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).
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."
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!
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."
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.
I visited a food bank in Wombwell today to find out about the work they do in providing emergency food for those who are struggling. The food bank does an incredible job and is kept running by dedicated and hard-working volunteers who give up their time to help out others. But in this day and age it is completely unacceptable that people have to rely on food banks for access to food. In fact, the number of people dependent on the emergency food packages is rising, with an increase of 7 per cent across the country since last year. This included 436,000 emergency food supplies that were given to children between April 2016 and March 2017. In Barnsley alone, there are 6000 children who receive free school meals. But once schools break up for the holidays, the children no longer have access to these meals and experience ‘holiday hunger’, meaning many of them will be forced to visit a food bank. For too long the Government has attempted to balance the books on the backs of the poorest and forced too many to be reliant on food banks. Despite the outstanding work done by Wombwell food bank and others like it across the country, I’ll be fighting hard for those forced into food poverty by this Tory Government.
A few weekends ago I had my first experience of the annual Live in Barnsley music festival. It's a fantastic event that draws a huge number of fans and visitors to the area, and this year a record number of over 7000 people turned out in the sun to watch the huge number of musicians on offer. Continue reading