Norman Lamb's annual tour of village advice surgeries has been announced!Read more
The Government must “get rid of the fantasy at the heart of the so-called war on drugs, which has been a stupid and catastrophic failure”, Norman Lamb argued in Parliament today.
Speaking in a debate on the government’s new drug strategy, Norman said that prohibition has been “a monumental failure of public policy”, and called for a “fundamentally new approach” to the use of drugs that seeks to reduce harm.
The Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson welcomed the focus on evidence-based drug treatment programmes and on addressing the underlying causes of addiction (such as poor housing and mental health issues), in contrast to the ‘damaging’ over-emphasis on abstinence in previous strategies.
However, he condemned the Government’s failure to introduce fundamental reform of Britain’s drugs laws and its refusal to consider the case for the decriminalisation.
In his speech, Norman emphasised the “shameful” number of people who die through drug misuse. In 2015, the number of deaths increased by more than 10% to hit record levels, while the number of deaths from heroin has doubled since 2012. These people can no longer be dismissed as “victims of their own stupidity”. The death rate from drugs in the UK is 10 times that of Portugal, where decriminalisation has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of deaths from drug use as well as improved health outcomes.
While Britain is stuck in the dark ages, Norman highlighted that other countries are increasingly coming to adopt a more enlightened approach to drugs policy. In Portugal, after initial resistance to decriminalisation, there is political unity across the spectrum. In the United States, more and more states are moving towards regulated markets for cannabis, while the Liberal Government in Canada is also legislating to introduce a legal regulated market.
Closing his speech, which you can read in full here, he issued a strong challenge to the Government:
“I make this plea: do not claim that the case for change is irresponsible, but bring about change because it will save lives, it will reduce HIV and hepatitis C infection, it will protect people better, it will end the ludicrous enriching of criminals, it will cut violence in our poorest communities, it will end the self-defeating criminalisation of people who have done exactly the same thing as successful people in government, in business and in all sorts of walks of life, and it will raise vital tax revenues. Follow the evidence. Do not perpetuate the stigma and the fear. End this catastrophic approach to drugs policy.”
During the debate, Norman also made the following important points:
- The new strategy makes welcome references to drug rehabilitation requirements as a sentencing option, along with alcohol rehabilitation requirements and mental health treatment requirements. However, the Government must focus on making sure that all of these sentencing options are available everywhere in the country, which hasn’t previously been the case.
- The strategy makes no mention of improving access to drug consumption rooms / heroin injecting facilities which allow drug users to inject safely under supervision. Evidence suggests that the use of drug consumption rooms has the potential to save lives, and these are currently being piloted in Glasgow.
- The war on drugs has had extraordinary consequences. It has massively enriched organised crime to the tune of billions of pounds every year, and has criminalised young people in particular.
- Criminally controlled drug supply markets lead to appalling violence, widespread human rights violations and an “extraordinary death toll”.
- We criminalise people with mental health problems who may well end up taking drugs as an escape from the pain that they are suffering. It is “cruel and stupid” that we prosecute them and give them a criminal record.
- Criminalising the possession of drugs has had a disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities which amounts to ‘extraordinary discrimination’. Although illegal drug use is lower among BME groups than in the white population, black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs.
- The Government’s objectives are undermined by “counter-productive” cuts to public health funding. The King’s Fund recently highlighted that councils across the country have planned to reduce their expenditure on tackling drug misuse in adults by £22 million.
- The Royal Society for Public Health, in its response to the Government’s strategy, says that it “falls far short of the fundamental reorientation of policy towards public health and away from criminal justice needed to tackle rising drug harm. Decriminalisation of drug possession and use is a critical enabler that would enable drug treatment services to reach as many people as possible as effectively as possible. Instead, the Government still continues to lead with unhelpful rhetoric about ‘tough law enforcement’ that contributes to the marginalisation and stigmatisation of vulnerable drug users”.
- Although ministers still use the language of having a tough approach to enforcement, the Home Office’s own report from 2014 showed that there is no link between the toughness of a regime and the level of drug use.
- An expert panel recommended that in the interests of public health, we should move towards a regulated cannabis market where we control potency, who grows it and who sells it. That protects those at risk of psychosis and memory impairment. If people buy from a criminal, they have no idea what they are buying. The criminal has no interest in people’s welfare; they simply want to make a fast buck from them.
A new ‘Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme’ is needed after Brexit to address the shortage of seasonal workers in the soft fruit industry in Norfolk, Norman Lamb argued in Parliament today.
The agriculture sector in the UK has long been reliant on migrant labour, particularly seasonal workers from Europe. During peak seasons, are around 75,000 additional workers are employed to pick British fruit and veg, of which an estimated 98% are recruited from elsewhere in the EU.
However, many farms and fruit companies are experiencing difficulty in recruiting enough seasonal EU workers. In North Norfolk, one of Britain’s major soft fruit producers was 77 fruit pickers short of the 320 needed in June of this year (a shortage of 25%), having struggled to obtain any seasonal harvest staff to fill these places – even from countries such as Romania and Bulgaria from which many fruit pickers have historically been recruited. As a result, some fields of fruit were left unpicked. The company has also been forced to halt its expansion plans while concerns about labour shortages continue.
Brexit has been suggested as one of the reasons why it is becoming harder to attract workers from the EU. There is huge concern that ongoing uncertainty over the future of EU migrant workers in Britain, as well as a fall in the value of the pound, is making Britain a less attractive destination. Farmers and fruit producers fear that labour shortages will be made much worse once EU free movement no longer applies in the UK after Brexit.
The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme previously allowed fruit and vegetable growers to employ migrant workers from Bulgaria and Romania to do short-term, low-skilled agricultural work for a maximum of six months. It was closed in 2013 after Bulgaria and Romania became full members of the European Union and restrictions on the free movement rights of their citizens were lifted. However, there have been calls from the industry for a new version of the scheme to be reintroduced post-Brexit in order to avoid a sudden recruitment crisis upon the UK’s exit from the EU.
In Parliament, Norman Lamb supported calls for a new ‘Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme’ after Brexit to ensure that the industry has enough seasonal workers to pick British fruit and veg. Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate, he said:
“The soft fruit industry in this country is a big success story. However, one of the major producers in my constituency is 77 staff short at the moment. That means leaving fruit unpicked.
“The company in my constituency has halted expansion plans until something can be sorted out with regard to availability of labour. It cannot expand its business in the current situation.
“There is a real risk that this major success story could be undermined unless we get a good new seasonal agricultural workers scheme deal in place for the post-Brexit situation.”
Commenting after the debate, he said:
“I am really alarmed that there seems to be no strategy from the Government to address concerns about a shortage of labour in the agriculture sector. This is causing huge anxiety among fruit producers in my constituency. Fruit and veg crops are being left unharvested, and expansion plans are on hold because of the current situation.
“We cannot let existing recruitment problems become a crisis after Brexit. Four years ago, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme was no longer considered necessary because countries who were traditionally part of this scheme, such as Bulgaria and Romania, had become part of the EU and were able to enjoy free movement. The Government must recognise that the situation has now changed dramatically with Brexit and the likely end of free movement over the next few years.
“We are still no clearer on what the Government’s post-Brexit immigration policy will be, but I would strongly urge ministers to reintroduce the scheme in order to ensure that there are enough migrant workers to meet the needs of our essential soft fruit industry.”
You can read the full debate here.
The shocking scale of underpayment of the minimum wage in the social care sector was exposed in the House of Commons yesterday by former Care Minister Norman Lamb.
Arrears totalling more than £2.5 million were uncovered by an HMRC investigation conducted between February 2015 and September 2016, which was initiated by Mr Lamb towards the end of his tenure as Care Minister. The review found 183 cases of non-compliance with the minimum wage among social care providers. In the case of one provider, more than £1 million was underpaid.
The revelations came to light in a debate on the Queen’s Speech proposals on jobs and the economy, after Mr Lamb obtained a letter from HMRC detailing the key findings of the review.
Speaking in the Commons, Mr Lamb called the underpayment of the minimum wage “a disgrace” and said that the impact of austerity on some people’s lives is “unacceptable”. He added: “We cannot continue to operate our public services on the backs of poverty wages for our lowest paid workers.”
Mr Lamb called for cross-party talks on “a long-term settlement for the NHS and care that does not involve exploiting the lowest-paid people in our country.”
Speaking after the debate, Norman Lamb said:
“It is intolerable that hard-working care staff are being paid a poverty wage instead of the fair wage that they deserve and are legally entitled to. The HMRC investigation highlights a gross injustice which ultimately stems from a failure to deliver proper funding for social care.
“Cash-strapped providers are faced with the impossible task of meeting unprecedented demand for care as well as higher minimum wage obligations, at a time when local authority budgets are under enormous stress. It is painfully clear that the situation is not sustainable.
“Unless the Government’s commitment to a further increase in the minimum wage is matched by proper funding for local authorities and care providers, I fear that the consequences for the social care sector could be disastrous.
“Patient care will also suffer if we continue to postpone the tough decisions that will need to be made to ensure that we can afford high-quality care for those who need it. It is vital that ministers work with others on a cross-party basis to develop a long-term settlement for social care that is fair and sustainable.”
Norman Lamb MP has welcomed proposals for a ‘sandscaping’ scheme to strengthen sea defences at Bacton Gas Terminal, Bacton and Walcott villages.
The proposed scheme, which was unveiled last week by North Norfolk District Council, would involve using high volumes of sand (1.5 million cubic metres) to protect the shoreline, in front of the terminal and down the coast.
Bacton Terminal, Bacton and Walcott are at risk of coastal erosion due to falling beach levels and rising sea levels and village communities have been calling for improved coastal defences. North Norfolk District Council has invested £1.3m in the maintenance of sea wall and revetments at Bacton and Walcott over the past 10 years, but continued maintenance of the groynes is limited because of falling beach levels.
It is believed that the innovative ‘sandscaping’ technique, which has been successfully used in The Netherlands, represents the best chance of sustaining the defences for the villages while ensuring the nationally critical gas infrastructure at Bacton Gas Terminal is protected. This would be the first time a project of this scale has been delivered in the UK.
It is estimated the total cost of the project would be £17 million to £19 million, and is considered to be financially viable.
The plans will be discussed by North Norfolk District Council’s Cabinet on July 3, with public drop-in sessions also being organised in Bacton and Walcott to explain the proposal and get people’s views.
Commenting, Norman Lamb said:
“I’m really encouraged by this exciting proposal, which has been a long time coming.
“Having initiated discussions with Government ministers back in 2015, I am relieved that we are getting there. There has been a lot of uncertainty over sea defences for Bacton Gas Terminal together with Bacton and Walcott through to Coastline Village. It is vital that the scheme extends to provide enhanced protection for Coastline Village - and I have stressed the importance of this to council officials.
“Local residents will have lots of questions about the scheme and the potential impact, but this sandscaping project should provide important additional protection.”
Liberal Democrats are faced with electing a new leader following Tim Farron's resignation last week. I have come to the conclusion that I will not be putting myself forward as a candidate for that vacancy. That might seem strange given the support and encouragement I have received from party members – and indeed, from many people outside the Lib Dems.
So let me explain. I have just fought a gruelling campaign to win my North Norfolk seat. Attempting to win a seat for the Liberal Democrats in an area which voted quite heavily to leave was bound to be a challenge. Not only was the party's position on Brexit toxic to many erstwhile Liberal Democrat voters in North Norfolk, but I found myself sympathising with those who felt that the party was not listening to them and was treating them with some disdain.
I abstained on Article 50 because I felt it was wrong in principle to vote against, given that we had all voted to hold the referendum in the first place. For many in the party that abstention was an act of betrayal. I have been accused of supporting a Hard Brexit - the very last thing I want - while a Lib Dem source told the Evening Standard this week that the abstention 'looks like he can't make a tough call'. It is actually quite tough to go against your party, and I did it on a matter of principle.
We need to understand why so many people get frustrated with remote power - something that Liberals should get. The EU is too often dysfunctional and sclerotic. Yet progressive internationalists have been reluctant to admit this. While we have always recognised the need for reform of the EU, the Liberal Democrats have been perceived as being too tolerant of its failings.
My great frustration is that instead of the name-calling, what we need is for progressives to engage in fresh thinking on how we achieve a new settlement with the EU - one which secures free trade, jobs, security partnerships, and our place in the Customs Union.
I want the Liberal Democrats to use our potentially pivotal position in Parliament to force cross party working on the profound challenges that we face - not just the Brexit negotiations but on how we secure the future of the NHS and our care system.
I would have used my position as leader to champion a different style of politics - rejecting the abuse and aggression which turns so many people off and instead seeking to build consensus where possible in the national interest. I favour telling it straight, not dissembling, bringing people together rather than dividing them. The public will not forgive the political class if we fail to understand the changed circumstances of a Parliament with no majority. We don't need an early election. We need a new style of politics.
None of this should be taken as meaning that I favour a mushy value-free equidistance from the other two parties. You can be a pluralist and hold passionate views. I am a Liberal to my core. I know that we are supposed to mellow with age but I have done the opposite. I have become more angry and impatient with injustice and gross inequality.
In my work as a health minister, I became more and more outraged by the way people with mental ill health and those with learning disability and autism are treated by the state. So often I heard stories of people being ignored, not listened to. The dad of a patient at Winterbourne View who told me he felt guilty because there was nothing he could do for his son. No one would listen to his complaints. The teenage girl with autism held in an institution for over two years, treated like an animal. No one would listen to her family's pleas. I helped get her out so that she now leads a good life but one minister can't intervene in every case.
And now we have the horror of Grenfell Tower. Again a story of people being ignored. Treated as second class citizens. These aren't isolated exceptions to the rule. Powerlessness is rife in Britain today, along with obscene inequalities of wealth.
Well we cannot tolerate this any longer.
Whether it is tenants in tower blocks or people with learning disabilities; workers with no stake in their enterprise watching as the owners of capital take an ever growing percentage of our national income as their real wages fall; the citizen who feels powerless against remote power, whether at the Town Hall, Westminster or Brussels; the whistleblower, a constituent of mine, who tries to highlight wrongdoing in our banks but sees his career and his health destroyed as a result - his concerns ignored for years. These are the things that drive me on, keep me fighting for justice. Liberals need to make the case for a radical shift of power to the people in all these spheres.
Finally, perhaps the most depressing aspect of this election campaign was the extent to which so many of the massive challenges we will face in the decades ahead got ignored. How do we respond, in a civilised way, to mass movements of people fleeing conflict or water shortages or simply in search of a better life? How do we address gross intergenerational inequality or the impact of automation on jobs which we assumed would always be there? How do we fund and improve our public services as the ratio of taxpaying workers to pensioners changes so radically? How do we respond effectively to a new wave of violent extremism on our streets, in a way that doesn't itself harm our way of life? And the potentially apocalyptic challenge of climate change and how we protect those most severely impacted by it.
If the progressive side of politics is to prevail, we can't just hanker after a better yesterday. We have to win the battle of ideas about how we confront these profound challenges.
This article was originally published on Politics Home (14th June 2017)
After an election campaign that saw headlines dominated by the critical issue of care for elderly and disabled people, it seems appropriate that Parliament should return during National Carers Week 2017 (12-18 June).
More than 6.5 million people are currently providing care for someone who is elderly, disabled or seriously ill. By 2037, it is estimated that this number will rise to 9 million as we contend with an ageing population and a surge in the number of people with long-term complex needs.
Whether it’s looking after a frail parent or a disabled child, unpaid carers do an incredible job and it is essential that their contribution is properly recognised. But in reality, this work too often goes unnoticed – and we know that the pressure of being a carer can take its toll.
Although caring for a loved one can be rewarding, the intolerable truth is that many carers in this country are not recognised as individuals with needs and lives of their own. Around 1 in 5 carers are forced to give up work, with others having to work part-time or sacrifice their education due to a lack of support. Many more suffer financial hardship, isolation, and ill health that is often left untreated.
What does it say about our society if those who care for us in sickness or old age are pushed to the fringes of their communities – unrecognised, under-valued, and all too often unable to lead a fulfilling life?
For the last few years, I have been pleased to support the National Carers Week campaign to build ‘Carer Friendly Communities’. The aim is to encourage organisations and communities to make small changes that could help people who are trying to balance their own lives with their caring responsibilities. That could be something as simple as GP surgeries offering alternative appointment times, coursework extensions in colleges, or more flexible working hours in the workplace.
Building ‘Carer Friendly Communities’ is not an aspiration we can pay lip service to. It is a moral demand on all of us to ensure that carers are supported to live not just as carers, but as individuals in their own right, who are able to enjoy the same opportunities as others in their community.
However, I also want to see carers given more support financially. When more than half of carers (54%) are struggling to make ends meet, it’s clear that we are failing in our basic responsibility to give carers the support they need to live comfortably. Disgracefully, many of those who are in economic hardship are already trying to juggle care with work.
I was proud that the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto committed to raising the amount people can earn before losing the Carer’s Allowance from £110 to £150 a week, as well as reducing the number of hours’ care needed to qualify for this allowance.
We also proposed a new legal duty on the NHS to identify carers and develop a ‘Carer’s Passport’ scheme to inform carers of the rights they have in the NHS, such as flexible visiting hours and access to support. Full-time carers are more than twice as likely to suffer from poor health than non-carers, so it is critically important that the Government introduces a similar scheme to help people to seek support when they experience stress or other health problems.
But as an urgent priority following the general election debacle, the Government must face up to its mistakes and change course on Theresa May’s catastrophic plans for the funding of social care. We should be in no doubt about the far-reaching implications of the ‘Dementia Tax’. Among the most insidious of these is the likelihood that, faced with the prospect of a massive care bill, a substantial number of people will take on less professional care than they need. If that happens, we will end up with more people unnecessarily admitted to hospital. Family and friends who already often go the extra mile will be forced to take on even more responsibility as unpaid carers.
Instead of pressing ahead with these misguided plans, the Conservatives should accept the new reality of having no overall majority and embrace the approach I have been arguing for over the last 18 months – establishing a cross-party process to engage with the public with the objective of securing a long-term settlement for the NHS and social care.
The Liberal Democrats would argue, through such a process, for an immediate injection of an extra £6bn each year, funded by a penny on income tax. In the longer-term, we would argue for the introduction of a dedicated NHS and Care Tax. Increased funding is as critical for carers as it is for those who are cared for.
Carers Week is a welcome opportunity for us to recognise the inspiring and dedicated work carers do, and to raise awareness of the day-to-day pressures and challenges they face. As a society, we have a responsibility to ensure that unpaid carers are properly valued and supported – but we must also hold the Government to account on its duty to invest in a compassionate and effective social care system that can support the most vulnerable in our society.
More than 3,300 children living in poverty across Norfolk could have their lunches taken away under the Conservatives’ plans to abolish universal free school lunches for infants, research by the Liberal Democrats has revealed. In total, almost 25,000 children in Norfolk are set to lose out under the plans.
Families losing out are expected to have to pay an extra £440 per child per year for their school lunches, as a result of this policy.
After it was revealed that the Conservatives have budgeted just 7p per meal for their 'free school breakfasts' pledge, the Liberal Democrats have also calculated that each child could expect to receive either half a boiled egg, one slice of bread with 12 baked beans or 37.5 cornflakes and 100ml of semi-skimmed milk.
Commenting on the research, Norman Lamb said:
“The Conservatives’ disgraceful plans to axe free school lunches will hit thousands of Norfolk’s poorest children. In North Norfolk alone, more than 260 children living in poverty will miss out on a free lunch, and struggling families will be left to foot the bill.
“We have to challenge this worrying policy, particularly when there is a wealth of evidence that free school meals can help to improve children’s performance at school.
"The Conservatives' promise of a free breakfast is cynical and clearly not designed to reach all children. They have set aside a meagre 7p per breakfast per child, the price of half a boiled egg or just one slice of bread with 12 baked beans.
“As a liberal, I strongly believe in investing in our schools and helping children to make the most of their talents. But as well as scrapping free lunches, spending on schools per pupil is set to be cut by around 7 percent by 2021/22 under the Conservatives’ proposals.
“The Liberal Democrats are committed to maintaining funding for schools and extending free school lunches to all primary school children.”
250,000 children in poverty to lose out on free school lunches
During the Coalition, the Liberal Democrats introduced universal infant free school meals for all pupils in reception, year one and year two. Prior to that, when free lunches were means-tested, the Children’s Society estimated that half of all school aged children living in poverty – 1.2 million – were not accessing free school meals. This was the result of a combination of an eligibility criteria that punished low-income, working families and the stigma associated with claiming them. Based on these Children Society estimates, the Liberal Democrats have calculated that 250,000 children living in poverty will no longer claim a free, hot lunch at school.
The 250,000 figure has been broken down by local authority is here and constituency here.
In total, more than 1.7 million children will lose out on a free lunch under the Conservatives’ plans.
Many working families will have to pay around £440 per child per year (£2.30 per meal) for their school lunches, a substantial expense. A single parent earning the minimum wage (£7.50 per hour) and working 16 hours per week (earning £6,240 per year) will therefore have to pay approximately 7% of their annual income for each child’s school lunches. A parent with 2 children aged 5-7 faces a bill of nearly £1,000.
Income amongst families of the 700,000 children living in poverty, but not eligible for free school meals, is less than £10 per head per day (after rent has been paid). Making these families pay for school lunches will take up a substantial portion of this income.
What a Conservative 7p breakfast could buy
The Conservatives claim that they will be able to provide free school breakfasts for all primary pupils at a cost of £60m per year. If the UK’s 4.62 million children in state-funded primary schools were fed a free breakfast for the 190 days of the school year, each breakfast would cost just 6.8p.
This means that a child for 7p would receive around:
- Just under half a boiled egg
- One slice of bread with a small amount of margarine
- One slice of bread with 12 baked beans
- 37.5 cornflakes and 100ml semi skimmed milk
Pricing based on:
- 1 medium free range egg currently 15p at Tesco (box of 12)
- Kellogg’s cornflakes costed at 15 flakes per penny (based on a 450g box)
- Bread costed at roughly 5p per slice (Currently selling at 13p per 100g, and one slice weighing roughly 38g)
- Heinz Baked Beans costed at 6 beans per penny (based on a standard 415g tin)
- 10g of margarine costed at 2p (based on a cost of £2.00 per kg)
- 4.4p for 100ml of semi skimmed milk (based on a cost of 44p per litre for 4 pints)
Aisling Kirwan, founder of the Grub Club, claims that a nutritious breakfast costs at least 25p per pupil on average, though this only provides porridge with milk. A more filling portion costs 85p. Even if only 20% of primary school children took up free breakfasts, the cost of provision would be £174 million, once costs such as the increase in staffing required to extend the school day is taken into account. A breakfast delivered to every primary school child would cost £800 million.
I am writing to the Prime Minister to challenge her to meet with me to answer twelve pressing questions on the Conservatives' dreadful plans for social care.
You can read a my letter below.