Monday, 28 November 2016

Shock Jock Brexit's not what I want!: My thoughts RE UKIP under Paul Nuttall.

UKIP have announced a new leader this morning in the rather morose, "Eddie Hitler" lookalike Paul Nuttall. In some respects it would be kushty to ignore the lower than morally Bottom, so-called Far-Right party. Funnily enough Mr Nuttall doesn't believe the far-right exists anymore in the UK and credits UKIP with its destruction. I guess it's pretty easy to convince yourself that you're the party of the "patriotic working class" and try and mimic the Labour movement to escape the labelling of the past. Perhaps it's an attempt to "modernise" or "Alt-Right" the party. Who knows. I can relate to the need to escape political labelling. I've never considered myself as Left or Right leaning but it seems that if you discuss political events and policies you ultimately get sucked into ideological wars which are not of your own making. As a Millennial, I don't particularly care about old fashioned political labels being ascribed to me at will. I know my own mind and that's why I'm proud to be an independent, swing voter. As such, I have no problem expressing my disagreement with some of the
comments El Nutto has made in the past. I don't believe the UK needs to have a referendum on abortion rights, I don't believe businesses should be given an automatic right to openly discriminate against LGBTQIA people on the basis of (misguided) Christian values alone and I don't believe that fox hunting should be made legal again in the countryside. Immigration does need to be "controlled" in some form but not by spewing hateful rhetoric towards immigrants who have spent years working in the UK helping to look after our elderly, nurse patients back to health or help build the miniscule amount of social housing that actually help keep a roof over some British citizens' heads. So, on the face of it, Nuttall's UKIP wouldn't appeal to me in the slightest. Yet it's important to keep a close eye on UKIP policies that are developed over the next few months, especially if you are a member of the Labour party.

UKIP claims to be the party "for the British working class" but what UKIP doesn't understand is that most working class people in Lincoln, including myself, rarely talk about immigration except during fleeting moments of curiosity. I don't talk to my Dad about "bloody foreigners clogging up the GP Surgery" or tell my Mum I won't buy any food made by a Polish migrant on a supermarket hot food counter. I'd never dream of saying either of those comments to them or to anyone else friend or stranger. The Millennials I know are too concerned about whether they'll be able to secure themselves a full time professional role after 3 years of studying at University, or whether their apprenticeship will really equip them with the skills and experience needed to advance up the career ladder in the long term. The Millennials I know want to be able to earn enough money to put aside some for a deposit on their first home, or to help them rent their first flat. Millennials I know want to be able to not have to make a choice between heating their home or eating three square meals a day. Millennials I know want their grandparents and great grandparents to be treated with dignity and respect in their old age by professionals who have the time to care for them properly without worrying about "clocking in on time" to make sure their pay doesn't get deducted. Millennials I know who happen to be LGBTQIA want to know that they will be treated equally whilst working for an organisation- that means not being called "poof" on a daily basis, equal pay and equal opportunities for appropriate training and career progression.  Some Millennials I know care about the environment, wanting more investment in clean energy resources and better protections for animals in Lincolnshire such as our beloved hedgehogs and rabbits.

As far as I'm aware, UKIP haven't truly addressed Millennial based issues in any great depth. Farage certainly didn't go out of his way to publically comment about the state of our Social Care system or Mental Health services and I've never heard him talk about apprenticeships or comprehensive education with much gusto. All I knew about Farage was that he was a "pint man" who hated being part of the EU and bunked off from most debate and voting days and yet still got paid for it. If I'd done that whilst working as a Purchase Ledger Clerk I'd have been immediately reprimanded and possibly even fired. Farage just grinned like a Cheshire Cat.

So it was rather funny being lectured on how to follow politics like a "patriotic person" by a UKIP supporter. A recent tweet exchange involved me being accused of being supportive of a "Labour equalities-driven agenda"- as if being in favour of progressive Equality and Diversity policies is such a bad thing. He told me to "remember to switch off the lights"- i.e. insinuating that voting for Labour is now a vote for stupidity and brazen ignorance. Well that's the problem with some UKIP voters. They see any policies which are remotely progressive in nature as "leftist", "socialist", "Labour" only policies. Does that UKIP supporter, Mr Farage and Mr Nuttall think that Nuttall's policies would have much appeal in Lincoln from Conservative voters? I don't know about you but I've hardly heard of many Conservative voters who now openly oppose giving LGBTQIA people protection from discrimination at work on the basis of religious bias or want a costly referendum on a woman's right to an abortion. It's bad enough women in Northern Ireland are forced to come to England to get an abortion and some on the right still think it's acceptable to make them feel ashamed for exercising their right to control their own bodies. I don't care about fox hunting and Conservative and Labour voters alike in Lincoln don't talk about it. As for the death penalty, I thought we'd moved on as a country and believe in the power of redemption and show compassion for our enemies as we do our friends. As my grandma, a fierce opponent of the death penalty once said- "If you believe in An Eye For Eye you'll make the World Go Blind". I have no interest in putting people to death- not least because of the fact that ISIS issue death sentences like a trigger happy Trumputinung in crack cocaine binge mode. Being vengeful isn't really that worth it in the grand scheme of things. If we had so much hate in our heart, Brendan Cox would have called for the death penalty for extreme far right Neo-Nazi terrorist Mr Mair instead of expressing pity for him. I'd love to know who Mr Nuttall expects to be punished with a death penalty and whether he'd have let Mair be put to death for his actions. One can only surmise on that.

See the thing is that swing voters like me who are honest and open about our voting intentions and votes that we have previously cast are labelled on a fairly regular basis. The far right are very quick to label swing voters who are creatives as "Luvvies" and politically minded swing voters as "Champagne Socialists" in disguise if they dare to vote Labour rather than UKIP or Conservative at a General Election.   The far left label swing voters who vote Conservative "traitors" or "secret racists". It's ridiculous to slander so many independent voters in marginal seats like Lincoln, especially if they are working class Millennials. Mr Nuttall says that there are policies that Labour, UKIP and Conservative voters can all agree on. I agree with him on that point but I'd say that  Liberal Democrats, Greens  and Women's and Equalities Party (WEP) have to be included in cross-party discussions. So here's my list (probably quite different from Nuttall's!):
  • appropriate funding and staffing levels for the NHS including improved Mental Health services, sexual health clinics (GUMs) for each English and Welsh county
  • appropriate funding and staffing levels for the Prison service, to prevent staff fatigue and reduce drug dependency amongst prisoners
  • appropriate funding and staffing for the Police service, including improvement of staff training on handing rape cases, child trafficking cases, domestic abuse and violence cases and how to treat people from ethnic minorities, LGBTQIA people and disabled people with dignity and respect when dealing with claims of hate crime
  • appropriate funding and staffing levels for Comprehensive schools as well as Grammar and Free ones.
  • encouraging transparency in public services to tackle and prevent corruption and fraud-e.g. making sure MPs are forced to pay back expenses to which they were not entitled
  • immigration controls which are sensible and not derived from or backed up by hate rhetoric -e.g. praise migrant nurses, construction workers, agricultural workers and not demonise them or their family members as "scroungers"
  • freedom of expression without resorting to discrimination -e.g. wearing a cross at work to show you are Christian but do not treat a LGBTQIA co-worker differently from a Christian heterosexual co-worker.
  • more apprenticeship opportunities, including ones open to 25 year olds and older, including retraining for Arts graduates who want to change/get into a different career -e.g. Accountancy
  • investing in Digital Infrastructure, especially in rural areas with superfast broadband and 5G becoming the norm by 2020
  • investing in housing infrastructure, including increase in social housing, affordable housing, renovations of terraced housing in inner cities as part of building up social housing base
  • investing in clean/renewable energy resources but recognising the need to retain oil/gas infrastructure until renewable resources are widely available and produce cheap energy
  • preserving heritage sites for future generations and investing in museums, art galleries, theatre spaces, opera houses etc.
  • reducing reliance on foodbanks by increasing the number of full time, sustainable jobs in Northern areas without resorting to hate rhetoric against immigrants currently based in the UK
Such a list isn't designed to be comprehensive or definitive in nature but it shows that Jo Cox was right when she said that there was "far more that unites us than divides us". I believe that the Labour party must study the article that Jo wrote for the Yorkshire Post during the EU Referendum to be able to combat the views of Farage, Nuttall et al head on. Jo gave us key suggestions as to how Labour can appeal to the swing voters currently worried about the impacts of immigration on job prospects and public services, especially in the North East. Labour can't patronise Brexit voters who  have also previously voted Labour...they can't say that just because they don't talk about nuclear disarmament or the grandness of Fidel Castro on a loop that they aren't "true" Labour voters. Instead, Jo mentioned the fact that Labour should focus on dealing with the practical consequences of the UK having experienced a high level of EU immigration over the last decade and a half. It seems clear that Jo would have been supportive of the establishment of a Migrant Impact Fund (MIF) to support schools, create new GP surgeries and build houses in areas of "high demand" such as Boston in Lincolnshire...the area that had the highest Leave percentage in the country at 75.6% and South Holland, second highest at 73.6% which has a large concentration of arable farms which employ EU migrants. Jeremy Corbyn, at his Autumn Conference mentioned that the MIF is a key policy that he'd implement in the first 6 months after an election win. Also, it only seems fair for Labour to be prepared to create a MIF, considering that EU migrants have contributed £20 billion more in taxes than they've taken in benefits since 2001. UKIP hasn't talked about establishing any kind of MIF and the Conservatives haven't been forthcoming on allocating specific funding for areas like Boston. So Labour grassroots activists need to be shouting about the MIF from the rooftops.

If  Labour wants to win the next General Election, Corbyn also needs to demonstrate how immigration controls should work in an inclusive UK. Quota systems which take into account professional requirements seems quite arbitrary to Remain voters like me (who agreed with Jo that non EU immigration levels may go up post Brexit with encouragement from UKIP) but in some ways the professions quota system approach maybe a step in the right direction to try and retain Labour Brexit voters. I remember talking to a Labour voter from Boston who said that he was fine with an "Eastern European working on the farms" but he didn't understand why a Polish migrant had been recruited as a HR Assistant at his local firm. His question to me was: "How can a Polish guy get a HR position but my girlfriend with a HR masters degree can't even get an interview with a local employer?" It was quite a cutting question given my views on immigration are that it has more positive than negative effects in Lincoln. Yet his views are typical of some working class voters in Lincoln. We can't dismiss their concerns completely out of hand. I don't think privileging British candidates over migrant candidates would be the answer to improving job prospects for British born people in Lincoln as he suggested to me but rather the emphasis should be on increasing the number of job opportunities by encouraging growth in the economy. Immigrants help create profitable businesses in the UK which employ hundreds of local people often on full time contracts that pay at least the National Living Wage. It's not distasteful for migrants who work hard to earn enough money to feed, clothe and house themselves and their family to be able to have access to their own food and actively enjoy cultural activities that connect them back to their roots. Locals have to make the effort to get to know their migrants as well as migrants getting to know locals. Neighbourhood solidarity matters greatly. Sharing cultural and social values helps to remove barriers that can lead to unwarranted prejudice and discrimination. If that HR Assistant from Poland is encouraged to connect with an unemployed HR graduate from Lincoln to mentor them into finding a HR position in Lincoln as a result of meeting at a community charity gala or at a local disco venue, that's a fantastic way forward. It's not idealistic, "left wing luvvie" pie-in-the-sky thinking to believe this level of positive social cohesion could happen. At the moment there is a sense that communities which contain a higher proportion of migrants are "troublesome"- Ms Ayling, a UKIP Lincs County Councillor and candidate in the Sleaford and North Hykeham By-Election made a video in 2008 stating the UK should "send the lot back"- lot referring to asylum seekers who would be "encouraged" to speak English as soon as they arrived in the UK if they are allowed to stay. Fear of the consequences of an asylum seeker not being able to speak the language leads to mistrust without much basis for that mistrust. Fear divides us. We have to do everything we can to combat misguided fears. Fear of discussion needs to be overcome. Labour activists should not be afraid to talk to UKIP ones and vice versa.

At the same time, Labour can't dismiss swing voters who voted Remain as irrelevant or "less valuable" because of their "centrist" views. Constituencies such as Lambeth and Hackney which recorded the highest percentage of Remain voters in June are currently solid Labour (whereas Boston is solidly Conservative) and London Labour voters wouldn't take too kindly to the UK going through a "Hard Brexit" as UKIP and far right Conservative MPs have crowed for. It would certainly be a mistake for Corbyn and McDonnell to ramp up rhetoric against the EU if the Brexit process started becoming tumultuous as a result of bumbling Conservative ineptitude. Remain voters need reassurances that European relations will remain strong. That's why Labour has to be coy with regards to their Brexit stance. Corbyn is right to state Brexit will happen but must be prepared to defend workers rights whilst exploring a suitable immigration policy. Emphasising the contribution EU migrants have made to the UK economy, UK culture and society is vital. Resisting calls for arbitrary quota systems suggested by UKIP is essential. The more thoughtful Corbyn comes across on Brexit, the better his polling will be with Remain voters. And yes, Remain voters still matter and do indeed vote in General Elections. UKIP will not gain the support of Remainers like me but we must be prepared to listen and engage with UKIP supporters and swing voters, if only to find practical solutions that will help working class Millennials to thrive in a possible post Brexit climate. Jo Cox wanted us to find the common ground in politics. It's time to apply ourselves to the task of convincing swing voters to back Labour and part of that is by getting ready to take Mr Nuttall's policy discourse seriously and literally. Labour activists may not like what he has to say but they have to take on board his comments and then rebuke them cleverly with facts and workable solutions. Labour activists can do this. Just stay "woke" as they say across the Pond!

Saturday, 26 November 2016

My response to Owen Jones's "Racism in the LGBTQIA Community" Guardian Article

Well well well. Owen Jones dropped an extremely important article (No Asians, no black people. Why do gay people tolerate blatant racism? 24th November 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/24/no-asians-no-blacks-gay-people-racism?CMP=share_btn_tw) yesterday morning that critiques the sheer concentration of racist attitudes that are seemingly tolerated in the LGBT community. As I expected, Right Wing Twitter and Facebook went bat shit cray cray on it. "You can't tell me who to find sexually attractive", "you can't thought police me" yada yada yada. As usual the "freedom at almost any cost to others freedom brigade" waged semantic war on Owen without reading his article with that much needed open mindset. Why would an Oxbridge educated white gay journalist want to talk about race now when he hasn't written in such a nuanced way before? What prompted him to start his article with a focus on online dating but end it talking about the need for white members of the LGBTQIA community to be willing to listen to those who may happen to be Afro-Caribbean, South Asian or Latino/Latina/Latinx? Maybe it was the confrontation with David Duke over Duke's celebration of Trump as a "white nationalist hero". Maybe it had something to do with receiving testimonies from fellow gay guys who are not White European that concerns dating app experiences or real life experiences of racism and he wanted to let their voices be heard...who knows? Regardless of motive, the article is a must read for any LGBTQIA activist who wants to use their social media platform in a positive way!

In some ways social media commentators have proved Owen right on his opening premise that "there is a serious problem with racism within the LGBTQ community that needs to be addressed". Is it at all acceptable in 2016 to wear racial fetish preferences so openly on your sleeve? Yes to some extent physical discrimination fundamentally exists and perhaps it is "folly" to try and apply civil rights so rigidly to dating situations, as Ultra Light Beam has mentioned in the Guardian comments section (24th November 2016). Commentator Nathan Young retorted that "if you happen to have been affected/scarred by white supremacist beauty norms in your upbringing, don't wear your twisted preferences like a badge" (24th November 2016)- such rhetoric seems a little harsh to me but the point is relevant: is it so important to openly declare "I only date white guys with muscular bodies who are British Citizens and I'm not interested in anyone else". If an African American guy or Saudi Arabian businessman happens to contacts you on Facebook and compliments you on your activism or style and then a few minutes later proceeds to asks you out on a date (or to "hook up" on Grindr which I myself will never ever will use), do you immediately say "sorry mate, I only date white muscular men and you're neither so piss off back to Riyadh and suck on camel humps?" or do you say- "thanks for the offer but I already have a date lined up this week and I don't want to let him/her down". You may be telling a little white lie with the latter reaction but at least you are letting the guy down gently. You don't need to insult the guy by making reference to his nationality, racial origin or religion to make your point. You don't need to shove physical/racial disapproval so openly into someone's face. Decorum matters, even in the world of online dating. I know it's touted as "ruthlessly impersonal" and to many games Grindr-ing is just a "game" to satisfy bodily lusts or secret desires but manners don't cost anything and a simple decline is all that's necessary to let a guy know you're not interested. Grindr users just tend to swipe their way into ignoring any individual who pops up and for that sort of platform I'd say that is probably within the realm of acceptable responses; after all we are taught that "if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all". Ignorance is bliss in some circumstances.

See the thing is Owen's article went beyond talking about dating app banter dressed up as possible racial discrimination. If readers only focussed on the rather bolshie social media dating scene you miss Owen's overarching point that there could be a level of systemic racism built into the LGBTQIA community and that sort of conclusion simply cannot be ignored. It would be disingenuous to ignore the story of Michel, a Southern Asian gay guy who was turned away from an LGBTQIA friendly nightclub venue based solely on his appearance and assumed nationality. I don't know about you but if someone told me I couldn't come into a nightclub in Lincoln dressed to the nines in an expensive gold metallic Jacquard jumpsuit number I'd spent £200 on (and my first night out in ages) because my confidence in my gender identity offended the door person or because I was "too Scandi milky white" for their liking, I'd be absolutely furious. I'd not take it lying down. Yet so many LGBTQIA people who come from ethnic minority groups feel that there is no point trying to change the current narrative because nobody in a position of authority chooses listens to them. We can't just shrug off their concerns and say - well they need to "get over themselves" because "it's not personal". Just imagine if the boot was on the other foot like I have and try "sucking up" the bad vibes. I guarantee you as someone who has enjoyed an privileged level of freedom to express myself (in no small part due to my race and upbringing)  you wouldn't want to take the shunning lying down.

Michel doesn't just face prejudice based on his race or nationality. It's disheartening to see that prejudice within the LGBTQIA community towards LGBTQIA Muslims has been increasing. It isn't their fault that they happen to share a name similar to that of Radical Islamic Terrorists. The form of Islam practiced by Orlando attacker...is different from Michel's because Michel is peaceful and not involving himself in Jihad against the West. Why should he and many other LGBTQIA Muslims pay the price for the actions of a few terrorists who mistakenly murder LGBTQIA people in the name of Allah?  Michel doesn't perpetuate a victimhood narrative as some on the Right allege. All Michel and his friends want to do is to go out, have a few (soft) drinks, have a dance and/or do a bit of harmless flirting. If we alienate Michel, does that make us any better than the ISIS regime the US and UK are meant to be fighting against?

I believe Owen was correct to call out gay publications for their lack of LGBTQIA narrative coverage of British Asian and British Afro-Caribbean/ African voices. It's all well and good inviting Louis Smith to do an erotic photo shoot to help raise awareness of HIV/AIDS organisations or ask
Laverne Cox to do an interview about her American TV career and why Dr Frank N Furter appealed to her as a musical theatre role but Louis isn't even openly LGBTQIA and Laverne's story doesn't necessarily resonate with members of the LGBTQIA community in the UK. Yes it's important to celebrate success stories to show LGBTQIA they can achieve their potential through hard work and lucky breaks but soppy celebrity hero worship is just not going to cut the mustard anymore.

Since I started using my Twitter account in early May 2016 (despite having joined in 2011), I've been in contact with grassroots LGBTQIA activists who are working in their local communities to challenge stereotypical attitudes towards LGBTQIA people with ethnic minority backgrounds and to help empower their peers to speak out through the use of social media platforms such as Twitter, Tumblr and Youtube. Owen says that white LGBTQIA journalists and creatives have to listen empathetically to other voices within the community. Listening is just as important as speaking and we must be very careful not to try and take credit for schemes and initiatives that were started by LGBTQIA people of colour even if this happens accidentally. Promote, don't appropriate. Owen adopts this important mantra by giving the example of Chardine Taylor-Stone, a young black woman who is a member of our community and who founded the Stop Rainbow Racism campaign in direct response to blackface drag act "Laquisha Jonz" created by Charlie Hides that was hosted by managers of the famous LGBT London venue the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Now I'm all for freedom of expression and drag satire can be an effective way of challenging societal norms but a blackface act reminds me of the olde-worlde Black and White Minstrels troupe that besmirched my grandma's TV screen in the 1960s and 70s. My grandma didn't approve of "blacking up" then and I don't think she'd be best pleased to find that in 2015 a drag act freely chose to  incorporate such phoney stereotyping into their routine, even if it was intended to make folks laugh. The humour was at the expense of stereotyping working class black women and I must say hearing about the simulated oral sex scene between "Laquisha" and a police officer made me sick to my stomach. What sort of  message does that send to Black British women, including those within our community? That even though they might be not attracted to men, may be asexual or may have been raped/sexually abused/ physically abused by a police officer or suffered domestic abuse/violence at the hands of a police offer they still have to placate them to stop themselves from being thrown in jail because "that's what sassy  black working class women do?" No way can I support that as art form. It's absolutely ridonkulous! Yet Chardine faced threats of violence, accusations of being a "killjoy" by white people, Facebook censorship and most deplorable of all, being told by members of her own LGBTQIA community that she wasn't welcome and her identity was invalid. All because she spoke out against undertones racism in the arts community and she even managed to convince Charlie that she was wrong...Chardine held that "mirror" up and Charlie took a "long hard look at herself" and realised the folly of the act. Charlie's now a much needed ally in the fight! I do wonder what would have happened if the situation was reversed. I also wonder if I'd have received such a hostile reception if I'd been the one speaking out against the act. I doubt it. Anyways enough about me-  read more about Chardine's story and the positive steps she has taken to address LGBTQIA racism here: https://chardinetaylorstone.com/say-no-to-rainbow-racism-campaign/

I can only show my deepest respect and admiration for trans pioneers like Sylvia Rivera, a Latina (of Puerto Rican and Venezuelan descent) woman who helped found the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance who took part in the world famous Stonewall riots in 1969 and later went on to establish the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries movement with fellow Stonewall protestor and famous drag queen Marsha P. Johnson which still aims to help young drag queens and trans people of colour in New York City. Trans people deserve to know about their history and not to hide it away with shame or disdain. Trans people who come from ethnic minority backgrounds in the UK should know that we respect their efforts to work with us to help change stilted mindsets that still exist, even within the LGBQIA community towards trans people which occurs regardless of race, nationality or religion.

Most importantly and perhaps most annoyingly for those on the far Left, we must be prepared to listen with LGBTQIA people who are conservative socially and/or politically. I must admit I often struggle being empathetic towards trans women who lecture Afro-Caribbean trans men who get pregnant and decide to have the child with a trans female partner or denounce women who freely choose to undertake an abortion due to the current circumstances they have found themselves in -e.g. if they are homeless or jobless or have been diagnosed with cancer. As a trans person I have asked to have control over my own body and to be allowed to change it so that I can align myself with my chosen gender (or choose not to go through gender reassignment surgery or hormone replacement therapy because I'm happy in my body or I may be trans non-binary or even just non-binary...who cares?). I don't have the right to tell any trans man how they use their own body. I don't believe I have the right to demand a woman stops "killing a foetus" because we "disapprove of it". I'm pro choice and that means empowering people to make their own decisions about their bodies free from guilt tripping. I used to very much anti-Abortion until I heard firsthand from women who made the incredibly hard choice of aborting their foetus so they could undergo chemotherapy to help save their own lives. It was heartbreaking but I empathised with that and that process of realisation was incredibly empowering for me. Conservatives will disagree but I'll never stop fighting against prejudice and discrimination when I see it. That includes racial and religious discrimination.

Part of the "fight" for me - (aka super intense ideological discourse) includes grassroots engagement with Conservative or "Alt-Right" Millennials.  If we are unwilling to listen to those with conservative views who live on our doorstep we will be unsuccessful in our efforts to engage positively with them and dare to hope we have started the process of changing their mindsets regarding racial prejudices. Most of the time Alt-Righters don't even realise their views might be interpreted as racist. They dismiss online trolling as "banter" and that if you've taken them literally it's your fault you are "butthurt". Yet there are those in the LGBTQIA community who openly declare racist prejudices by using the words "sand nigger" to describe Saudi Arabians/Muslims (anyone from a country that have a desert in the Middle East). When a gay friend comes up to you and declares that he will not date a Southern Asian or Middle Eastern guy because he might be Muslim and consequently a Trojan horse terrorist, don't just shut down his discourse by branding him immediately a racist and make him go off in a huff, never to speak to you again. Try and challenge and break down the racial and religious stereotype that's been created in his mind. Firstly state that there are Middle Eastern guys who are Christian, Jewish or even atheist in the UK and that you can't just assume that just because someone comes from Saudi Arabia it doesn't mean they are Muslim. Explain that the Orlando terrorist was his own man and made decisions in the name of a radical form of Islam. Introduce him online to stories of LGBTQIA activists in Saudi Arabia who are members of the Green Party fighting to overturn the draconian policies imposed on the LGBTQIA people by King Salman Al-Saud and his nepotistic government full of his family members. The fact that there are openly gay Saudi men and women, even in the UK is a testament to survival and the absolute need to be authentic to one's identity. Knowledge is power and the more Alt-Right "gun toting"conservatives get to know about the fight against fundamentalist/radical Islamic teachings in Saudi Arabia, the better!

Owen Jones's article hopefully struck a cord with the LGBTQIA community. We need better online social etiquette. We need to be more understanding of the dangers of stereotyping and be able to acknowledge our hidden or overt prejudices whether we work in the media or in nightclub security. Most of all we need to be able to listen.  Listen to LGBTQIA voices that come from brilliant activists who differ from us in terms of nationality or race or religious belief. Listen to LGBTQIA voices which come from different ideological background but be prepared to challenge the bias and prejudices contained within. The LGBTQIA community may have a systemic problem with Establishment based racism and prejudices concerning nationality and religious belief but we can make the effort to alter this. We just need to collaborate and not be afraid to do it.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Grassroots Survey on Mr Hammond's First (and last) Autumn Statement Key Policies: Lincoln

So after a day of chewing over the measures announced in the Autumn Statement and having conducted an in-depth discussion of key measures with 4 Millennial Professionals from the Lincoln area, I've found that there was a fairly lukewarm and mixed response with no actual change to voting intentions within my control group of 2 Labour voters, one firm Conservative and one Conservative considering UKIP voter. Fuel duty freeze, Savers bonds and Digital infrastructure investments were well received but the Insurance Premium Tax increase from 10 to 12%, the lack of clarity over whether housing and transport investments would filter to places like Lincoln and the pitiful £0.30 rise in the National Living Wage were panned quite forcefully.

I wanted to see whether these patterns would be reflected in a wider, more random sample group so designed a quick poll to be conducted in Lincoln, targeting Millennial Professionals specifically (between 18 and 34). This poll did ask whether the participant had voted to Remain or Leave in the EU on June 23rd and what their voting intentions were before they heard the Autumn Statement and what they would be after hearing/reading about the Autumn Statement. Participants were allowed to decide on each policy whether they strongly agreed, agreed, were ambivalent to, disagreed or strongly disagreed with it so each row added up to the total number of voters. No coaxing or exchange of views with participants were given until the survey was completed.

Millennial constituent views in Lincoln matter because Lincoln is a bellwether (or marginal) seat; the incumbent Conservative MP Karl McCartney has only a majority of 1,443 votes (or 3.1%) and turnout at the 2015 election was at 63.2%. Labour gained 4.3% on the 2010 General Election result when Lincoln was won by Karl McCartney from Labour's long standing MP and "Blair Babe" Gillian Merron so there is momentum for a possible change at the next Election. It's also interesting to note that UKIP gained 10% in voter share in 2015 with the Liberal Democrats the only party to lose vote share in Lincoln by 16%. I wanted to see whether the Lib Dems or Labour could gain voters as a result of the Autumn Statement hence why voting intentions questions were asked.

Summary of results:

Number of participants in survey
120
Most Strongly Agreed Policy:
£23 billion extra for research and development (Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering).
Most Agreed Policy:
Income tax threshold rise from £11,000 to £11,500 from April 2017.
Most Ambivalent Policy:
Equalise NICs for employee and employers at £157 a week from April 2017.
Most Disagreed Policy:
£7.6 million to help renovate Wentworth Wood house-inspiration for Jane Austen's “Pride and Prejudice”.
Most Strongly Disagreed Policy:
£94m a year for Brexit Civil Servants.


Opinion:
Number of votes:
Strongly Agree
869
Agree
653
Ambivalent
344
Disagree
341
Strongly Disagree
313
Total number
2520 (21x120)

Brexit:

Remain Voters
73
Leave Voters
47

Voter intentions before Autumn Statement:

Labour
46
Conservative
58
UKIP
2
Green
10
Liberal Democrats
2
Other
2

Voter intentions after Autumn Statement (as of 24/11/2016):

Labour
52
Conservative
41
UKIP
3
Green
15
Liberal Democrats
5
Other
4

Analysis:
  • Participants were generally positive towards measures announced in the Autumn Statement, with investments in science based Research and Development, local transportation networks and digital infrastructure including £1bn for superfast broadband scoring very highly in Lincoln.
  • Participants were sceptical of some of the more nuanced measures announced by Mr Hammond; for example the announcement about Wentworth Woodhouse's connection to Jane Austen being tenuous as released by the Guardian probably increased number of voters who disagreed with giving £7.6 million to one heritage project specifically because they regard it as being tokenistic. A number of participants after the survey asked whether there would be extra money for heritage projects in Lincoln such as the Cathedral but no such funding has been specifically announced by the Treasury or by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport or the Department for Communities and Local Government.
  • Participants did pay attention to announcements such as £3m funds from the Tampon Tax being given to Comic Relief to women's charities; a few asked why the funds couldn't be given directly to those charities instead of using a "middle man".
  • Participants were generally unimpressed by employee salary sacrifice/ benefits in kind schemes being made taxable on items such as gym membership or health screening. 34/120 strongly disagreed with the policy and 25/120 disagreed with the policy.
  • Labour and the Green Party appear to be the parties who might gain the most as a result of yesterday's Autumn Statement, with 6 extra voters for Labour and 5 extra voters for the Greens. Despite a relatively favourable showing in the majority of policies (1,522 combined total for those who strongly agreed or agreed with key Autumn Statement measures) the Conservatives lose 12 votes from these Millennial Professional voters. This suggests that policies such as raising the rate of Insurance Premium Tax from 10% to 12% and setting aside £94m for civil servants to deal with Brexit paperwork did not go down well in Lincoln, despite announcements on Income Tax threshold and National Living Wage (NLW) increases. A few participants commented after the survey that they believed Labour would be bolder in terms of both Income Tax threshold increases and NLW increases.
  • Several comments were made after participants finished the survey about the fact that there was no extra funding proposals announced to help fund NHS Mental Health Services or any extra funds to help Lincolnshire County Council deal with the cost of Social Care for elderly residents and adults with disabilities. One participant (a Conservative who declared they would now vote Labour) said that they believed the local city council might increase council tax again in April to cover Social Care costs and that they could barely afford the council tax as it currently stands.
Detailed breakdown by policy:

Autumn Statement Proposal
Strongly Agree
Agree
Neither Agree or Disagree
Disagree
Strongly Disagree
Income tax threshold rise from £11,000 to £11,500 from April 2017.
48
45
15
8
4
Tax savings on salary sacrifice and benefits in kind to be stopped (except childcare, cycling, pensions and ultra-low emission cars).
25
16
20
25
34
National Living Wage rise of £0.30 from April 2017.
55
30
5
22
8
Equalise NICs for employee and employers at £157 a week from April 2017.
25
20
55
15
5
Class 2 NICs to be abolished.
45
20
15
17
23
Rise in insurance premium tax from 10% to 12% from June 2017.
10
23
14
30
43
Ban on “up-front” letting fees ASAP.
55
33
12
18
2
£2.3 billion infrastructure fund for housing in “high demand areas” (not areas like Birchwood).
43
30
37
7
3
£1.4 billion allocation to build 40,000 extra affordable houses.
47
28
26
17
2
Fuel Duty rise cancelled.
72
33
3
10
2
£1.1 billion extra investment in local transportation networks.
55
42
7
12
4
£23 billion extra for research and development (Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering).
77
27
10
5
1
£1 billion for digital infrastructure. (5G mobile networks and Superfast Broadband).
52
41
14
6
7
£7.6 million to help renovate Wentworth Wood house-inspiration for Jane Austen's “Pride and Prejudice”.
30
24
20
40
6
Funding for 2,500 prison officers.
37
39
20
22
2
£270 million allocation to help expand Grammar Schools.
25
34
4
7
50
Savers Bond-3 years at rate of 2.2% and can save minimum of £100 and maximum of £3000.
32
27
10
37
14
Cold Calling Bans on “exotic” Pension investment opportunities.
68
34
9
5
4
£3m from the Tampon Tax for Comic Relief to distribute to women's charities.
23
43
20
30
4
No Budget Surplus by 2020/2021.
25
42
15
3
35
£94m a year for Brexit Civil Servants.
20
22
13
5
60

Verdict:
After both the in-depth discussion and survey I've found that voters in Lincoln had a generally positive reaction to measures announced in the Autumn Statement, especially those that allow for investment in national infrastructure. The University of Lincoln may benefit from the £23 bn investment in Science R&D and Lincoln's potholes may be fully repaired with money accessed from the £1.1bn local transportation fund. Cold call bans, funding for prison officers, fuel duty cancellations and modest rises in the Income Tax threshold and NLW. Equally the ban on up-front letting agent fees is welcome; many Millennials rent in the Lincoln area and it can be difficult to save enough of a deposit up to cover reference fees or to help secure the right for their pet(s) to stay at the accommodation of choice.

However, it seems that such individual financial gains may be offset by changes to salary sacrifice schemes and benefits in kind that will include accommodation, health screening and possibly adapted equipment for disabled employees. The increase in the Insurance Premium Tax was unwelcome, especially as it will affect every type of insurance plan- pet owners, house owners, car owners will all have to pay an extra 2% at a time when household budgets are already stretched. The Savers Bond is all well and good for those who can afford to save a few £100 out of their salary...but if you're only on the NLW and pay rents of £500-£600 a month and have children/families to support, your main priority is putting food in their bellies not keeping the Government bond creators happy.

The £270m for grammar schools would have been better spent on improving STEM subject provision in primary schools or Arts provision in secondary schools-both have been sorely neglected in Lincoln schools and as Lincoln has no grammar schools, few respondents were happy at the prospect of money not being available in the pot to help local comprehensive schools improve educational attainment levels.

The lack of any measures to address the NHS funding and staffing crises in at the United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust, lack of extra funding to help improve Mental Health services and Social Care was very much noted by voters in Lincoln. Voters care about maintaining high quality levels of local public services and Mr Hammond clearly chose not to address this directly with the budget. Millennial voter ask- why is there £94m a year for Brexit pencil pushers in Whitehall when we need more frontline doctors, specialist mental health nurses, care assistants, police officers and prison ones? Brexit was a smokescreen for our economic and societal ills and leaving the EU will hardly solve any of our structural issues. We can't blame immigration entirely for failing public services; we rely on immigration to help staff our NHS after all. Millennial voters in Lincoln realise that Brexit was not the panacea it was made out to be..it may help cut "red tape" trade wise and give the illusion of regained sovereignty..but what's the use of that when many Millennials feel their voices are not being heard at Westminster? If the "red tape" businesses identify include the erosion of workers rights and salaries, it is clear that voters will not stand for it. Lincoln workers want better NLW rates, a fairer tax regime, less money being spent on vanity projects and more money being spent on frontline services. Be warned Mr Hammond-you need to make sure public services are fully funded or risk yourself and May and the Conservatives losing out at the ballot box at the next election.

"Reverse...Reverse...Austerity Lite's Failed Us" The view from 4 working class "JAMS" in Lincoln on the Autumn Statement 2016

So the Hammond (not Mr Top Gear) delivered his first (and last) Autumn Statement as Chancellor of the Exchequer. I was expecting a few surprises, a double dose of fearmongering and doom and not much substance that would interest a working class graduate Millennial such as myself. How wrong I was! The Autumn Statement economic figures were much more severe than I'd initially expected. I saw my parents mouths literally drop as Monsieur Hammond announced that the Government finances forecast was that we were going to be  £122 billion worse off in the period Nov 2016-Nov 2021 than had been forecasted in March's 2016 budget. This means that the vote taken by millions of UK Citizens on June 23rd will potentially have hurt Government finances that need to be healthy in order to keep public services such as Comprehensive Education and the NHS afloat. There will be no extra funds available to improve Mental Health services for young male professionals who have tried phenomenally hard to support themselves and their families and end up contemplating suicide after having to take out payday loans they can't afford just to feed and clothe their kids. There will be no extra pounds to help fund more carers for disabled elderly people who rely on them to cook meals, wash and clothe them and ensure their medication is provided in the correct doses on a daily basis. There is no extra cash to get physiotherapists into primary schools in working class inner city areas where dyspraxic pupils are often left to suffer from poor hand-eye coordination and lack essential motor skills needed such as handwriting to succeed in academic subjects at secondary level and in the workplace.

UK debt levels are also forecasted to increase under the Brexit May administration; it was 84.2% in 2015 and is expected to rise to 87.3% this year and peak at 90.2% in 2017-18. To me this demonstrates that austerity measures imposed primarily by Cameron and Osborne were the wrong way forward in the first place and the Brexit impact has only magnified their failure to get a hold of the debt. I feel that I can't trust the Conservatives on the economy, despite borrowing figures being predicted to decrease during May's term- currently predicted at £68.2 billion this year but to fall to a (slightly unbelievable) £20.7 billion by 2020-21. The problem with reducing borrowing and public spending is that we will not be able to invest as much in the NHS or the Education system. Whilst I accept that we do need to decrease the national debt levels, do we do this at the expense of much needed investment in Housing, the NHS (especially Mental Health and Social Care Services) and in the Education system? I'm not so sure. It will depend on whether the our GDP will grow as a result of leaving the EU due to increased exporting to non-EU countries such as China and India and whether our services industry can be even more productive and help to increase domestic tax receipts to offset borrowing decreases. A very fine balancing act that I'm not sure Hammond can achieve. Universal Credit taper rate cut to 63% from April 2017. (For every £1 earned over the work allowance, UC will be reduced by 63p instead of 65p).

Main Budget Measures:
I decided to scrutinise Autumn Statement measures with 4 of my Millennial professional friends from the Lincoln area. They pretty much fall into Hammond's rather derogatory category of "JAMs" -the Just About Managing voters who can barely afford to pay bills but have just enough disposable income to afford a few treats in the year (such as attending the local Christmas market).

The voters are all 28 years old (same as me) and have different political affiliations and voted differently on Brexit in June.
  1. Administrative Assistant at a Care Home. Labour voter who voted to Remain in the EU.
  2. Sales Assistant at local Plant Hire company. UKIP voter who voted to Leave the EU.
  3. Primary School Teacher. Labour voter who voted to Remain in the EU.
  4. Accountant with a local Practice. Conservative voter who voted to Leave the EU.
Here's a few summary points (for those who don't have time to read whole table):

  • All of the voters were impressed by the Cold Caller Ban on “exotic Pension Investments”, Fuel Duty cancellation, £23 bn for research and development, £1bn digital infrastructure spending and the new Savers Bond.
  • Most voters were happy with the banning of “up-front letting fees” (although there is concern that letting agents may demand more money from landlords which could increase rents) and the announcement of £7.6m to renovate Wentworth Woodhouse (despite “tokenism” undertones).
  • There is some concern shown as to whether some funding increases announced would actually benefit Lincoln residents-for example, will there be allocations from the Local Growth Fund, Housing Infrastructure Fund, or the Transportation Infrastructure Fund. More detail needs to be offered by the City of Lincoln Council and Lincolnshire County Council on this as they begin to assess what the Budget will mean for Lincoln and Lincolnshire.
  • Voters expressed disdain for the lowly increase in the National Living Wage, questioned whether the taxable benefit in kind changes should also include cycling and cars in addition to computers and gym membership and are worried about the low number of prison officers being recruited and the fact that the increase isn't expected until April 2018. The Ban on Letting fees only being penciled in as “ASAP” also led to some questioning whether the policy is truly implementable at all.
  • Voters were mostly against the Insurance Premium Tax rise, with one arguing that pet owners may be less likely to insure their pets and may choose not to fully insure their household contents. Only the firmly Conservative voter was prepared to pay the tax rise here and blame it on the “whiplash” claimants.
  • Voter intentions seem to remain unchanged following the Autumn Statement but Voter 2 is continuing to follow Conservative policy in the hope they announce more on immigration costcutting measures.

Here's the results below:

Autumn Statement Proposal
Voter 1:
Voter 2:
Voter 3:
Voter 4:
Income tax threshold rise from £11,000 to £11,500 from April 2017.
Good to see a rise in the Income Tax threshold but want to see it increased further to £14,000 next year.
Great proposal announced by Hammond; it shows that he cares about working class professionals.
Good start but would like to have seen a £1000 increase as opposed to £500.
Not enough of an increase in the Income Tax threshold. Should have been at least £13,500-£14,000 after Brexit.
Tax savings on salary sacrifice and benefits in kind to be stopped (except childcare, cycling, pensions and ultra-low emission cars).
Technological adaption provision to disabled employees-will that now be a taxable benefit in kind? Silly that health screening will be taxable but cycling/cars will not be taxed.
Fair of Hammond to address benefits in kind. I think that cycling and cars should have been made taxable too.
I heard that gym membership and health screening will now be taxable. I don't understand why cars or cycling should be tax exempt.
Small detail in the Budget but I agree that benefits in kind that seem “perky” like gym membership should be taxable. Not many people took advantage of it in my last organisation anyways.
National Living Wage rise of £0.30 from April 2017.
Not enough of a rise to offset food and clothing inflation (possibly 5% next year). I think the NLW should rise by £1.00 at least next year to compensate.
I think £0.30 rise was very fair. I can't believe those under 25 are moaning about not being paid the same as over 25s-it is the way it has always been. You don't want people to lose their jobs in Lincoln because companies decide to outsource to China or India to reduce wage costs?
I couldn't imagine surviving on £7.50 an hour and pay a mortgage or rent and make sure the children are fed and clothed and warm. I really support Labour's proposal to increase the NLW to £9 an hour when they get into Government. Perhaps even more if they don't get in till 2020?!
£0.30 seemed a tad low. I know some SMEs would struggle to pay an extra £1.00 an hour so maybe £0.75 would have been a better offer so working class families can prepare for possible food inflation.
Equalise NI contributions for employee and employers at £157 a week from April 2017. Class 2 NI to be abolished.
This helps raise funds for the Treasury-costing the employer an extra £7.18 per worker. Will it deter them from hiring more employees?

At least the Government will raise money so equalisation is a fair measure.

As a primary school teacher Serco ensures that I get the correct amount of pay, including paying the correct amount of NICs. My husband is concerned about the abolition of Class 2 NICs and how this will affect his entitlement to state benefits.
Class 2 NICs paid by self-employed individuals allow them to access state benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance. With them being abolished, they can only really do Class 3 voluntary NICs which are £14.10 a week. Class 2 was only £2.80.

Rise in insurance premium tax from 10% to 12% from June 2017.
Why should we pay more for those who defraud the insurance system with phoney “whiplash claims”? Seems unfair to me! The tax will affect house insurance and pet insurance too! Working Class Cheapshot tax!
I'm unhappy about this policy; why should we pay more when most of us hardly ever put in a claim? Surely banning fraudsters from taking out further policies is a better way forward?
  
2% rise in Insurance Premium Tax is steep. I'd have been OK with 1%. Will people be more reluctant to insure their cars properly? Will pet owners refuse to insure pets at all?
I'm happy to pay the tax rise. I hope it will discourage people from making fraudulent claims and that the money could be used to help fund the NHS post-Brexit.
Ban on “up-front” letting fees ASAP.
My co-workers cheered when this measure was announced by Mr Hammond. This means that fees such as charging for references, to secure tenancies or deposit for pet owners will be scrapped. I'll be looking for a tenancy soon so I am happy about this measure!
Letting agents will lose income as a result of banning fees...will landlords increase rents to compensate for any increase in fees they may get charged?
Very pleased that “up-front” letting fees are being scrapped. I have two cats and I had to pay £250 deposit to my letting agent to secure the property before I moved in. References should be given freely too, as they are employer to employer.
Excellent news for first time tenants that they will no longer have to pay to obtain credible references or to secure a tenancy. Letting agents earn enough from landlords once a tenant is at a property anyways!
£2.3 billion infrastructure fund for housing in “high demand areas” (not areas like Birchwood).
I don't know whether Lincoln has been identified as a “high housing demand” area or not. I think the quality of private sector housing does need to be improved, especially in the inner city areas. Definitely not value for money.
I hope that Lincoln will be identified as an area of “high demand” for housing but suspect not. I've got friends who have been on the Council Waiting list for 3 years or more. We need to build more Council Housing for young working class families.
£2.3 billion will never materialise and neither will the promised level of housing stock. The Tories are all mouth and no action when it comes to housing infrastructure projects, especially in the Lincoln area.
I'm not “green” enough to believe Lincoln is an area of high housing demand; I suspect the money will be diverted to London and the big Cities. Should we be moaning about this? Not at the moment.
£1.4 billion allocation to build 40,000 extra affordable houses.
Great idea but 40,000 homes are not going to be enough. Are some of the affordable homes going to built in the Lincoln area?
More affordable homes need to be built across the UK, especially in areas with high immigration levels. Is Lincoln really in dire need of housing?
I'd like to find out where these houses are expected to be built...on greenfield or brownbelt former industrial land, for example?
Not sure that affordable houses will actually be built in Lincoln any time soon but seems to be a decent policy proposal from Mr Hammond.
Fuel Duty rise cancelled.
Good news but the cost of car insurance will probably offset any benefits from this and if petrol prices rise, I may start taking the bus to work.
Excellent news; more working class professionals may consider buying cars and that would only be good for me and my business. We are a nation of car lovers.
I don't drive but my boyfriend seemed quite happy at the news. I don't think the Tories dare raise the duty whilst prices are low anyways!
Happy that the Fuel Duty rise has been cancelled; I can keep driving to work and filling up to go and see families and friends too! Car drivers will save £130 a year!
£1.1 billion extra investment in local transportation networks.
We need to make sure potholes are fully repaired and that country roads around Lincoln are safe to drive in. Will the funding be there to address it?I need to see whether the Government allocates more funding to Lincs County Council.
I don't know whether transport networks need to be improved in Lincoln; East-West highway has been constructed and we will soon have a new Transport Hub. We could do with more Park n Ride services for tourists I guess?
Again, very much like the Housing infrastructure proposals, I'm not sure we'll ever see the money materialise. I agree with Voter A, we need to repair potholes on country roads and make sure they are safe for my boyfriend and others to drive on.
Lincoln has benefited from key transportation infrastructure projects already; we can't expect any further allocation unless it could be for fixing potholes. I trust Lincs CC to deliver on their promise of upgrading county roads by 2018.
£23 billion extra for research and development (Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering).
I'm happy to see an increase in funding for scientific R&D. I hope that such investment will help to find cures for cancer, AIDS, tropical diseases and help to solve world hunger by developing new food cultivation techniques.
I hope the funding will be given to worthwhile projects that help improve the lives of UK Citizens first and foremost. Let's improve engineering processes and help cure cancer over trying to ask people how “happy” they are using app technology.
I'm glad that there will be extra funding for the UK R&D sector but where's the extra funding for Primary Schools in Lincoln? Where's the extra funding for SEN support staff for pupils with learning difficulties? What about funding for Arts based R&D?
£23 billion seems a huge amount to waste on “happy go lucky” science projects. We need more investment in apprenticeships and internships to make them more accessible to working class kids. We need to spend more money on improving IT skills for working class employees too!
£1 billion for digital infrastructure. (5G mobile networks and Superfast Broadband).
Digital infrastructure programmes need to be encouraged but was giving 100% business tax relief to digital firms for fibre cabling the way forward? It seems Hammond and May want to appease big business rather than improve the lives of working class Millennials in the countryside. Will the initiatives be completed by 2020? I'm not convinced.
Digital coverage has to be improved in rural areas and in some parts of Lincoln so I approve of Hammond's investment plan. I hope that it will have been fully implementable by 2020.
This is a great initiative and it seems even Jeremy Corbyn can get on board and support improving digital coverage in rural communities. It doesn't just help farms and rural based SMEs to connect with their customers faster and more securely but will also allow working class rural kids a chance to access benefits connected to streaming-there may be more live Vlogs created in the countryside leading to new Vlogging stars that can paint a more positive, modern view of the Countryside to city based kids. Great opportunities abound!
Fantastic news for rural accountancy firms that get sick of constant buffering when they are waiting to get in urgent contact with farming clients to get information on sales/purchases for the week to update figures to input into their Income Statement for the month which clients use to make decisions about staffing levels and purchases of raw materials.
£1.8 billion for Local Growth Fund for English regions.
What will this Fund actually do for people in Lincoln? Will it allow us to help keep restoring Lincoln Cathedral or pay for community Arts projects?
I hope that Lincolnshire County Council will try and bid or will receive a slice of the Local Growth Fund. Perhaps this money can be used to help fill in potholes?
I didn't know there was such a pot of money known as the “Local Growth Fund” and so I don't know whether Lincs CC can bid for funding or what it can be used for. Can we use it to help fund local Social Care services or Mental Health services? What about community park funding?
I think allocating money to English regions only is a great idea; I need to know more about the Fund but using the money to help fund the preservation of Hartsholme Country Park or fund IT skills courses for working class people would be a good idea. Maybe even build a few council houses from it?
£7.6 million to help renovate Wentworth Wood house-inspiration for Jane Austen's “Pride and Prejudice”.
I believe in the need to preserve our heritage sites for the next generation and it seems the repairs needed to Wentworth Woodhouse are needed urgently. If we're paying £359 million for Buck House we can pay £7.6 for a house connected with our literary past.
I can't believe the Government are willing to spend £7.6 million on a house barely a few English jobless grads have heard about. If they were using the money to help renovate buildings with a purpose, such as Lincoln Cathedral, I'd have been happy.
I do want to see Wentworth Woodhouse preserved for future generations but I do wonder why it was specifically mentioned in the Autumn Statement. It seemed a bit pandering and tokenistic to me. We need to protect all historical sites in the UK, not just those connected to an illustrious ancestor.
We should be pleased the Government takes a strong position on UK heritage preservation. Renovating Wentworth Woodhouse will just be the start of a nationwide renovation programme.
£400 million into venture capital funds through the British Business Bank to unlock £1 billion in finance for growing firms.
I wonder how many startups in Lincoln will be able to benefit from British Business Bank loans. If you only employ 3-4 people and your SME isn't considered “vital” enough for the local economy or your profit figures are too low to be considered a “worthwhile investment”, where do you turn to?
I'm hoping I'll be able to convince my boss to consider applying for a business loan from the British Business Bank. We need to expand our business through opening up new car showrooms and that could only help to increase jobs totals in Lincoln, helping more working class Millennials find work in the city.
My husband is self-employed and hires 10 people in the social media industry. He needs a loan to help expand his business but I can't see his Income Statement or Business Plan impressing any “British Business Bank”. It seems to be inaccessible to growing SME/startups in Lincolnshire.
As an Accounts Assistant I know several local firms are crying out for funding to help them expand into the international markets in China and India post Brexit. I'll be looking into the BBB and see whether my clients can access the funding and whether I can help them improve their business plans to do this. Win-Win for us all!
Funding for 2,500 prison officers.
After the recent round of prison riots and the 24 hour unprecedented walkout by the Prisoners Office Association last week, we need more than just a small increase in prison officer numbers and the numbers need to increase well before April 2018. Having understaffed prisons affects prisoner health and safety as well as officer health and safety. Ticking time bomb.
Prisons need more staff so I'm glad Hammond reaffirmed the Government's commitment to increase staff to 2,500. They also need to address druggie issues and stop drones being used to drop drugs into cells to be bought and snorted. We need to stop mollycoddling prisoners-teach them to look after their own health and obey the rules or allow prison Governors to increase their prison sentences without taking them to a judge to rule on prison offences.
Prison officers are overworked, feel stressed and many want to leave the profession- I see parallels with the teaching profession. Officer numbers need to increased within the next year, not by 2018. More needs to be done to combat stress and depression levels and there needs to be more training and development opportunities for junior staff to progress through the service.
Great news but prison officers need to be more firm in their approach towards prisoners. Don't be afraid to cut a prisoner's privileges if they are caught swearing at an officer. I agree with Voter D -Governors should have power to increase prison sentences for misdemeanors.
£270 million allocation to help expand Grammar Schools.
Expansion of Grammar Schools seems very ideologically grounded...will it really help the working class students achieve their full potential? A comprehensive can offer a fully rounded education and we should be spending more money on retention and recruitment of teachers and encouraging more students to take up STEM subjects.
Grammar Schools are a feature of the Lincs education system and I can imagine some schools need to expand, especially in rural communities. We don't have Grammar Schools in Lincoln so I don't see how we'd benefit from this?
No extra money has been allocated to help improve SEN provision in primary schools, fewer students are being encouraged to study Arts subjects or Modern Foreign Languages. Creativity is being stagnated in primary schools due to lack of funding for musical instruments, artist materials or drama props. All because the Government wants to push an elitist agenda and segregate pupils based on a draconian test system.
We should be establishing a Grammar School in Lincoln so that our brightest students can be nurtured for careers in business and in STEM. Tech talent is needed for the UK economy to keep expanding post Brexit and with possible tightening of tech immigration rules. Nothing wrong with having a fund in place to allow this to happen.
Savers Bond-3 years at rate of 2.2% and can save minimum of £100 and maximum of £3000.
Great idea if you can afford to spare a few £100 to save up for a deposit. Many do not have such a disposable income anymore.
I'm a saver and I'd like to access the Savers Bond. I know it's only available for 12 months but I'm happy to put £3000 in there and get a good return for once.
I'm happy with this proposal; I'll be trying to sign up for it so I can save up for a deposit to fund my Masters degree.
Excellent proposal that I hope to benefit from! I shall be recommending the Savers Bond to my clients too when it comes live in Spring 2017.
Cold Calling Bans on “exotic” Pension investment opportunities.
Glad that Hammond says cold calling marketing firms will be fined if they attempt to target pensioners. It should cover all forms of communication including emails and texts.
Agree with Voter 1 on this; cold callers should be fined if they breach the new rules.
Cold Calling should be stopped altogether; nobody appreciates being called 5 times a day to “claim PPI” or “accident money”. All communications forms should be covered by the ban too.
Agree with Voters 1 and 2 that cold caller marketing companies must stop targeting pensioners.
Best Policy
Digital Infrastructure
British Business Bank Funding Increase
Banning “up-front” letting agent fees.
Fuel duty Cancellation
Worst Policy
Insurance Premium Tax Increases.
Insurance Premium Tax Increases.
Grammar Schools Expansion Fund.
 
Voting Intention as of 23/11/2016
Labour
Undecided  between Conservatives and UKIP.
Labour
Conservatives

 
 


 

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Anti Bullying Week in Focus : How HR Professionals, Managers and Employees Can Help Tackle LGBTQIA Bullying At Work

Imagine this scenario. You're a trans woman who has just completed her Gender Reassignment Surgery recovery and has decided to go back to work as a Purchase Ledger Clerk at a local Accountancy firm (a SME with 40 employees). You get on fine with your fellow clerks and the Payroll Administrators but there is a male Accountant who works part time for the organisation who has started staring at you uncontrollably whenever you enter the central office. After a week of staring, the accountant in question starts making unflattering comments to you about your appearance. He calls you "big man hands", "fake boobs", "mentally retarded", "silly Fanny" in front of a Junior Accountant who says nothing about the rhetoric. This goes on for about 6 months without the Accountant relenting. You go to your HR Manager several times but each time they say there isn't enough evidence to prove that the Accountant is doing anything wrong; the manager fobs you off each time by saying that they will remind him to stop saying "hurtful comments" just in case he's doing it.

One afternoon you are alone in the office with the Accountant in question showing him some records that you need to correct on behalf of a client and the Accountant tells you sharply that it was your fault you got the records wrong and that you should "kill yourself" and save him from having to fire you because you are transgender. He then lunges at you, punches and kicks you until the Junior Accountant comes back into the office and calls the Police. Only once the police conducts a thorough investigation do all the incidents of bullying and harassment come to light. The trans employee is so shaken up by her experiences that she leaves the profession and doesn't go back into work for 2 years.

In my opinion it shouldn't take someone knocking seven bells out of a LGBTQIA employee at work for an organisation to take note of bullying and harassment that occurs as a result of being open about their gender identity or sexual orientation. It shouldn't take a police investigation or the opening of an Employment Tribunal case to get employers and HR departments to realise that bullying must be taken seriously and grievance procedures created and followed to protect LGBTQIA employees from harm and to punish bullies for the way they have decided to conduct themselves whilst at work.
The HR Professional at the Accountancy firm should have at least had a robust Equality and Diversity policy and Anti-Bullying policy in place and followed set procedures in the Grievance/Disciplinary policy so that they could have protected the trans employee from having to be in contact with the Accountant in the first place, especially seeing that the bullying had been sustained over 6 months or so. They should have also made all employees aware that transphobic bullying is against the Equality Act (because trans people are covered by the Gender Reassignment protected characteristic) and that any employee found to be bullying a fellow LGBTQIA employee would face disciplinary action, regardless of rank/seniority in the business. The HR Professional should have referred the trans employee to organisations to help them deal with the effects of the sustained bullying and also addressed their own awareness gap to ensure it didn't happen again, perhaps referring themselves to the ACAS website or sign up to Stonewall training or attend a local CIPD workshop to do this. There literally are no excuses to remain ignorant of LGBTQIA workplace bullying.

Many excuses of course are made in the workplace for harsh behaviour; whether it be -"it's just a management style" and employees have "to deal with it" or look for another job, to a manager shouting and swearing at staff in a call centre being seen as "a bit of banter" when it includes transphobic or homophobic slurs. The organisation's HR department or SME HR person must do all they can to change the mindsets of those who LGBTQIA bullying in the workplace isn't worth addressing or isn't widespread enough to need to be addressed. The guidance below is designed to help lay out basic steps that can be taken by HR Professionals, Managers and Employees to address LGBTQIA bullying head on. I hope you find some of them useful and implementable, whether you are an organisation in the UK, US or beyond.

What can Employers do to tackle LGBTQIA Bullying at Work?
  • Foster a culture that is free from bullying. "Tone at the Top" leadership is incredibly important in this respect. How a CEO/CFO treats a LGBTQIA member of staff will impact on the way others in the organisation treat them. How the CEO/HR department manager also deal with those who bully LGBTQIA matters greatly. HR managers must make it clear that bullying behaviour is a type of gross misconduct and that those found guilty after a thorough and robust disciplinary process will be dismissed.
  • The Equality and Diversity/Bullying policies must not be merely seen as part of a "tick box exercise" scheme to placate LGBTQIA staff. They must lead to the employers and employees wanting to build a team that values everyone regardless of their gender identity or sexuality.
  • Bullying and harassment may be verbal, non-verbal, written or physical. Examples of all these types of bullying must be laid out in the Bullying policy and referred to in the Equality and Diversity policy. This makes all staff aware of their own behaviours and then take responsibility for themselves so they do not risk losing their own jobs.
  • "Deeds, not Words" matter. HR staff must be prepared to train management so they understand what constitutes LGBTQIA bullying and harassment and that their actions could constitute an offence against the Equality Act 2010. Managers need to be given a space where they can reflect on their style and what adjustments they need to make to prevent unnecessary offence being caused and also to spot the signs of workplace bullying:
    • Being constantly criticised or having duties/responsibilities taken away without a reasonable explanation being given for this (need to communicate sympathetically with member of staff involved in a appraisal meeting to explain why duties are being reduced/changed).
    • Managers/Team Leaders using their position of power to make a LGBTQIA employee feel uncomfortable/unsafe at work -e.g., making threats about job security without any objective evidence being provided by the HR team.
    • Shouting/aggressive threats.
    • Being made to feel like the butt of all office jokes on a daily/weekly basis (this is NOT banter!)
    • Being constantly ignored, victimised and excluded on a daily/weekly basis.
    • Spreading malicious rumours about a LGBTQIA member of staff-e.g. a trans female employee "perving" on fellow female employees in the bathroom.
    • Blocking progress/promotion within the organisation on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.
  • HR staff  and managers should encourage employees to notify the perpetrator that their behaviour is unacceptable in the first instance (by words or by conduct) but it must be understood that this might not be possible (especially in cases of rape/sexual assault, grievous bodily harm (GBH) or able bodily harm (ABH).
  • HR staff and managers must make it clear to the LGBTQIA employee affected by bullying and/or harassment that all allegations of bullying and harassment will be taken seriously, confidentially.
  • HR staff and managers must communicate the disciplinary/grievance procedures to employees, including who the employee needs to speak to (their designated point of contact) and what will happen once the incident (s) have been reported.
  • HR staff could create an Anti-Bullying support forum to highlight incidents that occur across the organisation. HR staff can moderate the forum and share tips and advice on how to tackle bullying and harassment and encourage victims to speak out and approach the HR department to start the formal grievance procedure.
  • HR staff should monitor LGBTQIA staff absence sensitively; if an employee is taking several days off at a time, ask yourself why this might be the case. Approach the employee with care and be prepared to listen if they start talking to you about incidents that have occurred at work. Note such incidents down in the employees file and promise to investigate them as a matter of urgency. If the employee has already filed a grievance complaint and they need to take time off because they are "run down" or stressed, tell them that you are understanding of their situation and remind them to forward a doctor's note to the HR department. Keep the employee informed of the status of the grievance procedure via letter or email and remain a Point of Contact for the employee after the results of the grievance procedure are given, making sure you resist the urge to judge them if the results go against the employee concerned.
  • HR staff should keep all documents relating to the LGBTQIA employee's grievance procedure, just in case the employee decides to leave the organisation and/or take the organisation to an Employment Tribunal. This will show that the organisation is willing to be transparent and co-operative during the hearing and the judge may be more likely to rule in favour of the organisation. However, be prepared to learn lessons from the case if the judge rules in favour of the ex-employee so that the HR department and organisation can prevent similar mismanagement happening again.
What can Employees do to tackle LGBTQIA Bullying at Work?
  • Commit to the zero-tolerance Bullying policy.
  • Be prepared to be honest about their own conduct in the office and make changes quickly after reading the policy- e.g., don't join in with calling a gay colleague a "bender" or "poof".
  • Be prepared to report transgressions by others and support those LGBTQIA colleagues who are being bullied rather than "hiding behind a wall of silence" and pretend that the bullying and/or harassment is going on.
  • Join the Bullying forum and share tips and advice about any experiences of bullying you may have been through to try and encourage others to speak out against their bullies.
What to do if you are bullied at work:
  • If you are being bullied, remember that you can take control of the situation:
    • If the incident has only occurred once, and involves verbal/written bullying, approach the person concerned and say -"I am sure you are not aware but when you called me "poof" or said that I was a "pervert", I feel bullied. If you do not stop saying this, I will have to use the formal grievance procedure".
    • If there has been multiple incidents and the perpetrator has not stopped:
      • Confide in someone you trust - e.g. fellow colleague/parent/partner.
      • Keep a diary/ list which logs each and every incident of bullying and/or harassment and each time you feel belittled or afraid. Note down the names of everyone who witnessed or participated in the incident. The writing of a diary is cathartic in itself and empowers you as an employee because it should show you that you are not the cause of the bullying- the perpetrator is.
      • Go to your team leader/manager with the diary and tell them you want to start the grievance procedure against the perpetrator. If the team leader won't intervene, go to the departmental manager. If the manager won't do anything, email/phone the HR department to arrange a meeting.
      • Remember that it is OK to email/approach your manager/HR manager to find out the status of your grievance procedure. Keep strong and remember you have done nothing wrong.
      • Remember that it is OK for you to take time off from work if you have been suffering from stress or feeling depressed as a result of long term bullying. Don't be afraid to seek help for your stress by talking to your GP and they can see if you can access NHS Talking Therapies/ Counselling if/when appropriate.
      • If you feel your organisation isn't taking your formal grievance case seriously enough or have refused to investigate, and you are a member of a union, contact your union representative straight away. If you're not a member of a union, you can always contact ACAS or look on their website as they can offer help and advice.
      • If your organisation rules against you, you can take them to an employment tribunal. You can contact ACAS to get advice on this or get in touch with the Tribunals helpline on 0845 795 9775.  
      • It's OK to dip your toe in the water and search for other job opportunities within the local area. You're not giving up, you're just exploring all options available to you, especially if the grievance procedure has been handled badly by management or the HR department.