My Statement on the EU Withdrawal Bill

On Monday 11th, the European Union Withdrawal Bill was brought before the House of Commons for its Second Reading. Understandably, many constituents have got in touch to discuss their views. These are my reasons for voting the way I did.  In last year’s referendum, Barnsley East and the UK voted to leave the European Union, and I respect that result. Article 50 has been triggered, and the UK will be leaving the EU. Monday’s vote on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill was not an attempt to delay or overturn this process. Despite the strong feelings on both sides, that issue is settled. The Bill presented before the House of Commons was not about whether we should leave the EU, but rather how it should be done. The un-amended Bill would put huge powers in the hands of a small number of Conservative Ministers, let them bypass Parliament, and give them the power to slash employee, consumer and environmental rights and protections. That is why I voted against the Bill.  If passed, this Bill would give Theresa May and her Tory Government the power to ignore Parliamentary scrutiny and make sweeping changes to our fundamental rights and protections. Parliament would be powerless to ensure our exit from the EU is in the interests of the people we serve. I am aware that this will be presented by the Conservatives as Labour trying to block Brexit. But this is nothing less than an attempt to disguise and distract from their undemocratic power-grab. Many people voted during the EU Referendum to ‘take back control’. They sought to give power to the British Parliament, and ensure decisions are made by elected representatives in the UK. They did not vote to ignore the Parliament the British people recently elected, and give the Tories unchecked powers to make changes as they see fit. This Bill was in the interests of the Tory Government, not people in Barnsley East, and I cannot support it until it is amended to reflect the reasons people voted to leave the EU, and represents the interests of my constituents. It is vital to avoid a cliff edge economy when we leave the EU in 2019. I subsequently believe we will require a strong transitional deal on the same basic terms we currently enjoy within the single market and customs union that will provide a jobs-first Brexit. However, this transitional period cannot be indefinite and must be time limited, acting as a bridge towards a lasting relationship with the EU.    

Meeting With the US Senate Delegation

I spent last weekend as part of the UK delegation for the British American Parliamentary Group, as we welcomed two US Senators to the UK. We held discussions on a range of subjects including UK and US relations, foreign affairs, and international trade. As well as visiting McClaren who are expanding their operation to South Yorkshire. The discussions were extremely productive, and it was great to represent Barnsley East in important Trans-Atlantic Parliamentary arrangements.

Social Mobility for Barnsley

My column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 1st September addressed the problem of a lack of social mobility in Barnsley. " It’s around this time of year that many students receive their GCSE and A-Level exam results – usually after a summer of pretending that not to be the case. As envelopes from exam boards are opened in schools across Barnsley, these results can often provide the platform for the next stage of so many young adults’ lives. Whether the next step is going to college, undertaking an apprenticeship, heading to university or starting work, it’s a hugely significant moment. But unfortunately, simply by virtue of where you are born, it’s possible that these results may be less significant than another student’s elsewhere in the UK. Too often, too many people are prevented from doing their best and realising their full potential, and can’t progress in life no matter how hard they work.  Of the students finding out their A-Level results in Barnsley, only 9 per cent of those from poorer households will go on to university. When you compare this to the 19 per cent of those from poorer backgrounds across Yorkshire who go on to university, and 41 per cent in London, you begin to see the problem.  More widely, in the Government’s own 2016 Social Mobility Index 72 per cent of the UK’s social mobility ‘hotspots’ – where young people have the best chance of getting on in life – were in the South. There was not a single hotspot in Yorkshire. On the contrary, a third of our region was made up of social mobility ‘coldspots’ – where young people have the least chance of advancing in life – and Barnsley was the 25th worst area in the country. To put it simply: people in Barnsley are not afforded the same opportunities and chances to do well in life that others are, and this has to change. We need a true cradle-to-grave education system that doesn’t leave anybody behind, and gives everybody the chance at training and education throughout their life; proper funding for ruthlessly-cut further education options; and accessible and affordable higher education. Whichever path those receiving their results in Barnsley this summer choose to take, they should have just as much chance of succeeding along it as anybody else."  

United Against Dementia

I recently met with the Alzheimers Society to discuss how we can work together to tackle Dementia in the future. Dementia is a devastating illness that affects a huge number of people here in Barnsley. And it can affect anyone, not just the elderly. In fact, over 40,000 people under 65 in the UK live with Dementia. It’s so important we do our best to support anyone affected by this illness, and it was great to hear about the fantastic work by the Alzheimers Society doing just that.

Insecure Work: A Sad Reality For Too Long

In my piece for the Yorkshire Post on 19th August, I discussed the impact of insecure work on people in Barnsley and across the UK. Read it below: When Theresa May stood outside Downing Street just over a year ago, she raised the issue of insecure work – saying people “have jobs, but don’t always have job security.”  You’d be forgiven for mistaking the Tory leader’s statement as an accurate prediction of her own employment status. But whilst the PM may only just be getting familiar with insecure work, for many across the country this has been a sad reality for far too long. Research suggests up to 10 million workers are currently employed in insecure work. It’s not a new issue but it’s on the rise and now comes in many forms.  The combination of the gig economy and a Tory government unwilling to help workers has left too many people faced with the option of precarious work or nothing. Perhaps the most prominent form of insecure work is zero-hours contracts.  Workers on zero-hour contracts have no guarantee of the hours they will be working from week-to-week and day-to-day. This leaves people unable to plan their lives or household budget.    In our region, these contracts have had a particularly damaging impact. Nationally nearly a million people are trapped in zero-hours contracts, equivalent to 2.7 per cent of workers. But in Yorkshire that figure is significantly higher, with 3.3 per cent of all workers stuck in this arrangement of insecure work. Workers here and across the country deserve better than this.  That’s why I fully support Labour’s pledge to ban exploitative zero-hour contracts.  Zero-hour contracts aren’t the only type of insecure work, however. We see agency contracts used in local factories and warehouses - often large proportions of staff toiling day in, day out with inferior rights and no security. Genuine use of agency contracts meet temporary or seasonal needs - like for the Christmas shopping rush or at a caravan park during the summer - but we are seeing them become increasingly used long-term to maximise profit whilst providing minimal protection or job security for staff.  Agency workers are not given equal status with the full-time staff they work alongside until after 12 weeks, and even then they are under no obligation to be provided with sick pay, maternity or paternity pay, or redundancy pay.  In these cases, colleagues work side-by-side, doing the same job, but with very different conditions and protections. This is not the end of the story - unscrupulous employers have found yet another way to avoid their responsibilities to the people who make them their money.  Fake self-employment has boomed with businesses like Uber, Hermes and Deliveroo playing a huge role.  Here businesses set conditions and pay, sometimes even provide uniforms, but class the workers who follow their regulations as self-employed. Despite being employees in everything but title, the workers are instead left without secure work, employment protections, paid leave, and often subjected to work for less than the minimum wage and with frequent pay deductions. The number of people employed in the gig economy has also rocketed in recent years with over a million workers now employed that way. But more than half of gig workers could be described as fake self-employed.  Predictably, the Government’s lack of action has left the average worker exposed and unable to plan for their futures, no matter how hard they work.  Workers are left without consistent employment and income security. Many are subsequently forced into debt, unable to pay bills or provide food for themselves and their families, whilst most falsely self-employed are unable to save in a pension. Others are forced to work through illness due to fear of losing what employment they have, or experience severe stress and other forms of mental ill-health.  But it’s not just the worker and their family who suffer. We're all paying for this. Insecure work is a blight on our country and affects us all. Widespread avoidance of paying the minimum wage, holiday pay and sick leave by companies is estimated to cost the public purse £300m a year in lost national insurance contributions, for instance. And when people get paid so poorly the state must top up their pay, we're footing the bill in tax credits. That's not the workers fault, it's the fault of a broken system.  It’s clear serious action is needed from the Government to address this issue. But rather predictably, the Government’s actions fall woefully short of that required. In the 12 months since the Prime Minister made that speech, the number of zero-hour contracts in Yorkshire alone rose by 12,200. The Government could match their warm words by immediately providing equal rights for those doing the same work as full time and permanent staff, tackling exploitative business practices that place no value in workers’ financial security, and quickly addressing their shortfalls in adapting to changes in industry. Life shouldn't be this hard for people who are doing their best to get on in life.  If the Government is short of ideas, I’ll be presenting my Private Members Bill on making work more secure in the Autumn. The Prime Minister is more than welcome to take a look, though I’m sure she’ll be handily acquainted with life as a precarious worker by then."  

Discussing University Access on Look North

I want to congratulate everyone who has recently received their A-level results. Unfortunately, there is still huge regional inequality regarding the numbers of pupils from poor backgrounds going to university. In London, around 41% of students from poor backgrounds go to university. But in Yorkshire, this figure is down at 19%. And in Barnsley, at just 9% pupils from poorer backgrounds are the least likely to go to university in the country. This simply isn’t good enough. Watch me talking about how need to tackle this problem and improve social mobility for students in Barnsley on Look North here (fast forward to 13.28).          

Holiday Hunger

This is my column in the Barnsley Chronicle from the 18th August, calling for more action to be taken to tackle holiday hunger and the use of foodbanks. "The long summer holiday should be a happy time, and most of us have childhood memories of time spent with family and friends before the new school year.    But for too many, it’s a time of real concern and stress.  That’s because in Barnsley alone, there are over 6000 children who get free school meals, and the holiday means there are suddenly more mouths to feed each day. When schools break up, those meals have to come from elsewhere and parents have to provide them instead.  Too often, families and parents who are struggling for work or living on poverty wages simply can’t afford to do so, and their children suffer from ‘holiday hunger’. I recently visited a foodbank in Wombwell, and the hard work done by the many volunteers there is as inspiring as it is vital. But it was shocking to hear about just how many people depend on food banks to get by, and how many parents need emergency support over the holidays to replace free school meals. Last year Wombwell food bank gave out 4256 3-day emergency food parcels to help those struggling to put food on their plates. And the demand for help is only increasing – as we see over 2000 foodbanks operating across the country. Indeed, from March 2016 to April 2017 the Trussell Trust – the biggest network of foodbanks in the UK – gave out 69,280 emergency food parcels in Yorkshire alone. Across the country, they gave out nearly 1.2 million parcels, including 436,938 to children. These figures don’t even include the 650 independent food banks, so the true scale of those struggling to eat is hard to measure, let alone comprehend. But to put it simply; the fact that in this day and age the Conservative Government has left so many people in Barnsley and across the UK unable to afford food is nothing short of a disgrace. On the other hand, Labour has vowed to provide all primary school children with a free school meal, and tackle the blight of low wages to help during the holidays. As demand for help from food banks continues to rise – as it has every year the Tories have been in power – we must do so much more to make sure that summer holidays are a happier time for all our children."  

Visit to Worsbrough Library

It was a pleasure to stop by Worsbrough Library recently and meet people from a number of community groups. I was joined by a range of groups including the Dove Valley Events Team, who organise community events in Worsbrough; the History Group, who run their own Worsbrough-based local history group; the SSAFFA team, who help former armed service personnel who have recently left the forces; and the Poppin group who use the library for social activities. It was great to meet the various community groups, have a chat about their work, and not to mention sample the amazing cake!

Police should be given resources

This is my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 11th August, calling for more resources for the police to help make our communities safe. "One of the best things about being a newly elected MP is the sheer number of different community groups and events that you’re invited to, and the chance to speak to so many people about the local issues that matter to them. Of course, there are a huge range of different issues and problems that people raise and that I do my best to tackle. But one concerning issue has begun to crop up more frequently than the others, even since the election, and that is crime. Relentless cuts to police budgets are pressing our local forces to do ever more with ever less. Figures released by South Yorkshire Police show they have had to cut front-line officer numbers by nearly 18 per cent since 2010. When people think there are fewer police on Barnsley’s streets, they have good reason. And yet this is at a time when crime appears to be on the rise. In February, there were 2584 crimes committed in Barnsley, a figure that rose by 207 crimes to 2791 in March – an increase of 8 per cent. This trend is replicated across the region, with South Yorkshire Police forced to tackle 16,732 crimes in February, but 18,348 in March – a rise in the crime rate of 9.7 per cent. Clearly, these cuts are unsustainable, and have placed a real strain on the ability of our local police force to keep us feeling safe and secure. That’s why the first Question I asked in the House of Commons was to demand the Government gave us an urgent debate on police resources, and I have tabled further written questions revealing the true extent of the problems caused by the Tories’ police cuts. And it’s why I recently met with South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Billings to discuss how we can work together to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour across Barnsley’s neighbourhoods, towns and villages. People should be able to feel safe in their community and homes, free from the threat of crime. A strong presence of officers on our streets is essential to this. So it’s about time the Government gave our local police the resources they desperately need. The police protect us. We should protect them."  

Leeds Pride

On Sunday I attended the Pride event in Leeds. Pride is an incredible event that celebrates the LGBT+ community but also seeks to raise awareness of the issues people still face. This year marks the 50th anniversary since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, and so much progress has been made in this time. But LGBT+ people are still subject to prejudice and discrimination in so many forms. Pride is an occasion to bring everyone together and fight for true equality for LGBT+ people, and I’m proud to stand in solidarity them.