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Sunday, July 14, 2024
HomeCommunityMeet the Candidates: Gareth Thomas - Labour for Harrow West

Meet the Candidates: Gareth Thomas – Labour for Harrow West

We spoke with Gareth Thomas, Labour candidate for Harrow West, about his plans to address homelessness, housing affordability, and community safety. He also shares his views on benefits, crime reduction, NHS backlogs, and more.

How do you plan to address the issue of rising homelessness including rough sleeping, and improve affordability and conditions for private renters?

As a young teenager doing A Levels at Lowlands Sixth Form College (now Harrow College), I volunteered for the homelessness charity Crisis because of the rising levels of homelessness I saw under the Conservative Government in the 1980s and 1990s.

The last Labour government made huge strides in ending homelessness. But under the Conservatives, that progress has been undone, with rough sleepers an all-too-common sight in Harrow and across London. There has also been a sharp rise in hidden homelessness. So ending all forms of homelessness would be a driving goal for me if I am re-elected as MP for Harrow West.

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Labour have committed to abolishing Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions; preventing private renters being exploited and discriminated against, empowering them to challenge unreasonable rent increases, and taking steps to decisively raise standards, including extending ‘Awaab’s Law’ to the private sector.

I also want to see building safety improved, including through regulation, to ensure we never again see a repeat of the Grenfell fire.

In Harrow, Conservative-run Harrow Council has failed to plan for the housing we need for Harrow’s people. The Conservatives here in Harrow are refusing to build any new Council housing and on the former Civic Centre site the Conservatives are planning just 5% so called ‘affordable’ homes. This has to change.

 

Are you in support of scrapping the two-child cap on benefits? And why?

The number of children growing up in poverty in Harrow and across our country is a damning indictment of the last 14 years of Conservative Government.

The last Labour government lifted more than half a million children out of poverty. I am angry that child poverty has gone up by 700,000 under the Conservatives, with over four million children now growing up in a low-income family. Last year, a million children experienced destitution.

If we are fortunate enough to be elected, Labour will review Universal Credit so that it makes work pay and tackles poverty.

We will take initial steps to confront poverty by introducing free breakfast clubs in every primary school, protecting renters from arbitrary eviction, slashing fuel poverty, banning exploitative zero hours contracts, and improving support to help people get into good work.

On the two-child benefit cap, it’s important that all commitments are properly costed. The consequences of the Liz Truss Budget in September 2022 demonstrated clearly that when a government makes unfunded commitments, then the economy is damaged and it is working people who end up paying the price. That budget forced both mortgages and rents up and has meant more families are facing hardship. That is why I believe it is a mistake to make unfunded spending commitments.

But I voted against this policy when it was debated in Parliament, and I am sympathetic to the arguments being made by the Archbishop of Canterbury and others on this. Food Banks like the London Community Kitchen in Harrow do an extraordinary job feeding those who need help in our community. But I want to see an end to mass dependence on foodbanks, which are a moral scar on our society.

 

What measures will you implement to reduce rising crime levels?

People in Harrow are rightly worried about crime. Whether it’s families worried about teenagers falling victim to knife crime or older people fearful that they can’t safely walk our streets; people want to know why we so rarely see police officers patrolling the streets anymore.

If I am re-elected, I will be stepping up my campaign for a dedicated Police Team for our Town Centre and for the number of police officers serving in our borough to increase back to the levels we saw under the last Labour Government.

I also support Labour’s ambition to halve knife crime in a decade. Currently, there are virtually no services for vulnerable teenagers at risk of being drawn into a life of violence.

So, if I am fortunate enough to be re-elected, I will be pushing for every young person caught in possession of a knife to be referred to a Youth Offending Team and receive a mandatory plan to prevent reoffending, with penalties including curfews, tagging, and custody for the most serious cases.

I will also vote to ban ninja swords, lethal zombie style blades and machetes, and strengthen rules to prevent online sales.

Knife crime has been rising for a decade, claiming far too many young lives. It is a national crisis, requiring urgent action.

 

Do you agree with Wes Streeting that the private sector should be used to clear the NHS backlog?

Yes. Waiting lists currently stand at a shocking 7.5 million. That’s 350,000 more people waiting for treatment than when Rishi Sunak took over as Prime Minister.

According to the ONS, if the Conservatives are given another five years in charge, waiting lists will hit 10 million, and more and more patients will be forced to pay to go private to get treated on time.

I do not believe ordinary people should have to wait on ever-growing waiting lists. That’s why I support Labour’s plans for the NHS to buy spare capacity in the private sector and pay for patients to be treated faster, free at the point of use.

In the long-run, I want to see the NHS so good, that no one ever needs to go private. That’s what the last Labour government did.

We will provide an extra 40,000 appointments a week on evenings and weekends, so the NHS can be there for us all when we need it, paid for by clamping down on tax dodgers.

 

Do you believe Thames Water should be nationalised? Why or why not? Should utilities remain in the private sector or be publicly run?

The problems Thames and other water companies face have arisen because the Conservative Government weakened regulation, allowing water companies to get massively in debt while the sewage system crumbled and illegal sewage dumping hit record levels.

It is now vital that the Government and regulators do everything in their power to stabilise Thames Water and ensure a long-term plan to fix sewage and water infrastructure without taxpayers being left to foot the bill.

10,000 people have been hospitalised as a result of waterborne diseases. Yet the Conservatives have done nothing to stop water companies illegally pumping record levels of sewage into our waterways which is making people ill.

Labour would put water companies under tough special measures; ensure bosses responsible for illegal sewage dumping face criminal charges and would ban bonus payments until water companies clean up their filth.

We must see an end to self-monitoring – all companies should be forced to monitor every single water outlet under independent supervision so companies can no longer cover up illegal sewage dumping. We also need to introduce severe and automatic fines that water companies cannot afford to ignore for illegal sewage discharges.

 

How will you support home insulation to reduce bills and improve energy efficiency and so reduce carbon emissions?

Improving energy efficiency in British homes is hugely important. The energy shock of recent years has highlighted the urgent need to improve energy efficiency in British homes. The UK spends more money on energy wasted through the walls and roofs of our houses than any other country in Western Europe.

Upgrading the energy efficiency of homes would reduce energy demand, cutting bills for families and building the UK’s energy security.

I support investing an extra £6.6 billion over the next parliament – double the existing planned government investment – to upgrade five million homes to cut bills for families.

Labour’s Warm Homes Plan will offer grants and low interest loans to support investment in insulation and other improvements such as solar panels, batteries and low carbon heating to cut bills.

We will also ensure homes in the private rented sector meet minimum energy efficiency standards by 2030, saving renters hundreds of pounds per year.

Labour’s rapid nationwide programme of home insulation will create thousands of jobs in every part of the country, cut household bills by up to £1,000 every year for families, reduce gas imports, provide opportunities for British businesses of all sizes, and create hundreds of thousands of good jobs for builders, electricians, plumbers, carpenters and architects.

 

How would you improve the environment for walking, wheeling, and cycling?

I’ve always been a keen cyclist – though sadly, I don’t always get the time to enjoy long bike rides these days. Harrow Cycle Hub is a great local resource for seasoned cyclists and for those wanting to try out bikes to see which suits them best.

Transport remains the largest emitting sector of greenhouse gases in the UK, with the majority of emissions from domestic transport coming from road vehicles. Decarbonising our transport sector is therefore one of the most pressing challenges we face if we are to meet our net zero goals.

By getting people to engage more in active travel, we will improve air quality, help lower emissions, reduce congestion and improve physical health.

Investment in walking and cycling has huge benefits for public health and the economy. I want to see us be ambitious on investment in active travel. We need to get people to engage more in active travel, whether that is cycling on conventional bicycles, e-bikes, e-cargo bikes or walking.

 

Do you recognise non-binary identities and what is your stance on conversion therapy?

I believe we must work to end discrimination against trans and non-binary people and ensure that they are treated with respect and dignity in our society.

So-called conversion ‘therapy’ is an abhorrent practice and I agree that we need a ban on conversion practices that is inclusive of all LGBT people, including trans people. At the same time, it must protect the provision of psychological support and non-directive counselling.

I am proud that under the last Labour government, we introduced The Equality Act which protects people from discrimination because of their age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

 

Do you support the position of countries like Norway, Ireland, Spain (and many others) in recognising a Palestinian state?

Yes. I have long called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, to free the hostages, alleviate the humanitarian crisis and create a pathway towards a lasting political solution.

The UK has long-recognised Israel as a state but has yet to do so for Palestine. The Conservative’s long-standing position is that it will recognise a Palestinian state at a time that best serves the peace process. However, for a decade and a half there has been no meaningful peace process. Now is the time for the international community to step forward and ensure that this conflict does not reoccur.

We must seek a path to a political process that leads to two states, a secure Israel and an independent Palestine. We should work with our international partners to recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to this process, rather than the outcome. Statehood is the inalienable right of the Palestinian people.

Diplomacy is the only route to long lasting peace. Neither the long-term security of Israel nor long-term justice for Palestine can be delivered by bombs and bullets.

 

What should be the UK’s relationship with the European Union?

I want to see a much more ambitious relationship with our European partners. While I do not support a return to the single market, customs union or free movement, I want to see the UK’s working relationship with the EU much improved.

Labour will work to improve the UK’s trade and investment relationship with the EU, by tearing down unnecessary barriers to trade. We will seek to negotiate a veterinary agreement to prevent unnecessary border checks and help tackle the cost of food; help our touring artists; and secure a mutual recognition agreement for professional qualifications to help open up markets for UK service exporters.

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