Green Party Manifesto 2010 - 2. Everyday life

Local living

Services

Housing

Education

Health

Crime

Youth policies

Waste

Small business

Local living

The quality of our lives depends a great deal on the quality of our local services.

None of us wants to travel miles to go to school or to the doctor. Services must be accessible. This means they must be easy and affordable to reach by public transport – and within walking distance in urban areas. It also makes environmental sense to have good local services. Less travel means less carbon.

We all live in local communities of one sort or another. Our communities are where we take action when we want to do things, when we want to change things, when we want to make a difference. This is why the Green Party believes that issues should be decided at a local level whenever possible. Decentralise and relocalise.Trust citizens to make the change.

Key services must be free at the point of delivery. The Green Party believes that we should pay for these services with a taxation system that promotes fairness and rewards behaviour that’s good for society and good for the environment.

The Green Party will reverse the trend towards the liberalisation, privatisation and deregulation of public services and utilities.

Services must be easily available to everyone who needs them. The poor and the vulnerable suffer most when they are far away or too expensive, but we are all affected by the undermining of the social fabric and common culture that good public services represent.

The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) in particular has been a giant scheme of outdoor relief for private contractors, equivalent in folly to buying your house on a credit card. We would end it.

The Green Party opposes the trend towards bigger schools, hospitals, councils and prisons, and more centralised surgeries and Post Offices. Many so-called efficiency savings are bought at a high social cost: isolation, inaccessibility, impersonality, remoteness. They also make our communities less able to cope with change. Communities and services must be on a human scale. Size matters. Quality local services are much more important than having a phony choice between a number of distant ones. 

Services

Promoting localism, efficiency and access

We would:

    • Reopen those Post Offices that misguided Government policy has shut down, andeventually increase their number.We would set aside £1bn per year to subsidise the local Post Office network.
    • Encourage a new, local and mutual financial sector, based on trust rather than greed, andincluding community banks, credit unions, local exchange schemes and local currencies. We would provide initial funding of £2.5bn over the next Parliament to assist communities in setting up such a network.
    • End ‘contracting out’ and the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). Restore the idea of commitment to public trades and industries. Dedicated staff providing a public service are much more likely to deliver a good service than agency staff with poor work contracts and a high turnover.
    • Support local shops through planning policies including business conservation areas, ensuring basic shops are available within walking distance in all urban areas and restricting the power of supermarkets.
    • Preserve smaller local schools and libraries, hospitals and other health facilities.
    • Ensure that public transport provides access to local facilities.
    • Support local markets giving access to local food.
    • Encourage local live performance in the arts by moving funding from the regional to the local level and modifying regulations so that small-scale live performance in pubs and similar venues is not stifled. 

Housing

Promoting affordability and sustainability

We would:

  • Resume direct investment in council and other social housing and allow local authorities to use receipts from sales to fund new affordable accommodation. In particular, while the building trade remains depressed because of the recession we would provide £2bn in 2010 rising to £4bn in 2011 to local authorities to expand social housing, mainly through conversion and renovation, and create 80,000 jobs.
  • There are about one million empty homes. Halve this number through empty property use orders.
  • Provide more rights for homeless people, giving local authorities the same duties with regard to single people and childless couples as to families, and ending the practice of declaring people ‘intentionally homeless’.
  • Take steps to ensure that development is more evenly distributed across the whole of the country, so reducing pressure on housing in the South East in particular.
  • Minimise encroachment onto undeveloped ‘greenfield sites’ wherever possible by reusing previously developed sites that have fallen into disuse .
  • End the right to buy and introduce the right to rent. People facing severe difficulties with paying their mortgage and facing repossession should have a right to rent their existing home as council housing, analogous but opposite to the Tory ‘right to buy’. We would make up to £2bn per annum available to local authorities to support ‘right to rent.’
  • Introduce a free home insulation programme for all homes that need it, with priority for pensioners and those living in fuel poverty, aiming to insulate 4 million homes every year. Such a programme would cost £2bn in 2010 rising to £4bn a year and create 80,000 jobs.
  • Introduce incentives totalling £2bn per annum to encourage homes to become more energy self-sufficient by aiming for 1,000,000 solar roofs, and support generous feed-in tariffs for micro-generation, creating 40,000 jobs in the installation industries.
  • Abolish standing charges on fuel bills and set tariffs to favour smaller consumers.
  • Set building regulations to require excellent energy standards on a points-based system, which will cover embodied energy of building materials, energy used in construction, energy consumption in use, on-site energy generation and use of heat distribution networks.
  • Increase the tax-free amount on the ‘Rent a Room’ scheme from £4,250 to £9,000 a year. This would reduce repossessions, provide more affordable housing and make better use of the existing housing stock.
  • Support self-build social co-operatives.
  • Accept that climate change will mean that some housing cannot be protected from flooding in a sustainable way, and assist financially those whose homes become uninhabitable. Also invest £1bn in sustainable flood defences and sustainable drainage systems, creating 20,000 jobs, and ensure that insurance is available for flooding.
  • Oppose new arm’s length management organisations and ensure genuine tenant participation in existing ones.
  • Ensure that new housing proposals are based on independent housing needs surveys. Commercial house builders and their representatives should not be involved in the process.

Education

Promoting free, public learning

Education should be at the heart of communities, and should promote social and emotional well-being, equality, inclusion and responsibility. Schools need more freedom to frame the curriculum around the needs and interests of the young people in the school.

There should be an emphasis on pupil-centred learning, which caters for different learning styles, interests and needs.

We would:

  • Ensure most children are able to attend a good local school with admissions policies decided locally and applying to all schools.
  • Move gradually to smaller class sizes by spending a further £500 million on 15,000 more teachers to get classes down to an average of 20 pupils by the end of the Parliament.
  • Defend existing smaller schools and create more smaller schools. Large secondary schools in particular are alienating, and the Government’s current plan to rebuild all secondary schools offers the perfect opportunity to do so on a more human scale.
  • Phase in the abolition of student tuition fees in higher education.
  • Gradually expand care for those younger than school age over the period.
  • Move towards ending the need for private education by creating a programme of voluntary assimilation of private schools into the state sector. Schools that remain in the private sector would have charitable status removed and would pay all relevant taxes, such as VAT.
  • Phase out City Academies and Trust Schools. It is wrong to allow business and other outside organisations to have too great an influence over schools.
  • Let teachers teach – abolish the remaining SATS tests, and give schools and teachers more freedom over the curriculum they teach.
  • Provide a full half day a week of inviting physical activity for every child, and at least one day a year learning in the natural environment.
  • Provide free school meals for all – with locally sourced or fair-trade and (where possible) organic food, and with a vegetarian option. This will encourage healthy eating, combat obesity, improve concentration and end the stigma associated with free school meals. There can be few better ways of spending up to £2bn a year, only a fraction of the amount spent on bonuses in the city.
  • Introduce children to renewable technologies at school by ensuring that most schools get the bulk of their energy from on-site renewable sources.
  • Where parents choose to educate their children at home this would be supported by Local Authorities, which would work to ensure that all young people have a broad and diverse education of a high quality.

Health

Restoring national health

Compassion in healthcare and the prevention of illness should be at the forefront of our healthcare service.

We would:

  • Maintain a publicly funded, publicly provided health service, and oppose NHS privatisation and treating healthcare as a market.
  • Decentralise healthcare responsibility to local government, ensure that minimum service levels and national guidelines are provided to prevent a postcode lottery, and oppose further health service centralisation.
  • Keep the health service free – abolish prescription charges, reintroduce free eye tests and NHS dental treatment for all, and ensure NHS chiropody is widely available.
  • In particular, maintain the principle of a free NHS by implementing in England and Wales the scheme that provides free social care to the elderly in Scotland. If the Scots can do it, so can the rest of us. This would be phased in, costing about £3bn in 2010 rising to £8bn pa, and could create 120,000 jobs.
  • Ensure that all cost-effective treatments are available to all patients who need them.
  • Patient safety is essential – to improve this we will regulate all healthcare practitioners and therapists.
  • Ensure that all medicines meet safety standards, are properly labelled with ingredients and have information on side-effects.
  • Make available on the NHS complementary medicines that are cost-effective and have been shown to work. More NHS dental care rather than the mass fluoridation of drinking water.
  • Provide accessible, local community health centres that provide a wide range of services, including out-of-hours care, and are an additional tier of healthcare rather than a replacement for your GP.
  • End phony patient choice. For most of us patient choice is much less important than getting good treatment at our local hospital or health centre – which is often, for many, the only practical choice.
  • End mixed-sex accommodation in hospitals.
  • Oppose a two-tier health service. The quality of your care should not depend on the depth of your pocket.
  • Treat patients with dignity. Patients have both rights and responsibilities – they are not customers who can come and go. Their dignity should be recognised, but they should also treat NHS staff with respect.
  • Provide the right to an assisted death within a rigorous framework of regulation, and in the context of the availability of the highest level of palliative care.
  • Support the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces.
  • Use increased taxes on alcohol and tobacco to fund overall real growth in the medium term of at least 1.2% per annum in the NHS budget. 

Prevention is better than cure, and part of prevention is greater equality

The Green Party believes in a much stronger emphasis on prevention of ill health, via living healthier lives and greater equality. This shows how, unlike other parties, our policies are woven together into a coherent whole.

We cannot have an effective preventive approach, and thus a long-term-thinking ‘health’ service, unless we encourage healthier eating, more exercise, a lower-stress, slower-living society, a serious reduction in environmental pollutants, and greater access to tranquil countryside.

And we recognise the connection between mental and physical well-being.

Simply making our society more equal will improve our health, without spending a penny extra on the NHS. Life expectancy, infant mortality, low birth-weight and self-rated health are worse in more unequal societies. Mental illness is much more common in more unequal countries. Drug addiction is more common in more unequal societies. Obesity is less of a problem in more equal societies like Japan and worst in the most unequal ones like the US.

Better health is not a matter of ever-increasing spending on the NHS. A surer route, which can’t be disrupted by the need to bail out bankers, is to support simple things like good food, less competition and less stress.

Crime

Crime, and fear of crime, blight too many lives, especially in many of our poorest and most deprived neighbourhoods. No one should have to live in fear of street gangs, nor endure robberies or burglary, and shops should not be faced with constant shoplifting. Nor should we tolerate white-collar crime or internet fraud.

To deal with crime we have to address why it occurs and what to do when it does. On the causes of crime we must first recognise that there is more crime in more unequal societies, and that by making our society more equal in the ways set out in this manifesto we will also make it safer. Second, we must act on the fact that over half of all crime is caused one way or another by misuse of Class A drugs, mainly heroin or crack cocaine. Radical reform of our drug laws will massively cut crime.

Making our streets safer through lower speed limits will foster community and indirectly cut crime. Finally, much crime is committed by young people, especially young men, and we need specifically to address this.

What to do after a crime has been committed is important too. Simply expensively imprisoning offenders, often without any remedial work, is worse than useless. The victim must come first, though, and we would introduce a system of restorative justice, where the onus is on the offender to restore the position of the victim as far as possible to where it was before the crime took place. Of course we accept that there will be some recalcitrant or violent criminals who will refuse this approach, and for them other options, leading up to imprisonment, will continue to be required.

Being safe, being secure

To address the causes of crime we would:

  • Treat heroin and crack addiction as a health issue and not wait for them to become a crime problem.We would offer treatments that may include prescription of heroin thus removing the cause of most petty drug-related crime carried out by the addicts and removing the market from heroin dealers.
  • Concentrate police and customs resources on the large-scale production, importation and marketing of these drugs.
  • Take the £4bn a year illicit trade in cannabis away from criminal street gangs, by decriminalising its possession, sale and production, and by introducing a properly regulated trade with clear age limits.
  • Give young people better things to do by doubling expenditure on local authority youth services, spending a further £1bn pa on ensuring universal access to quality facilities for music, art, drama, dance and youth clubs, as well as sports.
  • Restrict police use of random stop and search powers, which damage police and youth relations.
  • Improve the design of our cities to provide safer streets and public spaces.
  • Focus on crime prevention measures, including more community policing under local democratic control, more local police stations, and the return of bus conductors and others who have an important effect on social order.
  • Save £2.5bn per annum by not having ID cards, which are an unnecessary invasion of our privacy and will do nothing to prevent crime and terrorism.
  • Provide proper funding for Women’s Refuges for victims of domestic violence. After crimes have occurred we would:
  • Look to establish restorative justice as a key feature of the UK criminal justice system. While denouncing the crime, this deals constructively with both the victim and the offender. As a result, we would drastically reduce the numbers sent to prison, saving up to £8bn over the next Parliament.
  • Provide reading and writing courses for UK prisoners (two-thirds of UK prisoners have literacy skills below those of an 11-year-old).
  • Repair damage done to public amenities and spaces promptly.
  • Continue to oppose the use of the death penalty abroad.

Youth policies

  • A doubling of the current investment in young people. This will mean an increase from the current £98 spent per person aged 13–19 per annum on out-of-school services to just under £200. This would come at an estimated cost of £1bn.
  • The creation of 2000 Young People’s Centres (YPCs). Dedicated spaces for young people to meet and be creative. The centres would also offer access to information and specialist support for teenagers in difficulty.
  • The creation of a national lead body to regulate youth clubs and YPCs.
  • A UK-wide Young People’s Executive Council scheme will give representatives aged 11–17 (elected by voters aged 11–18) executive control over a small chunk of their local council’s budget (£25,000), which will be a designated youth fund.
  • Every young person under the age of 18 and in full time education should be entitled to free off-peak bus fares, to encourage public transport habits in young people early on with a view to making this a behaviour for life.
  • Raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years old. Reform of the judicial system to create a strong statutory presumption against the imprisonment of young offenders.
  • Fashion industry ban on size 0 models to reduce pressure on girls to conform to an unhealthy and unrealistic ideal.
  • National youth volunteering programme for every young person under the age of 18, fostering intergenerational community cohesion, as well as generating money for the economy.

Waste

Reduce, reuse – and only then recycle

Government must provide the infrastructure to make it easy to do the right thing.

We would:

  • Do the simple things like providing a free compost bin and composting advice for anyone who wants them.
  • Allow councils to integrate locally the domestic and commercial waste systems.
  • Oppose the incineration of waste, but encourage domestic composting.
  • Almost double spending on recycling and waste disposal.We have to recognise that sophisticated waste management costs more than burying it in the ground.We would spend an extra £3bn pa, creating 60,000 jobs. Burying waste gives rise to both greenhouse gases and pollution, and is no longer acceptable.
  • Design products and packaging with a view to what happens to them when they cease to be useful.We will use taxation on unnecessary packaging to discourage its use, and would be prepared to regulate the way things are made so as to prevent them entering the waste system.
  • Aim to recycle 70% of domestic waste by 2015 as a move towards a zero-waste system. The Government provides the infrastructure, people do the recycling.

Small business

Promoting diversity

We would:

  • Simplify PAYE by aligning the lower National Insurance limit with the personal allowance and abolishing the upper limit.
  • In the long run, aim to merge National Insurance into Income Tax.
  • Make it illegal for a contract with a selfemployed person to imply a pay rate below the national minimum wage.
  • Amend planning laws to allow appropriate small businesses to operate in residential areas and ensure all large new retail developments include spaces for small local businesses.
  • Help small businesses cope with regulation and provide tailored advice on energy efficiency.
  • Introduce a network of local community banks, which will provide, among other things, a new source of finance for small businesses.
  • Use our proposals to revitalise the Post Office network (see page 19), in particular to help small businesses.
  • Provide special help for small rural businesses.
  • Introduce legislation to penalise late payment.
  • Reduce corporation tax for small firms to 20% (see page 15 above).