I’m honoured to have been asked to serve on the Labour frontbench as an Opposition Whip. The role entails helping with the organisation of legislation and is a great chance to work even closer to forefront of Parliamentary business for the Labour Opposition. And at a time when the Government has no majority and the Commons is more powerful than ever, this is a chance to make a real impact on the decisions that affect this community and hold this Tory Government to account on their damaging policies they continue to impose on people in Barnsley East.
The Government recently announced plans to alter how housing costs for shelters and refuges that protect vulnerable women and children are paid. The proposals aim to shift the funding from Housing Benefit to the responsibility of financially-strained local authorities. Women’s Aid have suggested this move could result in around 39% or refuge services closing down, with a further 13% reducing their services. Quite simply, this puts at risk the lives of thousands of vulnerable women and children who are the victims of domestic violence and the Government’s proposals should be rethought. You can read more about the plans and respond to the Government's consultation here.
This week I visited the Cudworth Library foodbank. It’s a scandal that in 2018, people are unable to put food on the table for themselves and their families – and foodbank use in Barnsley and across the UK is only increasing. But I’m always overwhelmed to see the kindness and generosity offered at foodbanks like Cudworth Library, as people donate their time and food for others in the community who are in need.
I welcome the Education Select Committee’s recommendations presented to Parliament this week that call for a foster care and child care system review to ensure children are receiving the support the require. The recommendations push for a consideration of whether self-employment is the correct status for foster carers, and a review of taxation rules and minimum allowances. More needs to be done for foster carers to help them deliver care, and this is a welcome step forward for the professional recognition of foster care.
On January 12th I had a great meeting with the Industrial Communities Alliance in Barnsley. The Alliance is a national organisation based in Barnsley that brings together the Coalfield Communities Campaign and Steel Action to campaign on behalf of local authorities in former industrial communities like our own. We had the chance to discuss the role of the group in representing industrial communities and how they can continue to assist in the economic, social and environmental regeneration of areas like Barnsley.
I spoke in Parliament yesterday on the issue of bank branch closures. in 1998 there were more than 11,000 bank branches in the UK. But due to rapid rates of closure – including over 1,000 in the last two years – there are now just over 6,000 local bank branches in the UK. Though banking practices have changes with people moving to online systems, many businesses and often elderly individuals still depend on the face-to-face services only local branches can provide. Closures, such as that of Natwest in Hoyland, risk financially excluding and isolating communities and people. It’s so important decisions on local bank branches are taken with the interests of local communities in mind.
On Wednesday 10th, I brought up the Government's woeful treatment of our NHS and local hospital in the House of Commons. I Despite the incredible work of staff at Barnsley Hospital, bed occupancy reached 100% on December 31st, far above the safety target of 85%. This is simply not good enough from a Government overseeing a preventable winter crisis in our NHS. You can watch my comments here.
On 10th January I was in the Chamber supporting the important #AgentofChange Bill to protect music venues and support our cultural heritage.
On January 9th, there was an extremely important debate in Parliament on the issue of Yorkshire’s devolution. I suggested the recent community poll across Barnsley demonstrated the overwhelming support for a wider Yorkshire devolution deal, and that it’s important the Government now works alongside Barnsley Council and the rest of Yorkshire to produce a devolution deal that reflects this decisive result. You can watch my full comments here.
The following appeared as my New Years' column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 5th January: As we enter the New Year, it’s always an important time to look forward. It’s often a period of setting goals, aspirations and targets, and persevering with the resolutions we sometimes regrettably made in the early hours of January 1st. But before we look too far forward, I want to briefly look at the recent past and the festive period one last time. Because it’s estimated that around one million people across the UK worked over Christmas Day, with many more doing the same over New Year. And often, they simply don’t get enough thanks. Whilst many of us were tucking into our turkey on Christmas, or hugging loved ones as the clocks chimed midnight at New Year, they were at work, making sure our vital services kept running. Everyone from cleaners to carers, prison staff to petrol station attendants, to all our emergency service workers and military service personnel overseas; we owe a great debt of gratitude and our thanks. But sadly, as well as spending these important days away from their families and friends, these workers are also forced to go without seasonal goodwill and thanks on pay day. Because research shows that of the most-worked jobs over Christmas Day, only kitchen staff have seen their real wages grow since 2007. In the last 10 years, the rest of those dedicating their time to our vital services we depend on over the festive period have seen real wages fall. Every month, doctors’ real terms wages are down £1000, prison service workers down £432, police officers down £415, security guards and nurses are down over £100, care workers and home carers down £91, waiters and waitresses are down £83, bar staff £51, and the list goes on. This is scant reward for missing out on time with friends and family over the festive period, and that’s why it’s important to pay our thanks. So now, looking forward into the New Year again, we can set out our goals for the year. Rising wages and a good pay for those who deserve it is one of mine, and that’s what I’ll continue pushing for in 2018.