Sixty Second Interview with Charles Kennedy
Are your plans for introducing free personal care financially viable and how will you ensure the policy does not financially benefit care home owners?
Yes. Our policy of free personal care has been fully costed, is affordable, and will be paid for by a new top rate of tax on incomes over £100,000. We will be as transparent as possible with people to ensure that people know what they are entitled to in terms of extra funding for free personal care, and can see clearly if care homes are attempting to raise their fees.
What do you think about the proposals in the green paper on adult social care, including the aim for an increased take-up of direct payments?
We are supportive of proposals to increase control for people in need of social care, as long as people are supported through the process and not simply left to cope with complicated arrangements on their own. The Liberal Democrats support ‘direct payments’ – cash payments made in lieu of social service provision to people who have been assessed as needing services. Direct payments maximise choice and control for service users and should be encouraged. We will encourage greater take up through local action plans and greater support for service users, such as help with financial administration.
Are you committed to the reforms to children’s services as outlined in Every Child Matters?
Yes we support the reforms.
How do you feel about the current high volumes of young people in prison and the high rates of re-offending and how do you plan to tackle this?
Re-conviction rates are unacceptably high across the prison system, but particularly for young prisoners. I think the increase in young people in prison under Labour has been shameful. We believe the age of criminal responsibility should be raised to 12, and that, in the long term, Prison Service accommodation should be phased out for under-18s in favour of local authority units. We need to sell the idea of community programmes for young people far more effectively to the courts, to reduce prison numbers. In the short-term, we will prioritise additional funding for education and training to get young people into jobs on release.
Your stance on tackling antisocial behaviour seems to have toughened. What are your reasons behind this and how will you ensure that the population of young offenders in custody does not rise further as a result of breaches of asbos?
There has been a lot of confusion about our position on asbos. For the record, we didn’t oppose them when the legislation was passed in 1998, but we did raise concerns about how they might be misused, and I think some of the more outlandish cases show the system is far from perfect. I am concerned that under pressure from the Home Office asbos are being used in situations where Acceptable Behaviour Contracts would be more appropriate, and also that too many asbos are made without proper consultation and involvement from the other agencies. The consequence is that some asbos are made inappropriately, too many are breached, and too many individuals end up in prison. Our policy of earlier intervention, coupled with additional spending on parenting and youth services, would cut breach rates and ensure that where an asbo is necessary it is an effective sanction.
Can you elaborate on your plans for transferring the responsibility of assessing asylum claims to a dedicated agency and the reasons behind this measure?
The Home Office has a history of failure when it comes to making the right decision on asylum cases. Last year one in five negative decisions was overturned on appeal. More than 40% of rejected applicants from some African countries won their case on appeal. Looking at those figures it is clear that something is badly wrong, and that assessment is borne out by independent research which suggests that political motivations have crept into Home Office decision making. We believe asylum cases should be judged according to international law, and as such should be assessed by a body independent of government. In Canada, where they have an independent asylum agency, only 1% of negative decisions are reversed on appeal.
What are your reasons behind your policy of moving the commissioning of primary health to local government?
There are two clear reasons. We believe that services should fit around people’s lives, and people should not be forced to fit their lives around the services they need. Placing healthcare commissioning alongside social care commissioning, environment, transport, leisure and housing services, will allow truly ‘joined up’ provision, and improve the emphasis on public health. We also firmly believe that the NHS locally should be accountable to local people, who can be kicked out if they get it wrong.
Where do you stand on the voluntary sector’s role in delivering public services? Where should the line be drawn?
We believe the voluntary sector has an important role to play in providing public services and we are in favour of voluntary organisations continuing to provide these services where they can. However these services should complement existing services and should not be used to replace services that should be provided by the public sector. Equally we do not believe that volunteers should be put into position where they are have to undertake jobs that should be carried out by trained professionals.
How would you increase substance misuse treatment in the community to ensure those people needing help can access treatment quickly and effectively?
Our drugs policies are based on the principle that individual drug use is a health problem, not a criminal justice problem (unless the individual is committing crime to feed a habit). We would introduce a presumption of non-prosecution for people caught in possession of cannabis for their own use, and a presumption that people found in possession of harder drugs for their own use should be diverted from prison into treatment. We also need to take steps to undermine the criminal markets by extending the government’s programme of prescribing heroin to addicts, removing the need for them to buy from professional dealers and to steal to get the money to pay for it. These policies would free up funds from the criminal justice system, allowing for greater investment in treatment services.
Our survey showed a substantial disaffection with Labour. What would you say to combat Labour’s comments that a Lib Dem vote would let the Tories in, either in constituencies or in terms of eroding Labour’s majority?
Analysis in The Independent by Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University of Labour’s attempt to scare people into not voting Liberal Democrat has demonstrated conclusively that there is no prospect of a vote for the Liberal Democrats letting the Conservatives ‘sneak into government by the backdoor’.
A 9% swing from Labour to the Liberal Democrats would still result in a Labour majority and only an additional 26 Tory MPs.
The Liberal Democrats have set out a positive programme at this election campaign. We would urge everybody who wants more police on our streets, no tuition fees, free long-term care for older people, lower class sizes and better pensions to vote Liberal Democrat
How would you ensure Labour ministers made social care and free personal care, a priority if the Lib Dems manage to eat into Labour’s majority?
The Liberal Democrats will continue to argue in Parliament for free personal care for the elderly and a clear commitment to social care.
However the only way to ensure that these policies are put into action is by voting Liberal Democrat on May 5th. Labour has over-regulated the care home sector and have failed to provide a long-term vision for social care.
If Lib Dems were voted into power, how would you ensure social care policy is a priority for ministers?
By treating health and social care as two sides of the same coin. We believe prevention is as important as cure and that early intervention, keeping people independent for longer, and giving them control over their lives is the best approach to the health of the nation. We would have a Wanless style review of social care funding and merge health and social care commissioning which is clear evidence of our commitment to social care as an integral part of healthcare.