On Wednesday 18th I voted on Labour’s motion to pause and fix the disastrous Universal Credit roll-out. The implementation of the Government’s new benefits programme – including the harmful requirement that forces claimants to wait 6 weeks for their first full payment – has already forced too many people to extortionate pay-day loans companies, foodbanks, and out of their homes. I voted to ensure this damaging Government policy is immediately halted and rethought. With support from both sides of the House of Commons including the Government, the Labour motion was passed 299-0. The Government should now act to stop this policy from causing further damage to people across the country and here in Barnsley.
Tomorrow is Show Racism the Red Card’s ‘Wear Red Day’; a national day of action which encourages everybody to wear red and stand against racism. I’ll be wearing red, and supporting the organisation’s fantastic work tackling this issue. I also spoke recently at a Stand Up to Racism event in Barnsley, discussing the need to stand together against all forms of racism and discrimination.
I attended a meeting with the trustees of the Miner’s Pension Scheme (MPS) in Parliament. The MPS is an arrangement made by the Tory Government and the trustees of the British Coal pension schemes in 1994, in which half of the surplus made by the MPS goes to the Government. Since 1994, the Government has made £3.36bn from the scheme, despite not making any contributions. Along with a number of other Labour MPs, we agreed to work with the trustees to get a better deal and a bigger share of the surplus for former miners, including many in Barnsley.
After years of real-terms pay cuts, our hard-working public sector workers have had an average of £9000 pinched from their pay packets since 2010.I’m supporting the GMB’s ‘End the Pay Pinch’ campaign, to say enough is enough: it’s time to end the pay cap and give our vital public sector workers the pay they deserve.
On Saturday 16th I met with the Chief Superintendent at Barnsley police station to discuss a number of issues relating to policing in our community. It was an opportunity to show my appreciation for the fantastic work our officers continue to do in helping to keep us safe, and hear about their priorities moving forward. I questioned the Home Secretary today on the Government’s support for our local officers, where I outlined the level of cuts our force has faced, and their concerns that neighbourhood policing may suffer if further cuts are made. You can see my question to the Home Secretary in full here.
Many readers will have heard about the roll out of Universal Credit, the Government’s new benefits system. It merges six previous benefits and tax credits into one payment that should cover everything claimants – often people in work but on low pay – are entitled to. It sounds simple, and I’m not one to argue against making things plainer if it’s easier. But what is plain and simple is that UC has been nothing short of a disaster so far. Already five years behind schedule – and not due to be completed until 2022 – wildly expensive and plagued by IT failures, its rollout has been anything but smooth. And now, after its implementation in Barnsley in July, we’re starting to see the human impact. People who are applying for vital help, which they’re entitled to, can be left waiting up to six weeks without payment. I know for sure that many people here in Barnsley would struggle to go a month and a half without being paid. It will affect their ability to pay bills, afford the rent, or even buy food. I’ve spoken before about visiting foodbanks in Barnsley, and how appalled I am that they are necessary in this day and age. But there’s a very real chance UC will drive even more people to them, as it already is across the country. Warnings have also been sounded about the increased risk of homelessness and debt, as folk struggle with rent or are forced to take out extortionate pay-day loans to cope. Just this week, I challenged ministers in the House on their handling of the system but nothing they said gave any reassurance to those local people who are suffering. That’s why I’m adding my name to a long list of others in calling for the roll-out to be halted immediately. It’s not good enough, and the Government needs to get the message.
I visited Kendray Hospital at the weekend for a drop-in session organised by the Older People's Forum. It was a great event that brought people together to enjoy lots of organised activities, including a brass band and comedy session. The Older People's Forum does a fantastic job putting on a range of activities which help reduce social isolation.
I attended the switch on of the Diwali Lights in Barnsley town centre on Friday. Diwali is celebrated as the Indian new year and celebrated across the world. The main festival night of Diwali takes place on the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika – usually between October and November. The event was hosted by both the Gujarat association of Barnsley and The Indian Welfare Association of Barnsley. Barnsley is the only town in South Yorkshire to switch on Diwali lights – an achievement the associations are rightly proud of. I was given the ceremonial task of breaking a coconut at the event which may have taken me longer than I anticipated. I’ll make sure I spend the next year practicing!
I was in the Commons Chamber for questions to the Secretary of State for Health. I recently visited Barnsley Hospital, and the staff raised concerns with me about the increasing demand for A&E services. Despite the incredible hard work of the NHS staff, last winter waiting times for those seen within 4 hours fell to around 83% - well below the Government’s 95% target. I wanted to press the Government to ensure our local hospital is equipped with the resources and support they need tackle increasing demand, avoid a winter crisis, and keep people in Barnsley East healthy.
It was great to visit Barclay’s and speak to the team there about what they are doing to help locally. I spoke to them about their work with our community, and how they can help with issues such as money management and skills. We also discussed the innovative ways they use technology, and their apprenticeship programme which could help a young person in our community.