The Crisis in Calais – What Crisis?

EU figures show that in 2014 Europe received 626,00 asylum applications including:
Germany 203,000
Sweden 81,000
Italy 65,000
France 64,000
Hungary 43,000
United Kingdom 32,000
Austria 28,000
Netherlands 25,000
Belgium 23,000

These figures include refugees from Ukraine and the Balkans as well as Afghanistan, the Middle East and Africa.

In absolute numbers, a total of almost 104,000 persons were granted refugee status in the EU-28 in 2014 (first instance and final decisions), nearly 60,000 subsidiary protection status, and just over 20,000 authorisation to stay for humanitarian reasons. So around 25-30% of applicants were allowed to stay legally in the EU.

It is worth noting that the total population of the EU is 500,000,000.

UN figures indicate that around 100,000 migrants made it to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea in the first half of 2015.

The press are having a field day and pumping up the rhetoric about swarms of migrants crossing the channel but has anyone bothered to look at the actual numbers involved and how many asylum seekers actually find refuge in the UK?

Given the level of asylum requests over the whole of Europe (and yes the numbers will have increased in the current year) we need to ask the question why do we make such a big deal over 3,000 – 5,000 refugees in Calais? Should we not ask why we are only taking in half the number of refugees that France or Italy take in? Are we that worried by a few thousand more? Are we, as a nation, so broke or xenophobic that we cannot extend a hand of welcome to a few thousand more refugees? Are we losing our humanity?

Tory Budget Disaster

1_pound_coinWell, two days after the budget and the wheels have already fallen off George Osbourne’s ‘one nation’ proposals. Analysts from both the IFS and the Resolution Foundation have shown where the crunch is really going to hit. £12bn off welfare, taken mainly from tax credits that would normally be paid to those in low-paid jobs, as opposed to £4bn being given to low-paid workers by raising the minimum wage to £9 an hour by 2020. That just leaves a little matter of £8bn being taken from the poorest people in low-paid jobs.

I wonder who is going to be paying for the cuts in inheritance tax for millionaires?

For five years of the Coalition Government we managed to keep right wingers at bay and produced balanced budgets that actually closed the income gap between rich and poor. Now the Tories are off the leash and we can see where they are going. Not that they gave any details of where the cuts would fall before the election. It was just something that they put together in the two months since the May election.

Oh, and spare a thought for the millions of public sector workers consigned to 1% pay ‘rises’ for the next four years having been on 0-1% for the previous 5 years already.

Don’t pooh pooh this

Cat As a local councillor I get a number of residents complaining about inconsiderate dog owners who allow their dogs to pooh wherever and never stop to clear up the mess. But until today I had never heard of a problem with cat pooh. Now, one resident has contacted me about cat pooh in his garden. It struck a chord with me as we have recently returned from a week away to find cat pooh in our garden. And this was not the first time we have been left fuming about cat pooh, about which there seems very little that we innocent victims can do other than clean up somebody else’s mess and get on with our lives. However, I did some googling and came across this site with lots of useful information for those having to deal with cat pooh:

http://winkypedia.net/2011/03/11/how-to-stop-cats-from-fouling-in-your-garden/

Cat pooh clearly makes a lot of people irate judging form the number of comments on the above website but it is worth a visit if you are one of them.

House Building

It was good to see that there was a marked increase in new homes completed in the first quarter of 2015, up around 25% over the same quarter last year but still the overall figure for the last year is just 125,000 houses when we really need more than double that number even to keep pace with growing demand, never mind reducing the backlog.

The really bad news is that only 20% of new homes in the last quarter were housing association builds and only 270 new council houses were built in that period.

These figures are dire and are condemning millions of people to live in unaffordable private rented accommodation for many years to come and it is the government that picks up much of the costs in meeting claims for Housing Benefit.

We desperately need more affordable housing all across London anmd the South of England. Councils need to be able to borow more money to build homes that people can afford to rent.

20 mph across Reading

Yesterday evening I heard yet again the same old story from Labour councillors about the need for 20mph limits in one particular estate in Reading. They do keep popping up with the same idea, namely that we can create a patchwork of 20mph areas across Reading, but they absolutely refuse to take the bull by the horns and implement 20mph limits on ALL residential roads in Reading. Do they really think that a patchwork of some 20mph alongside some 30mph zones makes much sense? Drivers need to know and understand traffic regulations and zipping between 20mph and 30mph zones does not make it easy for the driver to know which zone he is driving in.

What is so wrong with doing a big promotion across the town, engaging with residents (in a referendum, if necessary, next May) and going for 20mph limits across ALL residential roads in Reading. Why is it good for Dee Road Estate all of a sudden but not for Elvaston Way (where we asked for a 20mph zone six or seven years ago).

There is no logic to a piecemeal approach when almost everywhere you ask people they all want 20mph zones by a large majority.

Wake up Cllr Tony Page, smell the coffee, and move to implement 20mph along all residential roads across the whole town.

20 is Plenty for all of us! Visit the website at www.20splentyforus.org.uk

20s Plenty

Yet another smash in Mayfair

Mayfair smash 4 Aug 2014 cropped

I am losing count of the number of smashes in Mayfair since the council stopped residents parking on their own driveways. Today’s smash (see above) is the fourth or fifth involving cars running in to parked vehicles or drivers causing accidents whilst reversing out of their driveways between parked cars.

I am not sure how long it takes for this Labour council to recognise that stopping residents of Mayfair from parking on their own driveways is not just nonsensical, it is also downright dangerous.

Tilehurst residents overwhelmingly support the experimental ban on verge and pavement parking but the council’s pigheadedness over Mayfair is causing huge concern over the whole scheme.

Fair deal for pensioners

I’ve always believed that how a society treats its elderly people is a measure of how fair a society is.

In our 2010 manifesto we had a policy called the ‘triple lock guarantee’ which re-established the link between pensions and earnings; a link that had remained broken under successive governments since Margaret Thatcher’s Government of 1980. We demanded it was part of the Coalition Agreement and have delivered it in Government.

This means that pensioners in Reading are guaranteed an annual rise by whichever is the higher of earnings growth, prices growth or 2.5%. The state pension is £440 higher per year in 2014-15 than if it had increased in line with earnings from the start of this Parliament, benefiting the 18,000 pensioners in Reading all thanks to the Liberal Democrat triple lock.

Liberal Democrats are committed to building a fairer society and protecting our elderly population not just in this parliament, but for every parliament in the future. That’s why we have pledged to write this ‘triple lock’ into law, guaranteeing that pensioners get this protection in the years ahead, going further than any of the other parties.

This is the latest in a long line of Liberal Democrat policies delivered in Government that help build and safeguard a fairer society. This will offer dignity and stability to current pensioners, as well as those coming up to retirement. They will be able to better plan their futures knowing that they’ll no longer be faced with the insecurity of unpredictable pension rises.

How we define poverty

Whilst reading today’s Independent I was struck by the definition of poverty used by government statisticians. According to the article by Jonathan Owen the poverty line for a family of four is £357 a week after housing costs which translates to £18,564 a year. That got me thinking as I, like most people I suspect, assumed that poverty meant hungry children in rags and begging on the streets. OK so we are talking about relative poverty in the UK but just the use of the term poverty seems really over the top for a person earning £18,564 a year and has his housing costs paid for. Is this really a definition of poverty? Well the government measure used to define poverty is those living in a household with an income of less than 60% of the national average which currently means £357 a week for a family of four and excludes housing costs. It cannot be all sweetness and light for a family of four living on this level of income but it also does not seem like real poverty.

What strikes me about this definition of poverty is that it is totally distorted by the huge gap that opened up between rich and poor in this country since the days of Mrs Thatcher and the acceptance of ‘greed is good’ by successive Tory and Labour governments. The average income figure is skewed by the presence of a relatively few astronomically wealthy individuals. That gap has actually been narrowed a bit by the Coalition since 2010 with measures such as raising the personal income tax allowance, the pupil premium and now the expansion of free school meals but there is still a huge difference between rich and poor in our country.

The government needs a different measure of poverty in this country, one that can provide a useful measure of those in dire straits without reference to the filthy rich. That will help future governments target their efforts at those in really desperate need.

Why you should support the Lib Dems in Reading

Ricky face shot 6
We are proud of this government’s record in closing the gap between rich and poor in our society. It was the Lib Dems that proposed both the Pupil Premium and the sharp rises in income tax allowances that now give 25 million workwers an extra £700 in their pay packets. 1.5 million new apprenticeships are playing a key role in giving our youngsters the best starts in their chosen careers, a Green Investment Bank is now providing funds to develop our green businesses. And all this has been achieved whilst turning round our economy which the last Labour government left in a shambles.

We are also proud of this nation’s welcoming attitude to those from other parts of the world who want to contribute to our growing economy. Immigration plays a vital part in our country’s life, providing both simple labour and some of the best entrepreneurs. We want to see a Greater Britain, not a little England that disengages from the rest of the world. We want to work with our counterparts in Europe not set up barriers with our largest trading partners.

Reading has a booming economy and a fantastic kaleidoscope of a population from all four corners of the world. Our ambition is to make sure that all residents share in the rewards and that the less well off are also cared for.

Locally I am leading the campaign for 20 mph limits on all residential streets across Reading. I also want to see a much bigger emphasis on building affordable homes on any new developments in Reading.

Specifically in Tilehurst I am working with local people to oppose the ban on residents of Mayfair from parking on their own driveways, on opposing the landowners plans to sell off the allotments on Chapel Hill, supporting the road safety improvements in School Road and pushing for a much wider 20 mph zone as far as possible across Tilehurst. I also want to see much more use being made of mobile speed guns by the local police team given that one of their priorities is speeding cars.