top three. It’s interesting to note that the efforts of the incumbent MP Amber Rudd seem focused on trains, roads and the building of yet another white elephant industrial estate; all the while taking credit for reducing benefits payments by “Up to” 49%. It’s clear to me that her own interests and those of her party have been put before those of the people of the constituency.
Were there as much effort and money spent on alleviating poverty, providing affordable homes and education I suspect the chart would look very different, and I can’t help but wonder who suffered as a result of the zero hours contracts that took them off benefits so Rudd could claim her magic number? Or how many stopped claiming as a result of an increase in the suicide rate, sectioning under the mental health act, admission to hospital, homelessness or having children taken into care – all increased by around 100% in the last four years?
My objective is to lift people out of poverty, allowing them to regain their self respect, and to improve the dreadful conditions which many people in the area are forced to live in.
My strategy is the introduction of capital investment into the area to develop non-profit competitors to some of the UK’s leading businesses.
To this end I have already negotiated an initial investment of £500,000 from ethical investors, which will be used to start a series of non-profits. By demonstrating success with these ventures I will then have access to a further £100 million from the same source, to turn Hastings & Rye into the UK’s non-profit centre, with a global perspective.
As well Fair Trade musical instrument recycling I’ll be launching some really innovative non-profit businesses in community property development, legal services, internet marketing and artist representation. A non-profit call centre is also planned to meet the specific objective of hiring disabled employees, serving all the other parts of the group as well as working externally for other non-profits and charities. I am committing to delivering these whether elected or not, and to paying all who work in them a minimum Living Wage of £10.20 an hour, with executive pay capped at the national average salary.
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 know all too well the problems being faced by musicians and publicans –I’m one of them.
As a musician myself I cut my teeth as a guitarist in these very same pubs, many of which no longer exist or can no longer afford to pay decent money to bands. The Musicians Union does an excellent job promoting live music, but the current climate boils down to two things:
Firstly, in a depressed economy the customer has no money to spend in pubs. No audience = no band, and as pubs begin to make losses they are forced to close.
To change this people need jobs. Not minimum wage jobs, but sustainable work with a living wage. I’m committed to delivering this, as well as helping musicians and artists via EcoArts – our non-profit artist representation agency.
Secondly, I don’t see many big breweries or estates coming to the rescue of their tied landlords. Instead they’re imposing restoration orders on pubs, forcing landlords to agree to increased targets and beer orders and to pay for the upkeep of estate-owned property. There is no legal precedent for this, as a number of breweries including Shepherd Neame are now discovering.
If there are any pubs in the area suffering from this kind of corporate bullying I’m very happy to go to bat on their behalf and can introduce an expert, specialist law firm who are happy to work for landlords on a no-win, no-fee basis.
Saving the local fishing fleets is another matter, and can only be done by reallocation of quotas, partly via the EU but by far the biggest impact will be made by forcing the two or three big fisheries to relinquish some of their quotas to our small fleets. And by forcing them, I mean direct action.
Why do you think people should vote for you personally?
When I say direct action I really do mean direct action. I relish the job of taking people to task that exploit others; those who profit from inequality and who refuse to acknowledge the negative impacts of their actions on those who are less fortunate. I’m a fighter, and I am standing for the Respect Party because I believe passionately in the three central tenets of the party, Peace, Justice and Equality, not just for the rich and privileged, but for everyone.
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