Column: The Tories' damaging offer for Barnsley

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 30th August:

On the steps of Downing Street during his recent speech, the new Prime Minister spoke of answering the ‘plea of the forgotten people and left behind towns’.

A bit rich, I’d say, given people here in Barnsley know more than most what it’s like to be forgotten and ignored by this Government.

And as much as any, older people in our community have suffered this neglect first-hand.

Who can forget the previous Prime Minister’s attempts to introduce the ‘dementia tax’ that did so much to humble her at the last election?

Or the gross injustice done to so many women born in the 1950s experiencing inequality and hardship as a result of changes made to the state pension age?

And more recently, we have seen the Government break their election promise and fail to protect free TV licences for over 75s, affecting thousands of people in Barnsley.

Addressing these injustices would be welcome, but since that speech we have already seen a glimpse of what’s in store for elderly people in forgotten towns like ours.

A recent report by a think tank chaired by Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith recommended increasing the pension age to 75 by the year 2035.

This is the same Iain Duncan Smith, it should be noted, who dreamt up the disastrous Universal Credit policy which has driven many vulnerable and ill people here in Barnsley to financial hardship and foodbanks.

With current life expectancy rates in Barnsley, increasing the pension age to 75 would leave most with barely any time in retirement before they died.

It could be worse, too – life expectancy levels in the UK, despite doubling over the last 180 years, have flatlined since 2011.

In some places it’s even falling.

To put it bluntly, people here would be working till they drop.

Forcing people to work for longer and longer, with many already overworked and struggling, is no way to address the issues people in towns like Barnsley face.

Warm words from the new Prime Minister about overcoming the injustices levied on communities like ours are one thing.

But with misguided, dated and damaging ideas like this from the Tories, it looks like we’ve still got a long way to go.