The following appeared in my column for the Barnsley Chronicle on 13th April:
Last week I visited Barnsley College, listening to local students about their experiences and hopes, and staff about how further education is working.
One thing was obvious – we have great talent here in Barnsley. But it was just as obvious that Government policy is making that harder rather than easier to use.
Just this week it was revealed that education for 16-19 year olds has been cut by over a billion pounds under the Tories.
And when those students leave school or college, they would face debts higher than ever to continue in education thanks to them tripling tuition fees and scrapping grants.
Yet instead of re-thinking, the Government is now doing the same to anyone who wants to qualify as a nurse.
The NHS bursary is being scrapped and trainee nurses will now have to borrow the money instead, meaning they’ll start not only with a salary that’s been frozen for years but with a mountain of debt too.
Unsurprisingly, applications have fallen and those from the worst-off backgrounds have been most discouraged.
It’s not just bad for them though – there is a shortage of nurses, so hospitals are forced to fork out agency fees or risk safety by under-staffing. It seems ridiculous that just as we are short of local people to fill these vital jobs, the support allowing them to qualify is taken away.
Even worse, the Tories tried to extend this without allowing MPs to vote on it.
That’s why I challenged the government on this in the Commons, and after a ruling from the Speaker, Ministers have now been forced to withdraw the new rules and re-table them to allow us a binding vote.
I don’t know how I could have explained to the students at Barnsley College, or anyone who wants to serve the public as a nurse, that their MP could be stopped from even voting on this. So I’m glad we’ve won that at least.
But this fight isn’t over.
We need to stop this ridiculous policy in its tracks. If MPs want to say they care about the NHS, they better vote for it.
I will – can Tories say the same?