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 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.
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.
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: