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Election 2017: What is Tim Farron’s stance on gay rights and should you vote Lib Dem anyway?

The Liberal Democrat leader refused to say whether he believes being gay is a sin.

Fed up with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour? Had enough of Theresa May’s hard-as-nails Brexit? Blocked the worst bits of the coalition from your memory? Well then, congratulations – you can vote Lib Dem!

Sadly, it’s not that simple. Yes, the Lib Dems appear to be the only significant non-nationalist party fighting for a tolerant, open and forward-looking Britain at the moment. But their leader’s views on homosexuality are planting doubt in the minds of those generally gay-friendly voters who want to vote Lib Dem.

Tim Farron, leader of the Lib Dems and an evangelical Christian, has been criticised this week for failing to say whether or not he believes being gay is a sin. Following a day of negative coverage, he eventually told the Commons “I do not” believe being gay is a sin, though his views on whether gay sex is a sin remain up in the air.

An interview on Channel 4 News yesterday marked his fourth refusal to give presenter Cathy Newman a clear answer to the question of whether homosexuality is sinful.

“I’m not in a position to be making theological pronouncements,” he replied. “I’m not going to spend my time talking theology or making pronouncements.”

When pressed, he carried on refusing to say whether or not he views homosexuality as a sin. He added: “As a liberal, I’m passionate about equality – about equal marriage, about equal rights for LGBT people.”

This is the mini sequel to a notorious interview by the same journalist in 2015, a day after Farron was elected party leader, when he prevaricated over the question: “Personally, do you think, as a Christian, that homosexual sex is a sin?”

He repeatedly refused to deny that gay sex is a sin, instead saying, “We are all sinners”:

Farron is asked such questions because of his voting record. He abstained on the equal marriage bill’s third reading in 2013 (something he now regrets), having also been in the minority opposing the bill’s timetable, and voted against the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations – the legislation obliging wedding cake makers and b&b hosts not to discriminate against gay people – in 2007 (he’s changed his mind since on that too).

Since becoming Lib Dem leader, he has spoken up for LGBT rights and revised some of his former voting decisions. He also voted a number of times in favour of gay marriage.

Nevertheless, ever since Farron ran to become Lib Dem leader after the party’s trouncing in the 2015 general election, colleagues have been concerned about his views on homosexuality – predicting it could affect their party’s electoral chances.

One senior party figure at the time compared Farron’s opposition to the Sexual Orientation Regulations “after the bed and breakfast case” to denying “a black person in the southern states of America” a room.

“What would we think about people who said, ‘no, my principles are not to serve this person?’ We would say it’s completely intolerable,” they told me. “Surely we’ve got to say the same thing for people who happen to love one another, who are of the same sex? And Tim voted against. He’s supposed to be the leader of a liberal party.”

These concerns are now looking prescient, with the first 24 hours of the Lib Dems’ snap election campaign being dominated by accusations of homophobia.

The only way wannabe Lib Dem voters can console themselves is with the fact that Farron has decided to row back on his voting record and champion equal rights since becoming party leader – cynically or not. He expressed his regrets in an exclusive interview to PinkNews in May 2015 to try and clear his reputation up on the subject.

But there is clearly a limit to Farron’s political pragmatism on this. Two years after his controversial refusal to clarify whether he finds gay sex sinful, he is still avoiding the question. This evasiveness may cause potential voters to question whether Farron’s conscience would allow him to whip his party in favour of LGBT-friendly legislation in future votes.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Universal Credit takes £3,700 from single working parents - it's time to call a halt

The shadow work and pensions secretary on the latest analysis of a controversial benefit. 

Labour is calling for the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) to be halted as new data shows that while wages are failing to keep up with inflation, cuts to in-work social security support have meant most net incomes have flat-lined in real terms and in some cases worsened, with women and people from ethnic minority communities most likely to be worst affected.

Analysis I commissioned from the House of Commons Library shows that real wages are stagnating and in-work support is contracting for both private and public sector workers. 

Private sector workers like Kellie, a cleaner at Manchester airport, who is married and has a four year old daughter. She told me how by going back to work after the birth of her daughter resulted in her losing in-work tax credits, which made her day-to-day living costs even more difficult to handle. 

Her child tax credits fail to even cover food or pack lunches for her daughter and as a result she has to survive on a very tight weekly budget just to ensure her daughter can eat properly. 

This is the everyday reality for too many people in communities across the UK. People like Kellie who have to make difficult and stressful choices that are having lasting implications on the whole family. 

Eventually Kellie will be transferred onto UC. She told me how she is dreading the transition onto UC, as she is barely managing to get by on tax credits. The stories she hears about having to wait up to 10 weeks before you receive payment and the failure of payments to match tax credits are causing her real concern.

UC is meant to streamline social security support,  and bring together payments for several benefits including tax credits and housing benefit. But it has been plagued by problems in the areas it has been trialled, not least because of the fact claimants must wait six weeks before the first payment. An increased use of food banks has been observed, along with debt, rent arrears, and even homelessness.

The latest evidence came from Citizens Advice in July. The charity surveyed 800 people who sought help with universal credit in pilot areas, and found that 39 per cent were waiting more than six weeks to receive their first payment and 57 per cent were having to borrow money to get by during that time.

Our analysis confirms Universal Credit is just not fit for purpose. It looks at different types of households and income groups, all working full time. It shows single parents with dependent children are hit particularly hard, receiving up to £3,100 a year less than they received with tax credits - a massive hit on any family budget.

A single teacher with two children working full time, for example, who is a new claimant to UC will, in real terms, be around £3,700 a year worse off in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12.

Or take a single parent of two who is working in the NHS on full-time average earnings for the public sector, and is a new tax credit claimant. They will be more than £2,000 a year worse off in real-terms in 2018-19 compared to 2011-12. 

Equality analysis published in response to a Freedom of Information request also revealed that predicted cuts to Universal Credit work allowances introduced in 2016 would fall most heavily on women and ethnic minorities. And yet the government still went ahead with them.

It is shocking that most people on low and middle incomes are no better off than they were five years ago, and in some cases they are worse off. The government’s cuts to in-work support of both tax credits and Universal Credit are having a dramatic, long lasting effect on people’s lives, on top of stagnating wages and rising prices. 

It’s no wonder we are seeing record levels of in-work poverty. This now stands at a shocking 7.4 million people.

Our analyses make clear that the government’s abject failure on living standards will get dramatically worse if UC is rolled out in its current form.

This exactly why I am calling for the roll out to be stopped while urgent reform and redesign of UC is undertaken. In its current form UC is not fit for purpose. We need to ensure that work always pays and that hardworking families are properly supported. 

Labour will transform and redesign UC, ending six-week delays in payment, and creating a fair society for the many, not the few. 

Debbie Abrahams is shadow work and pensions secretary.