Column: the NHS' Birthday

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 6th July: The NHS is arguably our country’s – and the Labour Party’s – greatest ever achievement. It’s based on a simple belief that no matter who you are, what you do, where you come from or what you can afford, no person here in the UK should go without basic healthcare. And yesterday, we celebrated our NHS’ 70th birthday. For seven decades now, our health service has provided care for millions of people, transforming the health of a nation in the aftermath of a devastating war, and becoming the envy of the world. It’s treated all manner of ailments; from polio to your winter cold. It’s helped people of all ages; from babies taking their first breaths, to comforting those taking their last. It’s provided each and every one of us with care, strength and expertise in difficult times. And it’s something we all should be proud of. What’s more, it’s the staff working in our hospitals, care homes, ambulances and right across our NHS who we should take this opportunity to say thank you to. Along with those that have spent their lives working in the NHS in the past – like my mum – they’re the lifeblood of our health service, and whenever I meet them I’m humbled by their skill, professionalism and dedication to helping others. But our NHS isn’t perfect. And over the last few years devastating cuts to budgets have seen fewer doctors, fewer nurses, fewer beds, longer waiting times, and hard-working staff badly let down in our hospitals. This year’s winter crisis, for instance, showed just how fragile our most beloved institution can be if it isn’t shown the same level of care and backing it has provided for us for so long. So let’s take this important moment to remember the 70 years of our NHS, but also look forward and ensure it can continue. On our NHS’ birthday, I renewed my commitment to defending our universal health service and ensuring it can continue providing vital help and care for those in need for many more years to come.

Attending Acorn Brewery's 15th birthday party

Happy Birthday to the Acorn Brewery in Wombwell.I popped in to their 15th birthday party this evening and tried half a pint of their England’s Dreaming.This is a great local business - here’s to another 15 years.

Marking 70 years of our NHS

It was a pleasure to be at Barnsley Hospital this morning to mark 70 years of our NHS. It is Labour’s proudest achievement, guided by the belief that all citizens, regardless of where they were born and regardless of their wealth, should have access to healthcare, free at the point of access. As we mark the 70th birthday of the NHS, I want to pay tribute to those who made it possible, from Beveridge to Attlee to Bevan, and to the generations of activists who’ve fought to defend our health service. But most importantly of all, I want to pay tribute to our dedicated NHS staff and all who’ve come before them. They are the lifeblood of our health service, and whenever I meet them, I’m humbled by their skill, professionalism and dedication. Thank you to all our NHS staff for all that you do all year round. The NHS is the greatest social policy achievement of the last 100 years, and is the greatest step forward in equality and fairness that our society has ever seen. Today, as we mark 70 years of our NHS, let’s celebrate our health service, and renew our commitment to defending an NHS that’s universal and free at the point of access.

My speech on insecure work and the gig economy

The Yorkshire Post recently reported on my speech in the parliamentary debate I secured on insecure work and the so-called 'gig economy'.The following appeared in the Yorkshire Post as an edited version of the speech I made in the debate:'A changing economy over the past decade has led to a boom in new jobs, which have combined to create a worrying picture of employment rights across our economy. Often under the pretence of offering flexibility, employers have exploited working practices to maximise profit at the expense of workers.The experience of being trapped in a low-paid job with no guaranteed hours, wages or security of employment, and of being unable to plan past this week’s rota or pay cheque, with fewer rights and lower pay than colleagues, is all too familiar for people across the country.It is notoriously difficult to measure insecure work, which is in itself part of the problem, but some estimates put the number of people trapped in insecure employment well into the millions.The number of people in zero-hours or agency contracts alone is near the one million mark, while nearly three million people are underemployed and left seeking more hours than they secure week after week.Areas such as my own in Barnsley are disproportionately affected. Former industrial towns and coalfield areas have been left behind by the economy and are taken advantage of.Where average wages lag far behind national levels, unemployment is higher and social mobility is appallingly low. Unscrupulous companies can offer insecure, low-paid work where the alternative is often nothing.In Barnsley, the switch to gig employment and short-term work in ​areas such as distribution warehouses and our public sector means that too many people in my constituency simply cannot be certain that their job will last longer than the next rota. No matter how hard they work, their precarious employment leaves them with no chance to save up or plan for the future.It is not just workers who suffer. Companies’ widespread avoidance of the minimum wage, holiday pay and sick leave is estimated to cost the public purse £300m a year in lost National Insurance contributions.Such practices undermine the many employers who play by the rules, the companies that invest in their workers’ skills and training, the family-run businesses that pay their staff a decent wage, and the employers who pay their taxes and make pension contributions. In one way or another, we are all footing the bill for the businesses that take advantage of precarious work. Action is long overdue.It is a little over a year to the day since the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street after the election and noted that people who have a job do not always have job security.Sadly, the Government has kicked the Taylor review’s recommendations into the long grass. Will Ministers commit to take action to ensure more and better workplace inspections to ensure that the scant, bare-minimum ​protections that workers are currently afforded are actually enforced, and that swift action is taken against abusive employers?On companies that make profits off the backs of agency workers, will Ministers ensure that, from day one, agency workers are afforded the same rights and pay as permanent staff doing the same roles in the same company?That is another issue that I sought to address in my recent Private Member’s Bill. Cases brought against Uber and Pimlico Plumbers show that such workers are employees; they are not self-employed or independent contractors, as was claimed. In view of such cases, will the Government act now, rather than wait for every single worker to undertake judicial proceedings against their employer? Those are not just legal judgments against individual employers, but damning indictments of employers in the gig economy as a whole.I have heard from an Amazon worker who has seen women colleagues tragically miscarry in a warehouse, and fights break out on the packing floor because the competition for work is so high. I have heard the heartbreaking story of a care worker whose employers forced her to provide a urine sample to prove she was too sick to work.Another care worker’s agency refused to give her work as soon as it found out she was pregnant.I have heard from a Hermes worker who gets only one day off a year to spend with his family, which has a damaging effect not just on him but on his wife and children.Those workers are the real face of the gig economy. It is simply not good enough. We urgently need an economy that works for everyone. We need well-paid jobs that offer long-term security and give people the chance not just to get by, but to succeed and prosper. We need genuine action that addresses the employment loopholes that unscrupulous employers use to exploit vulnerable workers. Many people across the UK need action now.'  

Speaking on Northern College support for survivors of modern slavery

I paid tribute to Northern College and their fantastic course that provides educational opportunities for survivors of modern slavery. Access to funding is vital in initiatives likes this; I plan to meet with the Education Secretary soon to ensure this is the case for this local program.You can see my question to the Education Secretary here:

Attending the Barnsley flag raising ceremony for Armed Forces Day

I attended the Armed Forces Day flag raising at Barnsley Town Hall to mark the start of the Armed Forces Day celebrations and support our forces.Find out more here:

Attending an awards ceremony at Outwood Academy

On Thank a Teacher Day it was a pleasure to be at the awards ceremony at Outwood Academy in Shafton.My huge congratulations to Miss Grace for winning a prestigious award by Pearson Teaching for her fantastic work.

Column: Great Get Together

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 22nd June:Today marks the start of the ‘Great Get Together’ weekend.It’s the second year of the now-annual event, and this year takes place from 22nd to 24th June.For those who aren’t familiar, the event is part of the ‘More in Common’ celebrations in the memory of Jo Cox, the MP who was killed on June 16th 2016.It’s inspired by her words from her maiden speech in the House of Commons, where she stated that “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”In that spirit, her family have continued to take every opportunity to put aside differences, reject divisive politics, and bring people and communities together to celebrate all that we share in common.It’s a wonderful idea, and the events are a great opportunity to do just that.Last year’s Great Get Together saw thousands of people from all backgrounds across the country come together and celebrate even the little things that they have in common.But this year, I’m hoping we can do even better.From coffee and cake mornings, to full street parties, events will be taking place in all shapes and sizes right across the country to bring people together.And there’ll be one here in Barnsley, too.I’m hosting a community event tonight, bringing together community groups and open for all to attend.I hope you’ll join me there, and you can get in touch with my office for details.I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that these days it can often feel that our society is particularly divided; something I notice in particular down in Westminster.But that’s exactly why it’s more important than ever to take opportunities like this to put those differences aside.So let’s all do our best this weekend to reject division, bring our community together, and remember Jo’s message: that we will always have more in common.

Speaking on insecure work and the gig economy

I secured an important opportunity to stand up for exploited workers in insecure employment, here in Barnsley and across the UK. They urgently need actions that ensure they receive proper pay, rights, and working conditions. You can see some of the debate here:

Politics Home article on precarious work and the gig economy

The following appeared as my article on Politics Home on 20th June ahead of my Westminster Hall debate on insecure work and the so-called gig economy:We are living through a time of unprecedented change but for too many, that change is taking us not forward but back to a time when people struggled to get by and were left powerless over their own lives.The workplace is in the front line of that change, with the so-called gig economy leaving many stuck in precarious work with all that means for their lives.Unscrupulous employers have adopted the mantra of flexibility to impose practices like zero-hour contracts, permanent 'agency' work and bogus self-employment.The result is a staggering number of people in short-term, insecure employment; often low-paid and denied basic workplace protections.Though difficult to measure, it's estimated around 1 in 3 workers are in insecure work.This includes over 900,000 workers on zero-hour contracts, for instance, over 800,000 agency workers, 1.5 million in temporary work, and 2.6 million underemployed, wanting to work more paid hours than are offered.This goes far beyond genuine short-term work - meeting seasonal demand over the Christmas rush in retail, or the busy summer period at a caravan park.The consequence is that the balance of power is woefully skewed in favour of employers who can use short-term contracts to maximise their own profits at their employees' expense.Zero-hour contracts mean bosses aren't even obliged to offer any working hours to their employees. Workers aren't guaranteed an income. Rotas change at the last minute. Shifts are cancelled. Employees are told last second, sometimes by text, often too late to amend costly transport or childcare arrangements.Temporary agency workers are used long-term in place of permanent staff, allowing employers to take advantage of legal loopholes to avoid paying them the same wage as the permanent colleagues they work alongside, or provide the same rights and employment protections. Some are used in the same role for years, before being summarily sacked without recourse.Bogus self-employment in the gig economy allows big companies to dictate pay and conditions to workers but claim they are independent contractors and conveniently absolve themselves of any responsibility towards them.The result is that the experience of being trapped in a low-paid job, with no guaranteed hours, wages, or security of employment, unable to plan past this week's rota or pay cheque, with fewer rights and lower pay than your colleagues, is all too familiar for people across the country.It's just not good enough.This impact of insecure work and the gig economy is well known; it's little over a year since Theresa May, humbled at the recent election, stood on the steps of Downing Street and acknowledged those who 'have a job, but don't always have job security'.But her subsequent record suggests these words were little more than an empty gesture.The Government have kicked the recommendations of their own Taylor Review into the long grass.They failed to support my own Private Members Bill, which sought to close the loopholes employers use to exploit agency workers.A succession of recent legal cases against gig-economy employers like Uber and Pimlico Plumbers by individual workers have found them to be employees, entitled to better pay and workplace rights.Yet the Government chooses to sit on its hands and avoid the implications of these legal judgements.How much longer can they be marked down as test cases, rather than triggering wider action?Must we wait for every single individual worker to undertake judicial proceedings against their employers to assert their basic rights?I believe it is time for Government, and Parliament, to act instead. The law needs to change, and be enforced.Precarious work in a so-called gig economy has trapped millions of people across the UK.It's time we tackled dodgy employers who make their money through exploitation, and ensure hard-working people are given the pay, rights and security they deserve.