The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 25th October:
A recent report on the health of coalfield communities across the country shone an important light on the difficulties facing towns like Barnsley.
The ‘State of Coalfields’ study was produced by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, an organisation I’ve been working with to help identify issues in our community and come up with ways we can address them together.
Their report was crucial in exposing how Barnsley and other coalfield communities have for too long been left behind.
It noted how coalfield areas continue to lag badly behind other parts of the country.
In areas like education, incidence of ill health, the local economy and jobs market, and the extent of economic and social disadvantage, towns like ours fall far behind the experiences of more prosperous areas in the UK.
And the evidence is damning.
In London, for example, the number of jobs in the area for every 100 residents is 86.
In coalfield communities, however, that figure is just 55 jobs for every 100 people.
Hourly earnings are up to 10 per cent lower than the national average.
More than a third of residents over the age of 16 report health problems that have lasted for longer than 12 months.
Life expectancy is lower, deprivation is higher, more people are stuck in low-paid and insecure work with no prospect of progression.
I could go on.
But as important now is doing what we can to tackle these issues.
That’s why I’m doing what I can to support the Coalfields Regeneration Trust.
It’s why I’ve also campaigned for a greater share of National Lottery funding to be invested in projects in our community rather than affluent areas in the South.
I’m supporting individual applications from clubs and initiatives in Barnsley to secure Sport England’s specialised coalfield funding.
Alongside my colleagues in Parliament, I’m continuing my campaign to amend the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme and put more money in the pockets of retired miners and their families.
And I’ll continue to challenge the Government on their cuts that have seen Barnsley local authority the worst hit in the country by Tory austerity.
The findings of the report won’t come as a surprise to anyone in Barnsley, but at the least provide an opportunity to reiterate my commitment to making sure our proud former coalfield community is left behind for no longer.