My Column on Remembrance Day

The following appeared in my column for the Barnsley Chronicle on November 10th:  Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the unveiling of a memorial in Barnsley to the soldiers who died at the Battle of the Somme, a hundred years ago. The commemorative art was adorned with many of the faces of those from Barnsley who were lost in the infamous WW1 battle. The ‘Barnsley Pals’, as they were known, were two companies of soldiers who answered Lord Kitchener’s famous call to arms, and enlisted together to fight for their country and community in the Great War. But the losses they eventually experienced were horrific, including around 300 men killed on July 1st 1916 alone – the very first day of the Battle of the Somme. The impact this had on their families and the community back home in Barnsley was devastating, but unfortunately not dissimilar to that witnessed in cities, towns and villages across the country. Seeing the faces of many of those Barnsley Pals who had died at the Somme was an incredibly pertinent and sobering reminder of the sacrifices they made to maintain the freedoms we enjoy today. So, as Remembrance Day approaches it’s still so important we remember all of them; from those who fought and died on those poppy-covered fields in Flanders, to the other conflicts through the ensuing decades. It often feels like we live in a fast-paced and ever-changing world, and one that seems to be increasing characterised with deep political division. But Remembrance Sunday reminds us there are sometimes more important things. Regardless of political persuasion, we can all take a moment to remember and commemorate those who have given their lives for our country. It is our shared history, and one which has affected our community and so many people in it. So on Sunday, when the country falls silent and still and the Last Post sounds, that’s what I’ll be thinking of; those faces of the Barnsley Pals, and many others like them who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. We will remember them.  

My Thoughts on the Gender Pay Gap

Today is ‘equal pay day’, the day women stop earning relative to men because of the gender pay gap. Thanks to the pay gap, women across the country earn on average 14.1 percent less than men; that’s 84p to every £1. This gap means that from today, the average woman is working for free until the end of 2017. This isn’t just caused by direct differences in pay for the same roles, as this was thankfully outlawed by the Equal Pay Act 47 years ago. Instead, there are a number of contributing factors. A divided labour market, for instance, means women make up 80 percent of care and leisure workers but only 8 percent of those working in better paid skilled trades. Women also make up 61 percent of people in the UK earning less than the real living wage – an issue I highlighted just this week in calling for Barnsley’s business to pay their employees a proper income that covers the basic cost of living. Women further play a significantly greater role in caring positions and responsibilities for children and sick or elderly relatives – roles which often remain unpaid or low waged. On the other hand, men dominate senior positions and best paid roles; all but 6 of the Chief Executive positions in the FTSE100 companies are all held by men, for example. It affects people here in my constituency of Barnsley East. According to the Fawcett Society women in our community earn on average 6.9 percent less than men. This isn’t good enough. Across the UK, this gap had been closing. But for three years now it’s stayed the same. In fact, if the average pay gap for full time workers continues to close at the rate it has over the last five years, women’s pay won’t reach parity with men’s until 2117. That’s another 100 years before men and women earn the same. This isn’t a case of calling for men to be paid less, but instead ensuring women here have the same opportunities to get skilled jobs, promotions, and good wages.    We can start by introducing mandatory equal pay auditing for large employers, and give the Equality and Human Rights Commission the funding it needs to really implement change. It might not happen immediately, but it’s 2017 and women deserve the same pay as men. We can’t wait until 2117. 

Supporting Living Wage Week

I’ve pledged my support for the Living Wage Campaign. Living Wage Week, taking place this week, shows backing for a real living wage that, contrary to the Government’s current national living wage, is actually based on what employees need to live on by taking into account the cost of living. In Barnsley alone, 26.4 per cent of workers currently earn less than this real living wage, meaning 19,000 people are earning less than they need to get by. In the wider Yorkshire and Humber region, around 546,000 employees are receiving less than the real living wage. Every employee deserves to paid a good wage for a hard day’s work, but many people here in Barnsley are missing out. People are working full-time jobs and their fingers to the bone, only to receive an income that doesn’t even cover the basic cost of living. A real living wage is essential to make sure people across Barnsley are properly rewarded for their hard work, and I support the Living Wage Week campaign. I’m calling on employers in our community to offer their employees a real wage that properly reflects how much people truly need to get by.

My Article on Care Worker Pay for LabourList

The following appeared in an article I wrote for LabourList on November 10th: Carers working sleep-in shifts must be paid the minimum wage after another victory in the courts for Unison. The union successfully used employment tribunals to change government guidance on the application of minimum wage legislation. As we should have expected, the Tory government’s response has been disgraceful. Instead of ensuring that care staff receive the back-pay they are owed, government has cynically passed the buck to providers and kicked the can down the road for at least another 15 months. This reveals the true nature of the Tories – claiming to be the party of hard working people but leaving low-paid care workers in prolonged uncertainty. My father is a care worker. I’ve always been amazed at the amount of energy he puts into what is a difficult job, the warmth he brings to it and the incredible effect he has on people every day. He deserves to be paid a fair wage for his work. Sleep-in shifts – so-called because people who can’t be left alone through the night hire carers to stay in case they are needed – can be some of the toughest, often caring for individuals with complex needs. Highly vulnerable people are often provided for through local authorities, who contract providers that offer specialist care services. Austerity has squeezed local authority budgets – meaning in many places payment for carers has remained static since 2010 despite higher pension contributions, higher regulatory fees and the minimum wage changes resulting from the Unison victory. The Tory government simply isn’t passing adequate resources onto local authorities. The government’s own guidance previously mistakenly instructed providers that paying overnight carers less than the minimum wage was okay. Now, this lack of funding is essentially the Tories not respecting the decision in favour of low-paid carers. Even the chancellor’s own local authority has been found not to be paying the higher rate to meet the minimum wage for sleep-ins to at least one of their contracted providers. Now, we are left with a situation involving care providers, many of them charities, who say that despite wanting to pay staff more they simply cannot afford to foot the bill for six years of unexpected back-pay, carers who deserve their fair compensation, vulnerable people and a dithering government. This is the same Tory government which has for the last two years failed to admit their mistakes, failed to correct the system they created, failed to properly fund the social care sector and failed to ensure this back-pay to hard-working carers. The care sector has estimated costs of £400m to pay back staff. Instead of raiding charity coffers to pay for essential services, the government needs to take responsibility for this plight they have created and fund the £400m. When will we have justice for some of the hardest-working among us?

Police Funding Cuts Hit our Officers too

On November 7th I spoke in a debate on funding for community policing.I brought up the issue of increased workload on our officers due to strained resources, and the affect this has on our local force.It’s important to remember that cuts to police funding don’t just affect our communities, but place additional strain on the officers themselves.    

Standing Up for Our Pubs and Breweries

On October 31st, I spoke up on behalf of local pubs and breweries in Parliament. In Barnsley East alone, they contribute over £12m to the local economy, and account for over 500 jobs. But they have faced greater financial strain, not least due to the Government’s decision to raise beer duty in their Spring Budget, increasing the price people pay for a pint. I raised the issue of compulsory purchase orders, the existing planning systems, and the need to ensure that local communities have a stronger voice. It’s essential the Government listens to the concerns of pubs and breweries on this issue, and makes sure they can continue to be vital social and economic hubs of our communities.     

Supported Housing Cap is a Risk to the Vulnerable

The following is my column in the Barnsley Chronicle, which appeared on the 27th October:   A good, secure house is something we should all be able to aspire to attain, but sometimes housing is more than just a home. For many people here in Barnsley, services provided by their supported housing is an essential part of day to day life. From accessing social care, helping with everyday tasks such as preparing meals and medication, or increasing access to treatments services for physical and mental health problems, supported housing provides vital assistance to some of the most vulnerable people in our community. Not surprisingly, these services mean that rent for supported housing is generally higher than average prices for other rented homes. But the Government announced plans to cap housing benefit that helps vulnerable people afford their supported housing at the Local Housing Allowance (LHA). LHA payment is calculated on average rents in the area, leading to a postcode-lottery where areas like ours receive less due to lower house prices. In fact, Barnsley’s LHA is one of the lowest in the country; a LHA payment for a two-bedroom house in Barnsley is around £87 per week, compared to £107 a few miles away in Sheffield. But with supported housing costing around £113 in Barnsley for a two-bedroom home, vulnerable people in our community are facing a devastating gap between their rent and the money they have available to pay it. And that’s why this policy is potentially damaging; there’s a very real chance it could force many people who are often suffering with physical or mental health problems out of their homes. But it’s not just those already in supported housing who face uncertainty. Those who are doing their best to get on the housing ladder and purchase a home are struggling too, and it’s no wonder why. Housebuilding since 2010 is at its lowest level since the 1920s, and there are almost 200,000 fewer homeowners. So whilst the Government hinted on Wednesday that they may eventually U-turn on their plans to cap housing benefit, they’ve yet to provide any concrete details as to how they intend to address the housing insecurities facing so many people. It’s about time the Government rethinks these policies and begins to provide sustainable housing security that people here in Barnsley desperately need. 

The World's Biggest Coffee Morning

I recently supported Macmillan Cancer Support by attending a ‘World’s Biggest Coffee Morning’ event in Parliament. The occasion marked the launch of a new report, ‘Am I Meant To Be Okay Now?: Stories of Life After Treatment’, that focuses on the challenges people face after cancer treatment ends. Following the success of Macmillan’s biggest fundraising event of the year last month which saw thousands of people come together across the country, the charity hosted a parliamentary Coffee Morning at which I had the opportunity to meet with and hear from people living cancer who were featured in the report.  

Opening a Community Pharmacy

I cut the ribbon at the new premises of Lo’s Pharmacy in Worsbrough today. The pharmacy has moved from its old location to a new purpose-built facility closer to the doctor’s surgery. Community pharmacies are vital local assets, providing an expert health service to so many people who need it. Pharmacies also take pressure off GPs and hospitals, which is particularly important when stresses on our health services are at unprecedented levels. It was a pleasure to be invited to open Lo’s Pharmacy, and I was delighted to help out at a vital service that will benefit local people.  

Protecting the Protectors

On Friday 20th, I supported a new Private Members Bill to ‘Protect the Protectors’. The Bill proposes tougher sentences for those who assault emergency services, and will deter the minority of people who think it’s okay to attack our nurses, police officers and fire fighters and others as they do their duty. Our emergency services do an incredible job looking after us all, but it’s time we did our bit to look after them. I’ll be continuing to support the Bill and doing my best to ensure it becomes law, so that we can properly Protect the Protectors. You can read more about Stephanie's backing for emergency service personnel in the Barnsley Chronicle here.