I enjoyed visiting Jump Primary School, chatting to the Student Council about my role, and seeing the work the students are doing on the Send my Friend to School campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the importance of access to education for all children around the world.
As a proud supporter of our armed forces, it's a privilege to be taking part in the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, which gives MPs the chance to spend time with the army, navy and RAF.It was great to spend some time at the Defence Academy learning about defence policy and the role of our armed forces, as well as getting the chance to get out on the range.I’m looking forward to getting stuck in with the British Army over the next year and seeing first-hand the vital role they play in the UK's defence.
The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 28th September: The online world is second nature for many of us now. It’s where we get our news, how we communicate with friends and family, and most of us are familiar with the benefits and risks associated with depending on it so much. Unfortunately, however, I’m increasingly contacted by constituents who have been taken advantage of by online fraud and scams. Fraud itself is nothing new – in fact the first laws tackling fraud were set out in ‘First Statute of Westminster’, way back in 1275. But the nature of fraud has changed drastically over recent years with the advent of the internet in particular, and online scams are increasingly sophisticated and convincing. They can range from being tricked into providing money and personal details to what people think are friends or banks, being hacked, email intercept fraud, or simply paying for items that never arrive from fake sites. I was recently told by a victim about one such appalling incident of online fraud as a constituent was messaged privately on a popular online social networking site by an old friend who asked for money. Unfortunately, my constituent only discovered after they had transferred some of their hard-earned savings that the message was fake and their friend had been hacked. It’s a shocking practice, but one that really can affect anybody. Many people reading may be convinced they’re unlikely to be the victim of an online scam, and a recent survey by the Take Five campaign to stop fraud found that around 80 per cent of people claim they can confidently identify a scam. But that same survey found that only 9 per cent of people could accurately do so when presented with the kind of scams being used online today, such are their sophistication and simplicity. And though the amounts lost can often be small, the National Audit Office estimated that around £10bn was lost by individuals to fraud in 2016, from around 1.9m cyber-related fraud incidents. So I urge everyone to take every precaution online, and contact my office if necessary for advice on how to avoid being the next victim of cyber fraud.
I popped in to Worsbrough Mill.It was good to meet with Simon, the new miller, and see the important work being done to preserve our industrial heritage.
There are 700,000 autistic people in Britain today, with 70% of autistic children and 80% of autistic adults affected by mental health issues. Despite this, many autistic people struggle to get access to appropriate mental health services.This is an issue which has been thrown into sharp relief recently by comments from Professor Francesca Happé, director of the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre at King’s College, London, which highlighted the gendered nature of autism diagnosis and access to mental health services in the UK.Professor Happé stated that thousands of girls and women with autism aren’t being diagnosed, as autism is seen as a ‘male condition’. Professor Happé went on to state that the failure to diagnose autism in girls and women was having a significant impact on their mental health.One of the main issues is that many GPs do not have appropriate training for dealing with autistic people. As GPs are the principal providers of primary care, and manage referrals to other services, this is a significant problem.Another issue is that CAMHS turn down appointments for young people with autism who are seen as “too challenging”, and when services are accessed, they often do not account for particular needs, for example providing rooms which are too bright for comfort or referring patients to inappropriate therapy services.More widely, I am concerned that research by the Royal College of Psychiatrists shows that mental health services have less money to spend on patient care in real terms than they did in 2012 and more than a quarter of CCGs underspent their mental health budgets last year. The Government make many claims about the funds that they have pledged to mental health services, yet it is clear that the money is not reaching the frontline. The Government have long promised to introduce parity of esteem between physical and mental health, yet this just looks like empty words when ministers have made real terms funding cuts to mental health services.It has long been clear that this Government doesn’t treat mental health with the importance it deserves. There must be proper action, not just more empty words, so that appropriate mental health services can be provided to autistic people and all others who need them.
The following was my contribution to the Barnsley Chronicle's Education Supplement on 21st September: As a former teacher, I’ve been lucky enough to see for myself the positive impact that education has. I’ve seen children inspired and empowered, and adults with too few choices or chances able to re-train and take their next steps. And I’ve seen just how much communities like ours in Barnsley can benefit from an education system that serves us all. In fact, it doesn’t take experience in a classroom to know just how important education is. For many, it’s the difference between having the chance to get on rather than be left behind. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t take that experience to know that our current education system is also facing serious challenges. Here in Barnsley, for example, we have one of the lowest levels of social mobility in the entire country, meaning a child born here has fewer opportunities in life than someone born elsewhere. In areas of London like Kensington and Chelsea, for example, half of disadvantaged young people go on to university. In Barnsley, it is just one in ten. Secondary schools in, Hackney, for example, spend £7,840 per child on average. In Barnsley it is just £4,729. It’s just not right that young people here are denied opportunities simply by being born in the wrong postcode. But this is part of a bigger problem; a system suffering under the strain of relentless cuts. A report by the IFS think-thank this week revealed a system buckling under the strain. Sure Start children’s centres have lost more than two thirds of their funding. Per-pupil funding for schools has been cut by nearly a tenth – and more than a fifth for teenagers in sixth-forms. Further education colleges have been badly hit, there are a million fewer adult learners, and spending on skills is down by almost half. We’ve seen increasing class sizes, teachers leaving the profession in their droves, and letters to parents from schools asking for donations. We must do so much better if we want to prevent a disaster for both society and the economy. I want investment in every aspect of education, with a cradle-to-grave system so learners of all ages get the opportunities they deserve – something the Labour Party has promised with our National Education Service. We should ensure from their earliest years that every child and parent is given support and none slip through the cracks. Our schools need the funding and resources to make sure every pupil reaches their potential, regardless of where they were born. Further education, technical education, vocational skills, and apprenticeships should be accessible to all so that each person can get on and get by. It’s not just the teaching in our classrooms that counts, either. A key part of the education system is ensuring pupils of all ages are provided with the services and support they need both in and out of schools. I recently paid visits to FareShare Yorkshire, for instance, whose ‘Healthy Holidays’ scheme provided meals and activities over the summer holidays, and Netherwood Academy to see how important Barnsley CCG’s MindSpace Initiative that focuses on improving children and young people’s mental health is for young people. Back in those days I spent in a classroom, I saw how a good education can truly open doors for anyone – and everyone deserves that chance.
I popped in to Wombwell Park Street Primary.It was good to have a discussion with headteacher Mrs Lawson, and lovely to have a tour of the school.
Lovely afternoon at the opening of local Barnsley business Wool Couture Company, who sell giant knitting needles, chunky wool and DIY kits.I have a few months to work on my Christmas pudding Pom Pom wreath.
I recently attended a meeting of the APPG on Industrial Heritage.There was a good discussion on Historic England’s new Industrial Heritage advocacy programme, and how we can protect our rich industrial history in a time of austerity, including local sites from Elsecar Heritage to Worsbrough Mill.
I attended a busy fracking debate this week in Parliament. There is a lot of concern about the Government’s decision to override local planning authorities and local objections by going against these and granting licenses anyway. Too often, developers' profits take precedence over community priorities. Rather than making changes that will undermine local decision making, we should be giving planning authorities greater powers to put people and communities at the heart of planning. I questioned whether local communities and residents should be asked to take a huge leap of faith, and you can see my question here.