Mark Lazarowicz

Scottish Labour candidate for Edinburgh North and Leith

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In this report, I highlight some of the issues in which I have been active over the last year before Parliament was dissolved for the General Election. It gives an outline of my views, our policies, and what I've been doing in Parliament and in the constituency on behalf of local residents.

Of course, I can only give a selection of the issues which I’ve taken up over the last year and in the past. You can find details of all my speeches and questions in Parliament since I was first elected here.

If you want more information about my views on some of the key policy issues, you can see more here and here.

The referendum and Scotland’s future

Scottish and UK politics have of course been dominated over the last year (and more) by the referendum. I voted ‘no’, like the majority of people in this area, but I recognise everyone who voted in the referendum, whether yes or no, did what they felt was in the best interests of Scotland.

So I want to see the future arrangements for the government of Scotland being something which a clear majority of people are willing to work with. I’ve always backed a strong Scottish Parliament with a wide range of powers over Scottish affairs, and that is what I’ve been working for since the referendum.

I want to see a settlement which will stand the test of time. I want to see MSPs working with MPs, councils, and the wider community to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament for the good of our country, instead of preparing for another referendum.

A strong Scotland within a reformed UK

I know that one of the reasons that many people want to see radical change is that they are unhappy with much of what happens in government, whether in the UK or Scotland.

That’s why during my time as an MP I’ve campaigned hard for the current unelected House of Lords to be replaced by a smaller democratically elected chamber. I made clear my views again in a recent debate in Parliament as you can see here so I’m glad Labour is now calling for just this – a new ‘Senate of the Nations and Regions’.

But that’s only part of the picture, there’s much more change needed as well. I support Labour’s plans for a Constitutional Convention to look at a fundamental reform of the way the entire UK operates. In my view, part of the change we need is a fairer and more proportional electoral system – even more vital when we have so many parties represented in Parliament.

And we should also have much wider devolution all round to ensure that cities and local communities are given greater powers. That’s as true for Scotland as for the rest of the UK, as the reality has been that the SNP Scottish Government has actually centralised more powers than in any other part of the UK. You can find more on my views on how we need to change our constitution and politics here.

Tackling poverty and inequality – and a fairer society

Of course, constitutional reform is not enough. What is important is what is done with the powers that government has. Poverty and inequality in Scotland are growing and many ordinary households are struggling to meet basic bills.

One of the most shocking signs of that is the difficulty that some people are finding in meeting funeral costs for loved ones and I challenged the Government on the help that is available from the Social Fund in questions to Ministers as you can see here.

Another sign of poverty is the increasing number of people who have to use food banks. That should be a source of shame to government whose welfare cuts are leaving people without the means to live. I made this point in a debate as you can see here.

Scottish Labour has set out policies aimed at bringing people out of poverty and you can find details here. Of course one of Labour's first priorities in the next Parliament will be to abolish the bedroom tax.

We also need to stop employers who abuse zero-hours contracts which leave workers not knowing how much they will take home each week. Workers on zero-hours contracts should be entitled, if they wish, to get a proper regular contract with proper employment rights. Ed Miliband has said that they should get that right after 3 months and you can find more details here.

I spoke out recently on carers not being paid for their travel time as you can see here, and pointed to the shocking rise in the numbers paid less than a living wage who now number almost 5 million across the UK, up from 3.4 million in 2010 – you can see exactly what I said here.

I support Labour’s commitment that future governments in the UK and Scotland will make paying a living wage a condition of bidding for public sector contracts and ensure social enterprises and voluntary organisations get contracts to support people in finding work.

Fuel poverty and energy bills

More than one million people in Scotland are living in fuel poverty, and millions more struggle to afford to heat their home properly. I led a debate on energy bills last year in Parliament where I highlighted how so many people struggle to meet their energy bills which remain high even when the wholesale price falls because of the way the energy market works.

Labour is committed to a freeze on energy prices if we win the next election, and giving the regulator powers to force price cuts if price falls in energy markets are not passed on to consumers. But we need a complete overhaul of the energy industry to introduce real competition rather than the current domination by the ‘Big six’.

I also attacked the Government on high standing charges that energy companies are increasingly introducing which mean that even if customers cut their use they may not see much reduction in their energy bills. Lower tariffs may seem enticing but can mysteriously disappear once someone switches. You can find my speech on that here.

Changes in benefits

I am angry at many of the key welfare changes introduced by the current Tory/LibDem Government that have left some people in fear of losing their home and others destitute.

The bedroom tax

Labour will axe the bedroom tax if we form the next Government. It is a cruel measure which has hit some of the poorest in our society, and forced some to give up the flats in which they grew up and have brought up their family.

The reality is that there is simply no alternative accommodation for people to move to because neither the UK nor the current Scottish Government have made affordable housing the priority it should be. I’ve spoken frequently on this issue in Parliament, and campaigned against it with community organisations as well. You can find one of several speeches I have made on this in Parliament here.

Labour is committed to building 200,000 new homes a year over the next Parliament and we will fund that through a new tax on bankers’ bonuses.

Disabled people should not be excluded from society

I have spoken out in Parliament on a number of occasions about the way that people who are disabled or seriously ill with conditions like cancer are currently facing delays of at least 6 months to even be assessed for Employment and Support Allowance or the new disability benefit, the Personal Independence Payment.

That means that they face the additional worry of how to cope financially as well as their medical condition. I want to see claims from all people with terminal conditions fast tracked. You can find what I said in a debate here.

I have also campaigned against the chaos and poverty the Government has caused to people through delays and the incorrect assessment of people’s conditions.

There are other ways as well we can make it easier for disabled people to play a full part in society – barriers to disabled people can also affect many other people as well.

So I have pushed the Post Office hard to ensure that there would be sufficient alternative provision after the St James Centre Post Office closed within easy walking distance and that those offices have good disabled access.

Another issue I raised this year is the closure of Waverley station to vehicles which has affected disabled people but also cyclists who access the station at present through the pedestrian walkway.

Transport - putting the public first

Keep East Coast Rail public!

I have been actively campaigning with to keep the East Coast line in public hands – since it was taken back into public ownership in 2009 by the then Labour Government it has returned over £1bn in profits to the taxpayer rather than to shareholders but the current Government has been determined to reprivatize it on ideological grounds.

Although that has now happened, I believe we should be allowing public sector or cooperative/mutual operators to take over rail franchises - and that includes not just UK franchises but also the Scotrail and Scottish sleeper franchises which the Scottish Government has recently handed over to another private operator (which is itself an offshoot of the Netherlands state railway company!).

I believe that we need real investment in transport and have been arguing strongly that planning for High Speed Rail to come to Scotland should start as soon as possible. You can find a speech I made on this here. However, we must pay proper attention to putting in place environmental protection when taking forward High Speed Rail. This was something which we looked at and reported on in the Environmental Audit Committee as you can see here.

I also want to see the UK and Scottish Governments spending more money on repairing streets and pavements. Potholes are bad for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.

I was one of the MPs behind a major report on cycling policy – ‘Get Britain cycling’, I spoke in a major debate on cycling policy which you can find here.

Climate change and environmental sustainability

A major part of my work in the House of Commons has been as an active member of the Environmental Audit Select Committee which helps to hold the Government to account on environmental issues. We’ve published a number of hard hitting reports this year, covering issues like

• the environmental risks of fracking
• action on air quality
• impact of a Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP)
• sustainable development goals
• a strategy to protect bees from pesticides
• finance for the green economy
• protecting marine habitats and species
• reducing waste and encouraging recycling

You can find all of those here.

There’s no doubt in my mind that climate change and excessive exploitation of the world’s resources are amongst the biggest threats faced by the world community. The very survival of the human race demands that MPs, Parliaments and government, recognise the scale of the challenge and act accordingly.

Working for a fairer world

We live in a world that is increasingly insecure. And so I’ve been backing steps to make the world safer and secure not just for us at home, but internationally.

I’ve long backed the call for the UK to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on international aid. Although the current Government failed to follow through with a pledge to enshrine that in statute so future governments can’t renege on that commitment I am pleased that it has finally become law thanks to a Private Members’ Bill.

That’s the moral thing to do – we should not stand aside when millions throughout the world still face starvation, homelessness, or lack of a basic education. And crises like Ebola show how weak the health services are in countries affected whilst HIV/AIDs is still a major problem in many parts of the world.

But it’s also in our national interest to help people in poorer countries. A more prosperous world means more trade, more jobs, and more economic security for the whole world community.

We cannot just isolate ourselves from crises around the world. That’s why I have been arguing that the UK should take more of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria as you can see here. I have been a strong supporter of human rights and civil liberties at home and abroad.

I also challenged the Government’s refusal to support European search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean to help save refugees fleeing conflict and destitution. Thousands of these drown cruelly each year.

We do, of course, have to protect the security or our country and our citizens, but in so doing we must not undermine the fundamental rights and liberties which are essential to our democratic way of life, nor should we refuse to help those in need facing destitution or persecution.

In Parliament, I have repeatedly called for international action – through bodies like the European Union, the United Nations, and others to work together to tackle the root causes of international crises. I have spoken up on many international issues, as can be seen from my speeches and questions in Parliament here. Only international cooperation, mutual respect for other cultures, and a fairer international economic and financial system, will make the world a safer place for us and future generations.

Mark Lazarowicz

Reporting back to you

In this report, I highlight some of the issues in which I have been active over the last year before Parliament was dissolved for the General Election. It gives an...

I want to see an end to austerity because I have seen first-hand the effect it has had on people in Edinburgh North and Leith. This Government has introduced severe cuts in public spending which have left households often struggling to meet basic bills and the most vulnerable forced to turn to food banks as benefit cuts bite.

The cuts are set to become deeper still if the Conservatives are re-elected.  According to the Government’s own budget watchdog, public spending cuts planned for 2016-17 and 2017-18 will mean a rollercoaster ride for public services through the next Parliament and a much sharper squeeze on real spending than anything seen over the past five years.

Below I set out how I believe we should

• end austerity and restore economic growth

• pay for public spending to finance growth

• crack down on tax dodging

• tackle low pay and end the abuse of zero-hours contracts

• protect public services from TTIP and turn back privatisation

How do we end austerity and produce economic growth?

Labour is aiming to balance the current budget for day-to-day expenditure – that makes sense as any Government that loses control of routine expenditure is in trouble – but we want to see investment in desperately needed infrastructure.

That means transport, hospitals, schools, housing and superfast broadband – a message I have been hammering home as you can see here because parts of this constituency still lack access.

It also means investment in skills and training and I am pleased that Jim Murphy has set out already how a future Labour Government in Scotland would make sure that every school leaver in Scotland will be funded either to go on to higher education or to get the skills and training they need to start their working life. You can find more on that here.

Edinburgh City Council has shown the way ahead with its Edinburgh Guarantee matching school leavers not in education, work or training with local employers so they get advice and support.

That’s important because youth unemployment is still far too high and I am angry that this Government seems happy for the UK to become a low wage economy with so many people on zero-hours contracts where they don’t know how much they will take home each week. 

We have to ensure that small innovative businesses and areas of the economy with potential to create skilled jobs get the support they need to grow. I spoke out in Parliament when a marine power company here that was awarded grants by the last Labour Government went into administration because it couldn’t get the finance to develop its technology. There is more on this here.

I fought hard for the creation of the Green Investment Bank and for it to be based here in Edinburgh. It is now providing backing for renewable energy, recycling and energy efficiency projects and doing it across the UK showing it is possible to rebalance the economy away from London and the South East of England.

That’s why I support Labour’s idea of a new public Business Investment Bank to support small and medium-sized businesses which are the backbone of our economy. Businesses are still finding it hard to get the finance they need so they are not able to invest to develop. The Government is able to borrow at low interest rates but refuses to do so.

Instead, it is happy to intervene in the economy directly when it comes to the housing market with its Help to Buy schemes. I am happy to see people young couples get help with buying a home but rocketing house prices mean that ownership still remains out of reach .

In contrast, Labour would address the shortage of affordable housing by building 400,000 new homes in the life of the next Parliament. UK house building currently lies at its lowest level since the 1920s and the Scottish Government has also shown far too little ambition.

Financing growth

A future Labour Government would borrow to pay for capital investment – that’s not profligate but the sensible way to finance economic growth which is the only way to ensure that the public finances are on a sound footing in the long term.

Economic growth creates jobs and boosts tax receipts – this Government’s cuts have simply caused households to reduce spending so damaging businesses whilst low pay means lower tax receipts and a higher benefits bill. .

We would also pay for our spending plans by

• a new tough tax on bank bonuses
• an annual ‘mansion tax’ on homes worth over £2m which will affect London and the South-East most
• restoring the 50p top rate of tax on incomes over £150,000 a year
• additional changes to taxation of pension contributions by highest earners

Cracking down on tax dodging

We would crack down as well on tax dodging with new legislation to ensure that everyone pays their fair share, a public register of UK companies based in tax havens and action to ensure hedge funds pay stamp duty like everyone else.

I was angry at what took place at HSBC and at the Government’s complete failure to act. You can read my speech in the key debate in Parliament on the HSBC revelations here.
 
We will not rebuild trust in politics if Government denies any responsibility for holding to account those who commit tax fraud whilst insisting there is no alternative to austerity with benefit cuts on a scale that forces people to turn to food banks.

Tackling low pay and ending the abuse of zero-hours contracts

The last Labour Government introduced the National Minimum Wage and new regulations employers using agency workers on a long-term basis but with the pay and terms of employment of temporary staff.

In-work poverty has increased significantly under this Government as prosecutions for paying less than the National Minimum Wage have dwindled. In November it was revealed that not a single firm had been prosecuted in the previous year for paying below the minimum wage and only two had been in the period since the Coalition came to power.

Too many employers exploit zero-hours contracts so that workers don’t know how many hours they will work each week or how much they will take home. The result is that families even where someone is in work have to resort to food banks and the Government effectively has to subsidise bad employers through the benefit system.

Labour would increase the minimum wage to £8 an hour and police it properly but also give tax breaks to employers that increase the workers’ pay to the higher living wage – there is more on that here - and require companies bidding for public contracts to pay it.

We would also end the abuse of zero-hours contracts by making sure that where someone is a permanent employee they get a permanent contract with their hours each week set out.

Protecting public services from TTIP and turning back privatisation

My Labour colleague, Andy Burnham, has said that his first act as Labour’s new Health Secretary would be to scrap this Government’s Health and Social Care Act which is not worthy of its name. It has enabled privatisation to spread in the NHS in England and Wales although the NHS in Scotland has been protected from that.

However, a new trade agreement currently being negotiated between the EU and the US could open public services in Scotland as in the rest of the UK up to privatisation with the possibility of legal action from US companies if they were not allowed to bid for public contracts.

Labour has been absolutely clear that public services, including the NHS, must not be part of TTIP and that Parliament and the public must be able to fully debate and approve any treaty that is negotiated.

In another area, rail, I have fought hard along with other Edinburgh Labour MPs against re-privatisation of the East Coast Line even though the public sector company that ran it from the time it was taken back into public hands in 2009 did so very successfully, requiring the lowest levels of subsidy from the taxpayer of any franchise.

The real priority should be investment in the line to address problems such as the overhead wires which date from the way the line was privatised in the 1990s. I want to see profits invested to the benefit of passengers not passed on to shareholders.

Labour would allow public sector companies to run rail franchises – the Government would not even permit a public sector bid for East Coast and Jim Murphy has said that if Labour forms the next Scottish Government we would turn ScotRail into a mutual enterprise.

The economy and Labour's plans for change

I want to see an end to austerity because I have seen first-hand the effect it has had on people in Edinburgh North and Leith. This Government has introduced severe...

I'm standing for reelection as MP for Edinburgh North and Leith on Thursday 7th May.

I hope you will support me. There are lots of ways you can help my campaign.

For contact details, more information on policy, and how you can support my campaign click here: http://edinburghnorthernandleithclp.com/uk-general-election-2015/ 

General election 2015

I'm standing for reelection as MP for Edinburgh North and Leith on Thursday 7th May. I hope you will support me. There are lots of ways you can help my...


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