As reported in the Yorkshire Post and Barnsley Chronicle on 22nd February, held a debate in the House of Commons last week to discuss the Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme. In securing the debate, she took the opportunity to press a Government Minister to amend the controversial surplus sharing arrangement which has seen the Government pocket over £4.4bn from the scheme since 1994 – all without paying a single penny in. The Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme was established upon the privatisation of British Coal in 1994, and still contains around 160,000 members across the country. An agreement was struck at the time between the Government and the trustees of the scheme that the Government would act as guarantor to the pensions to protect their value, in return for 50 per cent of any surplus made. Since 1994, lucrative returns made by the scheme has seen the surplus soar, and the Government has raked in over £4.4bn without paying into the scheme. This includes £617m this year alone, with another £427m planned over the next three years. This is in contrast to the average weekly pension for a retired miner of just £84, whilst others are forced to get by on as little as £59. A previous admission from the Government to the Barnsley MP in the form of a response to a written question showed the initial deal that entitled the Government to such a large proportion of money was based on no expert actuarial advice. In previously refusing to review the surplus sharing arrangement, the Government has identified their role of guarantor in protecting pension values as providing an entitlement to funds. In the debate, however, Stephanie suggested that with a reducing and aging membership the guarantee no longer provided value for money for members, as the Government’s risk is in continual decline. Pressing the Government, Barnsley East’s MP asked Business Minister Claire Perry to protect the bonus element of the scheme, and amend the surplus sharing arrangement that will see a greater share of any surplus given to retired miners and their families. The Minister also offered to meet the Barnsley MP following her request, alongside MPs of other coalfield communities, scheme trustees, and the NUM. Commenting, Stephanie said: “Miners in communities like Barnsley toiled for years in dangerous, gruelling conditions to help keep our lights on and our country running. “Yet in retirement many are forced to get by on a pittance, whilst this Government is happy to take billions from their pensions pots without paying a single penny in. “Not only does the surplus sharing arrangement no longer provide value for money for its members, it’s staggeringly unfair. “Retired miners and their families should be given a greater proportion of any surplus, and the scheme should be immediately reviewed and amended to ensure they get what they have only ever wanted: their fair share.”
As reported in the Barnsley Chronicle on 15th February, Stephanie visited Birkwood Primary to launch a politics themed series of activities.
As featured in the Barnsley Chronicle on 15th February, Stephanie wrote her recent column on her recent speech in Parliament on local charities and community groups. She discussed the vital role they have in helping local people, but the impact nearly a decade of the Government's austerity has had on their ability to continue doing so. You can read her full comments here.
As reported in the Barnsley Chronicle on 15th February, Stephanie gave her support to those affected by cancer and the NHS staff who care for them at a recent special Westminster event for World Cancer Day. The local MP met with campaigners from Cancer Research UK to learn about the charity’s latest research and show her support for all those working to ensure more people survive cancer. Every year, around 1,400 people in Barnsley are diagnosed with cancer and in the UK 1 in 2 people will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lifetime. World Cancer Day was an opportunity for people, organisations and countries to work together, raise awareness and take action to beat cancer. Commenting, Stephanie said: “World Cancer Day helps to raise awareness of the scale of the challenge and the role we can all play in the fight against the disease. “Cancer affects us all – here in the UK and all around the world. We can all work together to beat it, not just the hard-working researchers and NHS staff who help to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. “Small actions really can make a big difference to the lives of people with cancer. That’s why I’m urging people in Barnsley to show their support all year round.”
As reported in the Barnsley Chronicle on 15th February, Stephanie recently met with Dr Alan Billings, the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire. In the meeting, Stephanie raised the issue of the recent spate of crime in Hoyland, Hoyland Common and Elsecar, and spoke to the PCC about the work South Yorkshire Police are doing on this issue.They also discussed broader issues surrounding policing in Barnsley East, and ways Stephanie can work with the police on these issues.Commenting, Stephanie said:“It was good to meet with the Police and Crime Commissioner to discuss the recent spate of crime in Hoyland, Hoyland Common and Elsecar.“As the MP for Barnsley East, one of my priorities is to ensure all residents feel safe and secure in our community, and I want to reassure those affected by this that the police and I are doing all we can.“More broadly, it’s clear that the police are doing an incredibly difficult job – the reality is that Tory cuts since 2010 have left South Yorkshire Police with 480 fewer police officers, and a 36% reduction in its PCSOs.“The Tories are trying to protect our communities on the cheap, so I’m calling on the Government to end its chronic underfunding of our police to ensure that they’re equipped for the challenges our community faces.”
As reported in the Barnsley Chronicle and Barnsley News and Sport on 13th February, Stephanie recently visited Greenfield Primary School in Hoyland. During her visit, Stephanie met with the head teacher, Andrew Ralph, had a tour of the school and chatted to a Year class. She reflected: “It was great to visit Greenfield Primary School. It was a pleasure to meet such dedicated staff and bright, engaged students, and it was good to have a productive meeting with Mr Ralph about the work he’s doing at Greenfield, the challenges the school faces, and ways I can support him in addressing those challenges.”
As reported in the i on 11th February, Stephanie revealed the armed forces budget faces being slashed by billions due to a “huge” funding black hole as a result of Treasury-enforced increases to pension contributionsFrontline defence spending will be hit by nearly £3bn in the next five years following the Chancellor’s decision to dramatically raise state pension costs. It comes after the Government’s spending watchdog the National Audit Office warned the Ministry of Defence was overseeing a shortfall of around £7bn in its 10 year plan to adequately equip its personnel.Commons Library analysis of official figures estimates the pensions burden on the armed forces will rise to £880m in 2021-22 and hit £970m by 2023-24. The huge shortfall is a result of the government allocating several billion pounds a year too little to cover public sector pension contributions for employers such as the armed forces. Library experts concluded that “the largest changes to the forecast come from government decisions”. Labour said the costs will all but wipe out the £1.8bn in additional defence spending Philip Hammond announced in the Autumn Budget over two years. Stephanie , who secured the details of the pensions increases, said the Government must rethink its plans. “The Prime Minister tried to tell us that austerity was over, and the Chancellor tried to tell us that he was investing in defence. But once again, the reality just doesn’t match the rhetoric,” “Our armed services are facing a stealth cuts bombshell that eviscerates the so-called extra funding, and there is no sign that the government will step up, step in, and sort out its own mess.”
As reported in the Mirror on 12th February, Theresa May’s promise to ensure waiters and hospitality workers keep tips left by customers has been delayed again, Ministers admitted to Stephanie. The new law would ban high street restaurants from making deductions from money left for staff by diners. Chains including Prezzo, Zizzi and Pizza Express previously faced anger after it emerged they deducted between 8 and 10% of tips from employees. All three chains have since reversed the policy, but other businesses still deduct from staff tips. Mrs May promised to introduce the change “as soon as Parliamentary time allows” at Conservative Party Conference last September. And Ministers have been promising to make the change since 2016, when it was recommended following a consultation. The Prime Minister even used the change as evidence that her government protects But today, Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst said the legislation would be further delayed until the next “session” of Parliament - which begins in the Summer. In the House of Commons, Stephanie asked: “Where exactly is that Bill to finally enforce fair tips, first promised nearly three years ago?” Kelly Tolhurst: “The Honourable Lady is quite right, we announced in October of last year that we would bring forward legislation in the next Session [on] tipping and we are committed to doing that, it’s this government who’s brought it forward.” Commenting, Stephanie said: “After dragging their feet for nearly three years, it is far past the time that Ministers should have turned words in to action. “At this rate the Business Secretary will be the only member of the Cabinet with a worse track record on delays than Chris Grayling. “With the government often struggling to provide meaningful business in the Commons, there is really no excuse not to bring forward a Bill quickly and provide workers and customers with the protection they need. “It’s no time for half-measures, and this Bill needs to tackle the problems in full.”
As reported in the Barnsley Chronicle on 8th Feb, Stephanie and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust are raising awareness about how women can reduce their risk of cervical cancer. Over 3,200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in the UK, yet it is one of the only cancers that can be prevented and one day become a disease of the past. Cervical screening (smear tests) are the best protection against the disease, followed by the HPV vaccine offered in schools. Yet cervical screening uptake is at a 21-year low in England. It is at just 71.4%, meaning that more than one in four women are not booking a potentially life-saving test. This week Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has published new research which has found young women who delay or don’t go for cervical screening feel scared (71%), vulnerable (75%) and embarrassed (81%) at the thought of going. Commenting, Stephanie said: “Cervical screening prevents up to 75% of cervical cancers developing, so it is worrying to hear that so many women are not attending this test when invited, particularly due to embarrassment. “I’m delighted to have worked with Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust over Cervical Cancer Prevention Week to help raise awareness about the importance of cervical screening.”
As reported in the Barnsley Chronicle on Feb 8th, Stephanie has thrown her weight behind the campaign for a national ‘Town of Culture Award’ – because she’s sure Barnsley would win it. Speaking in a Parliamentary debate on the prospect of such an award, the local MP supported a new competition to recognise culture in towns across country. She made her intentions clear, however, in referencing cultural highlights like Elsecar Heritage Centre and Worsbrough Mill that she backs the award in no small part because she believes Barnsley would win it. Commenting, she said: “Barnsley has a rich cultural heritage, and we should be extremely proud of the local attractions we have to offer. “Too often towns like ours are overlooked for larger cities and tourist hotspots, but a specific award for culture in towns would be a great way to bring attention to what Barnsley has to offer. “I’ll continue to champion our cultural strengths on the national stage, and lend my support to this award which would properly recognise Barnsley’s cultural heritage – an award I’ve no doubt we’d win.”