25 September 2020 – conference day 1 press releases

  • Ed Davey opens Liberal Democrat conference
  • Failure on test and trace is putting public health at risk
  • Liberal Democrats back proposals for “world class” mental health support for health and care staff
  • Liberal Democrats urge Government to tackle spread of fake news
  • Time to campaign for Universal Basic Income has come, Liberal Democrats declare

Ed Davey opens Liberal Democrat conference

Speaking on the opening of the Liberal Democrats’ first digital conference today [25/09/2020], Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey has warned the coronavirus crisis is taking an “enormous toll on people’s lives and livelihoods” and urged his Party to listen, challenge Boris Johnson’s Conservatives and fight for what people really need. He said:

The coronavirus crisis is taking an enormous toll on people’s lives and livelihoods. People are worried about their loved ones and millions of families are facing financial hardship.

To represent communities across the country – Liberal Democrats need to listen. We need to be a Party of aspiration, relevance and compassion that understands how we can deliver more of what small business owners, nurses, teachers, parents, carers and communities really need.

That is why, this weekend, we will be debating the issues that matter, whether it is how we tackle the issue of mental health, how we reboot the UK to respond to the long-term impact of coronavirus or how we address the climate emergency.

This is the path to getting rid of Boris Johnson’s incompetent Government and building a positive post-Covid future by embracing a caring, greener and fairer approach.

Failure on test and trace is putting public health at risk

Responding to reports that the R number in the UK has risen from 1.1-1.4 to 1.2-1.5, Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson Munira Wilson said:

This is yet more incredibly worrying news about the spread of this dreadful virus. We all want to get a grip on COVID-19 as quickly as possible, but sadly we appear to be going in the wrong direction.

As things stand, we still have not seen enough action from Government to get the test and trace system sorted. Instead, Ministers have made feeble excuses, and given promises for the future. Their failure here and now is putting public health at risk.

The Liberal Democrats want to see complete transparency about the issues with the current test and trace system, and practical plans as to how these issues will be fixed. Equally we are calling on the Government to put proper support and guidance in place for those who are asked to isolate.

Liberal Democrats back proposals for “world class” mental health support for health and care staff

The Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference has today backed new plans to provide “world class” mental support for health and care staff, including calls for a 24/7 mental health support hotline for staff.

The motion was agreed as the latest figures from the NHS show that anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illnesses accounted for over half a million days’ absence in May 2020. This is an increase of 37% on the same month last year, according to analysis by the Liberal Democrats.

The Party has now adopted policies that would see mental health support services strengthened for “under pressure and overstretched” health and care staff, including ancillary workers like porters and cleaners.

Specific measures include:

  • That a mental health support phone hotline is made available 24/7 for health and care staff.
  • Scrapping HR practices that encourage presenteeism and can deter staff from seeking support.
  • The introduction of an ‘occupational health passport’ so workers do not have to relive mental health traumas when they change jobs.

Munira Wilson, Liberal Democrat Health, Wellbeing and Social Care spokesperson, who moved the motion today, said:

The wellbeing of our health and care workers – who look after us all, day in day out – matters. Too many of them have endured life-altering trauma and unbearable additional stress as a direct result of Covid-19. Supporting them must be an absolute priority.

But even before COVID-19, there was a mental health crisis in health and care, with hundreds of thousands of days’ absence each month due to mental ill health among staff. The Conservatives have simply not done enough to ensure the right support is in place.

We rely on dedicated staff to keep our healthcare system running 24/7, and we need to make sure they have 24/7 support too. That is why the Liberal Democrats are calling for the hotline for all staff to operate all day, every day, as well as clearer signposting to mental health support. This must go hand-in-hand with an end to HR practices that penalise health and care workers who are seeking necessary treatment for mental ill health.

Liberal Democrats urge Government to tackle spread of fake news

The Liberal Democrats have this evening passed a motion urging the Government to step up and tackle the spread of fake news and misinformation, especially in light of the coronavirus crisis.

The motion, passed at the Party’s Autumn conference, also calls on the Government to improve its transparency with Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper demanding Ministers “get their own house in order”.

The proposals agreed by conference include:

  • Government to introduce stricter regulations for social media companies such as issuing fact-checked corrections to scientifically inaccurate posts, as well as amending their algorithms to de-promote misinformation and ‘fake news’
  • The Leveson model of co-regulation for publishers to be extended to all platforms which allow comment from both paid and unpaid contributors.
  • Mandating the Chair of the UK Statistics Authority to provide regular proactive comment on the presentation of official statistics by Government during COBR level crises.
  • The UK’s political journalists to host regular press conferences where they choose which members of the government, or bodies and individuals of nationwide political importance appear, and to invite and determine which journalists and outlets ask questions, using the model of the German Bundespressekonferenz.

Following the debate, Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper, said:

The dramatic rise in fake news and conspiracy theories has gone unchecked for too long. However, the pandemic has driven home how vitally important it is for the public to be able to trust the information they are getting from the Government, as well as via social media.

To tackle misinformation Ministers must extend the Leveson model of co-regulation for publishers to all social media platforms, as well as ensuring social media companies are forced to issue fact-checked corrections to any scientifically inaccurate posts.

However, it is also crucial the Government get their own house in order. Throughout this crisis, Ministers have misused and manipulated figures as a figleaf for missing their own targets, and the Prime Minister’s shameless defence of Dominic Cummings shattered public trust.

The Government’s decision making, and particularly the scientific evidence behind it, must become much more transparent if we are to increase the public’s trust in politics and politicians. To ensure the response to this pandemic and future crises are as effective as possible, the Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to take these new policies incredibly seriously.

Time to campaign for Universal Basic Income has come, Liberal Democrats declare

To bring an end to the financial insecurity faced by the most vulnerable, the Liberal Democrats have today agreed plans to campaign for a Universal Basic Income.

Ahead of a debate at the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference, the Party’s new Economy spokesperson Christine Jardine challenged her Party to “fulfill Beveridge’s legacy” by tackling the injustice of too many people being “caught between low-paid work and a punitive benefits system.”

In demanding reform, the Liberal Democrats have pointed to the estimated 8.5 million adults and 4.5 million children living in poverty in the UK, as well as the people that society relies on but aren’t adequately supported, such as unpaid carers – the majority of whom are women.

Under plans to be worked on by the Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee, the very richest in society will pay more into the system than they will receive.

Speaking after the debate, Liberal Democrat Economy spokesperson Christine Jardine said:

The threat of coronavirus to livelihoods up and down the country has brought into sharp focus the ways in which our welfare state is not fit for purpose. The crucial element of universal protection has been missing.

With every passing day and every phone call from someone in need, I have become convinced that Universal Basic Income is the milestone solution and the engine for equality that we need.

It can be the solution for people we absolutely rely on – from carers and stay-at-home parents, to supermarket workers and delivery drivers. An answer to end the injustice of being caught between low-paid work and a punitive benefits system.

With the task of recovering from the pandemic, and tackling challenges such as automation and changing work patterns, we need to be bold if we are to ensure that everyone has the freedom and opportunities they deserve.