Last week I visited the foodbank at Cudworth Library last week I was told of the disastrous impact the roll-out of universal credit has had in forcing people to seek help – a message I’ve heard from other foodbanks in our community. I want to pay tribute to the amazing work the volunteers there do helping people in their time of need. But it’s time this Government explained why they think it’s acceptable to make struggling people here in Barnsley East choose between heating and eating. Watch me challenge them on this in Parliament here.
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.