Monthly Round Up

No end to austerity

This Monday, I was called to speak on the budget.

Once again, it was necessary for me to speak out about the indefensible funding cuts to Bedfordshire Police.

We heard from the Chancellor that despite serious violent crime rising, he isn’t going to give the funding that successive Chief Constables have been asking for, that the previous Police and Crime Commissioner Olly Martins asked for, that the current PCC, Kathryn Holloway is now asking for.

In the last month in Bedford alone, we’ve seen three murders. Two people, one a teenager, died from stab wounds and this weekend a shooting of a man in his 20s.

And it’s all because of the Government’s austerity agenda and we’ve seen on Monday that austerity hasn’t ended at all.

Although the Chancellor made a big deal of more funding for the NHS and for those transferring to Universal Credit, working people will not feel any benefit, with real earnings to remain stagnant. According to the OBR UK wages won’t return to their pre-financial crisis peak until at least 2024. That’s 16 years until pay is fully recovered – the longest wage slump in 200 years.

Outside of the NHS, public sector cuts are unchanged. The poorest people in Bedford Borough won’t see a meaningful change to their financial circumstances, as all benefits remain frozen as the cost of living continues to rise.

The extra £1.7 billion announced for Universal Credit is offset by the £12 billion of cuts as the Government ploughs ahead with its welfare reform despite it forcing people and families into destitution, food bank use and homelessness.

Schools will still be worse off in real terms over the year ahead. It’s an insult.

Austerity is a false economy. The cuts that have been made to public services are already, and will continue, to increase wasteful spending. It’s happening across the board: legal costs are pushed higher when disputes take longer to move through the courts, avoidable by reinstating legal aid. More children are being taken into care, increasing child protection costs, avoidable by removing benefit caps, and reinstating a full provision of mental health and other much needed services. The list goes on.

As a strategy, it is not only misguided but damaging to economic growth. TUC reveal growth in the UK’s economy is lagging compared with other G7 nations. Extra spending when the economy is weak is necessary to rebuild public finances, and the Government yet again fails to spend money where it its needed: public services must be strong before we can expect the economy to follow suit.

As I said in the Chamber, the chancellor needs to take a look at his figures again and come up with a better deal. He needs to wake up because there’s a terrible human cost when you make the wrong choices about public spending, and we’re seeing the effects of it now.

 

 

Call to Scrap Universal Credit

Call to Scrap Universal Credit

Today Labour asked for Universal Credit to be scrapped – and the Government didn’t have a leg to stand on with their defence of this failed system that is clearly causing misery up and down the country. I wasn’t called to speak (so many MPs had stories to tell) but if I had done this is what I would have said :

Universal Credit was destined to fail when it was designed to make people wait longer for payment than they would have to if they were in work.

People can’t learn to budget with nothing. This is a fact the member for Chingford and Woodford Green – the architect of Universal Credit who I suspect would not have to worry too much if he wasn’t paid for a month – failed to understand.

The system relies on people – many only just about managing – taking out loans. Any benefits system that can immediately force recipients into debt, desperation and destitution, is fatally flawed.
Many MPs on both sides of the House have spoken again and again about the devastating impact of Universal Credit on people’s lives, of delayed payments, of sanctions. Families in their droves being forced further into debt, having to take emergency measures to use food banks to get by.

Yet for years the Government has largely dismissed these stories and carried on regardless. The tinkering around the edges has not fixed the problems and has just added layers of complication which in the end – always impact people.

And let us not forget, these people are not victims, they are people in work, out of work – all kinds of situations – claiming benefits they are entitled to for themselves and their children. Yet many people have had to fight and jump through all kinds of hoops to receive payment. And were not believed by this Government, when they told us they were receiving less money than they were before.

My postbag on Universal Credit gives the perfect picture of what humanity looks like under a Conservative Government and I can tell you now, it is not humane. Picture the single parent, a nurse working, studying and trying to better herself: £150 worse off on Universal Credit. Already relying on friends and family to provide school uniform and food banks to feed her child, she said she could no longer afford the childcare to continue to work and study.

Picture the parent who wrote to tell me they couldn’t take it any more after the DWP said they hadn’t received the evidence they needed to proceed with the case when they had – that she wished she could take the DWP to court to pay for all the financial and emotional damage the delays had caused to the family.

Picture the new mother who wrote to me to say she can’t afford the food and milk for her 9 month old, let alone look after herself on £46 a week when her maternity pay came to an end.
This is a picture this Government painted and should be ashamed of. But instead it is the people who are suffering the indignity of this poorly implemented system that are feeling the shame that comes with poverty.

This isn’t helping people into work – it’s making it impossible for some to manage at all.

The Government may have finally admitted to helping people more – but this needs to include retrospective help for the lives they have damaged.

We are now at the ninth delay to the rollout. It’s an unmitigated disaster and must be stopped until the system can be delivered. This means putting back the billions that were taken out of the system at the start because as the Government is finding out, getting it so wrong is costing us more.

 

Proposed Restructuring of the Hearts Academies Trust Primary Schools

Proposed Restructuring of the Hearts Academies Trust Primary Schools

A number of concerned parents have been in touch about the proposed restructuring of the Hearts Academies Trust primaries, Shackleton, Shortstown and Cauldwell. Shortstown is not within my constituency but Shackleton and Cauldwell are.

I am completely opposed to these plans, which include replacing three qualified and experienced head teachers with one executive head, accountable to a highly paid CEO. I know that my Labour colleagues at Bedford Borough Council are too and that there is widespread opposition across council leadership – so I’ll work to support them in their endeavours to make the trust think again. There is a lot about the way that this has been communicated and the lack of consultation that is deeply worrying.

To be clear, these schools are no longer under local authority control, so while the council can express a view (and I am certain that they will) they cannot necessarily stop it. This seems like a prime example of how the Government’s academies programme has eroded local accountability and influence, allowing trusts to put profits before the needs of children. The blame lies squarely with the Tories and their damaging policies. That is certainly something that I will be raising in Parliament at the earliest opportunity.

 

 

Working for You – September 18

In the constituency

I have been contacted by constituents on a number of issues. Last month the most common concerns were over the future of the Pensions Dashboard Project. This month so far, constituents are contacting me asking me to push the Government to make tax changes to ensure retail giants such as Amazon are paying appropriate levels of tax in the UK and to share their concerns over fracking. I attended the short debate on fracking but, unfortunately, I was not called to speak.

Other issues raised include teachers’ pay and blood cancer. On the issue of blood cancer and stem cell donation, I was delighted that following a community campaign a stem cell donor was found for Kaiya, a young girl who has been suffering from a rare form of blood cancer. She remains in hospital and I am following her recovery closely, hoping that the transplant has been a success.

Out and about

Diary highlights in the constituency include experiencing a day spent out and about with Bedfordshire Police. It was a pleasure to visit Guild House to see first-hand the services they offer for people over 50, and I was delighted to be invited to open the Marie-Curie charity shop in its new location on the High Street in Bedford.

I welcome the opportunities to meet residents of Bedford & Kempston enjoying the summer at Brass’s 20th Anniversary picnic party at the Quarry, Salvete Care Home Summer Fete honouring Doris Sharp’s 104th birthday, the Family Fun day at Addison Park in Kempston, and I was pleased to attend the Honour Walk at Priory Country Park, which had a great turn out raising money for wounded and sick Armed Forces personnel.

In Parliament

The House of Commons was back in session for two weeks following the summer recess, and I raised questions regarding the Government’s extreme cuts to funding, which have led to Bedford Hospital’s maternity unit closing its doors six times last year, and which are stretching local mental health provision to breaking point and preventing Bedfordshire Police from effectively carrying out front line policing.

The speaker granted me an urgent question on Thursday 13th September after the extremely worrying news that her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons had issued an urgent notification to the Secretary of State, delivering a damning report on the state of HMP Bedford.

Click on the following links to read what I’ve been doing in Parliament:

 

National Crisis in NHS Primary Care

National Crisis in NHS Primary Care

It has been two weeks since I learned that the Putnoe Walk In Centre consultation was brought to an abrupt end and we still await news on what the new proposals will look like for urgent care in Bedford.

GP workforce figures released yesterday show the number of GPs in England dropped by more than 500 in three months. This is yet more evidence of a primary care crisis: services are understaffed and underfunded.

The Conservatives make promises on the NHS that are time and again proven meaningless. Despite the brilliant efforts of NHS staff who work tirelessly in the face of increasing pressures, years of pay restraint and a failure to invest in and plan appropriately for the workforce has resulted in almost 100,000 staff vacancies.

On 18 June the then Health Secretary delivered a statement to the House of Commons outlining the Government’s proposals to increase NHS funding by £20.5 billion a year in real terms by 2023-24 – an average of 3.4% per year increase over the next five years – but Jeremy Hunt provided no detail of how the commitment would be funded.

At the general election last year, Labour pledged an additional £45 billion for the NHS and social care system and offered a long-term workforce plan to ensure safe staffing levels and to give staff the support they need. Our plan involved nearly £9billion extra for health and social care in the first year of a Labour government paid for by fair increases in taxation – this would amount to more than a 5% increase immediately.

I strongly agree with Labour’s pledge to work towards a new model of community care that takes into account not only primary care but also social care and mental health, increasing funding to GP services to ensure patients can access the care they need.

 

 

Success for Pedestrians and Cyclists – Bromham Road Bridge

Success for Pedestrians and Cyclists – Bromham Road Bridge

I am delighted that Network Rail and Bedford Borough Council have found a way to ensure that the proposed demolition and rebuilding of Bromham Road Bridge will eventually lead to improved infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.

As local councillors, Mohammed Masud and I have pushed hard for this since we first became aware that Bromham Road Bridge was earmarked for demolition and rebuilding a number of years ago. The significant numbers of local residents who contributed to the consultation process were successful in making their voices heard, and we now know that Network Rail will leave the bridge footings in place once they remove the temporary footbridge on completion of works.

Network Rail have granted Bedford Borough Council ‘air rights’, essentially giving the council permission to build a permanent structure over the railway lines in the future, to the north side of the bridge. Whilst it was hoped that the newly built replacement bridge could be widened, it was clear the cost of this would not be footed by Network Rail, so I am extremely pleased that an alternative solution has been found to ensure the safety of cyclists and pedestrians.

 

Statutory Youth Services: Have Your Say

Statutory Youth Services: Have Your Say

I’m delighted by Labour’s bold new plan to introduce statutory youth services in England, announced last week. New legislation would be introduced, requiring every local authority to provide a minimum level of support for young people. Whilst Bedford Borough Council have fought hard and managed to largely protect local youth services, across England, the Government has left youth services devastated after eight years of unnecessary and unjustified austerity.

Every young person needs somewhere to go, something to do, and someone to speak to. For many young people, a local youth club is the only safe space they have to get the support they need. However, research conducted by the YMCA found that overall spending on youth services in England has fallen by £737m (62%) since 2010.

Between 2012 and 2016, 600 youth centres closed, 3,500 youth workers lost their jobs and 140,000 places for young people had gone. New analysis by the House of Commons library shows that spending on universal youth services has fallen by 52% in real terms since 2012.

With youth services targeted for budget cuts, the Tories have created the conditions in which crime can thrive, leaving young people vulnerable to violence and denied the opportunity to build a positive future.

Last week, Labour launched a consultation on a statutory youth service, and I urge all constituents of Bedford and Kempston who want to improve the opportunities available to young people to get involved. Follow this link to the consultation to share your ideas.

Together, we will rebuild youth services to create a system that truly works for the many, not the few.

 

 

New Opportunity for a Senior Caseworker

A new opportunity has arisen for an experienced Senior Caseworker to join my busy constituency-based team. We’re looking to recruit as soon as possible, so if you’re interested, please do apply before the 27th August.

The successful candidate will have experience working with the public and providing help and advice on a range of issues including; housing, immigration and social security. Excellent administrative and IT skills, the ability to work to tight deadlines and a highly organised approach to workloads are essential skills for this position.

Job description

• Ensure all cases are logged, monitor progress and ensure all identified actions are taken
• Gather relevant information to resolve or progress cases
• Ensure records are kept and information managed confidentially and in line with the GDPR
• Manage and progress portfolio of casework appropriately
• Liaise with Government agencies, voluntary sector and others to resolve constituency matters
• Attend surgeries, tribunals and meetings as appropriate
• Respond to routine correspondence and enquiries from constituents, the media, lobbyists and pressure groups
• Analyse patterns of enquiries and produce reports.
• Provide briefings for the Member on local issues that arise
• Research local, regional or national issues to support Member’s work as required
• Monitor media coverage, liaise with media, prepare press releases as required and (on constituency, non-party political matters)
• Supervise members of staff and provide occasional cover for Office Manager

Personal Specification

• Minimum qualifications: A-levels (grades A-C) or equivalent
• Substantial experience within a casework, advocacy, or advice and guidance role
• Proven ability to deal with casework and research, work to tight deadlines and pay keen attention to detail
• Good organisational skills and the ability to work effectively as part of a small team and also to work independently when required
• Excellent administrative and IT skills
• Sympathetic manner in dealing with people on the phone or face-to-face.
• Effective interpersonal skills and the ability to deal with a range of people in sometimes challenging situations.

Applicants should send their CV together with a covering letter (as a word document converted to PDF) to louise.jackson@parliament.uk. Applicants must demonstrate how they meet the criteria set out in the personal specification. Please ensure that examples are given – it is not sufficient to simply state that you believe you meet the criteria.

Interviews will take place during the week commencing 27th August.

Salary will be within IPSA pay-scales and are dependent upon experience

Working for You July 18

In the constituency

The approach to the summer recess has seen no decrease in the numbers of constituents getting in touch to share their views and concerns – we remain busy in our office and very much open for business.

Rail issues

Rail issues are of course still dominating my inbox and some of the stories my team are hearing from people are really quite harrowing – the impact that the failure of GTR and the Department for Transport to deliver anything resembling a timetable cannot be under-estimated.

The second version of the interim timetable was introduced on Monday 15th July, which we were assured would solve the problem. However, since we’re told that the problems so far result from a lack of trained drivers and an over-reliance on rest day working to fill workforce gaps, it’s hard to have confidence and improvements have been minimal. I met with the new boss of Govia Thameslink this week to share your stories with him and he and his team have taken those complaints away to respond to in detail. Despite having offered assurances that he would, Chris Grayling has now decided that he cannot restore EMT peak services and EMT bosses concur – we’re still working to change their minds and find a way through this.

Universal Credit & ESA

Bedford has now been a ‘full service’ Universal Credit area for over a year, and my office is seeing a substantial number of constituents facing issues with the system leading to misery and hardship. Despite pressure from the Labour Party and Conservative backbenchers to halt the Government’s ill-prepared roll-out of Universal Credit, we are now seeing the inevitable consequences of a system not yet fit for purpose.

I’m concerned about an issue my team are increasingly encountering, where hard-working constituents are penalised as a result of their employers paying them either fortnightly or 4-weekly. Having an employer payment schedule that is at odds with the monthly Universal Credit payments system has led to constituents suddenly facing a drastically reduced payment of their benefits, receiving nothing at all and even having their Universal Credit claims closed down.

Given that one supposed principal of Universal Credit is to encourage claimants to budget their income through receiving payments monthly rather than weekly, I’m appalled that constituents are being caught unawares, and expected to make up the shortfall. If the Government wants to encourage people in receipt of benefits to budget their money, they must at the very least, in turn, give them the courtesy of advance notice that their employers’ payment schedules will impact on their income.

My team continue to meet with constituents whose Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for disabilities is being routinely refused as a result of Work Capability Assessments, only for the decisions to be overturned later on appeal. The stress and financial hardship that this practice is causing is unjustifiable.

Brexit

Constituents voicing their views on each side of the debate have been in touch as the messy Brexit negotiations have been taking place in Parliament.

For the last two years, the Prime Minister has presented the country with an extreme interpretation of the referendum result and has been dishonest with the public about the kind of Brexit that was deliverable without catastrophic damage to manufacturing and agriculture in the UK. She laid down rash and reckless red lines that were never compatible with securing a good deal with the EU, or with resolving the issue of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Reality has finally caught up with the Brexit lies and the Chequers statement was the first indication that the Prime Minister realises that approach was wrong. I believe the Prime Minister has shown she is incapable of negotiating a way forward.

Out and about

In recent week, I was delighted to attend the Uprising refugee week event at the Place theatre, and at the Our Minds Matter conference. It was a pleasure to attend the Hands Off Bedford Hospital & Trades Council 70th Birthday NHS rally to support this beloved institution, and of course, to join the weekend of festivities at the 40th Anniversary River Festival last weekend.

In Parliament

It’s been a busy few weeks in Parliament, and during this time we’ve seen Bedford Prison placed in special measures, a vote of no confidence in the appalling Transport Secretary and a Westminster Hall debate on BAME blood, stem cell and organ donation, which I led.

In recent weeks, many constituents contacted me to ask me to attend and vote on the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill at its third reading (otherwise known as Seni’s Law). The bill, which passed through the commons, will provide important safeguards against misuse of force against people with mental health conditions.

Click on the following links to read what I’ve been doing in Parliament:

 

New timetables and compensation

New timetables and compensation

As the chaos continued, with trains cancelled, delayed and overcrowded, this week I met with representatives of EMT and separately with Joe Johnson, Transport Minister, and Govia Thameslink. It’s clear there’s something of a disconnect between the objectives of the two train operating companies and they would benefit from working together.

New Thameslink timetables are now available here, and on first sight it would appear that the proposed Bedford, Luton and St Albans to London timetable does not differ hugely from the current timetable. This comes with assurances from Govia Thameslink that a more reliable service in and out of London will resume from the 15th July.

The first indication of the compensation package promised by Thameslink suggests that rail users without a season ticket haven’t been given proper consideration, and I will be fighting this.

It is clear that the railways must be brought back into public ownership, as this fragmented, profit-led approach has failed.