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It has been announced that Catherine West MP will be giving the Quakers Annual Swarthmore Lecture in 2017.  The Swarthmore Lecture has a history going back 100 years

Catherine's lecture will focus on addressing inequality, tackling poverty and promoting social justice. It will examine how we can effect change through politics – both participatory and representative – whilst living out our faith in the world.

Catherine West MP says “For me, actively advancing the cause of equality is both a political imperative and a spiritual vocation."

Catherine West became a Quaker in the 1990s and is a member of North West London Area Meeting. Catherine is currently Member of Parliament for Hornsey and Wood Green, having been elected to that role in May 2015.  She was an elected member of Islington Council from 2002 to 2014 and Leader there from 2010 to 2013. While leader, she set up the country's first Fairness Commission, chaired by Professor Richard Wilkinson, co-author of The Spirit Level, the bestselling book which argues that inequality is bad for everyone. The commission was a year-long listening exercise, held in one of Britain's most unequal communities.

After hearing testimony from hundreds of local residents, including from 'hard to reach' groups, the commission made 19 recommendations to make the borough a fairer place by tackling poverty and reducing inequality in the areas that matter most. These recommendations led to groundbreaking work, including the council becoming the first accredited Living Wage local authority for paying all of its staff and 98 per cent of its contractors a real Living Wage. In an area blighted by child poverty, the commission proposed universal free school meals for all primary school children, since partially adopted by government as national policy. Housing is also major driver of inequality in Britain's cities, and so the commission recommended increasing the provision of genuinely affordable homes. These recommendations were turned into detailed delivery plans which have since been implemented.

The work done in Islington has led to over 20 similar initiatives in other areas around the UK. It shows that a local approach, informed by a commitment to equality, can benefit the whole community.

Catherine's lecture will resonate with the theme of Yearly Meeting Gathering, the annual decision-making meeting for Quakers in Britain, which will be looking at movement-building and how individuals can live out their faith in the world.

Sandra Berry, Director of Woodbrooke, says, “Catherine's name was chosen by the lecture committee after a careful process of discernment which began nearly two years ago. We wanted to offer a lecture from someone who would be able to share their personal experience of working on the inside of politics at various levels. We hope the lecture will help us explore how we as Quakers can be involved in the world of politics and how those who are involved can be supported. How can we overcome any sense of powerlessness and suspicion of those in power? How can we speak truth with love?"

Catherine West MP says “Books like The Spirit Level, and films it has inspired like The Divide by Katherine Round, chimed with my experience that it is not just how low the bottom is that matters, but how big the gap between the bottom and top is. Alleviating absolute poverty is certainly important, but reducing relative poverty matters as well."

Catherine West MP to give Quakers Annual Swarthmore Lecture 2017

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"For six years, under a Tory Government, those who did nothing to cause the global economic crash have paid the price of the pain that followed.

Five million disabled people are living in poverty. Hard working families have seen their jobs become more insecure and their pay packets frozen, young people have seen their dreams of home ownership shattered and cuts to social care have left one million people without the support they need to get by.

When Theresa May stood on the steps of Downing Street in July, she said her Government would be different. It would help the ‘just about managing’ and crack down instead on the companies who don’t treat their workers fairly.

I saw very little in today’s Autumn Statement to suggest that the Government has a grip of the task ahead to secure an economy which works for everyone.

The Tories have already rolled back this week on their promise to put workers on boards. Today they offered crumbs to those hard working families set to lose out through cuts to Universal Credit. A two per cent change in the taper rate will still leave 2.5 million families around £2,000 a year worse off – money they can ill afford to lose.

Wages will continue to be squeezed. Those barely managing on the minimum wage will receive £7.50 an hour from April 2017. That’s 10p an hour less than the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) predicted it would be just eight months ago.

Significantly, that’s in part because today’s statement also revealed the stark price our economy is already paying for the damaging decision to leave the EU. Borrowing £122 billion higher than expected, slower growth, higher inflation leading to higher prices. The OBR says Brexit will cost us £58.7 billion over the next five years – a slogan I don’t remember seeing on the side of any bus. They diplomatically referred to it as “a subdued outlook”, but with these predictions the economy won’t get back to pre-referendum levels until 2021. As the Chancellor himself has said “people didn’t vote to make themselves poorer or less secure”. The impact leaving the EU would have on people’s jobs and living standards is one of the many reasons I have already made clear I will vote against Brexit in Parliament.

There were some positives. Victories for what was a Labour manifesto pledge to ban letting agents’ fees and scrapping the punitive ‘pay to stay’ that would have hiked social rents and forced people out of their homes. This is a great result for thousands of people in Hornsey & Wood Green and I welcome the u-turn.

But it’s not enough.

We need more support for those in work on low and middle incomes, who will struggle even more as prices rise. The Chancellor could start by introducing a real living wage and reversing those cuts to low and middle earners like Universal Credit and ESA.

We need secure and properly funded public services. The Chancellor failed to even mention social care today, yet it’s in crisis and our NHS is at breaking point with a £2.5 billion deficit. Local authorities have been stripped to the bone and vulnerable people are paying the price. This cannot be allowed to continue.

We need significant capital investment in council house building and the infrastructure that will help get our economy moving and tackle the desperate housing crisis that is worsening year on year. There was some, belated, recognition that Labour has been right all along in pushing for investment - the announcement of a deal with the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan for 90,000 new affordable homes is a welcome start. But the Tories have presided over the lowest level of home-building since the 1920s so the devil will be in the detail. Their fiscal plans still don’t allow the level of investment we really need.

It may not have been George Osborne and David Cameron on the front bench today, but I fear what we saw was the same old Tories."

Catherine West MP

Catherine West MP's first thoughts on today's Autumn Statement

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Catherine West MP

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