Pensions freedom and 5 years of Liberal Democrat pension changes

The new financial year, from 6th April, marks the largest overhaul of the pensions system in almost a century, giving people the freedom to take control of their own pension.

  • 300,000 individuals a year with defined contribution pension savings will be able to access them as they wish when they turn 55 – subject to their marginal rate of tax.
  • Announced in the Budget in 2014, these changes were driven by the Liberal Democrat pensions Minister Steve Webb, who has overseen a liberal revolution in the British pensions system.

The big change in the new private pension freedoms will mean people no longer have to buy an annuity from their pension pot. This provides a safety net with regular payments, however, in recent years annuities have been poor, and pensions were very inflexible in access for example in helping children get on the property ladder or even just paying off individual debts.

Previous pension changes under Steve Webb have included:

  • The ‘triple lock guarantee’ for state pensions, a Lib Dem policy, so they will rise by the higher of earnings growth, price inflation or 2.5%. The full basic state pension is now £950 per year higher than in 2010 in cash terms.
  • Guarantee 9m people a workplace pension, which their employers and the government pay in to, giving everyone the confidence to save.
  • A new simple, single state pension to help people save for a better retirement.
  • Abolished the default retirement age-making it illegal for people to be sacked simply because they became a pensioner.
  • Authored the freedoms announced at the budget to allow people with annuities the freedom to sell on their existing annuity.

The pensions revolution has been truly significant for this and future generations. We’ve restored the link to earnings which Thatcher broke, and Labour never changed in 13 years of Government. State pensions will be simpler going forward and not penalising those who have given up work to look after their children. More people will now have a private pension as a result of the changes we’ve made to “auto enrolment” into workplace pensions.

These are changes which have long been overdue and I’m glad that the Liberal Democrats have had the chance in the past 5 years to implement them.

£3.5bn investment in mental health

Mental health has been a key focus for the Liberal Democrats, who have given more focus on mental health care than previous Governments. Going forward, if we’re in Government, we will spend £3.5bn more over the next parliament on mental health care in England

The funding would be spent on revolutionising children’s and adult mental health care, including:

● £250m over five years for pregnant women and mums dealing with depression. This would include eight new mother and baby units providing inpatient care for pregnant women and new mums and 40 new community services helping new mums adjust to life at home with a new born.

● New waiting time standards for people in crisis and for conditions like bipolar disorder so that those who are ill know how long they have to wait.

● Hundreds of thousands more people will get access to talking therapies for anxiety and depression.

Full details are in the “Manifesto for the Mind” document

One in four of us will experience mental health problems at some point in our lives. And yet, for decades, mental health services have been the poor relation of physical health problems. In the last Budget we secured more than a billion pounds to revolutionise services for children and young people, alongside the first ever waiting times standards and a plan to roll out talking therapies across England.

It seems ridiculous that before there were no waiting time limits for mental health treatment, the Liberal Democrats have changed that, and the targets are the same as for physical health at 18 weeks.

Action on the housing crisis now

Escalating property prices, and inaction by the Tory council, have created a housing crisis in London, and we must act now. Regardless of who wins the General Election, there is action that can be taken locally.

Wandsworth Borough Council has a target of 33% properties to be affordable in new developments. However, developments consistently miss this target. House prices across Wandsworth have reached stratospheric levels even by the usual standards of London, up by 18% in 2014. The rental market is largely unregulated and where housing is built it is largely for the super-rich and transient.

Wandsworth Liberal Democrats have started a petition calling on the Council to do the following:
● Ensure all new property development have at least 33% affordable homes
● Any social housing sold under ‘right to buy’ is replaced
● Economic viability of developments to be made available publicly as part of planning committee submission

Do sign our petition here

Wandsworth Council has repeatedly failed in their responsibility to ensure that sufficient housing is provided for all members of the community. Our petition is calling for action now. Housing costs will begin to cripple our future economic growth and force even more ordinary and young people out of areas like Tooting, Earlsfield and Balham.

Nationally the Liberal Democrats are fighting for:

  • 300,000 homes a year built, with more garden cities, using a housing investment bank to kick start investment, like the green investment bank has done.
  • “rent-to-own homes” scheme – monthly payments equivalent to rent build up a share in their home, without requiring a deposit. After 30 years, occupants would gain full ownership of the property.
  • Improved quality of rental properties
    – From April 2018 private landlords will not be able to rent out properties which do not meet minimum energy efficiency standards;
    – From April 2016 residential private landlords can’t unreasonably turn down a tenant’s request for energy efficiency improvements.
  • Protecting tenants from revenge evictions, so tenants don’t face the prospect of losing their home simply for asking that repairs be made
  • Maintaining, and increasing, the social housing stock

Transition Town and local activism – a very Lib Dem way

Last week I was invited to Transition Town Tooting’s Electing the Future event with other parliamentary candidates. A discussion based evening, rather than a hustings, there were some great ideas around improving community, controlling traffic & pollution, access to housing, green spaces, locally sourced food, better streets and independent retail environments.

Philip giving group feedback from one of the discussions

Philip giving group feedback from one of the discussions

Locally the Lib Dems have are campaigning on safer streets and improved housing, and you can support us at the links below:

In terms of local decision making, in Lib Dem run Borough of Sutton they have encouraged people to set up more resident and community groups, tenants’ associations and friends of parks and heritage buildings, helping them bid for funds so they can make their own decisions about the area where they live. An example is a district centre regeneration project worth more than £1m which was handed over to local residents to agree and oversee.

The Transition Town movement focuses on sustainable living, especially in light of climate change, and nationally the Liberal Democrats understand this, which is why the Liberal Democrats have  it a priority for the next Government, if we are part of it, for five green laws to safeguard the environment:

Zero Carbon Bill

Introducing a Zero Carbon Britain Bill in the next parliament to end Britain’s adverse impact on climate change for good by 2050.

Zero Waste Bill

Treble fines and claw back £500 million for the taxpayer by clamping down on organisations which fly-tip to deliberately evade tax and review the tax structure across landfill, incineration and collection.

Green Homes Bill

New Green Homes Bill will insulate up to 10 million homes by 2025 and offer at least £100 a year off Council Tax for ten years when energy improvements are carried out.

Green Transport Bill

Transport has a significant role to play in reducing carbon emissions. In the UK, transport is responsible for around 25% of our carbon emissions and is the fastest growing source of carbon emissions. We will bring forward a comprehensive package of transport policies to continue to build a people-centred, sustainable, safe travel system that helps the economy grow.

Nature Bill

Establish the Natural Capital Committee on a statutory footing to provide advice to Government to ensure that nature is at the heart of government decision-making and that government departments are held to account for achieving progress against commitments to improving the natural environment.

There is no magic solution to solve all the problems discussed, it requires local and national actions. However, communities thrive best when there is local participation, something the Lib Dems truly believe in.

The NHS and TTIP – no backdoor privatisation.

I’ve received many e-mails on Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the impact on the NHS. People are right to be concerned about any major trade agreements, especially one opening up economies to multinationals (who frankly haven’t helped themselves in this battle over the years). However, there is no risk to the NHS of being forced to open up for private American firms to run.

Nick Clegg addressed this issue at Lib Dem spring conference

The letter from Cecilia Malmstroma, the EU Commissioner in charge of the TTIP negotiations, to the Government about TTIP and the NHS is also available here



A proactive appraoch to road safety in Wandsworth Borough

As our roads get busier, many people complain about road safety as residents, pedestrians, cyclists and even motorists face increasing dangers. Current policy only allows officers to look at improving street design after 3 people have been killed or seriously injured in a 3 consecutive year period, or 25% of households in a given area have petitioned for change is fit for purpose

This is ludicrous, and is reactive policy making with no strategy for road safety. As a result we have a patchwork of schemes and roads with different speed limits in Wandsworth causing confusion. “Rat runs” are increasing, and causing traffic incidents across the Borough, like at the junction of Upper Tooting Road, Lessingham Avenue and Ansell Road – the 5th most dangerous spot for cyclists in London!

At Upper Tooting Road and Lessingham Avenue, Tooting, the 5th most dangerous junction for cyclists in London

At Upper Tooting Road and Lessingham Avenue, Tooting, the 5th most dangerous junction for cyclists in London

To change this, Wandsworth Liberal Democrats, and I, have started a petition to ask Wandsworth Council to take the following actions to improve road safety:

  • Ensure that all residential roads have a speed limit of 20mph
  • Work proactively with resident associations / civic societies and local residents to identify further areas where 20 mph limits on their own are not sufficient

Please sign our petition here

Numerous Councils in London have introduced 20mph residential zones, such as Lambeth, Camden and Islington. 20mph zones can be done on most streets without the need for any physical calming, some streets may be appropriate to have a higher limit but any limit above 20mph should be a considered decision based on local circumstances. The opposite of today’s policy.

In Portsmouth, when 20mph was introduced, road traffic incidents declined by a third. Imagine the reduction in demand for A&E! Safer streets also encourages cycling, increasing the health benefits to residents.

A more proactive approach to road safety which is based on changes to legislation, has proven benefits to both residents, health services and is more cost efficient to implement by the Council than introducing speed bumps and actively consulting on every other road.

Sign the petition today, and together we can deliver safer streets in Wandsworth.

P.S. I have written to Boris Johnson, as Chair of TfL, and Wandsworth Borough Council to ask what actions they are taking to improve road safety on Upper Tooting Road / Lessingham Avenue and Ansell Road.

Safer roads need joined up thinking

Today the most dangerous junctions for cyclists in London were revealed and at number 5 was the junction of Upper Tooting Road  / Lessingham Avenue and Ansell Road. As a cyclist down that road, it does not surprise me in the slightest, especially when cycling towards Tooting. Over 5 years, 34 incidents were reported to police, no doubt, there have been countless more unreported.

Lessingham Ave

This when it was revealed that TfL had underspent their road safety budget by over £50m this financial year. Already in 2015 we have had 4 cycle deaths, and for TfL to be underspending their safety budget is a travesty. Of course, it’s not just TfL’s responsibility on Upper Tooting Road, but also Wandsworth Council, who control the traffic off Upper Tooting Road.

Lessingham Ave and Ansell Road are being used as rat runs, which contributes to the problem, and more needs to be done to tackle this. Aside from denying motorists access, which is unrealistic, there are a number of solutions such as making the junctions have legal STOP signs rather than Give Way, or consider how best to manage the traffic flow with additional traffic lights. I also feel that managing the late night parking on Upper Tooting Road is an issue when cycling in the evening, the poor visibility for motorists (and cyclists) because of the parked cars.

Action now, not after another 34 (reported) incidents or even a death.