In the run up to the 2015 General Election, Wessex Scene are interviewing the candidates running in Southampton Itchen. Here I interview TUSC candidate Sue Atkins.
What will be your number one priority if elected?
My number one priority would be to raise everybody’s living standards. For too many years we’ve had no or very small pay increases and the minimum wage is very low. I think we need a minimum wage of £10 an hour now, to lift people out of extreme poverty so that people can pay their taxes and not have to rely on food banks and benefits, or even to help them when they’re in work.
What particularly could you offer to students?
I think we need education that is free at the point of use, as it used to be. Our current MPs John Denham and Alan Whitehead both went to university, to this university with student grants instead of loans and didn’t pay any tuition fees. But now they’ve consistently voted for tuition fees and loans. So I would cancel tuition fees and I’d bring in grants instead of loans, so that students are not incurring massive debts when they leave university. Although some people tend to grin and bear it, it is a disincentive to go to university, particularly for working class students, and those bars shouldn’t be there.
I am a feminist and I see that one of your policies is to ‘Ensure women have genuinely equal rights and pay’. The UK adopted the equal pay act in 1970 – how would you say this has failed women and how will you ensure that this is achieved? And why personally do you think this is important?
I completely support equal pay and I’ve campaigned for it myself but the problem is the way that society is organised at the moment. We have to fight for everything, every reform and for every piece of legislation. Although equal pay may be on the statute book, we still have to fight for that to be implemented. You look at all sorts of events recently as well, where people have to go to court, to campaign or to strike in order to achieve equal pay and this is still going on. I think that women’s pay and conditions of service are seriously behind men’s. We are much more likely to be on short-term or part-time contracts and we need to keep on campaigning.
You say you want to ‘tax the rich’. How do you define rich and what would your top band of income tax be? If you tax the rich too heavily do you think that they would leave the country in their droves and that this would have an adverse effect on the economy?
Well, the wealth in society is created by people like you and me who work for their living. The very wealthy who own it, they cream off the profits. They need us very much more than we need them. If they wanted to leave, we have the factories, the workers and the skills. We don’t really need them. As far as defining rich, it’s all relative, it’s not so much about the salaries they earn. Although MPs earn or will earn in the next government, £74,000 a year. That puts them in the top 5% of salary earners. But it’s all the unearned income, it’s all the non-dom accounters, the off-shore tax havens. All the un-earned income that I would target.
So what would be the band of income?
Back in the 60s, income tax over a certain level was at 98%. The greens are talking about 60% and I think that would be a reasonable amount. I think you’d have to look at it, but it would certainly be a lot more than it is now. The rich get away with what they reckon is at the moment about £120 billion of tax each year that goes uncollected. That’s just on the present formulae and I think they ought to be paying a lot more tax.
You want to build affordable council housing. How to you propose that local councils fund this scheme and would you build on green belt land?
No I wouldn’t build on green belt land. There’s plenty of brown belt land. The top 4 property developers are sitting on enough brown belt land to build one and a half million homes. But, sometimes, they buy the land and sit on it, waiting for the value of the land to go up or for building regulations to change. They sit on the land and this should not be allowed. So there is land there. There are also lots of empty properties. Particularly when overseas capital comes in to buy up property and then they leave it empty because they see it as an investment because it’s more profitable than putting money into manufacturing. I don’t think that should be allowed. As far as local authorities are concerned, we’ve got the land, the resources and the labour and I think it needs to be brought together to get the houses that we need. Local authorities can borrow money and it’s a good investment. I’m not against borrowing. If you borrow in order to build the houses that they need, then that’s fine.
I think in the short term this is fine. Yet also, the reason they have to borrow is that local-government is starved of funding by national government. The reason we’ve got cuts in jobs and services is because of government policy. I think councils need to stand up to the government and say, ‘this is what we need for our local people, we’re going spend this money and demand that you pay it back’. They can spend billions of pounds on Trident. They can find limitless sums for a war in Iraq. Why can’t we have decent homes for the people at home? I also think it’s important to just make the money available to local authorities to build the housing. Also, there is waste in terms of the marketization of the health service, with PFI contracts, where we’re mortgaged so strongly to private companies who syphon off huge amounts of tax-payers’ money into their own pockets. I think taxpayers’ money should be used to benefit society as a whole.
You say you would re-nationalise services such as transport and prisons. How would the TUSC afford to buy these back from private shareholders?
Well a lot of the time we wouldn’t buy them back. If you look at rail, that goes out to franchisees every five years. So as those franchises came up, we wouldn’t renew them just take them back into public ownership. You wouldn’t have to buy it back at all. As to the question of how you would take other industries back in, I think you would compensate on the basis of proven need. If you or I put our life savings into stocks and shares or invested in those companies, then you would compensate them. But, for big business and the people who live on unearned income, they’ve taken enormous amounts out of those industries already and it would work on a basis of proven need.
Smaller parties often have to go into coalition. Would your party be willing to go into coalition with any bigger parties?
Well, we have the word coalition in our name. But that’s coalition on the basis of a common programme. I’m in favour of coalition with people that are like-minded. But I couldn’t go into coalition with any of the bigger parties because there’s too much difference between them and us.
A list of all candidates running in Southampton and Winchester can be found here.