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.”

Stephanie Presses Government on NHS Workforce Crisis

As reported in the Barnsley Chronicle on June 1st, Stephanie has pressed the Government on the workforce pressures facing the NHS. The local MP questioned the Government recently for staffing figures and workforce plans. The move comes after recent figures released by the Royal College of Physicians show an increasing strain on the NHS workforce, with staff shortages in a number of key areas a growing concern. According to these figures, 43 per cent of advertised consultant posts in the last year here in the Yorkshire and Humber region were not filled. In addition to these gaps, over one third of the consultants currently working in the NHS in the Yorkshire and Humber will reach the planned retirement age in the next decade. Nationally, recent figures have shown that more than 100,000 NHS posts lay vacant, with the number of vacancies for nurses above 40,000 and the number of unfilled doctor positions beyond 10,000 for the first time. Barnsley East’s MP Stephanie Peacock asked questions of the Government on these issues, demanding further workforce statistics and details of the Government’s plans to tackle an ageing staff. Commenting, she said: “Tory mismanagement of our beloved NHS has had a devastating impact on both patients and staff alike. “The figures show that here in our region, vast numbers of key positions in our NHS remain unfilled, whilst an ageing workforce will place even more pressure on an already strained health service. “The Government has consistently failed to ensure new recruits are brought through in vital areas, whilst chronic underfunding, the NHS pay cap and the end to the NHS bursary have helped contribute to a workforce crisis of their own making. “I’ve demanded details from the Government on their plans for our NHS workforce, and I’ll continue to hold them account and push for a sustainable long-term plan our NHS desperately needs.”

Stephanie Tackles Violent Crime

As reported in the Barnsley Chronicle on June 1st, Stephanie  has pointed the finger at cuts to policing as violent crime in South Yorkshire soars. Commenting in Parliament recently, the local MP accused the Government’s cuts to police resources as the main reason behind an increase in violent crime of 57 per cent over the last year in South Yorkshire. Over 2016, there were 24,566 violent crimes committed in South Yorkshire. Across 2017, the figure reached 38,506 – an increase of almost 14,000 violent crimes compared to the previous year. Throughout England and Wales in 2017, there were 1.35m violent crimes committed – a rise of 21 per cent compared to 2016. Since 2010, South Yorkshire Police have lost 480 officers and around a third of their PCSOs, meaning around 600 fewer police staff on the front-line. Speaking in Parliament, the Barnsley East MP drew a link between the decreasing numbers of police resulting from devastating cuts by the Government, and the spike in violent crime. Commenting, Stephanie said: “Our hard-working police services continue to do incredible work in our communities, but cuts to police resources by this Tory Government have placed them under unprecedented pressure. “The numbers of police officers here in South Yorkshire and across the country continues to fall, violent crime is rising, and it’s communities like ours that are put at risk. “There isn’t just one simple reason for the huge increase in violent crime, but there is one common theme: savage Tory cuts that have created the conditions that allow it to flourish.”  

Stephanie Opens High Street Opticians

As reported in the Barnsley Chronicle on 1st June, Stephanie recently opened up a high street opticians in Stairfoot. You can read her full comments below.