My Column on Employment and the Taylor Review

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 16th February: When we discuss employment and work, we frequently concentrate on the numbers. Most often, for instance, we like to know how many people are working, or how many aren’t. But when it comes to working, the quality of jobs is just as important as the quantity. Because it’s just as crucial that people in Barnsley are employed in jobs that are well paid, secure, aren’t exploitative, and allow them to plan for the future. It’s why an assessment – the Taylor Review – was recently undertaken to look at the changing nature of work and the problems new forms of employment like the gig economy or zero-hours contracts provide. Acknowledging these issues with modern work was a vital first-step, but the Taylor Review’s recommendations simply didn’t go far enough in tackling them. Which is why it was even more disappointing that in their response to the Taylor Review last week, the Government failed to meet even the most basic of its recommendations. There’s no sign of banning exploitative zero-hours contracts that leave many without guaranteed income, unable to plan financially past the next rota. There’s little hope for the adequate changes needed on bogus self-employment that requires obedience to unethical companies without any of the rights or protections in return. There’s no ending of the legislation that allows permanent and temporary staff to be paid a different wage for doing exactly the same job. And the pledges the Government did offer were toothless – what good is an employee’s ‘right to request’ changes to contracts when their employers can still say no, for example. Too many hard-working people in Barnsley are trapped in precarious and uncertain work, without vital rights and protections the rest of us enjoy, and unable to plan for their future. The Government had the chance last week to take a giant stride towards tackling the problems of modern working practices and improve the lives and working conditions of these people. Unfortunately, their response was too similar to many of the jobs they offer: lacking in quality.  

Visit to the 'Strata: Structures, Transformation and Solidarity' exhibition

On Friday I visited Experience Barnsley's 'Strata: Structures, Transformation and Solidarity' exhibition at Barnsley Town Hall.   The exhibition includes a film and a series of exhibits, and explores the former coal mining communities of our area, examining the social, economic and cultural significance of Barnsley’s mining heritage.   This important exhibition charts an integral part of Barnsley’s heritage, and I was pleased to see the work that Experience Barnsley is doing to preserve our area’s history.

Visiting the Wombwell Cemetery coffee morning

Yesterday I visited the Wombwell Cemetery coffee morning.   It was a pleasure to meet so many committed volunteers, to hear about the work they do, and to sign the Cemetery's visitors book.   I look forward to supporting the volunteers' work in future.

Visiting Barnsley College to discuss the Donate Take initiative

Today I visited Barnsley College to discuss the College’s Donate Take initiative, which aims to tackle period poverty.The Donate Take initiative provides baskets of sanitary products for any students or staff members who need them. The College has over 4000 female students and 500 female staff, so it’s great to see they have taken such a proactive approach to tackling this important issue.No one should have to miss out on their education or work because they can’t afford sanitary products. I was pleased to discuss ways I can support this fantastic initiative to tackle period poverty.

HeartUnions week

This week marks HeartUnions week.It’s a week of national activity that highlights the incredible work unions do every day to improve people’s lives.Our trade unions play a vital role in giving working people a voice in the workplace, and their achievements have helped shape employment today.From the introduction of the minimum wage, the 5-day and 40-hour working week, parental leave, increased annual leave, and tackling discrimination, trade unions have influenced so many of the beneficial changes to the way we work.But their work isn’t done yet, and for as long as working people face obstacles in their workplace, our unions have a vital role to play.For instance, this year’s HeartUnions week is emphasising two campaigns in particular: an above inflation pay rise for all public sector workers, and the pay and conditions for young workers at McDonalds.You can read more about the HeartUnions week and how to get involved with these important campaigns here:

Writing to the Government for Answers on Barnsley East's Broadband

This week I wrote to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport regarding broadband access and speed in Barnsley East, after research showed our constituency is being left behind. Independent analysis has shown that amongst other concerns, average broadband speeds in Barnsley are 20% below the national average, whilst rates of access to superfast and full fibre also lag behind. Access to fast and reliable broadband is absolutely essential to the way of life for so many people and businesses in our community. Sub-standard broadband risks stunting the growth of local businesses as they trail competitors elsewhere, and digital exclusion can be devastating for those who rely on the internet for necessities like arranging health appointments or applying for welfare payments. So I’ve written to the Government to demand answers on what steps they intend to take to prevent Barnsley East being held back by a lack of high quality broadband for any longer. The full report on broadband speeds can be found here.  

Centenary of Women's Suffrage

Tuesday 6th February marks the 100th Anniversary of the Representation of the People Act of 1918 that gave some women the right to vote for the first time. It’s such an important moment in our country’s history, and right that we celebrate the incredible courage the brave women who fought for women’s suffrage showed. The Labour Party has a proud record of advancing women’s rights and has launched a year-long campaign to celebrate these achievements and continue working towards full equality for women.  

World Cancer Day

Sunday 4th February marked World Cancer Day. I recently met with Cancer Research UK to discuss how we can work together to unite in the fight against cancer. Cancer affects more than 360,000 people a year across the UK, including around 1,400 in Barnsley. It’s vital we work towards beating cancer, and I donned my unity band to help raise awareness.  

NHS Car Parking Charges

On Thursday 1st February I was in the chamber for an important debate on hospital car parking charges. It’s wrong that our NHS staff, patients and those visiting their loved ones are forced to pay to park, particularly when this money is so often pocketed by private companies. Nobody chooses to be ill, and our NHS doctors, nurses and workers shouldn’t have to pay to do their vital jobs. It’s time to ditch these unfair hospital car park charges.

My Column on Community Pharmacies

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 2nd February. I recently met with the Barnsley Local Pharmaceutical Committee in Grimethorpe. The LPC represents all pharmacy contractors in Barnsley, and is well placed to discuss the work our local pharmacies do as well as the challenges they face. Perhaps unsurprisingly, funding offers a real threat to our local community pharmacies that provide a vital service and lifeline for so many people here in Barnsley. In 2016, a new two-year funding package was devised by the Government that would cut pharmacy budgets. Between 2016 and 2017, for example, £113m was cut from the budget, with a further £95m to come the next financial year. That’s £208m cut over two years, and the effects are already showing. In fact, when these cuts were announced, an independent study by the House of Commons Library revealed they could force over 1.3m people to travel more than a mile further if their nearest pharmacy closes. This includes 297,384 people possibly being forced to travel between 2.5 and 5 miles. Given the vast proportion of elderly people who depend on local pharmacies, more consideration should have been given to the possible impacts of this decision. What’s more, these cuts are nothing short of a senseless false economy. The fewer services these local pharmacies provide in our community simply ensures more people seek help from busy GPs instead, or visit our overstretched local A&E department and place more pressure on this underfunded resource. These cuts will only serve to push extra costs further down the line in an NHS already facing an unprecedented strain and in the midst of a winter crisis. It’s time for sensible decisions on our local community services and assets that local people here in Barnsley rely on. Cuts to pharmacy budgets isn’t one of these; folk in Barnsley can see that, it’s about time Government ministers down in Westminster do too.