• Cuts to Employment Support Allowance

    Constituents have been contacting me recently regarding planned cuts to financial support for new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of Employment Support Allowance. I share those concern about this issue and am very disappointed that the level of support for new claimants in the WRAG is set to be reduced by around £30 a week from April 2017. This will see disabled people in the ESA WRAG group lose around £1,500 a year. During the passage of the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, I opposed this unfair measure, as I believe it will hurt vulnerable people who through no fault of their own are suffering from serious illnesses and are in and out of work intermittently. I also believe it risks creating a perverse incentive for people with health problems to be placed in the more expensive Support Group of ESA, thereby making is less likely they will receive help and support to return to work and potentially increase social security costs. While various discretionary funds may be available, there is no guarantee of support and I am therefore concerned that the cuts to ESA will increase the numbers of disabled people living in poverty, threatening their health and wellbeing. I believe, like the NHS, our social security system should be there for all of us in our time of need, based on principles of inclusion, support and security for all, assuring us of our dignity. Thank you once again for contacting me and for sharing your views. I can assure you I will continue to stand up for a welfare state that is there to support people when they need it most, and will press for a full reversal of the planned reductions to ESA.

  • Battle for Breath campaign

    I sympathise profoundly with anyone who suffers with respiratory illness and I share many of the concerns raised by the campaign. Lung disease is a major health issue and I believe it is important that we do all we can to make inroads into improving respiratory health.

    In its report published in March the British Lung Foundation highlights wide variation in treatment and care across the country. It estimates that lung disease costs the economy £11 billion every year and raises serious concerns about the long-term neglect, under-prioritisation and underinvestment in research, diagnosis and treatment of lung disease.

    This report is an important step in highlighting the staggering and rising cost of the illness. There is not only a financial toll for our society but for the NHS as well. I believe the Government need to come up with a credible and comprehensive strategy to minimise the prevalence of lung diseases in our country.

    I remain concerned that cuts to public health spending may widen the health inequality gap in our country – £200 million has already been cut from local public health budgets and 3.9% average real-terms cuts are expected each year to 2020-21. I believe the Government must be more proactive in raising awareness among the public and invest in preventative health measures which can head off the risks of lung disease in the years to come.

    The Department of Health has said it is keen to work with the NHS and the voluntary sector to find practical and innovative ways of improving outcomes for patients with respiratory disease, and that it will consider proposals for an independent respiratory taskforce as part of that process. I know that the Government continues to be questioned in Parliament on whether it will establish an independent taskforce on lung health. I can assure you I will continue to follow any developments with interest.

     

  • Beer duty

    I value our pubs, which are often at the heart of community life, I myself am a CAMRA member of over ten years standing. It is concerning, therefore, that so many across the country continue to close every week. This loss is not only felt by local communities but by our economy as a whole in terms of jobs, trade and tax revenues.

    It should not be forgotten that the Coalition Government’s decision to increase VAT to 20% added around 6p to the price of a pint. I know that there was disappointment from some in the industry that there was not a fourth successive cut in beer duty in the March 2016 budget. CAMRA has stated that considering the current economic uncertainty and financial pressures on pubs, more action is needed.

    No change to beer duty was announced in the Autumn Statement and I know that attention has turned to the 2017 Budget and that CAMRA and the British Beer and Pub Association have called for there to be a cut next year.

    I appreciate that there was real disappointment that there was not more support announced on business rates for pubs in the Autumn Statement. The 2017 revaluation has left many small businesses at risk of closing due to large rate increases. The Government’s relief package does not go anywhere near far enough to helping these businesses, especially given the other pressures on them. I believe there should be an overhaul of business rates and I will continue to support efforts to press for fairer rates.

    In my view a comprehensive approach is required to support consumers and community pubs. For example, the Opposition have continued to hold the Government to account on issues such as the implementation of the statutory Pubs Code.