I recently received a letter from the Very Reverend Christopher Armstrong, the Dean Blackburn and Chair of the Lancashire Fairness Commission regarding their new report: Fairer Lancashire, Fairer Lives.
The report is a very timely piece of work and puts front and centre some of the most important issues which are facing Lancashire as we head into the General Election period. I thoroughly recommend that everyone who cares about fairness in the economy and in society from a Lancashire-wide perspective, takes a look at the report.
The report makes three key findings – first of all, the importance of 'starting well'. This means ensuring children have the best start in life, so that they can go on to fulfil their potential as adults and live happy fulfilling lives. I know for instance how many parents struggle to find childcare that meets their needs, as well as concerns about investment in our local schools.
Secondly, that everyone ought to be able to live well. This means fair access to education, jobs and services, and importantly that their life expectancy should not be based on their household income or where they live in the UK. Hyndburn has been hit hard by government cuts, the borough is in the highest bracket for government cuts, and our NHS locally is under huge strains.
Thirdly, the report highlights the importance of aging well. Whilst things such as the cost of living and access to public services are of course incredibly important to older people, so too are non-material concerns such as social isolation and ensuring that older people are able to play an active role in the community.
Going into the election I believe that only the Labour has the policies to make the vision of the Lancashire Fairness Commission a reality.
1. A STRONG ECONOMIC FOUNDATION: Balance the books and cut the deficit every year while securing the future of the NHS. None of our manifesto commitments require additional borrowing.
2. HIGHER LIVING STANDARDS FOR WORKING FAMILIES: Freeze energy bills until 2017 and give the regulator the power to cut bills this winter, ban exploitative zero-hours contracts, raise the minimum wage to £8 and provide 25 hours free childcare a week.
3. AN NHS WITH THE TIME TO CARE: 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 more GPs. We will join up services from home to hospital, guaranteeing GP appointments within 48 hours and cancer tests within one week.
4. CONTROLS ON IMMIGRATION: People who come here won't be able to claim benefits for at least two years and we will introduce fair rules making it illegal for employers to undercut wages by exploiting workers.
5. A COUNTRY WHERE THE NEXT GENERATION CAN DO BETTER THAN THE LAST: Tuition fees reduced to £6,000, an apprenticeship for every school leaver who gets the basic grades, and smaller class sizes for 5, 6 & 7 year-olds.
These are policies that will directly help people living in Haslingden and Hyndburn – they will make our society fairer and our economy stronger, and provide an alternative vision to the Tories' plan to cut to 1930s levels, to a time before the NHS even existed.