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Steel_graphic.jpgThe closure or reduction in capacity at major plants across Britain since autumn last year are a tragedy for the close-knit communities affected. I recognise the industrial heritage of Britain's steel towns and the very real threat to these parts of the country should the steel industry disappear. 

I sympathise profoundly with steel workers at Tata, their families and their communities, who will be desperately worried as they face ongoing uncertainty at this time.

Steel is important for UK manufacturing and it is vital for our defence and security. The industry is crucial to the UK economy and to those local communities it serves, and should be supported by the Government. The collapse of the steel industry would mean a £4.6bn cost to government over the next ten years, 40,000 jobs lost, and devastation for steel making communities.

In October and February I voted in the House of Commons for motions which called on the Government to take immediate action to protect the industry. On both occasions I was disappointed that the Government opposed the motions and that they were defeated. Indeed, Opposition MPs have raised issues facing the steel industry over 200 times in Parliament since last May. 

I believe that the UK Parliament should have been recalled from recess to discuss the crisis, as the National Assembly for Wales was recalled. MPs must have the chance to debate the future of steel and hold Ministers to account at the earliest opportunity. 

The Government should now take action to stabilise the industry, drive demand, reduce the burdens on the industry and restructure to ensure a long-term, sustainable future for Britain's steel.

UK Steel Industry

The closure or reduction in capacity at major plants across Britain since autumn last year are a tragedy for the close-knit communities affected. I recognise the industrial heritage of Britain's...

I know that this is an issue of concern to many people, particularly parents and teachers, and I note that two petitions opposing the Government's proposals have each received over 140,000 signatures. I am also aware that several organisations have expressed their opposition to the plans. The Local Government Association and Councillors from across the political spectrum, for example, have voiced concerns about local needs and accountability, while the National Union of Teachers, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the National Association of Head Teachers have argued that the Government's proposals will distract schools from their core functions of teaching and learning.

I share many of these concerns. While there are some great academies, there are also some excellent community schools. Indeed, the vast majority of non-academy schools affected by these plans will be primary schools, over 80 per cent of which are already rated as good or outstanding. Of course, there are also extremely poor examples of both academy schools and local authority maintained schools. I am concerned that the evidence suggesting that academy status leads to improved standards is mixed. A report by the House of Commons' Education Select Committee during the last Parliament (in January 2015), for example, found that current evidence does not prove that academies raise standards overall, or for disadvantaged children. Ofsted have also reported recently that the academies programme is not bringing about rapid improvement and, in some cases, has led to decline.

I believe the focus should be on improving standards across all types of schools and I am very concerned that the Government's plans will divert resources, time and effort away from this task.

Our schools are currently facing a number of difficulties, including reduced budgets, a shortage of teachers and not enough good school places. The Government's plans will not solve these serious problems and constitute a costly and unnecessary reorganisation of the school system.

I can assure you that I will oppose the Government's plans and will do all I can to ensure that parents, children and communities are at the heart of decisions on our schools.

Forced Academisation

I know that this is an issue of concern to many people, particularly parents and teachers, and I note that two petitions opposing the Government's proposals have each received over...

I believe we must have a social security system which is efficient, fair and compassionate and I appreciate how concerned many people with disabilities and their families have been about the possibility of changes to the eligibility criteria for PIP. I also recognise how vital and valued this support is in helping meet the additional costs that having a disability can bring, such as purchasing equipment, services and support, and in enabling disabled people to live independently. 

As I am sure you are aware, just two years after PIP was introduced, in December 2015 the Government launched a consultation regarding aids and appliances and the daily living component of PIP, which closed on the 29 January. On 11 March the Government announced it would be changing the PIP assessment criteria, reducing the number of points for the use of an aid or appliance against two out of the seven Daily Living activities assessed - dressing and managing toilet needs. This was confirmed at the Budget where it was set out that the Government would be cutting £1.2 billion in support, meaning that over 600,000 disabled people would lose almost £2000 a year. I was very concerned about a measure contained in the Budget which would further cut support for those most in need when the Budget also contained tax breaks for those who least need them.

It was therefore welcome that in the week following the Budget the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announced a vital U-turn, confirming that the Government would not be going ahead with the changes to PIP. I also welcome the Work and Pensions Secretary's statement that the Government have 'no further plans to make welfare savings'.

However, I am disappointed that the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions did not also use this opportunity to also reverse cuts to Employment and Support Allowance Work (ESA), contained in the Welfare Reform and Work Act, which will see the level of support for new claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) cut by around £30 a week from April 2017. I voted against this Bill in its entirety and I believe that this is an unfair and unjust measure, which will hurt vulnerable people who through no fault of their own are suffering from serious illnesses and are in and out of work intermittently. 

The Government's welfare reforms must help not hinder disabled people and I believe that the Government is reneging on its own manifesto commitment to protect social security for disabled people through its cuts to ESA. 

I hope that the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will now take the opportunity to stand up for a fair and progressive renewal of our welfare state that is there to support people when they need it most.

Personal Independence Payment

I believe we must have a social security system which is efficient, fair and compassionate and I appreciate how concerned many people with disabilities and their families have been about...


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