Answering questions from RedbournMarch 5th, 2015
I have been asked a series of questions for a Redbourn publication. I trust this reassures readers that I don’t duck hard questions and will give direct answers when I think they are appropriate….
What is your current occupation?
Transaction Support Manager at a niche Energy Law Firm in the City that specializes in Renewable Energy projects in Africa.
What is you private profile? (education, experience, relationship status, hobbies, where do you live etc)
I attended my local LEA Comprehensive School in Northamptonshire. I have a History degree (Birmingham) and a Master’s in Law (Keele). I serve on the National Executive Committee of the Labour Finance and Industry Group, with whom I engage with business leaders at the highest level. I am a leading member of Christians on the Left which engages with churches across the country. I live in the private rented sector in Letchworth with my husband Paul, a retail worker and trainee Methodist Lay Preacher. We attend Christchurch Hitchin.
I don’t have a great deal of spare time at the moment….but if I did, I would probably spend it with my husband, family and friends both here and further afield. My extended family are very important to me and I am deeply proud of my roots in the West Cumberland Coalfield and in Ulster Presbyterianism.
I am a classically trained violinist and chorister and still enjoy classical and church music, and also theatre. My dad was a first class rugby player and coach and I still enjoy watching games when I have the chance.
Why do you want to be an MP?
Because I believe I can be the kind of decent politician who understands people’s everyday struggles that everyone says they want. I have never worked in politics so I am not a “career politician”.
What is your ambition as a politician?
I want the UK to be a more decent country: I believe politicians should lead and shape public opinion as well as follow it. I believe we should care about our neighbours, our communities, other communities and other countries as much as we care about ourselves and I want this to be reflected in our policies.
How much do you currently earn?
It’s probably unwise for me to put a figure into the public domain. I earn more than the national average and I don’t struggle to get by but I don’t earn enough to get a mortgage on a house in the Hitchin & Harpenden constituency on my income alone.
Do you think MPs and government ministers should be allowed to work outside of their public service job?
No. I feel quite strongly about this because I’ve met so many MPs who work 80, 90, 100 hours a week for their constituents and it is inconceivable for them to have the time to undertake a second job. I think MPs who do have second jobs – certainly those who put a lot of hours into them – short change their constituents and undermine the office of MP. If I was elected, I would not take a second job.
Do you have social media pages?
The best way to find me is on Twitter at @MrsBurgin. I also have a website: www.rachelburgin.org.uk.
Why should Labour get into power?
I want Labour to get into power because I want to protect the values my grandparents and great grandparents fought for: that we have a society that recognizes it has a duty to people when they fall on hard times – whether that is being made redundant, becoming disabled, getting ill or getting old. This sense of social solidarity has come under unrelenting attack over the past five years and it is important that a future Labour Government has the opportunity to rebuild it.
I also believe we need an economy that we don’t accept is fixed until real wages are rising and people’s jobs are more secure. My husband works two jobs on “short hour” contracts and I have seen for myself the devastating and debilitating effect that job insecurity and poor employment rights have on employees and their families. It is important that we have a Labour Government that is prepared to address these issues and stand up for ordinary working people.
How can a London educated Muslim become Jahadi John (Mohammed Emwazi)? What can we learn from this?
Because some people are evil and, in spite of our best efforts, they sometimes go completely off the rails. I am sure there will be a full investigation into security breaches.
What I would like to champion is more mixing between different children of different backgrounds. I used to be a school governor of a primary school in Cumbria. It was a small school in an isolated coastal community. I (unsuccessfully) tried to twin the school with one in Tower Hamlets so that the children could get to know others who had grown up in a multicultural setting. The response I got from my contacts in London was that, while they could see how Cumbrian children could learn from the relationship, they couldn’t see how children from Tower Hamlets could learn anything from being twinned with a school in Cumbria. That saddened me because I could see that they could learn a great deal. They could climb mountains and cliff tops, jump in cold lakes, watch rugby league and even learn the impenetrable local dialect. But more to the point, they could learn that “all children are children”: they are not in a nation that is hostile to them but whatever their country of origin, they are welcome here.
As well as these “soft” measures, we also need “hard” measures in respect of a proper investigation into how seemingly ordinary people are being caught up with ISIS. This ought to include Education, social media and extremist religious groups operating in the UK.
What should be done about the three Muslim girls who we fear have gone to Syria to join Isis?
I think if I knew the answer to that, I would have already phoned the security services: I trust their expertise and judgment on this one. I’m hoping we find them before they get involved in any awful atrocities so we can rehabilitate them back into this country.
As per the previous question, we need to look at constructive ways in which we can protect children from being drawn into this mindset through the Education system.
What should be done about Vladimir Putin?
The agreement reached in Minsk should be cautiously welcomed. But its impact on the dire humanitarian and security situation in Eastern Ukraine will ultimately be judged by deeds, and not simply words.
President Putin has committed to cease support for armed groups in Eastern Ukraine, and to facilitate the withdrawal of weapons and fighters from Ukrainian territory. His actions will be closely and carefully watched by the international community to ensure that he meets both the spirit and the letter of this deal.
As European leaders meet in Brussels, the EU must continue to show a robust and united response to Russia’s recent aggression, and encourage President Putin to deliver on his pledge to calm tensions instead of inflaming them.
Should immigration be contained or it is helping the economy to grow – so should we not worry about it?
Immigration is good for our country but it is right that it should be contained to ensure that vulnerable people aren’t exploited.
We need to ensure that immigrants aren’t used as scapegoats. It is important to not let those with power and money – politicians, bankers, the media – encourage us to deflect attention from their responsibility for our current circumstances onto the weak and the vulnerable – including immigrants.
And we must tackle the myths head-on: the vast majority of immigrants come here to work and they are net contributors to the Treasury in respect of the tax they pay. They are “grafters” – often working long hours on low pay and in awful working conditions. They keep our NHS running as doctors and nurses
That being said, we do need to address some of the issues arising out of increased immigration levels in practical and pragmatic ways. To that end, Labour’s immigration plan will be based on the following five principles:
- Stronger border controls: making it easier to deport foreign criminals, check people in and out of the country, and stop illegal immigration. Not putting up with continued under-investment, chaos and failure, presiding over a borders agency that is clearly unfit for purpose.
- A smarter system of controls: so we get the top talent and investment we need, whilst controlling low skilled migration. Not setting an undeliverable ‘net migration’ target, which has ended up forcing the government to reduce the number of students, even though they bring contribute millions to Britain, simply because they are the easiest to control, whilst doing nothing to stop low skilled migration.
- Fair rules at work: a new law to prevent employers undercutting wages by exploiting immigration and banning agencies from recruiting only from abroad. Not shrugging our shoulders as this government have done – refusing to act because they are ideologically opposed to any strengthening of workers’ rights.
- Earned entitlements: changing the rules so that people coming here won’t be able to claim benefits for at least two years. A real plan to deliver change in Europe, not putting Britain on a path to exit from the European Union, which would put at risk 3 million jobs.
- Integration, not divided communities: people working in public services in public facing roles required to speak English. Not simply crossing our fingers and hoping that integration will occur on its own.
What would you do to reform the Benefit system? Are the right people getting help? Could benefits be replaced with food, housing, utility vouchers rather than cash?
Yes welfare does need to be reformed but no your proposed solution would be a terrible idea.
The Labour Party came into existence, in part, because of the failure of Victorian charity to adequately address the problems of the age. People wanted justice not charity: higher wages, better working and living conditions, better opportunities through education, better healthcare. Not better handouts.
The same is true today. The vast majority of our welfare budget goes to support people who are in work but don’t earn enough to make ends meet, on the disabled who can’t work and on the elderly. So if we want to reduce the welfare budget, we need to increase wages and also improve working conditions including banning zero hours contracts.
I think it was reprehensible that the Coalition Government closed Remploy Centres that offered meaningful employment to disabled people. Instead disabled people have been victimised through the benefits system and many have lost their entitlements before dying of terminal illnesses months later. It is important to remember that each one of us is only one major accident away from disability.
Unemployment can happen to the best of us and many of life’s “grafters” have burned midnight oil on job applications with little or no success. Losing your job shouldn’t also mean losing your home. We need a “safety net” to ensure that people can get back on their feet in the months it takes to secure another job. I think the “skivers/strivers” rhetoric has been felt most keenly by those who have been most sincerely looking for work.
Governments need to play their part in ensuring the economy functions so that most people can find work. Labour’s Job Guarantee for Young People would prevent young people starting their working life on benefits. And Labour is also committed to a One Nation Industrial Strategy that works to ensure that prosperity – and people – are spread more evenly across the country and that we can tackle those workless communities that leave people stranded with no hope of a better future.
Why should UK stay in EU?
The UK should stay in the EU because:
- Around 3.5 million British jobs are directly linked to British membership of the European Union’s single market
- The EU buys over 50 per cent of UK exports (54 per cent of goods, 40 per cent of services).
Over 300,000 British companies and 74 per cent of British exporters operate in other EU markets. American and Asian EU firms build factories in Britain because it is in the single market.
- The EU negotiates trade agreements with the rest of the world. Outside the EU Britain would have to renegotiate trade deals alone. While the EU is the world’s largest market, a UK outside the EU would not be a high priority for other counties to negotiate a trade deal.
- Through commonly agreed EU standards, national Governments have achieved improvements to the quality of air, rivers and beaches.
- The EU has taken on multinational giants like Microsoft, Samsung and Toshiba for unfair competition. The UK would not be able to do this alone.
- 1.4 million British people live abroad in the EU. More than 14,500 UK students took part in the European Union’s Erasmus student exchange scheme in 2012-13. Driving licences issued in the UK are valid throughout the EU.
- The EU has helped secure peace among previously warring western European nations. It helped to consolidate democracy in Spain, Portugal, Greece and former Soviet bloc countries and helped preserve peace in the Balkans since the end of the Balkans War. With the UN it now plays a leading role in conflict prevention, peacekeeping and democracy building.
- Equal pay for men and women is enshrined in EU law.
- As 28 democracies, and as the world’s biggest market, we are strong when we work together.
Britain is represented in many international organisations in joint EU delegations – giving Britain more influence than it would have alone. The EU has played a major role in climate, world trade and development.
- Common rules for the common market make it unnecessary to have 28 sets of national regulations.
- The European Arrest Warrant replaced long extradition procedures and enables the UK to extradite criminals wanted in other EU countries, and bring to justice criminals wanted in the UK who are hiding in other EU countries. Eurojust helps UK authorities work with other EU countries’ to tackle international organised crime such as drug smuggling, people trafficking and money laundering.
- The UK is the second largest beneficiary of EU research funds, and the British Government expects future EU research funding to constitute a vital source of income for our world-leading universities and companies
Is the NHS sustainable?
Yes. In the words of Nye Bevan, “the NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it”.
Sustaining an NHS is a challenge but meeting that challenge requires us fighting to uphold its founding principles: that healthcare is a human right not a privilege and that no-one should be deprived of healthcare because of funds. We have seen similar principles undermined in our welfare state in recent years: that there are some welfare recipients who don’t deserve to eat so we will punish them with benefit sanctions. It’s not a massive leap of logic to say that some people don’t deserve healthcare.
- Create a £2.5 billion a year NHS Time to Care Fund to support 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs, 5,000 more home care workers and 3,000 more midwives – funded by a mansion tax on homes worth £2 million or more, by ensuring that tax avoiders play by the rules and by a levy on tobacco companies.
- Guarantee a GP appointment within 48 hours, and the same day for those who need it.
- Guarantee a maximum one-week wait for cancer tests.
- Repeal David Cameron’s NHS changes that put private profit before patients, so that NHS professionals can focus on your care, not competition law.
- Give patients and the public a say when changes to local services are proposed.
- Bring together physical health, mental health and social care into a single service to meet all of a person’s care needs – whole person care, built around patients.
Care home fees. Is it fair that someone pays £2,000 – 5,000 per month of their hard earned money to be in care and someone else gets the same care for free because their assets are below £23,250? What can be done to make it more equitable?
Harsh perhaps – but yes it is fair. My maternal grandmother went into a residential home in 1990. She sold her home in the back streets of Londonderry (no inside toilet or hot water) for the princely sum of £2,500 and her piano was sold for £50 (I got the £50 – the sum total of my inheritance). She was a “grafter” who, when widowed with children, worked long hours in the city’s shirt factories and she was also a pillar of her local Presbyterian Church. I am very thankful that we lived in the sort of decent society that did not deprive my granny of dignity in her dying years.
Labour’s strategy is, as far as possible, to keep people in their own home. We are committed to creating an “arm” of the NHS dedicated to elderly care and will employ 5,000 more care-workers in order to help elderly people stay in their homes and end the scandal of care visits being limited to 15 minutes. All vulnerable older people will be offered a safety check to identify risks to their health like cold homes, loneliness and the likelihood of them falling, so that problems can be tackled and they avoid unnecessary hospital visits.
More importantly Labour want to merge Health and Social care to create one integrated service offering people coherent “whole person” care to patients – and reversing the ever-increasing hospitalisation of older people.
The Conservatives want to bring in a cap to limit the amount of money that the elderly pay for residential homes but research by Labour has revealed that the £72,000 cap will actually be more like £150,000 and that the vast majority of elderly people would have passed away before they would benefit from it. More to the point, it would offer no help at all to people like my Granny.
What is the point of people buying low CO2 emission vehicles when the volume of traffic on the roads is ever upwards with on-line shopping demanding more and more house to house deliveries?
That’s a very good question! The volume of traffic is a real issue in this part of Hertfordshire and the Conservative administration at Herts County Council certainly isn’t helping matters by cutting bus services.
On a different issue, house price increases have meant that people are having to travel further to work and that puts pressure on our transport infrastructure. On that second issue, I think we need to radically rethink how we work and encourage more people to work from home. Not only would this take traffic off our roads but it would also make for a better quality of family and community life.
And buying a low CO2 emission vehicle isn’t the only way we can address Climate Change in our daily life. We can look to improve our homes through insulation, a new boiler or even solar panels on our roof – all of which would reduce our use of fossil fuels.
And I know no-one likes wind farms in their back yard – and they are a bit pointless in areas that lack a lot of wind – but there are a lot of really exciting projects around the country where communities are choosing to host a wind farm or a solar farm and have arrangements to financially benefit from them either through lower electricity bills or through dividends. I believe that such projects demonstrate a real sense of civic responsibility and an understanding of how communities can benefit the wider world.
Is the £6k per year university fee proposed by Ed Miliband realistically achievable?
Yes. Legislation will be brought in to lower fees at the first available opportunity after the next General Election. The fee reduction would be funded by reducing pension tax relief for those earning £150,000 per year: these are the top 1% of tax payers. This would not affect current pensioners.
At the moment, people with incomes over £150,000 get tax relief on pension contributions at a rate of 45 per cent – more than twice that of basic rate taxpayers. This means that although they are only the top 1 per cent of taxpayers, they receive 7 per cent of all Pension Tax Relief. Labour would reduce the rate of relief for those with incomes of over £150,000 to 20 per cent – the same as basic rate taxpayers. Labour will reduce the annual and lifetime allowances to cap the amount that people can put into their pensions tax free: £30,000 a year, or £1 million across a lifetime. This is far more than most people can ever afford to put into their pension pots.
Universities will not lose out because Labour will increase the teaching grant they receive by around £2.7 billion, the same amount that their fee income falls. Labour’s plan will reduce government debt by £40 billion by 2030-31. Over the next Parliament it will mean over £10 billion less debt.
For further details on the policy, please check my website here:
It is important to add that the current set-up on university fees doesn’t work because such a high proportion of graduates are unlikely to ever pay their student loans back. It has become a “false economy”. So the more we can reduce headline fees, the more likely it is that graduates will be able to pay the whole amount back.
The pensionable age is going up. Some people are in jobs which require physical strength. Should pensionable age be determined by the occupation?
If you mean, do I think that Firefighters should be able to retire before the rest of us then yes. I think that if I was stranded in a burning building, I would want someone young and fit running into rescue me. I think the Coalition government were wholly wrong to increase the Firefighter pension age to 60 – and Labour campaigned against it at the time.