Whether Liberal Democrat candidate Ann Haigh continues to be a children’s guardian hinges on whether voters decide to punish a Conservative MP who was embroiled in the expenses scandal. Either way, she’ll continue to campaign for change, she tells Judy Cooper
Ann Haigh, the current chair of guardians’ professional association Nagalro, hopes that 30 years working in social care will give her an edge in her quest to become an MP in today’s general election.
The Liberal Democrat candidate for Epping Forest in Essex, where she lives, is not only a full-time guardian but has previously worked as a social worker in adoption services for Essex Council and Barnardo’s. She is also a school governor and has been a district councillor for just over 14 years.
“That background helps me realise how difficult some people’s lives are, empathise with them and try to help which I think is often difficult for many people.”
Her motivation in standing as an MP, she says, is that she wants to be a strong voice for children in parliament. “I’ve lobbied on the behalf of children for many years but it would be good to be able to do it from the other side.”
This is not the first time Haigh has stood for parliament. In 2005 she campaigned to get elected in East Ham but, despite increasing the Liberal Democrat share of the vote, came third. However, this time her chances may well have improved, despite Epping Forest being, traditionally, Conservative stronghold.
Current MP Eleanor Laing, the Conservative’s justice spokeswoman, was caught up in the expenses scandal and as a result has faced a lot of anger from her constituents.
Haigh is hopeful, especially given the Liberal Democrat’s poll surge, and says she had a lot of positive feedback on the campaign trail.
“I was asked yesterday if I had the energy” she laughs. “I said, since I work full-time, am a councillor among other voluntary posts, and also manage to juggle family commitments, I think, yes, I do have the energy.”
She admits she would miss frontline guardian work if she does become an MP, but she also wants the chance to influence policy more directly.
“Nagalro, as part of an alliance of organisations, fought very successfully to stop changes to the law around section 41 and named guardians. But then we were unsuccessful in stopping the opening up of the family courts to media scrutiny. I just think if we could have someone with experience to talk in parliamentary debates it would make a difference.”
This is just one of several issues she would campaign on if she wins her seat. Others include the government’s move to cap the expenses of independent social workers who give evidence in court.
“They picked on independent social workers because they viewed them as a soft target who wouldn’t make a fuss and then they could claim they were making savings. This is something I would very much like to try and reverse.”
She is also keen to ensure social workers have enough resources to do their job properly, both in child protection and early intervention work, although she admits the current financial climate is challenging.
“If we can cut back on the sheer bureaucracy and duplication in social care then there are big savings that can be made. I know this already from my own work as a guardian.
“The Labour government has been well intentioned but they just haven’t thought enough about where money was being invested. We need more emphasis on outcomes. I know politicians struggle with long and short-term priorities, and it’s no doubt something I will also have to grapple with if I’m elected, but it has to be managed.”
Published in 6 May Community Care under headline Is there a Guardian in the House?