Column: Tories are soft on crime, soft on the causes of crime

Everybody deserves to live with security. Security in their work, security in their communities and security in their homes. But over the last 11 years of Conservative rule, police numbers have fallen, whilst crime and anti-social behaviour have rocketed.Communities like ours have felt that insecurity.I met with two groups of local residents across Barnsley East just this week whose lives have been deeply impacted by misconduct in their community.From anti-social behaviour and violence in our streets, to illegal off-road biking, the lives of too many innocent people in Barnsley are being blighted by crime.Local families deserve better than this.It is simply not good enough that we have fewer police officers in Barnsley today than we had a decade ago and that we have faced the worst local government cuts in the country; cuts which have decimated the prevention and early intervention services which stop many crimes from happening in the first place.The South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner has secured £550,000 for projects to help make women and girls feel safer in public, including installing additional lighting and CCTV in parks and woodland areas.This is of course welcome, but it can only go so far and it will never fill the hole that has been left by nearly £2bn of Conservative cuts to policing.You cannot sustain vital services and tackle the pandemic of insecurity from irregular one-off pots. We need proper sustainable funding and increased neighbourhood policing as a minimum - an issue I have raised in Parliament a number of times.But this has fallen on deaf ears with this Government. Labour would take a different approach.We will bring back neighbourhood policing and launch a major recruitment drive for special constables. We will introduce new laws to protect women and girls and create a new Child Exploitation Register. We will create neighbourhood prevention teams which bring together police, youth workers and local authority staff to tackle issues in our community at source.I will be continuing to meet with local groups, the police and our Police and Crime Commissioner, to try to bring people together and tackle issues as best we can, with the resources we have.But, we need a change in Government to truly begin the work of delivering security for our communities. Because, a time when life is getting harder and harder for many in our community, sadly, we have a Government that is soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime.

Column: We Deserve Better Mental Health Support

Last week marked National Suicide Prevention Day, providing us all with a crucial opportunity to reflect on our own mental health. For me, it was also an important chance to make sure we are taking steps to prevent as many suicides as possible, providing hope for a better future in Barnsley and across the UK. Research suggests that, prior to the pandemic, 6,000 people per year lost their life to suicide in the UK. For each of these people, there are also a further 20 or more who attempt to end their lives. However, across the country, the situation is unequal. In Barnsley, the suicide rate is higher than average. In 2019, the national average suicide rate for people of all ages was 9.9 per 100,000, whereas Barnsley had a rate of 10.8. Further, the rate of emergency hospital admissions for intentional self-harm per 100,000 people was also significantly higher in Barnsley (333.33) than the England rate of 193.4 in 2018/19. With suicide numbers having increased since 2018, it is crucial that mental health is taken seriously, and support is sought at an early stage, to ensure that this looming crisis does not spiral out of control. Indeed, after a year where more people than ever have experienced mental health concerns, whether that be due to job insecurity, physical health worries, or a general sense of anxiety, it is vital that we are all aware that there are sources of early support available throughout Barnsley. No matter how seemingly small the problem, it is always worth reaching out. We can’t address the problem of suicide without first looking after the mental health of each and every individual as they experience day to day life. It is only through early intervention and support that we can ensure no one reaches the point where they are contemplating their own life Having recently met with local mental health community group Project 14, I have seen first-hand that even the smallest of interventions and community initiatives (such as their ‘walk and talk’ events) can have a hugely positive impact on people’s lives. However, for those who need more comprehensive support, mental health care through our NHS must also be readily available. As the NHS begins to recover from the pandemic, the increasing number of people left waiting for mental health support must be treated with the same priority and urgency as those on waiting lists for their physical health. I will continue to press the government on achieving this equality between mental and physical health, and will also be meeting with further local mental health groups and charities, such as TADS, to ensure that the important cause of mental health is not overshadowed. Recovery from mental health issues and a better future is entirely possible, but only with the comprehensive care, and early support that every person - in Barnsley and beyond - deserves. Please do reach out for help locally whenever you might need it. Alongside all our local charities are the Samaritans who are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 116 123.  

Column: the Gender Pain Gap

Would it shock you to know that women experience heart attacks completely differently to men, and as a result some women are prescribed heart medication that is meant to prevent heart attacks but actually triggers them? This is all a result of something known as the Gender Pain Gap. Too often pain women experience is written off as normal or something they should deal with. Not only is women’s pain underestimated, on the basis of this underestimation pain is often under treated.  Everyone, no matter who they are, or what they can afford, has an equal right to good quality, free healthcare. But across the country our health outcomes remain unequal.  Our class, geography and gender still have an impact on the quality of the care we are likely to receive and our likely health outcomes. A study by Manual, a wellbeing platform for men, has found that in many countries, men are more likely to face greater health risks than women.  However, the UK does not follow this trend. They found that the UK has the largest female health gap in the G20 - the world’s 20 largest economies - and the 12th largest globally. Studies have found women are less likely to be included in medical studies and are less likely to be admitted to hospital and receive stress tests when they complain of chest pain. Women are more likely to be misdiagnosed, and are significantly more likely than men to be undertreated for pain by doctors. Even after identical procedures, studies have found that women get prescribed less pain medication than men. There is mounting evidence that the impact of female-specific health conditions such as heavy menstrual bleeding, endometriosis, pregnancy-related issues and the menopause is being overlooked. On average it takes 7 to 8 years for women to receive a diagnosis of endometriosis, with 40% of women needing 10 or more GP appointments before being referred to a specialist. The same number of people suffer from Type 1 diabetes as endometriosis and yet funding for research into diabetes is 35 times greater than that for endometriosis. The Government have acknowledged that there is ‘strong evidence about the need for greater focus on women’s health’ and announced their intention to further consult on ‘a new women’s health strategy’. But I fear that all of the concern will come to little, if our NHS is not given the support it needs to deliver. The Government’s rejection of an adequate NHS Recovery Plan is undermining already stretched services and waiting times. We need to look forward to a brighter future, with shorter waiting times and better outcomes. That won’t be achieved through words alone, we need action to tackle the Gender Pain Gap.

Column: They cannot ignore inequality. Barnsley’s children deserve better.

Column: They cannot ignore inequality. Barnsley’s children deserve better.   Firstly, I want to congratulate everyone who has collected their GCSE, BTEC and A-Level results in the last few days.   Whatever your results are and whatever comes next, you should be incredibly proud of your hard work and achievements.   I also want to thank all of the teaching and support staff who have been there for pupils through an incredibly difficult time.   As a former teacher, I know first hand how hard it can sometimes be teaching in the classroom, never mind teaching to children at home with all of the challenges that the pandemic brought and the digital divide so many pupils faced.   Sadly, this years national results have yet again seen a widening of inequality, with areas like ours being held back, in favour of the wealthiest parts of the country.   While the proportion of top GCSE grades given to wealthy areas like London was well above the national average, the average for Yorkshire fell well below.   The gap in attainment between students on free school meals and their peers has increased by almost a third since 2019.    The gap between state schools and private schools has increased to the highest level in a generation.   The future of young people, their education and their communities should not be determined by whether they can afford a private education.   But under this Government, unfairness has been baked into the system.    Far from levelling-up, this government is kicking away the ladder before our young people even have a chance to climb it.   This has not happened by chance.   Between 2010 and 2019, the Conservative's cut total school spending per pupil by 8% in real terms.   In Barnsley, child poverty levels have increased with nearly 1 in 4 children now relying on free school meals.   And over 5500 children in Barnsley now sit in class sizes over 30, an increase of 58% since 2010.   The Government’s painfully slow distribution of laptops and internet data, and their repeated failure to feed kids on free school meals, has further hampered learning throughout the pandemic.   And yet, they rejected the education recovery plan that their own appointed expert recommended to them.   The Prime Minister must show some leadership, step-in and ensure his inept government does not cost young people their future opportunities, anymore.    They cannot continue to ignore this inequality. Barnsley’s children deserve better.

Blog: the events in Afghanistan are tragic. We must step up.

Today I was in Parliament for the debate on the tragic events that are unfolding in Afghanistan.   For 20 years, we, our international partners and Afghans have fought to progress peace, security and gender equality in Afghanistan.   Women and girls in particular saw their lives transformed by the fall of the Taliban regime.    This did not come freely. It came at a price that cannot measured simply in currency, but at an invaluable cost of lives lost.   457 British forces personnel, and many thousands more Afghans and personnel from countries around the world.   The catastrophe that we now see unfolding in Afghanistan is devastating.    The progress that has been fought for at such great cost is now being lost.   It is a tragedy for the people of Afghanistan, not least women and girls.   As political leaders and an international community we have failed them.    We cannot fail them again.    We must now step up.   Civilians are fleeing the Taliban, desperate to protect themselves and their families.    They need safe and legal routes to safety.   But Boris Johnson has announced a Resettlement Programme that doesn't meet the scale of the crisis or the obligation that we owe to the Afghan people.   We cannot betray the people of Afghanistan. We cannot ignore the British nationals still in Kabul. And we cannot forget all of those who fought to rid Afghanistan of terror.   We must safely evacuate our diplomatic staff.   We must establish a Resettlement Programme that meets the scale of the refugee crisis.   We must lead, now.

Stephanie calls on Home Secretary to proscribe murderous Nazi-occultist group

Full text of Stephanie's letter to the Home Secretary   Dear Home Secretary   I am writing to request a meeting to discuss the urgency of proscribing the Nazi-occultist group the Order of Nine Angles (O9A).   Along with HOPE not hate, the anti-fascist organisation whose parliamentary group I chair, I’ve been pressing the prescription review group to urgently assess the O9A threat and to bring forward the required parliamentary motion to proscribe O9A.    I have raised this matter both in the House and publicly a number of times. The O9A pose a significant threat to the lives and security of families in Britain.   This morning, the BBC reported that the man who murdered Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in Wembley had been influenced by a man closely associated with O9A. These brutal and savage murders were inspired by the killers interest in satanism - an ideology which is promoted by, O9A - as well as Neo-Nazism.    This is not the first horrendous crime involving the O9A. This is a group that is promoting and praising terrorist attacks, especially attacks which involve sexual violence. Recently, a serving US soldier was indicted for conspiring with O9A supporters to launch a terror attack on his own unit.    Proscription will send a clear message that we are united against their hate and violence, and it would provide the police and security services with additional powers to stop this vile group from organising - and potentially save further lives from being lost.   I do urge you to ensure that they are proscribed urgently and I look forward to your reply and the opportunity to discuss this matter with you soon.    Yours sincerely Stephanie Peacock MP Continue reading

Column: Wait and worry, increased backlogs for Barnsley hospitals

WAIT AND WORRY; INCREASED BACKLOGS FOR BARNSLEY HOSPITALS The last 18 months have been incredibly challenging. Our NHS heroes have been truly exceptional in supporting local residents and saving lives. Across Barnsley, our incredible staff and volunteers adapted quickly to the challenges of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions. Although local cancer services have continued to operate throughout the pandemic, waiting lists have lengthened. The pandemic has put enormous pressure on our hospitals and the Government have left services to struggle without offering help and support. In Barnsley, just 48.5% of patients are starting cancer treatment within 2 months of an urgent GP referral which is well below the national target. And this isn’t just happening here, we are seeing similar trends right across the country. And on top of this, the backlog of screening services is not expected to recover until March 2022 after routine screening services were paused for six months at the beginning of the pandemic. Instead of offering vital assistance, the Government are prioritising yet another top-down NHS re-organisation, whilst our hospital here in Barnsley is still dealing with this crisis. Labour has urged the Government to focus on bringing down waiting lists instead of pursuing their reform of the NHS. Although hospitals continue to reduce waiting times by providing additional appointment slots on evenings and weekends, funding issues are putting services in our area under tremendous strain. Early diagnosis and treatment for serious illnesses such as cancer is essential to create better outcomes for patients. To achieve this our hospitals need more resources and better funding. Labour have called on the government to create an NHS recovery plan. We have demanded a quarterly plan from ministers on action being taken to bring down waiting lists; a rescue plan to ensure the NHS has the staff and modern equipment to deliver the cancer care, surgery and mental health care patients deserve; and a fair pay rise for NHS staff. Hospitals should not have had to choose between Covid care and cancer care and it is now crucial that ministers provide  hospitals, our NHS staff and patients with a fully resourced rescue plan to bring waiting lists down. Investment in our NHS is vital, we have seen first-hand the devasting impact funding cuts have had on our communities and we cannot allow this Government to continue to put our health at risk.  

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.