Today I visited Barnsley College to discuss the College’s Donate Take initiative, which aims to tackle period poverty.The Donate Take initiative provides baskets of sanitary products for any students or staff members who need them. The College has over 4000 female students and 500 female staff, so it’s great to see they have taken such a proactive approach to tackling this important issue.No one should have to miss out on their education or work because they can’t afford sanitary products. I was pleased to discuss ways I can support this fantastic initiative to tackle period poverty.
This week marks HeartUnions week.It’s a week of national activity that highlights the incredible work unions do every day to improve people’s lives.Our trade unions play a vital role in giving working people a voice in the workplace, and their achievements have helped shape employment today.From the introduction of the minimum wage, the 5-day and 40-hour working week, parental leave, increased annual leave, and tackling discrimination, trade unions have influenced so many of the beneficial changes to the way we work.But their work isn’t done yet, and for as long as working people face obstacles in their workplace, our unions have a vital role to play.For instance, this year’s HeartUnions week is emphasising two campaigns in particular: an above inflation pay rise for all public sector workers, and the pay and conditions for young workers at McDonalds.You can read more about the HeartUnions week and how to get involved with these important campaigns here: https://www.tuc.org.uk/heartunions-week
This week I wrote to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport regarding broadband access and speed in Barnsley East, after research showed our constituency is being left behind. Independent analysis has shown that amongst other concerns, average broadband speeds in Barnsley are 20% below the national average, whilst rates of access to superfast and full fibre also lag behind. Access to fast and reliable broadband is absolutely essential to the way of life for so many people and businesses in our community. Sub-standard broadband risks stunting the growth of local businesses as they trail competitors elsewhere, and digital exclusion can be devastating for those who rely on the internet for necessities like arranging health appointments or applying for welfare payments. So I’ve written to the Government to demand answers on what steps they intend to take to prevent Barnsley East being held back by a lack of high quality broadband for any longer. The full report on broadband speeds can be found here.
Tuesday 6th February marks the 100th Anniversary of the Representation of the People Act of 1918 that gave some women the right to vote for the first time. It’s such an important moment in our country’s history, and right that we celebrate the incredible courage the brave women who fought for women’s suffrage showed. The Labour Party has a proud record of advancing women’s rights and has launched a year-long campaign to celebrate these achievements and continue working towards full equality for women.
Sunday 4th February marked World Cancer Day. I recently met with Cancer Research UK to discuss how we can work together to unite in the fight against cancer. Cancer affects more than 360,000 people a year across the UK, including around 1,400 in Barnsley. It’s vital we work towards beating cancer, and I donned my unity band to help raise awareness.
On Thursday 1st February I was in the chamber for an important debate on hospital car parking charges. It’s wrong that our NHS staff, patients and those visiting their loved ones are forced to pay to park, particularly when this money is so often pocketed by private companies. Nobody chooses to be ill, and our NHS doctors, nurses and workers shouldn’t have to pay to do their vital jobs. It’s time to ditch these unfair hospital car park charges.
The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 2nd February. I recently met with the Barnsley Local Pharmaceutical Committee in Grimethorpe. The LPC represents all pharmacy contractors in Barnsley, and is well placed to discuss the work our local pharmacies do as well as the challenges they face. Perhaps unsurprisingly, funding offers a real threat to our local community pharmacies that provide a vital service and lifeline for so many people here in Barnsley. In 2016, a new two-year funding package was devised by the Government that would cut pharmacy budgets. Between 2016 and 2017, for example, £113m was cut from the budget, with a further £95m to come the next financial year. That’s £208m cut over two years, and the effects are already showing. In fact, when these cuts were announced, an independent study by the House of Commons Library revealed they could force over 1.3m people to travel more than a mile further if their nearest pharmacy closes. This includes 297,384 people possibly being forced to travel between 2.5 and 5 miles. Given the vast proportion of elderly people who depend on local pharmacies, more consideration should have been given to the possible impacts of this decision. What’s more, these cuts are nothing short of a senseless false economy. The fewer services these local pharmacies provide in our community simply ensures more people seek help from busy GPs instead, or visit our overstretched local A&E department and place more pressure on this underfunded resource. These cuts will only serve to push extra costs further down the line in an NHS already facing an unprecedented strain and in the midst of a winter crisis. It’s time for sensible decisions on our local community services and assets that local people here in Barnsley rely on. Cuts to pharmacy budgets isn’t one of these; folk in Barnsley can see that, it’s about time Government ministers down in Westminster do too.
On Friday 26th January, I visited the RSPB Old Moor nature reserve in Wombwell to have a tour of the site and see the activities the reserve offers for the local area. During my visit I enjoyed pond dipping with children from Goldthorpe Primary, highlighting the important work the reserve carries out with local schools, and also enjoyed bird watching. I was pleased to hear about the important work the reserve is undertaking to protect our natural environment and wildlife, and I look forward to working closely with the reserve in future.
Today marks Holocaust Memorial Day. It’s an important opportunity for us all to reflect on the tragic events of the Holocaust. I recently signed the Holocaust Educational Trust’s book of commitment, in which I vowed to continue honouring those lost in this event. And last night I spoke at a Memorial Day event at Horizon Community College, where I was joined by brave Holocaust survivor Iby Knill. I spoke of this year’s theme: the power of words; how incredible survivors like Iby’s have done so much to educate us on the appalling events that took place, and how ours must ensure these lessons of history have been learned, and shall never be repeated. You can read my full words from my speech below: "It’s a pleasure to be here and be able to take part in this incredibly important holocaust memorial event. I thank those who have organised the memorial, and continue to help us all commemorate this day. I was to start by addressing this year’s theme; the power of words. Particularly relevant, perhaps now as much as ever it’s important to draw attention to the impact words can have. Words can provoke and incite, or prevent and placate. They can be used for better and for worse, to cause pain and cure it. And the Holocaust that we commemorate today serves as a constant reminder of the devastating occurrences that can begin simply through the power of words. Because it wasn’t through the immediate incitement of violent anti-Semitism that this event began. Friends didn’t turn on friends, or neighbour on neighbour overnight, inhabited by hatred. It began with implicit and subtle propaganda; through passing references in newspapers and on radios. Children were warned; taught to fear and distrust their classmates by teachers and textbooks. Stereotypes were developed in caricature, as Jews were labelled and categorised. Words were the platform that provided the base for worse to grow. For the perpetrators of the most appalling acts of violence and anti-Semitism in the holocaust who managed to spread hatred through a society and justify their sickening acts against their friends, colleagues, and neighbours: Their words were power. But much as they were used by Nazis and perpetrators of genocide across the world, words also provided an outlet for their victims that experienced these events. Solace was found in the written word; letters and poems about loves ones provoked memories of different times. Diaries kept provided a reason and motive, simply to keep going. For those trapped in the darkest moments, words could provide them with even the smallest spark of courage and hope. For them: Their words were power. And after the holocaust, too, survivors showed the effect the word can have. Brave survivors of the event such as our incredible guest here tonight have relived their own experiences for the betterment of future generations. From courtrooms to classrooms, their words have been vital. Their difficult memories have been passed to us, used as proof of atrocities committed and a warning of what should never again become. These incredible stories and cautions from extraordinary people show that again, Their words are power. And it is from these lessons that we here must vow to learn. Because despite them, we can see the same patterns of history attempting to repeat themselves. Immigrants are demonised, refugees dehumanised, the plight and discrimination of historically marginalised groups denied, and the experiences of Jews met with appalling attempts to de-legitimise. A fractured and divided society has leant itself to a malicious intolerance in too many cases, whilst the advent of the internet has accelerated many direct forms of vitriolic bigotry. That’s why it’s incumbent on us, as the current and future generations to never forget that what may for now be words, can soon become more. I’ll finish by remembering the powerful words of Anne Frank, who wrote: “I want to go on living, even after my death.” As the holocaust slowly moves from living memory to recent history, we must use our own words where others no longer can, and ensure legacies like hers live on. We must tackle subtle propaganda, reject bigotry in all its forms, and stand against the features of our society that insidiously seek to repeat the errors of the past. We must never forget history, but learn its lessons, and take this on ourselves, because now: Our words are power. Thank you."
On Friday afternoon I visited the Kirk Balk Academy as part of the Big Class Challenge to talk to a group of pupils from different classes about politics, the job I do in Parliament and how I represent our area. The Big Class Challenge is a programme run by the Teach First charity, aiming to bring volunteers from different sectors into schools to teach pupils. The students grilled me with interesting questions on topics such as trade after Brexit, getting more involved in politics, and issues in the local area. It was great to be back in the classroom as part of the Challenge and as a Teach First ambassador it was a pleasure to support this initiative.