Thursday, 23 April 2015

I'm a single parent. Who should I vote for?

Last week, those fabulous people at Gingerbread published an article saying that single parents could hold the key to the vast majority of marginal seats in the coming election.

Reading this article did two things; firstly, it made me feel powerful. Me, a single parent, usually placed at the bottom of the scum bucket - but now, potentially able to change the way we do things. And secondly, it piqued my interest in politics. I realised that historically I'd always voted for the 'nicest' candidate, or the leader I liked the best, whose policies perhaps I didn't wholeheartedly disagree with.

This time, I thought, if my vote is going to count, then I'm going to find out more.

So I sat down and I read the manifestos of the big three, plus UKIP and The Green Party. I read them specifically from the point of view of a single parent, and the policies that would affect me. Personally.

Here's what I thought.

1. You can hardly tell the difference


Honestly - you could cover up the names of the parties on each of the big three manifestos, and you almost wouldn't be able to tell which document belonged to which party. They're so similar.

For example, I took a look at what they're all planning to do for us parents in terms of childcare. The latest research from Gingerbread indicates that half of single parents have had to borrow to fund childcare costs - so it's a huge issue for us (and pretty much all parents, actually).

These are my 'highly intellectual'* findings.


*finger in the air

Conservative, Labour and the Lib Dems are all diddling about saying pretty much the same thing. UKIP are ignoring the issue. But The Greens! The Greens are suggesting something marvellously radical; don't start school formally until seven. And until then, if you want, you can send your children to 'early education and childcare', which will be free.

YES Greens! Having seen both my sons frustrated by not being able to hold a pen properly, aged 5, and not being able to sit still for more than five minutes, and not having the freedom to move around and play - like little boys should - I applaud you.

More info on starting school a bit later in life here: https://fullfact.org/factchecks/school_starting_age_letter_telegraph-29195

By the way, one thing missing from ALL the manifestos was any mention of help with childcare or flexible working practices in the school holidays. In other words, help for parents with older children. Which is a bit of a bummer, really.

2. Education

So my kids are 14 and 12. They go to a bog standard state comprehensive - an academy. I worry about the standard of teaching there. I worry that the teachers are consumed with stress. I worry that my children have too many tests. I also worry that my children won't be able to afford to go to university. Worry, worry worry...

The big parties say a lot about education, so I'll pare it down and give you the crux:

The Conservatives appear to be clawing back the damage (actual and perceived) that Michael Gove did to the education system. They pledge to reduce the time that teachers spend on paperwork, and they will reward 'good' teachers, and support them by setting up an Independent College of Teaching.

However, they will still allow non-qualified teachers to teach in our schools, and they still support tuition fees for higher education.

Labour says that all teachers will need to be qualified. They also talk about supporting an Independent College of Teaching, and they'll get rid of Free schools. It looks like they want to regain control. And - good news - they'll cut tuition fees by a third.

The Lib Dems will also insist that schools employ qualified teachers and will establish a 'Royal College of Teachers' to oversee their development - a great idea this, considering that 40% of teachers leave the profession after just one year. No mention of rescinding tuition fees, though.

The Greens want to get rid of grammar schools and return to the comprehensive system. Class sizes of 20. Huge funding increase.Support and value for teachers. More stuff outdoors. Abolition of SATs. Looking to absorb private schools into the state system.

YES, GREENS!

I'm afraid I fell asleep before reaching UKIP's policy.


3. Money

I haven't got much. And I don't really want the Government taking more. So what are they all saying in terms of taxes, benefits and bills?

Tax


Here's a summary:


Honestly, The Greens' suggestion needs to be read in full. Take a look at their manifesto, here. The more I read it, the more brilliant I think it is.

I couldn't find much mention of tax credits in the manifestos (apart from Labour, who promised not to cut them - bravo), but most of them talked about general reforms to the Welfare System. The Greens want to cut child tax credits completely (gulp) but are saying they'll raise Child Benefit to £40 per week, per child.

Other stuff


Some of the parties mentioned other money-saving policies: The Conservatives will promote competition amongst Gas/Electric companies to keep prices down. Labour go a step further and promise to freeze energy bills until 2017. Rail prices will also be frozen. And Labour also pledge to give a million interest free loans for energy home improvements. The Lib Dems will give young people (aged 16-21) a discount bus pass.

And UKIP will take the VAT off sanitary towels.


4. Women, Cycling and other stuff

A couple of the parties talked about women. The Conservatives stated that the gender pay gap is down to a record low (but still exists). But it's the Greens who come up trumps once again: they have a whole section on Women in their manifesto, and say, amongst other thing, that they will ensure equal pay, will tackle media sexism and will also make it illegal to stop someone from breastfeeding in public.

I was also interested in what the parties had to say about cycling, which I think we all should do more of. The Conservatives surprised me here, pledging £200m to make cycling safer. I couldn't find any funding commitment in Labour's manifesto, but the Lib Dems were vocal about it, saying they'll support the Get Britain Cycling report, investing in bike lanes and other road safety measures.

The Greens are pro cycling, as expected of course. And UKIP, the funny old grandad character of the manifestos who occasionally spouts nonsense from his armchair, mentions nothing about cycling and yet promises to care for 'classic cars'.

Which was when I stopped reading.

Things that I liked: The Conservatives are proposing a Blue Belt to protect our marine habitats. The Lib Dems are planting a tree for every child born. And the prize for best quote has to go to The Greens, who wrote, simply and elegantly,

"We should recognise that not everything that is valuable has a price attached to it."

Every party has something to say. But the devil is in the detail, and actually, it may be worth ignoring the spin and the make-up and the bedazzle - and read about how they are proposing to change your world.


And then the fun began...



7 comments:

  1. In many ways all these choices are about pennies here and there - and in a few years time, somebody will undo whatever changes they try to make. If I sound cynical, it's because I am :)

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    1. Yes, I agree. I think that was why I swept up by The Green's manifesto. It's just so... different. Be brilliant to think that we could throw everything up in the air and start again (perhaps).

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  2. All very laudable for the Greens, but they can afford to have such a generous manifesto, They know they will never get into power and actually have to work out how to fund these promises. Free childcare till 7? So, how exactly will that be funded then...?

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    1. Well, I'm not sure - so I've sent The Green Party a link to this post and invited them to comment. So, we'll see!

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  3. This is a great piece and it has given me a kick up the arse to do some proper research and read the manifestos for myself. It is very easy to be carried away by the various spun publicity we see in the media, it makes you think you are making up your own mind but actually we are all being manipulated.

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    1. That's so kind of you to say. Reading the manifestos made me realise that I knew diddly squat about the differences (or lack of) between the parties. I've come to realise how important it is that we inform ourselves, rather than let the parties (or the media) do it for us :-)

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  4. You know my thoughts on this already - I would love to vote Green but I go through the motions in my head of a Green Government unexpectedly coming to power and what happens when they try and put it all into practice and it all falls apart at that stage. I need to hear certain promises but it's difficult when you are told that the choice you made in your head would be a 'disaster' for the country. (Which I realise I've just effectively done here - sodding politics!). :-) Thanks for linking this up to #thetruthabout though - I think it's a really useful post for those of us who haven't had the time or energy to read the manifestos for ourselves. X

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