The following appeared in my column for the Barnsley Chronicle on March 16th: I know that readers of my column will agree with me that nobody should be forced to continue struggling when they’ve fallen on hard-times through no fault of their own. The same applies to children, and those who grow up in poverty across the UK and closer to home here in Barnsley. Because some of the most desperate children in our community rely on help, such as a free hot meal at school where they may otherwise not be able to afford one. A substantial, warm meal at lunchtime is essential to so many children to be able to succeed at school, and give them the best chance of getting on in life for those who are most in need. That’s why it’s concerning that I recently made the Government reveal that since 2011, the percentage of Barnsley students eligible for free school meals achieving the expected grades at key stage 2 in English and Maths has substantially decreased. But it’s even more worrying to see the Government’s new plans on free school meals for children with parents on Universal Credit (UC) passed in Parliament this week. Where, as it currently stands, a child with a parent on UC can receive an absolutely vital free school meal, the Government will now enforce an earning threshold to reduce eligibility. Now, children of anybody earning over £7,400 – not including their UC payment – will be excluded from receiving a meal. This decision to restrict eligibility could mean over 100,000 children in Yorkshire and the Humber who need it most will now go without their meal at school. This includes around 3,300 children in Barnsley, including some of the most desperate in our community. A child’s right to a good meal and the best start in life shouldn’t be in question. Nor should a dad have to go without a winter coat, or a mum her dinner, so they can afford good, warm meals for their child. And it was extremely disappointing to see this risked by the Government in Parliament this week.
It was a pleasure to welcome former Labour Cabinet Minister John Denham to Barnsley last week. Since leaving Parliament John has developed the English Labour Network, which seeks to promote a progressive English patriotism and the importance of the Labour Party winning in England. It was great to hear from John on this issue, and more specifically about the influence and importance of towns like ours to future elections, where we may hold the key to the next Labour Government. We had a good discussion with lots of ideas put forward. You can read more about the English Labour Network here.
It was great to meet my constituent Daniel in Parliament this week. Daniel was presenting his research into the development of advanced high strength steel for automotive suspension systems. His presentation was part of the STEM for Britain event which brings together researchers and politicians, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to hear about Daniels’s work – fascinating stuff!
It was great to attend the Central Area Council Celebration and Awards Evening tonight. This is an evening to recognise and celebrate the achievements of people in Central, Dodworth, Kingstone, Stairfoot and Worsborough wards. It was a pleasure to speak at the event and present awards to exceptional young people from our area.
I recently met with Councillor Chris Lamb and Dan Jarvis to discuss the work Chris is doing to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking. Modern slavery and human trafficking are a blight on our society – it is estimated that there are currently between 13,000 and 16,000 people in slavery in the UK. It’s a disgrace that such practices persist in 2018. I was pleased to speak to Chris about the work he’s doing to tackle these issues, and I look forward to supporting his work on this in future.
On Wednesday 7th I spoke in Parliament in a debate on local museums and arts/heritage centres. I paid tribute to the Maurice Dobson Centre and the fantastic volunteers who make our local museums what they are. But it’s concerning that cuts to local authority budgets are being passed on to public museums, with 39% of these across the country seeing their funding decrease in the last year. This is bound to have an impact on the experience and services they can provide, and 85% of museums funded by local authorities have reduced their opening hours since last year. It’s so important museums like the Elsecar Heritage Centre and Maurice Dobson have the adequate resources that allow them to continue serving as vital community assets that provide unique experiences to local people.
Civil servants do crucial front-line and back-office work that helps keep our country moving. Yes despite an apparent end to the public sector pay freeze, no progress has been made for civil service workers who are still waiting for a vital pay rise. I’m supporting a pay rise for the fantastic workers in our civil service, which is well deserved and long overdue.
The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 2nd March: It’s so important we do our best to help others in our community for whom day to day life isn’t quite so easy. And one cause of such a challenge in many people’s lives is dementia. From memory loss to orientation problems, mood or behaviour swings, and difficulty concentrating, thinking or speaking, the symptoms are many and each person is uniquely affected. But what is the same for all is that it can have a profound impact on their ability to go about their normal day without assistance. Sadly, it affects so many people both across the country and here in Barnsley. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, around 850,000 people are currently living with dementia in the UK, with this figure expected to rise past 1 million by 2025. Here in Barnsley too, many in our community are affected. Figures by Alzheimer’s Research UK suggest that in Barnsley alone there are roughly 3295 people living with dementia – that’s more than 1 in every 100 people here in our community. So that’s why it’s vital we do what we can to help those living with dementia, and support local organisations like Barnsley Independent Alzheimer's And Dementia Support (BIADS) and Butterflies. BIADS and Butterflies are two fantastic Barnsley organisations who I met last year that provide critical local support for those living with dementia, their friends, families and carers too. And last week I met with the Alzheimer’s Society to discuss how we can make our community more dementia friendly. I took part in an information session to become a ‘Dementia Friend’ and help understand how to create a climate of kindness and understanding. I’ll be taking steps to ensure my office is more dementia friendly and accessible to those living with dementia. And I’ll also be writing to local businesses to make them aware of the ways they can be accessible and open to people with dementia too. It’s crucial we do our best to raise awareness of dementia, and ensure everybody living with it can remain involved and a part of our community.
It was a pleasure to stop by and support the Coalfield Regeneration Trust in Parliament this week. The Trust continues to do a fantastic job improving the quality of life for people in former mining communities like our own. Whether it’s helping people gain new skills, find work, gain qualifications, set up a business or simply the provision of help and support, the Trust does so much in areas which often need it most. I wholeheartedly support the Coalfields Regeneration Trust in their work, and you can read more about it here.
This week I spoke in Parliament on the privatisation of probation services. The privatisation of these services to community rehabilitation companies with payment based on output forced many to struggle when demand was low. This pressed their employees into precarious work with low morale, whilst the standard of probation and rehabilitation services provided dropped. Once again this shows the risk of privatisation; where profit was prioritised over people and public safety.