The 2015 Fair Ten Challenge Questions

These were the questions we put to all the parliamentary candidates across Leeds. You can find their answers on the Results page.

1. Keep The NHS Public: NHS Reinstatement Bill

The draft NHS Reinstatement Bill would reinstate the government’s legal duty to provide the NHS in England, abolish competition, abolish the purchaser-provider split, re-establish public bodies and public accountability and restrict the role of commercial companies. If you are elected as an MP would you, like David Owen, support Allyson Pollock and Peter Broderick’s draft NHS Reinstatement Bill and help to get it included in the first Queen’s Speech after the election?


What’s this all about?

Since this Government forced through the Health and Social Care Act, almost all new contracts for NHS services have had to go out to tender. A number of large companies like Virgin, Serco, Circle, Care UK have been jostling to bite off the more profitable chunks of the NHS, fragmenting services, prioritising competition over co-operation, and introducing massive instability as firms drop contracts like a hot brick if they don’t prove profitable. This month a deal has been announced to channel £780m of NHS funds to 11 private firms for heart, joint and other types of operations as well as scans and tests. £1.2bn for cancer care and end of life care in Staffordshire is up for grabs.

All this is costing the NHS a fortune. Implementation of the H&S C Act cost at least £3bn and the costs of operating a market in the NHS is conservatively estimated at £4.5bn per year. With the Government insisting on £20bn “savings” in the NHS over a five year period it is no surprise that 80% of England’s hospitals are in financial deficit. This year, in an unprecedented move, “NHS Providers” representing hospital, community, ambulance, and mental health trusts told the Government that the proposed “efficiency savings” for 2015-16 were unachievable and would put the care of patients at risk.

Although the UK spends the least of the G7 countries on health care and has fewer hospital beds than almost any other country in the western world, our NHS was ranked top in the 2014 Commonwealth Fund study of 11 nations. If we don’t stop and reverse the tide of privatisation and cuts we will end up with the kind of private, insurance based care or no care that exists in the US which was ranked most expensive and least effective in the same Commonwealth Study.

You can find information about the proposed bill here, or you can watch a trailer for a film about the campaign to save the NHS here. There is also this film about the NHS sell-off here.

2. Vote Against TTIP

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and its sister treaties the Canada Europe Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) are a direct threat to democratic accountability, workers rights, public services and our much needed food safety and environmental standards. Will you vote against these treaties, regardless of whether ISDS protections are removed and public services explicitly exempt from the deals?


What’s this all about?

TTIP is a proposed deal that aims to remove ‘non-tariff barriers to trade’. Even though trade tariffs are at an all-time low, corporations, on both sides of the Atlantic, want to remove other rules and regulations that might be stopping them from making even bigger profits.

This is a problem because safety regulations, workers’ rights, environmental protection rules and food standards regulations are all threatened by TTIP. All of these can and are seen by corporate interests as barriers to trade and profits.

The Investor State Dispute Settlement Mechanism (ISDS) is a legal system, run entirely by corporate lawyers, which allows corporations to sue governments if they think legislation will impede future profits. It is a system that has been implemented in other trade deals previously and we can see the injustices it brings, for example, tobacco giant Philip Morris has sued Australia for introducing plain packaging on cigarettes. This is an affront to democracy.

But even without ISDS, TTIP would have the effect of levelling down standards in the EU and US – and then driving them down further. TTIP is less of a negotiation about trade and more of a full frontal attack on society by transnational corporations wishing to impose their will on people both sides of the Atlantic.

All projected economic benefits are (i) necessarily highly speculative and (ii) even if there were some, we all know that they would be distributed far from evenly. Entering into TTIP would be a gamble – the only certainty would be that we would have given up our very hard-won rights to regulate the environment, protect workers, etc. – and the outcome could well be economic loss, of jobs, for example.

Over a million people have signed petitions against the deal in the UK.

For more information, see Global Justice Now‘s website. You can also read a couple of articles here and here. To find out about alternative trade click here.

3. Fair Asylum Decisions

25% of negative decisions on asylum claims are overturned at appeal, suggesting a flawed process of initial decision making. Recent changes also mean access to legal aid after an initial refusal becomes severely limited, and people can be left destitute, detained, or even forcibly removed if they are not able to submit their right to appeal within a strict time frame. Would you be prepared to contact the Home Secretary to push for improved decision making within the asylum system, so that fair decisions are made the first time?


What’s this all about?

Claiming asylum in the UK is very tough. In 2014, over 8,000 people had been waiting over 6 months for a decision on their claim.

In 2014, 28% of appeals against negative initial decisions were successful. That means that in 2014, the Home Office got over a quarter of their initial decisions on asylum cases wrong.

How the Home Office assesses asylum cases often fails to account for human behaviour; the effects of trauma (e.g. ability to remember events correctly); cultural differences (e.g. the importance of specific dates); and language barriers. Interpreters may speak a different dialect from an applicant, leading to inconsistencies. Lack of gender sensitivity within the process can also account for the exceptionally high number of successful appeals from women.

Experts have long expressed concerns that people seeking asylum in the UK do not receive a fair hearing of their claim. In 2013, a culture of disbelief was identified within the Home Office towards people seeking asylum in the UK.

People in the asylum process are guilty until proven innocent: the burden of proof lies disproportionately with the applicant. However, when fleeing acute danger, people often do not have time to gather ‘proof’ of who they are or what they’ve suffered. Without this proof, many claims are refused on the basis of ‘credibility.’

Funding for Legal Aid is increasingly squeezed, meaning many people reach the end of the asylum process without their protection needs being recognised. It is argued that access to early legal advice (ELA) for asylum seekers has wide-ranging benefits for the asylum process, increasing confidence on all sides and improving the quality of decision making.

Fundamentally, if right decisions were made the first time, within a realistic time frame, the government would avoid the very costly appeals process, and people seeking safety would receive the protection they deserve.

For further information you can read this report from Amnesty International here, there is an article here about destitution and asylum. For some background information find out about refugee action here.

4. Trident Replacement

The largest public spending decision of the next Parliament will be whether to replace Trident, a nuclear weapons system with the power to kill millions of civilians and whose use has been declared internationally illegal. The £100 billion of public money could instead quadruple UK investment in renewable energy, resolve the current funding crisis in our NHS or abolish student tuition fees for the next 30 years. The vote will be held next year. If elected as MP, will you be voting against Trident replacement?


What’s this all about?

Trident is Britain’s nuclear weapons system. It’s made up of four submarines – one of which is on patrol at all times – carrying up to 40 nuclear warheads on board. Each of these warheads is eight times more powerful than the atomic bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of the biggest supporters of replacing Trident in 2007, has admitted that the only purpose of maintaining the nuclear weapons system is to give Britain status.

Trident and legality

These weapons have no legitimate purpose: their use would be illegal under almost every conceivable circumstance, as huge numbers of civilian casualties would be unavoidable. That is why the International Court of Justice ruled in 1996 the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be contrary to the rules of international law.

Trident and security

Not only are these weapons immoral, potentially genocidal and strategically irrelevant in the face of the realistic threats we face today, they are also hugely expensive. The Government’s National Security Strategy identifies international terrorism, cyber-attacks and natural hazards as greater threats than nuclear war.

Trident and its cost

The current government is in favour of replacing Trident at a cost of around £100 billion. This money would be enough to fully fund A&E services for 40 years, employ 150,000 new nurses, build 1.5 million affordable homes, build 30,000 new primary schools, or cover tuition fees for 4 million students.

It is time to comply with our obligation under international law to accomplish the total elimination of our nuclear arsenal. By doing so we would send a message to the world that spending for peace and development and meeting people’s real needs is our priority, not spending on weapons of mass destruction.

For information about weapons of mass destruction visit this site here, for an article about the Trident debate visit here and for an interesting read there is this article here.

5. Climate Change

Climate Change is the biggest threat facing our society. It will generate flooding and loss of land, food and water shortages, disease, massive displacement of people and war. It is caused primarily by human activity. Will you commit to creating a carbon neutral Britain by 2050 and commit to legislation with a mandatory pro rata shift each year towards the achievement of this goal?


What’s this all about?

Climate Change is the biggest threat facing our society. It will generate flooding and loss of land, food and water shortages, disease, massive displacement of people and war. It is caused primarily by human activity. Will you commit to creating a carbon neutral Britain by 2050 and commit to legislation with a mandatory pro rata shift each year towards the achievement of this goal?

The debate is now over. The scientific community have been telling us for a long time about the reality of Climate Change. In 2015 there are increasing numbers of politicians around the globe who accept that reality and it is up to us to ensure that UK politicians play a leading role in limiting and mitigating its effects both in our own country and around the world.

Climate Change will result in more extreme weather events in the UK, leading to more flooding, water shortages and tropical diseases – such as dengue fever – becoming real issues. Around the world the issues are even more stark. If you overlay a map of the poorest countries in the world with a map of those countries that will be most impacted by Climate Change then they are almost the same.

The countries who have the least resources available to try and adapt to Climate Change are the ones that will be worst affected. This will lead to displacement as people try to escape to less affected countries (e.g. Western Europe) and increasing disease and conflict arising from such displacement.

Working towards making our country carbon neutral by 2050 enables the UK to not only take an important role in controlling Climate Change but also enables us to move towards a more sustainable economy. Fossil fuels, apart from their impact on climate, are limited and dwindling resources. To safeguard future generations we need to use renewable energy which will not run out. We need to steward our use of resources so we waste less.

Whilst everyone has a personal responsibility to ‘do their bit’ we also have a responsibility to lobby politicians to ensure they act together to deliver action at an international level that will control the amount of Climate Change and deliver a more secure and more sustainable world.

You can catch up on all things climate change related on the New Scientist website here, find out more from the EPA here, or find out about the causes of climate change from the WWF here.

6. Housing And Rents

The chronic shortage of social housing combined with soaring private sector rents and swingeing cuts and sanctions to benefits are resulting in soaring rates of homelessness. Will you fight to establish rent controls and guarantee benefit levels adequate to cover housing costs; force absentee landlords to either let or sell their empty homes to councils; prevent the sell-off of social housing to the private sector; and invest in a massive publicly-funded programme to increase the stock of affordable and well-constructed social housing?


What’s this all about?

Figures for 2014 showed 1.8 million households on council waiting lists, whilst between 2009/10 and 2013/14 there was a 26% rise in statutory homelessness. With home-ownership slipping out of reach for the average household and the resultant increase in private-sector renting contributing to soaring rents, council housing is the only affordable option for millions; yet in 2013 fewer than 1000 new council homes were built, compared with the 2.5 million sold off under the Right to Buy scheme since 1979.

The running down and sell-off of council estates to developers intent on raising rents are resulting in massive displacement of council tenants. 60% of large-scale developments currently in the planning system fall short of local “affordable” housing targets (“affordable” being up to 80% of market rents – well out of reach of the majority of working households in many areas). The overall cap on benefits functions as an instrument of social cleansing in high-rent areas such as central London.

Private renters priced out of decent homes are forced to accept unsafe or unhealthy conditions, with a third of homes failing to reach “decent homes” standards. Tenancies are usually short-term, offering tenants little stability and making them vulnerable to “revenge” evictions if they complain about conditions.

Caps on Housing Benefit, and the raising to 35 of the age at which the “self-contained accommodation” rate applies, leave many private-sector tenants paying the shortfall in their rent from their meagre Job Seekers or Employment Support Allowance, from which a huge slice is also claimed by cuts to Council Tax Support.

Sanctions imposed on almost two million claimants of JSA and ESA in the last two years mean that private sector tenants are losing their homes due to rent arrears. Under Universal Credit, sanctions can also put the “working poor” at risk. Evictions due to “bedroom tax” arrears are set to rise as discretionary Housing Payment funds are slashed.

You can find a couple of articles here and here about the loss of social housing and benefit sanctions. You can find information here on why we need more social housing.

7. Robin Hood Tax

A ‘Robin Hood Tax’ of 0.05% on speculative banking transactions would raise hundreds of billions of pounds around the world. This could be used to tackle the damaging affects of climate change and help to alleviate poverty in the UK and abroad. Will you pro-actively support the introduction of the Robin Hood Tax, including in any future votes in Parliament and by signing any relevant Early Day Motions that are tabled?


What’s this all about?

The global economic crisis pushed 50 million more people worldwide into extreme poverty. It’s simply not fair for poor people to pay the price of mistakes made by rich bankers, to die for lack of medicines or for their children to be forced out of school because of an economic crisis they did nothing to cause. That’s why we are campaigning for a financial transaction tax on banks.

The ‘Robin Hood Tax’ is a tiny tax that would have a massive impact. It would raise enough money to help poor people, protect public services and tackle climate change at home and abroad. It would take less than 3 minutes of a UK Robin Hood Tax’s revenue to employ one newly qualified nurse, teacher and a police constable for a year. 3 days of a UK Robin Hood Tax’s revenue would pay for at least 1000 new affordable homes to be built.

Politicians around the world are already considering it as a serious possibility. 11 EU countries are negotiating a financial transaction tax and senior US Democrats are also calling for a similar tax on Wall Street. Already 50 UK councils representing 15 million people have backed the Robin Hood Tax. We need to make sure the possibility becomes a reality.

For more information about the Robin Hood Tax you can visit the official UK site here, watch a video about it on Youtube here, or read an enlightening article about it here.

8. Benefit Sanctions

The inhumane regime of sanctions against claimants of JSA and in the Work-Related Activities Group of ESA is causing misery and hardship to huge numbers of the country’s poorest. Sanctioning is also contributing to the burgeoning problem of in-work poverty, by forcing jobseekers to accept low pay and poor conditions of employment. Will you fight to outlaw the removal of benefits from the unemployed, sick and disabled, and to reverse the encroachment of sanctions-backed conditionality into in-work benefits through Universal Credit?


What’s this all about?

A Job Seekers Allowance claimant’s benefits may be stopped (sanctioned) for a minimum of 4 weeks and a maximum of 3 years, for allegedly “failing” to comply with a rigid and largely arbitrary “claimants commitment” set by the Job Centre advisor. In the last year, a million claimants (800 000 after appeals and reconsiderations) were sanctioned, affecting around 100 000 children.

Those in vulnerable groups (eg young people, those with long-term health problems, and single parents) are the most likely to be sanctioned – including 100 sanctions per day against claimants of Employment Support Allowance suffering from severe mental health problems.

The majority of sanctions are applied for trivial or unavoidable matters, for example being a few minutes late for a Job Centre interview, or for “failing” to apply for a clearly unsuitable job. Many claimants have been sanctioned in highly distressing circumstances, eg for missing an appointment due to a death in the family. Such examples are not exceptional but are due to the deliberate use of the sanctions regime to force people off benefits, backed up by Job Centre targets and other pressure on staff to sanction regardless of mitigating circumstances (1)

The level of JSA (around £72 per week for a single person, or £57 for under-25s) is already too low to meet basic needs, and loss of even this meagre amount makes it even harder to meet job-search requirements. Instead, it results in debt, hunger and potential homelessness for those who need to pay part of their rent from their JSA.

The government itself acknowledges that a sanction is likely to result in deterioration of the claimant’s health, and there have been a number of documented deaths from malnutrition, or by suicide resulting at least in part from the loss of benefits.

For more information you can read this rather comprehensive report here, visit this blog post here for more information with an attached download, or read this blog post here.

9. Fracking Ban

Fracking (and other forms of extreme energy extraction such as Coal Bed Methane and Underground Coal Gasification) threatens to pollute our water supplies, poison our soil and wreck our countryside. We should not be seeking to extract and burn more fossil fuels but replace them with renewable energy, otherwise climate change will destroy us. Will you fight vigorously against fracking and vote to ban it?


What’s this all about?

A tidal wave of extreme energy extraction is sweeping across the globe, of which unconventional oil and gas extraction (colloquially known as fracking) is a major component. It is being driven by the progressive depletion of easier to extract fossil fuels which is leading to the exploitation of increasingly harder to extract resources. This process in itself has severe effects on human societies but the more immediate effects where the extraction takes place are becoming all too obvious.

The evidence from the US, Canada and Australia where tens of thousands of shale oil and gas and coal bed methane (CBM) wells have already been drilled, that fracking destroys water supplies, air quality, and people’s health has been mounting for years and is now becoming very difficult to ignore. Beyond these more well known issues lurks a whole host of local and regional impacts, from frack sand to ‘orphaned’ wells.

Globally, we can afford to burn considerably less than half (perhaps only a quarter) of known conventional fossil fuel reserves and still have some chance of maintaining a liveable planet. Any exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels is putting the world on a path to a devastated future. That said, the cumulative effect of all the local impacts spread over the vast areas needed by fracking cannot be underestimated.

For news, updates and all things fracking related you can visit this site here, read an article about how one town turned against fracking here, or watch this video on Youtube about one of its affects here.

10. Arms Embargo Against Israel

During the 2014 onslaught against Gaza, 2,192 Palestinians were killed including 519 children. Many of these deaths were made possible by arms and components produced in the UK. In the 6 months preceding the offensive the UK issued £7 million of arms export licenses to Israel. In addition, arms imports from Israel support the continual development of the Israeli arms industry. Will you take action to implement a two-way arms embargo against Israel until it ends human rights violations and complies with international law?


What’s this all about?

During July and August 2014, 2,150 Palestinians were killed as Israel carried out another massacre in the besieged Gaza strip. Entire neighbourhoods were destroyed and mosques, market places, UN relief compounds and schools were deliberately targeted. There was no safe place for the 1.7 million people in Gaza to take shelter from the Israeli bombardment.

This massacre was carried out with the support of weapons exported from the UK and by companies in which UK companies are invested. The UK also purchases military equipment developed through occupation and massacre. This cannot continue.

In 2011 Palestinian groups called for a two-way military embargo on Israel.

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee wrote at the time: “A comprehensive military embargo on Israel is long overdue. It would form a crucial step towards ending Israel’s unlawful and criminal use of force against the Palestinian people and other peoples and states in the region and would constitute an effective, non-violent measure to pressure Israel to comply with its obligations under international law.”

Last summer, hundreds of thousands of people marched to demand a military embargo on Israel and occupations were held at the the offices of UK government departments and companies with links to the arms trade. These grassroots actions contributed to the UK government announcing that it was considering suspending 12 licenses for arms exports to Israel.

Yet the UK government has so far failed to take any action to curb the arms trade with Israel, and many UK companies continue to support and profit from Israeli militarism.

By selling weapons to Israel we are complicit in the occupation of Palestine and continuation of conflict. By importing Israel’s military technology we are funding the Israeli arms industry, amongst the largest in the world. A two way arms embargo would send a strong message that the occupation and violence has to stop.

To find out more you can read an article which outlines how the UK supplied Israel with arms in 2014, see the Campaign Against the Arms Trade website for details of the different weapons components supplied to Israel, and here for an introduction to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

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