Meeting South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive about local bus services

I know how important local bus services are for many people across our area. A number of constituents have raised concerns about cancelled services that have left people isolated, unable to go into town or get to vital medical appointments.   Today I met with South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive at my office in Hoyland. They work in partnership with bus service operators on the provision of local bus services across South Yorkshire, and we discussed their role in trying to ensure bus services are run efficiently, on time and in the interests of passengers. Figures released earlier this year suggest that the amount of transport infrastructure spending per person from 2018 onwards will be five times higher in London than in Yorkshire and Humber region, which will receive the least in the country. This is simply unacceptable, and unless it changes it’s residents here in Barnsley who will pay the price.

Apprenticeships and Tackling our National Skills Shortage

The following appeared in my contribution for the Barnsley Chronicle's education supplement on 11th May: There’s an increasing gap developing in our economy between the training that is being provided and the skills that are needed for the jobs that are being created. With Brexit fast approaching, it is more important than ever for employers and workers alike that government closes that gap. One of the main and most effective ways of tackling a skills shortage is through employer-led training and apprenticeships, which help to pass on experience and skills. As well as helping to train those in work, they are also important to people of all ages looking to get into work. They can provide on-the-job experience for those new to a profession, vital qualifications that are required for progression in the workplace, and a foot-in-the-door as the first step to permanent employment. It’s a route many people have taken, with around 500,000 apprenticeships started in the last year alone. But that is actually a fall from the previous year, and a lot more needs to be done to ensure apprenticeships are an effective route into work for so many people. That’s why at the last election the Labour Party pledged to double the number of ‘Level 3’ apprenticeships by 2022, with a particular focus on groups like veterans, care leavers and people with disabilities who need extra help. That way we can ensure there are enough apprenticeships, particularly for those who need the opportunity the most. But it’s not just about quantity, it’s about quality as well. At the moment, only 1 in 10 employers across the country provide apprenticeships, and the majority of these are taken by older people, rather than used to provide school leavers and young people with a start. Of the apprenticeships taken up by young people, only 1 in 4 them receive formal training. This isn’t good enough, and won’t provide the experiences people here in Barnsley need. We must do better. That’s why I took the decision to employ a local apprentice who splits their time between experiencing work in my busy constituency office, and gaining vital qualifications from Barnsley College, all while earning a proper living wage. I hope to make that a more common experience for young people in local workplaces in future. To put it simply, we need more high-quality apprenticeships that truly provide the skills and experiences that will make a difference for them, and all of us who will benefit from a skilled workforce and successful economy. The skills gap has grown but this means there are many more opportunities for high-quality training to help close it, and give local people the opportunity they need to get on in life.

My Column on the Link Between Austerity and Life Expectancy

The following appeared in my column for the Barnsley Chronicle on 11th May: We’re fortunate to enjoy a high life expectancy here in the UK compared to many other countries across the world. But after doubling over the last 180 years, life expectancy in the UK has flatlined recently. We know that it can’t continue to rise forever, but that doesn’t explain why life expectancy has not only flatlined but actually decreased in some areas. This is particularly the case in post-industrial and former mining towns like Barnsley – which has one of the lowest life expectancy levels in the country. The decrease in life expectancy is largely down to a rise in mortality rates – to put it simply, there are now more people dying earlier, including nearly 10,000 more people in the first seven weeks of 2018 than in the same period of 2017. But there hasn’t been an unusual cold snap, natural disaster or flu outbreak that we might expect to be responsible, so why is this? I recently took part in a parliamentary debate which shone a light on this issue and the growing evidence associated with one particular cause. We simply can’t ignore the fact that this drastic change has occurred since 2011 and the onset of austerity, or assume that our depleted NHS and social care systems have had absolutely nothing to do with it. Where ill-health was once greeted with a strong health and social care system, this has been badly inhibited by severe slashes to budgets and resources. The safety net that was instrumental in the growth of life expectancy has been reduced, with our NHS now underfunded, understaffed and overstretched, and the problem being further compounded by problems with the provision of adult social care. The evidence increasingly suggests that the impact of austerity in these areas has had a profound impact on mortality and life expectancy, with areas like our own feeling the full brunt of the cuts. This should concern us all, and the Government should look very seriously at the evidence of a link between austerity and life expectancy. It’s simply inexcusable that in this day and age, in the world’s six richest country, people are dying sooner than they should.    

Opening the new 'Vision Express at Tesco' store in Stairfoot

Opened the new ‘Vision Express at Tesco’ store in Stairfoot.Safeguarding sight has never been more important, yet despite 50% of all sight loss being preventable, many people aren’t having regular eye tests.This is why local opticians like this new Vision Express store are so important for people right across Barnsley.

Tackling Online Abuse

Online abuse is absolutely unacceptable, but some of my constituents have been victims of abuse across social media.I demanded an urgent debate on how we can put an end to this vile practice, which you can see here. 

Speaking at the Barnsley May Day rally

I spoke at the Barnsley May Day Rally this morning about the importance of campaigning for workers’ rights and our public services.

Attending the Barnsley International Workers' Memorial Day event

Proud to speak at the Barnsley International Workers Memorial Day event today. It's important to remember those who have lost their lives or been injured at while at work.The theme this year is the importance of a unionised workplace. As a proud member of the GMB I have seen first hand the huge impact trade unions have.From the introduction of the minimum wage, the 5 day and 40 hour working week, parental leave, increased annual leave, and tackling discrimination, trade unions have influenced so many of the beneficial changes to the way we work.

Introducing my Private Members Bill in Parliament

I was very proud to introduce my Bill on agency workers in Parliament today.   It was such an important opportunity to give a voice to agency workers in Barnsley and across the UK.   Unfortunately, we didn't make it to a vote today, but I hope the Bill will be discussed later in the year and I will keep fighting for workers' rights.You can watch my full speech here.

My column on my Private Members Bill

The following appeared in my column for the Barnsley Chronicle on 27th April:I’m usually back home in Barnsley on a Friday but today is slightly different, because I’ll be presenting my own legislation in the House of Commons. Earlier in the parliamentary year I was given the chance through a ballot to bring forward a ‘Private Members Bill’ – essentially a piece of legislation developed by an individual MP, rather than the Government. I want to use the opportunity to address an issue that I know affects plenty of people here in Barnsley. It’s no secret that our economy and the jobs people do have changed rapidly recently, and in Barnsley we’ve seen a huge shift to short-term and casual work. Industries and employers who once provided well-paid and secure work have given way to insecure and precarious jobs that offer little long-term security. Zero-hours contracts, fake self-employment, the gig economy, and agency work have fast become the norm. Agency work in particular can be found throughout our economy and vast swathes of our local public services that depend on these workers. But staff provided by a temporary agency simply don’t receive the same rights and treatment as permanent staff they are working alongside. Despite working the same role, in the same job, with the same employer, legal loopholes allow agency workers to be paid less with fewer rights and protections, for example against unfair dismissal. They’re also kept in ‘temporary’ roles for years and years at a time without the prospect of a long-term contract, used essentially as permanent staff by unscrupulous employees who want all the benefits of a long-term worker without providing any of the commitments of long-term financial and job security the agency worker deserves. My Bill will close these dodgy legal loopholes that allow workers to be paid less with fewer protections, summarily sacked without recourse by unethical companies, and kept in roles long-term without a long-term contract that offers financial security. It’s a simple question of fairness and equality in the workplace, and hopefully – if successful – my Bill will make that a reality for the many agency workers in Barnsley for whom it is long overdue.

My Private Members Bill

On Friday 27th April I'll be presenting my own piece of legislation in Parliament. Here's my comments on the bill: It’s no secret that our economy and the jobs people do in it have changed rapidly over the last few years. Permanent jobs may still be the majority for now, but we’ve seen a boom in short-term and casual employment in the form of zero-hours contracts, pseudo-self-employment, fixed-term contracts and agency work. When it comes to agency work a number of crucial economic sectors, not to mention our public services, are heavily reliant on workers who are supplied by a temporary work agency – a number that is expected to reach more than a million by 2020. Vast swathes of our public services depend on them; significant staff shortages across the NHS and schools, for instance, means agency workers have filled vital gaps in our healthcare and education systems. Agency workers make up a significant and fundamental part of our economy, but all too often this appears to be a one-sided relationship. Despite the vital role the workers play, and regulations intended to protect both them and their fellow permanent staff from under-cutting, they are too often seen – and treated – as expendable, a convenience without commitment, and an easy way to cut corners.They’re often the first out of the door when companies seek to save money. They have fewer workplace rights and protections, not least on equal pay – so they find themselves paid less than permanent employees performing identical roles. That’s why I’ll be bringing forward my Private Members’ Bill, the Employment and Workers Rights Bill, before the House next week for its Second Reading. It’s a simple bill with clear solutions to ensure agency workers aren’t treated as second best. The first element of the Bill will ensure equal treatment for agency workers by ending the equal-pay exemption in the 2010 Agency Worker Regulations, known as the Swedish Derogation. The derogation was an opt-out requested by Sweden to ensure they could protect their system which offers greater rights and higher pay to agency workers but has since been used in the UK to pay agency workers less. A further exemption requires agency workers to have worked 12 weeks on a job to qualify for equal workplace rights, meaning workers undertaking the same role have fewer protections. They’re not entitled to the same protections against unfair dismissal from their de-facto employer and end-user as they are from their agency, for example. They can be summarily dismissed, even after years at the same workplace. This is simply unfair. Agency workers undertaking roles identical to permanent employees should be entitled to the same pay, rights and protections from day one. My Bill will ensure that is the case. The latter part of my Bill will tackle the exploitation of agency workers used effectively as permanent staff by employers who simply want to dodge the legal obligations they owe to normal employees. Time and time again I hear of agency workers being hired by companies to undertake the same role not just for weeks or months but for years on end, without any chance of a permanent contract. This allows unscrupulous bosses to use agency staff for permanent work, for no reason but to take advantage of their inferior rights. My Bill will require hirers to assess whether work will be required on an ongoing basis, in which case the agency worker is entitled to the offer of a permanent contract, closing the loophole that too many employers exploit at agency workers’ expense. These aren’t huge changes, and they do not need to be partisan. My proposals build on key recommendations of the Taylor Review, which the government itself commissioned. If they do not accept my Bill, it is for them to argue that two people working the same job with the same company should be entitled to different pay, rights and protections. That is the issue my Bill addresses: levelling the playing field for agency workers, and ensure they can now go to work with the fair pay and protection they are long overdue.