Column: Our Nuclear Veterans are Heroes; Why Won’t Govt Recognise Them?

Despite all of the Government’s rhetoric on our armed forces, when it comes to supporting them in reality, there is often another story to be told. One of those is the case of our nuclear veterans, which I recently raised in Parliament. These veterans they were deliberately exposed to enormous explosions as part of their service. Some were even flown through mushroom clouds on sampling missions. Many were killed as a result of their operations.RAF navigator John Brothers died with seven tumours in his brain, throat and groin; Derek Redman died of unexplained pancreatic damage on Christmas Island; and Billy Morris contracted leukaemia after one blast despite being rated A1 fit just weeks before. These are to name but just a few. Many others have lived on, but their service has resulted in them suffering from cancers, blood disorders and rare diseases. It has also led to significantly higher levels of infant mortality and rare disorders and disabilities in their families for generations.Wendy Brothers nursed her husband for many years and endured six miscarriages. Shirley Denson saved her husband from suicide twice, but had to raise their four girls alone after he succeeded on the third attempt. This is not a trivial matter. The impact on veterans on their families has been profound. Yet, they continue to be denied military medals on the basis - Government states - of not facing the necessary ‘risk and rigour faced while on active service’. They have also been denied support and compensation from the Ministry of Defence - and the Prime Minister has repeatedly refused to meet with them. I recently met with the nuclear veterans to listen to them, to support them and to thank them for their service. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister and ministers would feel different if they looked these veterans in the eye and listened. Whilst the United States offered their nuclear veterans compensation many decades ago, our veteran’s widows have been left to battle grief and the Government - whilst the Ministry of Defence has spent millions of pounds of taxpayers money to fight and block their war pension claims. This is not right. I recently asked the Minister to look into their case, their call for recognition, support and compensation - and I asked him if he would meet with them. The Minister replied that they would not be receiving a medal, and did not respond to my request for him to meet with them. Frankly, that isn’t good enough. These people are heroes - they do not deserve to be ignored. I won’t be letting this injustice go. We have a duty to make sure nobody slips through the cracks. With our veterans we have binding moral commitment. Falling short cannot be an option.

Column: School Uniform Exchange 2021

As we approach the end of what has been an unusual school year in difficult economic circumstances, for many parents the looming cost of new uniforms will be a worry. In one Barnsley school, for example, uniforms required to be worn by students can cost over £120. And that is without taking into account extras for dance, drama or sports. School logo embroidery, or the limited number of outlets from which uniforms can be bought means shops can charge higher prices. And according to a study, four in ten parents said they spent between £101 and £200 on uniforms per child, with over a quarter spending between £201 and £300. When families in Barnsley are already struggling to get by, and we know shockingly 25% of kids are growing up in poverty in our borough,  it’s not right that compulsory costs for their child’s education could push them further into financial difficulty. The previous Labour government strengthened provisions under the Schools Admissions Code which ensured limits in the prices of uniforms and a broad range of providers to ensure costs stayed low. Unfortunately, much of this guidance was removed by the coalition government that followed. That’s why I was pleased to sponsor a recent bill in Parliament that changed this and that will bring the cost of uniforms down. It ensures there’s not just one supplier but several high street shops and supermarkets, and schools use coloured uniforms rather than require more expensive branding and logos. And on a practical level I am pleased to this week be launching my school uniform exchange for the third time. Before the pandemic we were able to hold physical uniform events and we will certainly explore this as restrictions ease. In the mean time to make sure everything is covid secure if you have any spare uniform please get in touch with my office or check my website and social media for details, for details of how to donate. We will ensure it can be distributed to anyone who needs it. And if you are someone who needs uniform, please do get in touch, we will do our best to find you what you need. I know as a former teacher, there are great benefits to uniforms, from instilling pride and a sense of community in a school, to supporting good behaviour and discipline. But they must remain affordable, and we should do all we can to ensure no parent is forced to spend too much money for their child’s education when times are already so hard.

Column: Armed Forces Day 2021

On Saturday we thank and commemorate the service of men and women in our military, by celebrating Armed Forces Day.   Though larger-scale events that we would have normally held will not be possible due to Covid-restrictions, I am pleased that a number of small-scale events will be able to go ahead this year, including the Council’s service at the Town Hall, where I will be giving a reading.   I am proud to have always been a strong supporter of our armed forces.    My grandad, Bobby, who would have been 100 this month, served with pride in the RAF during the Second World War. Nearly all of us will have loved ones whose service we look back upon with pride.   That is why it is such a privilege to be attending this year serving in my new role as Labour’s Shadow Minister for Veterans.   My driving mission in this role will be to hold the government to account where there are holes in support - and to develop a comprehensive offer from Labour, to ensure that no veteran is left behind.   As a nation we have a responsibility to all of our citizens; particularly those who put their lives at risk to keep us all safe.    One single veteran who does not get the support that they need is one too many.   I want us to build a Britain where nobody falls through the gaps and to make sure that every member of the armed forces can transition back into civilian life with secure, well paid work; safe affordable housing; exceptional healthcare and wellbeing support; and life long security for them and their families.   Over recent weeks I have been meeting with a variety of Armed Forces groups and charities, like the Royal British Legion, Combat Stress, SSAFA and many more.   But I want to reach out further. I want to hear from every veteran who wants to share their experiences with me, about their transition back to civilian life and what more we can do to support them.   That is why I was proud, this week, to launch Labour’s Veterans Survey, which will do just that.   Every response we receive will will help us to build our plan for better support and make sure that no veteran is left behind.   Recognising the service of our armed forces personnel cannot just be one day of the year. We must show that we recognise that service every day of the year by providing the support that they need.    We cannot - and should never - forget them.

Speech: We Must End Holiday Hunger

Speech: We Must End Holiday Hunger Westminster Hall Debate, 26 May 2021 Before coming to this place, I was a schoolteacher. I saw first-hand the impact of free school meals. Access to a healthy meal can make such a difference to a child’s learning and health. Over the last year, we have all seen headlines about holiday hunger and the fact that too many children go hungry in the school holidays, as families struggle to meet the rising cost of living throughout the pandemic. In my constituency, 25% of 0 to 15 year-olds live in poverty. Take a moment to consider that statistic: a quarter of children in Barnsley live in poverty. More than 3,000 children are currently eligible for free school meals. As has been mentioned, the Trussell Trust has reported that almost 1 million emergency food parcels were given to children in the last year alone—a 36% rise on the previous year. We should take this opportunity to praise Marcus Rashford for his work to highlight the issue, and for shaming the Government into a U-turn on their decision not to feed hungry kids during school holidays. It should not require a public shaming for that to happen, and it is telling that not a single Tory MP is here for the debate, other than the Minister who is required to be here. Last week, I visited the holiday hunger project run by Barnsley Council, to see the great work it is doing with the help of volunteers. Barnsley Council is committed to providing good quality food hampers that meet its school meal standards. The good food boxes are provided by the council’s in-house school catering service. Almost 10,000 children were eligible during the Easter holidays. Of that number, more than 2,000 families applied for a box, and 4,000 boxes were put together. That was a huge task for the council, but it could only reach 42% of children. Sadly, the number of eligible children is only set to rise. The Government are funding only half the holidays, leaving the rest of the burden on already cash- strapped councils such as mine in Barnsley. My council has stepped up to the challenge and delivered for our children, despite having its budget cut by 33% since 2010, and despite the financial burden of covid-19. Without urgent and direct action, the problem will only get worse.

Column: Buy British to Lead Local Recovery

Barnsley has a proud heritage of being an industrial town from our mining and glass blowing heritage to our long-established markets. We’ve been a key part of Britain’s growth over the past 150 years and we have the perfect opportunity to be a key part of its future.    Even today, the phrase ‘Made in Britain’ has often been associated with a level of quality unmatched around the globe and as we emerge from the Covid crisis, we have the perfect opportunity to continue and reimagine our heritage.    We must commit in the coming years to making sure that British businesses are given the potential to expand in the UK and around the world, and that public money is used to invest in British manufacturing to help revive our local economies in towns like Barnsley.    Covid-19 has forever changed our communities. Our highstreets have already lost some of the giants like Topshop and WH Smiths but we could also lose smaller independent businesses as no one will emerge from this crisis unaffected.    I’ve spoken previously about the challenge ahead of us. This recovery will be hard, but it’s nothing that we cannot handle. It’s so important that wherever we can we support our regional industry and businesses giving a much-needed boost to our local economies. Something the Tories have failed to do in over a decade of power.    Labour wants to change this. We’ve been urging the government to adopt a new approach that would ensure that the government leads by example and buys British when it can and where it can when it comes to rewarding large scale public contracts.     The Tories have failed to use British Steel for crucial infrastructure and failed to guarantee British firms an opportunity to work on key defence contracts. Whatever the project, this government has consistently let down British industry and opted to take the cheaper approach, often looking abroad.    Labour’s buy British approach is different, we want to prioritise British jobs and keep investment in our local communities. This is the best way to ensure communities like Barnsley are world leading manufacturing hubs where our local businesses thrive, and our highstreets prosper. This has already been clearly shown by the recent commitment of our council to our high streets through the Principal Town’s fund. A £5m pot of money that is solely for the improvement of our local highstreets.    Keeping the manufacturing process as local as possible also ensures that producers have control over every aspect of production. This local investment will also encourage people to buy British having the effect of helping our local economies prosper post pandemic.    It’s time for a new approach. So as our country looks to recover and rebuild from Covid let’s back our manufacturers and our local economies by buying British and help bring the real levelling up that our communities so desperately need.  

Post Office services in Darfield

I’m pleased that Post Office services will be restored in Darfield, after a long-running campaign with local residents, councillors and community campaigner Kevin Osborne. The new Post Office will be at the Snape Hill Convenience Store, with a provisional reopening date of 26th June.As a Darfield resident, I know this will make a huge difference for the village. I will remain in contact with the Post Office regarding these plans, and I will keep residents updated on any further developments.

Tory failures

Hospital waiting lists are rising. Crime is going up. People are worried about their jobs. Yet the Tory priority is covering up sleaze. This needs to change.Watch my comments on Politics North here.

Towns Fund and COVID recovery

The Government should admit that levelling up is no more than an empty slogan or change the Town’s Fund criteria and put the money where the need is greatest.Watch my comments in Parliament here.

Off road bikes in Darfield

Off-road bikes cause misery and nuisance across our borough.I met with our Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings in Darfield alongside Kevin Osborne & Cllr Pauline Markham- to raise the issues that off road bikes have been causing for residents and to talk about the steps that South Yorkshire Police are taking to tackle it.

Social care reform

It’s unacceptable that three out of four carers do not earn a living wage. I was on Politics North talking about why it’s important this changes.