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.
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."
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