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Nick Thomas-Symonds, Torfaen candidate for the Labour Party, answers ten questions from Cwmbran Life readers

Nick Thomas-Symonds
Nick Thomas-Symonds

Readers of Cwmbran Life were asked to come up with questions for candidates standing for Torfaen. Around 40 questions were submitted on the Facebook page.

You can see all the questions in their original format here. Ten questions were shared with the candidates and here are the answers from Nick Thomas-Symonds, candidate for the Labour Party.

 1. Before you tell me what you intend to do, please tell me what or how you have already, individually accomplished something positive for the people?

In my work as a lecturer and a barrister, I have helped people from a huge variety of backgrounds. I have also worked to encourage more people from working-class backgrounds to apply to our top universities. Locally, I have served as a school governor, helping local pupils with their education. That is important to me as I am very grateful for the start in life that my education gave me – without that and the sacrifices my parents made, I would never have gained the opportunities I have had since. As the son of a steelworker and grandson of a miner, I want to help give young people from all backgrounds in our valley the best possible chance to succeed, at whatever they chose to do.

2. What would you do in Parliament to help people struggling to find employment and working families who can’t afford expensive childcare?

All levels of Government need to work together to bring more, better jobs to our valley. I will work hand in hand with our excellent AM Lynne Neagle to talk with employers, do what we can to support local small and medium sized businesses and encourage new ones to come to our valley. I will also always take time to listen to the experiences of those struggling to find work, to see what more we can do to help them.

The incoming Government needs to do more to stimulate growth in key sectors like manufacturing, to help create more jobs and move the economy away from an over-reliance on financial services. We need an economy that helps people struggling to get by rather than just working for a rich and privileged few.

Youth unemployment is a particular problem – we need to create more apprenticeships and opportunities for our young people.  Labour’s pledge is to introduce a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee providing a paid starter job for every young person unemployed for over a year, paid for by a bank bonus tax.  This will work with the Welsh Labour Government’s Jobs Growth Wales, which has already created over 17,000 job opportunities for young people.

On childcare, as a working parent, I know how hard it can be to make things balance when childcare costs are so high. A Labour Government will help working families by doubling early years and childcare provision for working parents of 3 and 4 year-old children with an extra 10 hours a week of free childcare.  This is funded by an increase in the bank levy.

3. The NHS waiting lists in Wales are a disgrace compared to England. People waiting nearly 18 months to have cataract surgery. What are you going to do to protect our NHS and improve waiting times?

As a biographer of Nye Bevan, I recognize the value of our NHS, which we should not forget was started in Wales by a Welshman. The current UK Government has run roughshod over the principles of the NHS, risking its fragmentation and privatization. People here in Wales do not trust the Tories with our NHS. The NHS needs a Labour Government to fight for its future. By raising money through a Mansion Tax on properties worth over £2m, Labour will train an extra 1,000 doctors, nurses and other health professionals to deal with areas of greatest need within the NHS.  It is highly regrettable that David Cameron, aided by newspapers like the Daily Mail, has chosen to make misleading claims about our NHS in Wales. Yes, there are huge challenges in some areas, and some waiting lists are too long, but it is not fair to say that the NHS in Wales is ‘a disgrace’ compared to England. Different statistics give different verdicts in different areas, and we shouldn’t set one part of our nation’s NHS off against another. What I would say is that it is thanks to the Welsh Labour Government that, despite the challenges caused by cuts from Westminster and rising demand, the Welsh NHS has been protected from the fragmentation and privatisation. I am passionate about standing up for an NHS that is true to Bevan’s founding principles: healthcare free at the point of delivery is, in my view, the greatest achievement of any government since 1945.

4. We only see you out and about at election time. You should be talking to people day in day out to see what problems they face in daily life. What have you been doing since the last election to help people?

This is my first election as Labour Parliamentary Candidate in Torfaen.  If elected, I plan, in addition to having surgeries when people can come to see me, to hold “street surgeries”, choosing different areas of the constituency on a regular basis to knock doors and speak to people on the doorstep about their concerns.  I believe it is crucial that the new MP is readily available, across Torfaen and throughout the year, to listen to the concerns of people.

5. Would you support the legalisation of assisted dying for people who are terminally ill or are permanently and incurably suffering, in order to protect their right to autonomy and self-determination?

Whilst I have great admiration for campaigners like Debbie Purdy, and understand how difficult the situations are that many individuals and families face, I would have voted against Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill which was put before Parliament in 2014.  My concern is about the adequacy of safeguards that are put in place for any legalisation of assisted dying.  Lord Falconer’s Bill contained four such safeguards: the person had to have a terminal illness (with less than six months to live), full mental capacity, have had full information about care options for the end of their life, and be able to make a voluntary, informed decision free from pressure.  It is that final safeguard that troubles me.  I worry about ill, vulnerable people being or feeling pressured into making decisions, or, indeed, putting pressure on themselves as they may feel they are becoming a burden to their families.  I am sceptical that the law can ever ensure that such a decision is “free from pressure”.

At present we need to work to improve the quality of care for people with long term conditions and terminal illnesses – by providing greater support for the hospice movement, and giving more palliative care training to medical professionals – so that that those approaching the end of their lives are as comfortable as possible.

6. If you could change only one thing as the MP for Torfaen, what would it be?

I would like to work towards a system of far more affordable, universal childcare.  Having spoken to parents in the course of this campaign, I know how difficult it is, especially if there are not family members – often grandparents as in my own case – who can help out.

The problem is that, in practice, mothers are often left with little choice about returning to work since the cost of childcare is often more than one parent would earn. This also has a knock-on effect on the gender pay gap between men and women.  Affordable, universal childcare would allow couples to make genuine choices about returning to work and would be a major step towards a more equal, just society.

7. I’m a young, first time voter who’s unsure who to vote for. With this election so wide open why should I vote for you?

As I grew up in Blaenavon and now live in Abersychan with my wife and our daughters, I know what it’s like to be a young person in Torfaen.

Too many young people today are being exploited in the workplace – either unable to get a job or burdened with a zero-hours contract if they do. Under Labour’s plan to tackle exploitative zero-hours contracts, those who work regular hours for more than 12 weeks will be entitled to a regular contract. We want to build an economy that creates more jobs and apprenticeships, to help you build a better future. We will also make sure there are more affordable homes to both rent and buy. Labour in Wales has already made sure that our students are not burdened by £9000 fees, and if Labour is elected on 7th May, we will reduce fees in England too. We want more young people to play a part in our politics, which is why we are committed to votes for 16 and 17 year-olds.

8. With a chronic shortage of affordable housing in Torfaen and nationally, what hope can you give to the next generation that they will ever be able to set up a home for their family?

Since 2011, the Welsh Labour Government has invested £400m in affordable homes through the Social Housing Grant programme.  Over 70% of a promised target of 10,000 affordable homes has been delivered.  But we have to do more, and Labour’s pledge at the 2015 General Election is that 200,000 homes a year will be built across the UK by 2020.  However, it is very important that new homes come with roads, schools and services, so that we looking strategically at not just building houses, but putting together real, lasting communities with the facilities they need.   The abolition of exploitative zero-hours contracts, which Labour has pledged to do if it wins the general election, is also key to this, since a regular income is vital to getting a mortgage or long-term lease.

9. Local Government funding has been cut beyond recognition over the past few years. What will you do to protect local services in local government?

The Tory-Liberal Democrat UK Government has been responsible for huge cuts in local government funding, leaving Councils facing incredibly difficult decisions. In Wales alone, there is now £1.5billion less money from the UK Government to spend on public services like the NHS, schools, care for the elderly and vulnerable, community facilities and so on.

In England, the way Local Government funding has been cut much more in poorer areas under the Tories is a disgrace. At least in Wales we have a Welsh Government that values public services more – but Councils and the services they provide just can’t afford another five years of Tory cuts. I will be a voice for fair funding for public services and will work with our councilors to make sure that peoples’ voices are heard in the debate about Council services.

10. Why are you willing to spend £100bn on a weapon system that kills indiscriminately rather than on education, social welfare and the NHS? Scrap trident and you won’t need to make any cuts. In fact you could make an improvement.

Labour will work to push forward global talks to reduce the number of nuclear weapons across the world. My problem with unilateral disarmament is that it would make this task more difficult – as Aneurin Bevan once put it, it would send the British Foreign Secretary “naked into the conference Chamber”.

Contact Nick Thomas-Symonds- 

nick4torfaen@gmail.com

www.nick4torfaen.com

@nick4torfaen

Click here to see the full list of candidates standing for the Torfaen seat. 

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Nick Thomas-Symonds, Torfaen candidate for the Labour Party, answers ten questions from Cwmbran Life readers

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