• Sainsbury’s announcement

    Today’s news of a proposed merger will come as a shock to Asda and Sainsbury workers in St Helens, across the North West and nationwide.

    There is much focus on the fact that the companies have said there are no plans to close any stores but I am concerned that they have not given the same assurances to thousands of staff who work in logistics, distribution centres and delivery, including those situated in St Helens and nearby.

    I have been in touch with local and national trade union representatives and have raised this with Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Rebecca Long-Bailey.

    After months of secret talks, Asda and Sainsbury must now inform staff here in St Helens and across the country of the impact the proposed merger could have on their jobs.

  • A fair deal for St Helens

    One of my top priorities is to fight for a fairer deal for St Helens and to ensure our schools, hospitals and transport system are fully funded and deliver proper services.

    Some of the problems we face and the differences between our area and other regions are laid bare in a recent report by England’s Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield called “Growing up North”.

    It lays out in stark detail some of the challenges facing children in our region and shows that unless we get urgent action from the Government, the gap between children in the North and those in London is likely to widen over the next 15 years.

    Among the report’s findings are that a disproportionate number of children in the North are growing up in communities of entrenched disadvantage which have not enjoyed the same financial growth or government support that have improved opportunities in other parts of the country, especially London and the South East.

    As a result, too many disadvantaged children in our region are being left behind, with many facing an education gap that starts before they even get into the classroom and widens throughout education.

    Too many children drop out of education before they reach the age of 18. The Government needs to do far more to invest in our schools and help transform the prospects of our children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    As I highlighted last year, schools in St Helens are facing crippling budget cuts of up to £9 million by 2019. The huge Government funding cuts are the equivalent of £386 per pupil and could mean the loss of up to 238 teachers, according to figures compiled by the teaching unions.

    If children in our region are to get equality of opportunity when it comes to jobs and training, we need the Government to reverse its funding cuts to our schools. I will continue to fight to make sure we get the best possible deal for schools in St Helens North so children get the best possible start in life.

     

  • Green Belt land

    I understand the concerns residents have raised about the potential for the Government to weaken protections for Green Belt land. In 2012, the Conservative-Lib Dem Government replaced all existing planning guidance – except on waste – with the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and National Planning Practice Guidance. I believe these reforms weakened the National Brownfield Strategy, promoted in 2003, which actively prioritised building on brownfield sites.

    The Government published its housing white paper in February, along with a consultation seeking views on amending the NPPF to allow local authorities to amend Green Belt boundaries in “exceptional circumstances”. The consultation ran from 7 February to 2 May 2017 and the Government said it expects to announce its conclusions “in due course”.

    I am concerned that the Government’s planning reforms have failed to do enough to promote brownfield development. The Government rejected a Labour amendment to the Housing and Planning Act during its consideration in Parliament which would have ensured automatic planning permission would be limited to housing on brownfield land.

    While local areas should be able to make their own decisions on land use, I believe the NPPF should include a clear brownfield first policy to ensure the planning system allows sustainable growth while protecting green spaces and the natural environment.

    I believe the Government should reinstate Local Authority grants to clean up and reclaim contaminated land to fully support a brownfield first policy, which is of particular relevance to St Helens.

    The wider issue is of particular importance for me in regards to the St Helens Local Plan and I welcome the vision set out in the plan for St Helens to be an attractive place to live, work and visit.

    I fully support the ambition to win investment and create employment in our borough, making the most of the opportunities afforded to us by our location in the heart of the North West situated between Manchester and Liverpool.

     I recognise that the council is required by Government to produce a local plan which must be based on strong evidence of need. Given that the proposals must therefore include the removal of land from the greenbelt, the Council must clearly demonstrate that it fully explores and where possible meets its land requirements for both housing an employment sites from the redevelopment of brownfields sites.

     Many of my constituents have expressed concerns about the amount of greenbelt land the plan proposes to release. If the Council believes and can demonstrate it has no alternatives to the release of greenbelt for housing, then it could address some of those concerns by considering a stepped housing target, with identified land released in phases with a focus maintained on bringing back into use brownfield sites.

    I want every resident of St Helens to have a good quality of life and I welcome recent investments like those in Sankey Canal to open up our borough and provide excellent green spaces and landscapes for recreational and health related activity. Investment in projects such as this alongside parks and areas such as Lyme and Wood Pits Country Park, enhance the natural beauty of our area and accessibility to nature.

     

     

  • Precarious contracts

    I agree that this is an important issue. As War on Want notes, there are too many people on contracts where they cannot be certain what work they will get in the future. Last year, the TUC found that over three million people – one in ten workers in the UK – work in insecure jobs, while polling for the GMB union has shown that – using a wider definition of insecure work – the number could be as high as ten million. I believe it is a national scandal that so many people could be left not knowing how much they will earn from week to week, unable to budget for basic necessities and unsure if they can pay the rent. I therefore agree that we should ensure all workers have the same rights at work, as well as guaranteed hours.

    I share your concerns about the Taylor review of modern employment practices and the Tory response to it. I believe that overall the report itself was a massive missed opportunity to tackle the growing problem of insecure employment. Yet the Government’s response failed to meet even its most basic recommendations – I note, for example, that Matthew Taylor has himself said that he would give the Government’s action on his report so far only four marks out of ten. Rather than introduce the radical new architecture of employment law we need to protect workers, the Government has launched four consultations on the areas covered by the Taylor review. I do not believe this is good enough.

    At the 2017 General Election, I stood on a manifesto that pledged to give all workers equal rights from day one, whether part-time or full-time, temporary or permanent, so that working conditions are not driven down. I can therefore assure you that I will continue to press the Government for real action to improve the lives of the millions of people in insecure work and an end to contracts that allow the exploitation of workers.

  • The Held Back Campaign

    The recent report published by the National Autistic Society and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism found that 70% of parents of children with autism say that support was not put in place quickly enough for their child. Additionally, fewer than 5 in 10 teachers say that they are confident about supporting a child on the autism spectrum. The report recommended for the Government to develop a national autism and education strategy by the end of 2019.

    I believe that teachers should be given the knowledge and skills they need to be able to identify and support children with autism through the training they receive. Indeed, at the General Election in June 2017, I stood on a manifesto which committed to deliver a strategy for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) based on inclusivity, and which pledged to embed SEND more substantially into training for teachers and non-teaching staff, so that staff, children and their parents are properly supported.

    The manifesto also set the ambition to make our country autism-friendly and committed to make sure autistic people are able to access the whole of their community. All children with autism deserve access to high quality, full-time education.

    The Government has a manifesto commitment to improve standards of care for those with learning disabilities and autism and have stated that they would consider the recommendations of the Autism and Education report carefully. I can assure you that I will hold the Government to account on this.

  • Unpaid Trial Work Periods (Prohibition) Bill

    I support this Bill,  I agree that this is an important issue and I know that it will be of concern to many people in our area. I note for example that around 140,000 people have signed a petition calling for MPs to support the Bill. I also note that last year over 41,000 people signed a petition that successfully called for Mooboo Bubble Tea shops to pay those working trial shifts, following reports that the company required staff to work a 40-hour unpaid trial, with no guarantee of a job after that.

    Last year, research from the University of Middlesex identified unpaid induction and trial shifts as one of several types of unpaid work that contribute to an estimated £1.2 billion of wages denied to workers every year. I am concerned that this is an example of an imbalance of power between employers and employees in the UK workplace that has led to the proliferation of low wage jobs and employers avoiding paying workers fairly. I believe that unpaid trial shifts are exploitative to workers. If people undertake work during a trial period they should be fairly and properly paid.

    I can assure you that I back the The Unpaid Trial Work Periods (Prohibition) and will continue to support an end to unfair and exploitative trial shifts.

  • End of life care

    End of life care and the law concerning assisted dying are extremely complex and emotive issues, and that there are strongly held ethical and moral arguments on both sides.

    I know that this issue provokes strong views and it is important that the debate is fully considered.

    When a bill to introduce a provision for assisted dying in the UK was brought before Parliament in 2015, I opposed it and would oppose it if it came before the House again.

    However, I can assure you that I will continue to bear in mind the points you raise and those of other constituents who have contacted me on this matter, both for and against.

    Given the sensitivity and importance of this issue, it is vital that high-quality support, guidance and palliative care are available.

    I believe there needs to be improved care for those with terminal illnesses, more support for their carers’ and improved facilities offering specialised care. This would go some way to improving patients’ quality of life as would earlier and faster diagnosis of terminal conditions.

     

     

  • Autism and the campaign by the National Autistic Society

    Securing an early diagnosis is fundamental to ensuring that people with autism, and their families, can access the right support. Yet research from the NAS has found that people are waiting years for an autism diagnosis. Indeed, a survey by Public Health England found that in one local authority waiting times stood at 125 weeks.

    In August 2015, the NAS launched a campaign to end what it described as a “crisis” in autism diagnosis. I pay tribute to the NAS and all involved with this campaign, which led to data on autism diagnosis waiting times being collected and published for the first time by NHS England from April 2018. Guidelines state that an autism diagnosis should be started within three months of the referral from the patient’s GP. However, data was not previously collected and it was difficult to identify gaps in treatment and support.

    The Government has acknowledged that more needs to be done to improve the lives of people living with autism. In its Think Autism strategy, Ministers have outlined that there should be a pathway to diagnosis, care and support in every local area to improve recognition, speed up the process of diagnosis, and meet individuals’ advice and support needs.

    I believe it is right to put an end to social isolation and ensure that autistic people can access the whole of their community and receive the support they deserve. It is vital to work with employers, trade unions, schools and public services to improve awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace and society. Indeed, at the General Election I stood on a manifesto with an ambition to make our country autism-friendly.

    I have consistently campaigned on the issues facing people diagnosed with autism across St Helens having met with parents to discuss the needs of children with autism in the constituency and backed Saints launch of a replica shirt for Rugby League’s Magic Weekend which carried the logo of St Helens Autism Support.

    There are some great organisations in St Helens such as St Helens Autism Support which make a massive difference in the area by helping raise awareness of the condition and aiding people, particularly children, with all levels of autism.

    It is clear that more needs to be done to support the mental health needs of people living with autism. Between 70% and 80% of autistic people develop mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and four out of 10 children with autism have at least two mental health challenges.

  • Hunger strike by detainees at Yarl’s Wood

    Over 100 detainees have been taking part in a hunger and work strike to call for changes to detention policy. This has highlighted a number of serious concerns, and I believe there must be an urgent review of the UK’s detention system, and an end to indefinite detention.

    The Government recently made a statement on this in the House of Commons, in response to an urgent parliamentary question. The Immigration Minister was pressed on detention and welfare policy concerns raised by the events at Yarl’s Wood, and she maintained that the dignity and welfare of all individuals detained is of upmost importance to the Government, and that any decision to detain is made on a case-by-case basis taking into account individual circumstances.

    However, I remain concerned that at Yarl’s Wood and in other institutions like it, already vulnerable people are, effectively, being held indefinitely despite the fact that the majority of them have committed no crime. The Government claims there is no indefinite immigration detention, but holding people for years on end without a release date amounts to exactly that in my view.

    I understand the Government expects a review by Stephen Shaw, the former prisons and probation ombudsman, to be published shortly. The review will report on progress made by the Government since his initial 2016 report on the welfare in detention of vulnerable persons.

    I can assure you that I will follow any developments and continue to press the Government to urgently review the detention system and end indefinite detention.

  • Free school meals and Universal Credit

    As you know, currently all children living in households that receive UC are eligible for free school meals. However, the Tories have brought forward new proposals to introduce an earnings threshold of £7,400 for all UC claimants from April 2018. I believe these proposals are deeply concerning and I am aware that these changes will affect many families across the UK and in our area.

    I agree that free school meals have significant benefits, as children are more attentive and ready to learn when they are fed a healthy meal. I believe it is a scandal that the Government is pressing ahead with a plan that could leave over a million children going hungry.

    In addition, I share your concern that the proposals will create a dangerous cliff-edge in support, and will make it harder for families on low incomes to make ends meet. Families should not have to refuse pay rises or avoid extra work for fear of losing their entitlement to free school meals. I believe the Government should step back from introducing this cliff-edge in eligibility and instead introduce free school meals for all primary school children, and all secondary school children whose families claim UC.

    As you may be aware, Labour secured a debate on this subject on Tuesday 13 March and put forward a motion to annul the Government’s proposals on free school meals. Unfortunately, the motion was defeated with the support of Tory MPs.

    Moving forwards, the Commons’ Work and Pensions Committee is holding an inquiry on UC and is seeking evidence on how the eligibility for free school meals should be determined. I can assure you I will follow the progression of this inquiry closely. I remain concerned that the rollout of UC is causing real suffering in our communities, which is why at the General Election I stood on a manifesto which pledged to reform and redesign UC. In addition, I believe the Government must provide further investment in UC to ensure that work always pays, and that children and young people are not pushed into poverty.

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