Stephanie speaks on insecure work and the gig economy

As reported in the Yorkshire Post on 28th June, Stephanie recently spoke in a parliamentary debate which she secured on insecure work and the so-called gig economy.The following appeared in the Yorkshire Post as an edited version of Stephanie's speech in the debate:'A changing economy over the past decade has led to a boom in new jobs, which have combined to create a worrying picture of employment rights across our economy. Often under the pretence of offering flexibility, employers have exploited working practices to maximise profit at the expense of workers.The experience of being trapped in a low-paid job with no guaranteed hours, wages or security of employment, and of being unable to plan past this week’s rota or pay cheque, with fewer rights and lower pay than colleagues, is all too familiar for people across the country.It is notoriously difficult to measure insecure work, which is in itself part of the problem, but some estimates put the number of people trapped in insecure employment well into the millions.The number of people in zero-hours or agency contracts alone is near the one million mark, while nearly three million people are underemployed and left seeking more hours than they secure week after week.Areas such as my own in Barnsley are disproportionately affected. Former industrial towns and coalfield areas have been left behind by the economy and are taken advantage of.Where average wages lag far behind national levels, unemployment is higher and social mobility is appallingly low. Unscrupulous companies can offer insecure, low-paid work where the alternative is often nothing.In Barnsley, the switch to gig employment and short-term work in ​areas such as distribution warehouses and our public sector means that too many people in my constituency simply cannot be certain that their job will last longer than the next rota. No matter how hard they work, their precarious employment leaves them with no chance to save up or plan for the future.It is not just workers who suffer. Companies’ widespread avoidance of the minimum wage, holiday pay and sick leave is estimated to cost the public purse £300m a year in lost National Insurance contributions.Such practices undermine the many employers who play by the rules, the companies that invest in their workers’ skills and training, the family-run businesses that pay their staff a decent wage, and the employers who pay their taxes and make pension contributions. In one way or another, we are all footing the bill for the businesses that take advantage of precarious work. Action is long overdue.It is a little over a year to the day since the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street after the election and noted that people who have a job do not always have job security.Sadly, the Government has kicked the Taylor review’s recommendations into the long grass. Will Ministers commit to take action to ensure more and better workplace inspections to ensure that the scant, bare-minimum ​protections that workers are currently afforded are actually enforced, and that swift action is taken against abusive employers?On companies that make profits off the backs of agency workers, will Ministers ensure that, from day one, agency workers are afforded the same rights and pay as permanent staff doing the same roles in the same company?That is another issue that I sought to address in my recent Private Member’s Bill. Cases brought against Uber and Pimlico Plumbers show that such workers are employees; they are not self-employed or independent contractors, as was claimed. In view of such cases, will the Government act now, rather than wait for every single worker to undertake judicial proceedings against their employer? Those are not just legal judgments against individual employers, but damning indictments of employers in the gig economy as a whole.I have heard from an Amazon worker who has seen women colleagues tragically miscarry in a warehouse, and fights break out on the packing floor because the competition for work is so high. I have heard the heartbreaking story of a care worker whose employers forced her to provide a urine sample to prove she was too sick to work.Another care worker’s agency refused to give her work as soon as it found out she was pregnant.I have heard from a Hermes worker who gets only one day off a year to spend with his family, which has a damaging effect not just on him but on his wife and children.Those workers are the real face of the gig economy. It is simply not good enough. We urgently need an economy that works for everyone. We need well-paid jobs that offer long-term security and give people the chance not just to get by, but to succeed and prosper. We need genuine action that addresses the employment loopholes that unscrupulous employers use to exploit vulnerable workers. Many people across the UK need action now.'

Stephanie attends RSPCA's parliamentary drop-in

As reported in the Barnsley News and Sport on 27th June, Stephanie recently attended the RSCPA's annual parliamentary drop-in, where she heard directly from RSPCA Inspectors about their frontline work to protect animals in Barnsley East and across the UK. At the event, the scale of animal cruelty complaints across South Yorkshire was revealed. In 2017, the RSPCA investigated 4538 complaints about animal cruelty in the county, with the charity’s nationwide 24-hour cruelty line receiving over a million calls. The RSPCA has been investigating and prosecuting animal welfare offences since its foundation in 1824, and they are increasing their work to prevent cruelty occurring in the first place and to educate the next generation of animal lovers. Said Stephanie: “I’m proud to support the RSPCA and the work that their Inspectors do to protect animal welfare in Barnsley East and across South Yorkshire. “It was fantastic to meet some of their hard-working Inspectors and to thank them on behalf of the animal lovers in our area for all that they do. “However, I am saddened that the RSPCA’s latest statistics show animal cruelty complaints are continuing in South Yorkshire. We all have a duty to be vigilant against abuses of animal welfare and I will continue to work closely with the RSPCA to help improve standards of animal welfare in South Yorkshire and across the UK.”

Column: Great Get Together 2018

As featured in the Barnsley Chronicle on 22nd June, Stephanie's recent column focused on the Great Get Together 2018. Stephanie wrote about how the Great Get Together is part of the More in Common celebrations in the memory of Jo Cox, the MP who was killed on 16th June 2016, and about the importance of Great Get Together events in bringing people and communities together to celebrate all that we have in common.

Politics Home article on insecure work and the gig economy

Stephanie recently wrote a Politics Home article on insecure work and the so-called gig economy, ahead of her Westminster Hall debate on this issue on 20th June. She wrote about how precarious work in the so-called gig economy has trapped millions of people across the UK, and how it's time we ensure hard-working people are given the pay, rights and security they deserve.You can read her full article below: We are living through a time of unprecedented change but for too many, that change is taking us not forward but back to a time when people struggled to get by and were left powerless over their own lives.   The workplace is in the front line of that change, with the so-called gig economy leaving many stuck in precarious work with all that means for their lives. Unscrupulous employers have adopted the mantra of flexibility to impose practices like zero-hour contracts, permanent ‘agency’ work and bogus self-employment. The result is a staggering number of people in short-term, insecure employment; often low-paid and denied basic workplace protections. Though difficult to measure, it’s estimated around 1 in 3 workers are in insecure work. This includes over 900,000 workers on zero-hour contracts, for instance, over 800,000 agency workers, 1.5 million in temporary work, and 2.6 million underemployed, wanting to work more paid hours than are offered. This goes far beyond genuine short-term work - meeting seasonal demand over the Christmas rush in retail, or the busy summer period at a caravan park. The consequence is that the balance of power is woefully skewed in favour of employers who can use short-term contracts to maximise their own profits at their employees’ expense. Zero-hour contracts mean bosses aren’t even obliged to offer any working hours to their employees. Workers aren’t guaranteed an income. Rotas change at the last minute. Shifts are cancelled. Employees are told last second, sometimes by text, often too late to amend costly transport or childcare arrangements. Temporary agency workers are used long-term in place of permanent staff, allowing employers to take advantage of legal loopholes to avoid paying them the same wage as the permanent colleagues they work alongside, or provide the same rights and employment protections. Some are used in the same role for years, before being summarily sacked without recourse. Bogus self-employment in the gig economy allows big companies to dictate pay and conditions to workers but claim they are independent contractors and conveniently absolve themselves of any responsibility towards them. The result is that the experience of being trapped in a low-paid job, with no guaranteed hours, wages, or security of employment, unable to plan past this week’s rota or pay cheque, with fewer rights and lower pay than your colleagues, is all too familiar for people across the country. It’s just not good enough. This impact of insecure work and the gig economy is well known; it’s little over a year since Theresa May, humbled at the recent election, stood on the steps of Downing Street and acknowledged those who ‘have a job, but don’t always have job security’. But her subsequent record suggests these words were little more than an empty gesture. The Government have kicked the recommendations of their own Taylor Review into the long grass. They failed to support my own Private Members Bill, which sought to close the loopholes employers use to exploit agency workers. A succession of recent legal cases against gig-economy employers like Uber and Pimlico Plumbers by individual workers have found them to be employees, entitled to better pay and workplace rights. Yet the Government chooses to sit on its hands and avoid the implications of these legal judgements. How much longer can they be marked down as test cases, rather than triggering wider action? Must we wait for every single individual worker to undertake judicial proceedings against their employers to assert their basic rights? I believe it is time for Government, and Parliament, to act instead. The law needs to change, and be enforced. Precarious work in a so-called gig economy has trapped millions of people across the UK. It’s time we tackled dodgy employers who make their money through exploitation, and ensure hard-working people are given the pay, rights and security they deserve.

Stephanie criticises Foreign Secretary

As reported in the Mirror on 15th June, Stephanie has criticised the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, after findings from an internal staff survey revealed that the Foreign Office has the worst levels of discrimination, bullying and harassment of any government department.Nearly one in six civil servants at the FCO had experienced sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination in the last year.Disturbing findings from the staff survey reveal more than one in eight had experienced bullying or harassment.Both figures have risen since Johnson took over from Philip Hammond who is now the Chancellor of the Exchequer.Though nearly half of the victims said that they had officially reported the behaviour, only one in five of them believed it had been resolved.It comes in the wake of harassment reports across Westminster including accusations of bullying levelled against the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow - which he denies.Commenting, Stephanie said: 'With Britain facing foreign policy crises on a global scale, we need a Foreign Secretary who is as serious as the task they face.'Unfortunately, Theresa May has given us Boris instead - a politician who has gone from a national joke to an international joke.'Strong leadership is needed to achieve real culture change but Boris is the last person who could lead by example when it comes to acceptable behaviour in the workplace.'He would rather run the Ministry of Offence than behave like Britain’s top diplomat.'  

Stephanie highlights rural crime

As reported in the Barnsley Chronicle on 15th June, Stephanie has called for action on rural crime after bringing up the issue in the House of Commons recently.Stephanie raised this issue during a debate in the House of Commons on 6th June.South Yorkshire has seen an increase of 54 percent in insurance claims in rural areas, indicating a rise in the crime rate.Commenting, Stephanie said: 'Policing in rural communities over sparsely populated areas is already difficult enough for our hard-working police services, but with resources and numbers down as a result of government cuts it's even harder.'Whilst government ministers may try to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the issue, it's only getting worse for the people like my constituents who have personally told me of the crimes they've been victims of.'

Stephanie Comments on Rural Crime

As reported in the Barnsley News and Sport on 14th June, Stephanie has called for action on rural crime after bringing up the issue in the House of Commons recently. Following meetings with affected constituents, the local MP raised the increase in crimes committed in rural areas in the Parliamentary debate last Wednesday. Stephanie discussed the 54 per cent increase in South Yorkshire’s rural crime insurance claims as evidence of the growth in incidents. She also made reference to local community groups who have joined together to tackle rural crime. Her intervention came following meetings with constituents who have been victims of crime in rural areas – including the theft of farming and equestrian equipment, and anti-social behaviour. Nationally, it’s estimated that rural crime cost the economy over £39m in 2016 alone. Said Stephanie: “Rural crime is a serious problem which affects people here in Barnsley and across the UK. “Whilst Government Ministers may try to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the issue, it’s only getting worse for the people like my constituents who have personally told me of the crimes they’ve been victims of. “Policing in rural communities over sparsely populated areas is already difficult enough for our hard-working police services, but with resources and numbers down as a result of Government cuts it’s even harder. “Our police should be given the resources they desperately need to do their jobs, and ensure rural communities like ours are protected.”

Stephanie Pays Tribute in Volunteers' Week

As reported in the Barnsley Gazette Barnsley Chronicle on 8th June, Stephanie has marked ‘Volunteers’ Week’ by paying tribute to the many local volunteers in Barnsley. Volunteers’ Week is an annual event, this year running between 1-7 June, that celebrates the work done by volunteers with hundreds of events up and down the country. Local MP Stephanie has taken the opportunity to thank the volunteers who make a difference throughout Barnsley. She commented: “I’m fortunate that in my role as Barnsley East’s MP I’ve met some incredible volunteers who give their time and energy in so many different ways, but who each make a vital contribution to our community. “Whether it’s keeping our unique local assets like our local museums and heritage sites up and running, to one-off events like the recent Tour de Yorkshire, or the long-term volunteers who spend their time helping others in our community who are less fortunate. “Their positive impact on our community should not go unnoticed, and this is a great opportunity to say thank you to them all.”    

Column: Train Chaos

As featured in the Barnsley Chronicle on 8th June, Stephanie's recent column focused on the chaos seen on our railway services. She wrote about the impact delays and cancelled services have had on people here in Barnsley, and the Government's continued mishandling of transport and railway services. You can read her full comments here.      

Stephanie Slams Government over Welfare Mistakes

As reported in the Barnsley News and Sport on 7th June, Stephanie has slammed the Government after revealing figures that show around two thirds of Barnsley residents who appealed their welfare rejections were shown to be eligible. The local MP forced the omission from a Government Minister through a Parliamentary Question relating to ESA and PIP payments. Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) provides both help for those unable to work through illness or disability and support when they can work, while Personal Independence Payments (PIP) helps to cover the extra costs caused by serious disability or long-term ill-health. The figures revealed by Stephanie (pictured) show that across 2017, of the Barnsley residents who appealed the initial rejection of their PIP application, 63 per cent were eventually found to be entitled. Of those denied ESA, the figure of those successful in overturning the decision and found eligible on appeal rose to 65 per cent. The news follows the MP’s recent public criticism of similarly overturned punitive benefits sanctions which are shown to be incorrect on appeal. According to Stephanie, 30 per cent of decisions to impose sanctions to Universal Credit recipients by the Government are acknowledged as incorrect by the Government themselves, with a further 83 per cent squashed by independent tribunals. She said: “Support provided by these welfare entitlements are absolutely vital both at home and at work for people who through no fault of their own have fallen on hard times. “Yet the recently admitted figures show just how cruelly vulnerable people have been treated by this callous Tory Government; where those eventually proved entitled to help are simply being denied it. “The number of incorrect decisions is staggering; when nearly two out of every three decisions that are appealed are shown to be wrong, it’s clear the system is broken. “This failing Tory Government must immediately address these errors, and explain why they are denying basic support to so many vulnerable people here in Barnsley and across the UK.”