We need an economy that works for everyone – built on sound foundations, creating properly paid and secure jobs, and supporting those who can’t work. But for too many people that’s not the reality. Over a generation, income inequality has risen. An increasing share of the national income has shifted from wages to profits, and from profits to shareholders’ dividends. Challenging this growing inequality is central to my politics.
In my role as a Shadow Brexit Minister I am part of the Labour team pressing the Government to mitigate the risks to the economy of leaving the EU. I have challenged the Government about how Brexit will impact on university tuition fee income, the science and technology sector and research and innovation funding – an issue on which I led for Labour in a Commons debate.
As a member of the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Select Committee between 2010 and 2016, I scrutinised the work of the Business Department, which plays an important role in setting the conditions for economic growth. As a committee we have undertaken inquiries into productivity, the steel industry, business-university collaboration, the digital economy, apprenticeships, adult literacy and numeracy and the retail sector. My position allowed me to promote policies which will benefit Sheffield and the UK: the case for manufacturing and economic growth, strong universities and skills training and the need for more high value jobs. I stepped down from the Business Committee when I took on my role in Labour’s Shadow Brexit Team, as Parliamentary convention means I can’t do both.
As well as growing the economy, we need to rebalance it. We should rebuild manufacturing, reducing our over-dependence on the financial sector. This goes hand in hand with sharing prosperity around all the regions and nations of the UK. I led a Westminster Hall debate about the importance of science and research to regional economies – calling on the Government to invest more in manufacturing and innovation.
Small businesses play a vital role in our economy, leading growth and job creation. I work closely with the Federation of Small Businesses, meet regularly with their members and do all I can to promote their case (see here for example).
I’ve acted to protect steel jobs, by highlighting the way that Sheffield Forgemasters wasn’t allowed to tender for key forgings for Britain’s new nuclear power station Hinkley Point C. After I raised the issue in Parliament, Forgemasters has been given new assurances about its work.
The Government’s decision to close Sheffield’s BIS Office, which I campaigned against in and out of Parliament, is devastating for the people losing their jobs, damaging to the local economy and makes decision-making more London-centric.
The Government has repeatedly cut jobs in Northern cities like Sheffield – undermining their “Northern Powerhouse” agenda. I held a Parliamentary debate about ‘off-shoring’ jobs to India from Sheffield’s Department for Work and Pensions office at King’s Court. I also spoke in a debate on the Government’s decision to close HMRC offices across the country, including in Sheffield, pointing out the massive risks the huge restructuring programme poses.
We need fairness, supported by proper regulation. So when local people told me about their problems with payday lenders, like Wonga and The Money Shop, I successfully fought for tougher new rules, introducing the High Cost Credit Bill to the House of Commons in July 2013. When the Government opposed the Bill, I led a cross-party campaign, which launched the Charter to Stop the Payday Loan Rip-Off, supported by some of Britain’s biggest debt, consumer and anti-poverty organisations. Our campaigning resulted in the Financial Conduct Authority introducing new rules for payday lenders – and, since then, complaints about payday loan companies have halved.
My work championing better regulation led to me being named Parliamentarian of the Year 2014 by national charity Citizens Advice.
The rise of rip-off loan sharks is a symptom of our low wage and insecure economy - as I have argued in Parliament. I have called for a series of policies to tackle the sickness of low pay and insecurity in our economy; including an end to abusive zero hours contracts, stronger trade unions and better enforcement of the National Minimum Wage (I’ve raised this issue frequently in the House of Commons). In Parliament I pressed Sports Direct Boss Mike Ashley on his company’s reliance on abusive zero hour contracts and why he couldn’t employ more workers on permanent contracts.
After a report revealed that nearly one in four people in Sheffield earn below the living wage I challenged Ministers about their inaction. I called out the Government’s bogus ‘living wage’, because it’s significantly less than the real Living Wage, as set by the Living Wage Foundation. Britain needs a proper pay rise, not Tory spin.
I’m also a Trustee of Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX), a charity that I helped to establish, which works to end human trafficking for labour exploitation.
I opposed Tory tax credit cuts, making the Sheffield case against them. I wrote to the Treasury about the devastating impact of the cuts and urged the Government to reverse them. Belatedly George Osborne scrapped the plans. But the cuts will be implemented by stealth when universal credit comes in, replacing tax credits and other working-age benefits. I will continue to take a stand against Tory cuts to social security which risk pushing families into poverty.
People who are out of work, often due to illness or disability, are hit hard by the Tories. I led a Commons debate on the pernicious effects of benefit sanctioning and met with Government Ministers. I urged the Government to respond to powerful evidence from Sheffield Citizens Advice about the negative effects of benefit sanctions, which make it harder for people to get back into work. I also brought Citizens Advice Sheffield to meet a Department for Work and Pensions Minister to discuss the impact of changes in disability benefits.
I opposed the Government's cut of £30 a week to new claimants in the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), people who are too sick or disabled to work. It’s even worse when we consider other benefit cuts, such as Local Housing Allowance changes and the Bedroom Tax. You can read my article on why the Government is letting down disabled people here.
I have also backed calls by Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaigners for fair transitional state pension arrangements for women who were not given sufficient notice of changes to their state pension age.
Ending benefit delays for thousands of terminally ill
I secured a change to benefit rules, which will help thousands of terminally ill people. A loophole in benefit rules has meant that some terminally ill claimants entitled to extra financial support have been waiting up to eight weeks before receiving it. After my pressure, the Government changed the law so that terminally ill claimants will get the extra support immediately. Read more.
This is a selection of my work on these issues. Please get in touch if you want to find out more.