Helen Belcher is the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Reading West and Mid Berkshire constituency.

Joking, saying ‘it’s no question to ask a lady!’ Helen is 60 years-old and is semi-retired, but has worked as a campaigner, politician and writer, and has also worked as a businesswoman, a computer systems designer and an educator.

She was born in Battle Hospital 'when it was a hospital and not a supermarket'.

Her family moved from central Reading to Burghfield Common when  she was age 7, and my parents lived there for the rest of their lives, with her dad dying only five years ago.

She has lived in central Berkshire for the vast majority her life. The business she sold in 2019 was based in offices in central Reading.

In the run-up to the general election, the Local Democracy Reporting Service in Berkshire has asked each candidate the same questions so you can get the measure of them.

What are the three biggest challenges facing the people of Reading West and Mid Berkshire?

"My team and I have knocked on thousands of doors over the past few months, and we know that the main issues raised are:

"The cost of living – people are worried about paying the bills, keeping themselves warm and feeding themselves and their families. Many are worried that their mortgage and rent payments are continuing to increase, and that their jobs feel less secure, while benefits are frozen and the amount taken in tax increases – while public services remain on their knees. People want a fairer tax system, better economic management and better public services.

"The state of our NHS and public services – people are worried about not being able to get the medical care they need if they fall ill. While the picture varies around the constituency, lots of people are struggling to get GP and dentist appointments. But people also see the same problems in social care, in the courts, in schools and in the state of the roads.  People are prepared to pay a little more tax if it is used effectively for the benefit of everyone. We need much stronger links between the NHS and social services, and I’ve been pushing for better parking facilities at the RBH, as well as encouraging the management team there to look at opening a satellite hospital on the west side of Reading, like the Townlands Hospital in Henley or Brants Bridge in Bracknell.

"The climate crisis and our environment – people are amazed that sewage is now regularly pumped into our rivers (Burghfield and Mortimer sewage farms are particular concerns) with all the associated health risks and negative impact on our environment. They see this as yet another Conservative failure, and want action. They like the idea that water companies should be public benefit companies and that regulation should be strengthened. People also want meaningful investment to reduce carbon emissions and improve biodiversity.

"The Liberal Democrat manifesto contains many policies which would address each of these concerns, and has been well received by experts like Friends of the Earth, Shelter, the Fawcett Society, and Crisis."

What causes will you be championing if elected as an MP?

"Along with lots of measures to address the cost of living crisis, the crisis in our public services and the climate and biodiversity crises, I would be looking to improve regulation in a number of areas, such as media and education.

"I’ve supported a better and fairer way of electing our MPs for many decades, and would pressure any new government to change our voting system in line with what a majority of the population say they want. I want to see a wider curriculum, valuing music and the arts amongst other subjects, in our schools – not everyone is academic.

"And I’d look to improve our trading relationship with the EU, our nearest neighbour. It looks likely to be an extremely busy parliament."

What car do you drive?

"Honda CR-V or MG Z5 electric."

What's your favourite film or TV show?

"Local Hero."

When was the last time you cried?

"I found some moisture in my eyes while watching some of the D-Day commemorations on June 6.

"I’ve also found some conversations with local residents, where they are explaining the difficulties they are facing, quite moving."

What's your stance on drug legalisation, and have you ever taken any drugs in your past?

"I’ve never taken any drugs. The so-called 'war on drugs' has clearly failed for many years, leading to health and crime problems. We need to properly decriminalise drugs like cannabis and put many more resources into treating addiction as the healthcare issue it is, as well as improving people’s mental health so they don’t feel the need to start on drug use in the first place."