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.
As I argued in my speech opposing Johnson’s Queen’s Speech, the last decade of cuts have sapped the capacity of our public services to meet the needs of those who need them most. Austerity was a political choice, not a necessity, and we need a fundamental new direction for our country.
We need a growing economy to meet the needs of our growing population – and one that is fair and sustainable too. As a member of the Business, Innovation and Skills (subsequently Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) Select Committee between 2010 and 2016, I scrutinised the work of the BIS Department, which plays an important role in setting the conditions for economic growth. My position allowed me to promote policies to benefit Sheffield and the UK: the case for manufacturing, investment in research and development, strong universities, skills training and the need for more high value jobs.
I stepped down from the committee when I took on my role in Labour’s Shadow Brexit Team, as Parliamentary convention meant I couldn’t do both. 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.
Growth in itself is not enough; we need it to be sustainable and fair, providing a positive environmental legacy and ensuring that everyone benefits. We must also rebalance the UK economy between sectors and regions – rebuilding manufacturing to reduce our over-dependence on financial services, and sharing prosperity throughout the regions and nations of the UK.
Small businesses play a vital role in our economy, leading growth and job creation. I work closely with the Federation of Small Businesses, Make UK (the Manufacturers’ Organisation), and the local Chamber of Commerce, meeting regularly with their members and doing all I can to promote their concerns.
I have called for a series of policies to tackle the sickness of low pay and job insecurity; including an end to abusive zero hours contracts, stronger trade unions and better enforcement of the National Minimum Wage (pressing this issue frequently). In Parliament I tackled 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.
I pressed the Chancellor for action on labour market regulation, and after a report revealed that nearly one in four people in Sheffield earn below the living wage I challenged Ministers about their inaction, calling the Government’s ‘living wage’ bogus because it’s significantly less than the real Living Wage, as set by the Living Wage Foundation. I have also challenged the underpayment and conditions faced by different groups – from care workers to delivery drivers.
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.
Rebalancing the Economy
As well as growing the economy, we need to rebalance it. We should rebuild manufacturing, reducing our over-dependence on the financial sector, and this goes hand in hand with sharing prosperity around all the regions and nations of the UK.
I have argued that the Government should move major Government departments out of London to benefit local economics and change the ‘London-centricity’ of decision-making. 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.
As we leave the EU, I have also led calls for the regional funding which South Yorkshire (and other poorer regions) would receive from the EU to be matched by the Government.
As well as pressing for the regional investment to create local jobs, I’ve acted to protect those that have been threatened. In steel, for example, I challenged the way that Sheffield Forgemasters wasn’t allowed to tender for key forgings for Britain’s new nuclear power station Hinkley Point C, and after I raised the issue in Parliament Forgemasters was given new assurances about its work. I have pressed the International Trade Secretary to work with trade unions over the impact on jobs after President Trump imposed tariffs on steel imports from the EU.
More recently, I defended Sheffield knife manufacturers against the impact that the Offensive Weapons Bill’s unnecessary limitations on delivering ‘bladed products’ would have had on local companies, securing a change of approach after arranging meetings between Ministers and the firms affected.
I campaigned against the Government’s decision to close Sheffield’s BIS Office, hitting jobs and damaging the local economy, winning support from the Public Accounts Committee and BIS Select Committee. When the Department was reorganised, to form BEIS and DfE, many of the jobs were kept in the city.
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.
Problems with social security and universal credit have been prominently raised during the Big Conversation, and working closely with Sheffield Citizens Advice I have campaigned against harmful cuts and changes. I opposed Tory tax credit cuts, making the case on the impact in Sheffield, and have campaigned against problems with universal credit as it replaces existing benefits. I backed calls for the Government to pause and fix Universal Credit, questioned the Government on its impact, including on affording childcare, raised problems with repayments of advance payments with the Department for Work and Pensions Secretary.
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 brought Citizens Advice Sheffield to meet a Department for Work and Pensions Minister to discuss the impact of changes in disability benefits. I pressed Ministers to ensure that people recovering from mental health problems are supported as they move into work and, after calling for more support for applicants with learning disabilities and non-digital application routes, DWP guidelines were changed, and in 2016 I secured a change in benefits rules which removed delays to terminally ill claimants’ financial support.
I’ve also opposed Government plans which could see more than 7,000 city children miss out on free school meals and 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.
Tougher regulation for payday loan sharks
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. I’ve also been calling on the Government to extend the cap on the cost of high cost credit (which the Government has partially done), and will continue to campaign on this.
My work championing better regulation led to me being named Parliamentarian of the Year 2014 by national charity Citizens Advice
This is a selection of my work on these issues. Please get in touch if you want to find out more.