Visiting Northern College's trade union studies department

I visited Northern College to speak to shop stewards on their trade union studies course. It was brilliant to meet everyone and hear first hand from their workplaces. It’s always a pleasure to visit Northern College and I know how important TU Ed is from my days teaching Shop Stewards courses for GMB and Usdaw.

My Column on the Great Gift Aid Robbery

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 25th May: Whether it’s for ourselves or for friends, for a longstanding cause or to support victims after a tragedy, I’m certain nearly all of us are familiar with charity fundraising. Every year people across the country donate millions to good causes that they want to support, and rightfully expect all of that money to reach the charity. On top of their donation, taxpayers can claim ‘gift aid’, which allows charities to claim an extra 25p in tax relief for every £1 donated. That extra money makes a vital difference to so many charities and community groups across the country and here in Barnsley. Yet some popular fundraising platforms like JustGiving are currently exploiting a loophole that lets them take a cut from your gift aid – sometimes up to 5 per cent – before they pass the rest on to the charity you thought you were donating to.  This means taxpayers’ money donated to deserving causes in our community isn’t reaching these charities and groups, but lines the pockets of profit-making private companies instead. One estimate suggests that between 2011 and 2021, up to £31m of taxpayers’ gift aid could be taken in fees by these fundraising companies. It is completely unacceptable that those in need are losing out on money that donors thought was going to their charity of choice, simply because of private greed.  I recently brought this issue up in Parliament, asking the Government what plans they had to cap extortionate fees on gift aid and increase transparency, so people know exactly what happens to the money they donate. Ministers’ response - that they simply have no plans to limit fees - just isn’t good enough. Taxpayers donating their hard-earned money should be reassured that it’s all going directly to the causes they want to help, not being creamed off by private companies without their knowledge. But the Government is happy to take these companies’ word that they will get their own house in order. We’ve heard it all before.  It’s time the Government stepped in and tackled these fees directly.  The great gift aid robbery must be stopped.  

Dementia Action Week

This week marks Dementia Action Week. Dementia Action Week is run by the Alzheimer’s Society, and aims to raise awareness and bring about positive change for those living with dementia and their carers. Over the last few months, I’ve met with different dementia support groups in our area. In February, I took part in an information session to become an Alzheimer’s Society dementia friend, to raise awareness of dementia and to learn about the small ways we can help those affected by it. Following this meeting, I wrote my Barnsley Chronicle column on the importance of being dementia friendly right across our area. Last month, I became a patron of Barnsley Independent Alzheimer’s and Dementia Support, and spoke at the launch of their carer support service appeal, and I popped in to meet Butterflies Dementia Support Group as they prepared for their royal wedding celebration. All of these groups do fantastic work in supporting people living with dementia in Barnsley, but it is clear that despite their incredible efforts, there is still much more to do. I recently met some of my constituents living with dementia and their carers, and their stories really highlighted just how far we still have to go to break the stigma that sadly all too often surrounds dementia in our society today. As the Alzheimer’s Society states, it’s so important that we all work to ensure that people living with dementia can be a part of, not apart from society. During this Dementia Action Week, the Alzheimer’s Society will be asking all of us to take actions, no matter how large or small, to make life better for those living with dementia. You can find out more about Dementia Action Week here. 

Violent Crime

Violent crime in South Yorkshire has increased by 57% over the last year, and I brought this up in Parliament. Since 2010, South Yorkshire Police have lost around 600 frontline officers, with around 21,000 fewer nationally. Now, there isn’t just one simple reason for the huge increase in violent crime being seen here in South Yorkshire and across the country, particularly in the face of the incredible efforts of our police forces. But there is one common theme: savage Tory cuts that have created the conditions that allow violent crime to flourish.

Visiting Butterflies Dementia Support group

This week is Dementia Action Week 2018, run by the Alzheimer’s Society to raise awareness and bring about positive change for those living with dementia and their carers.Ahead of Dementia Action Week, I popped in to Butterflies Dementia Support group as they prepared for their royal wedding party – it was great to see the support Butterflies provides for those living with dementia and their carers in Barnsley.

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.