I first got involved in politics, when still at school, campaigning against apartheid in South Africa; and challenging injustice and inequality has been at the heart of my priorities ever since. I’ve used the opportunities that Parliament offers to oppose discrimination and intolerance, and to work for equality and respect for all.
Over a generation, an increasing share of the national income has shifted from wages to profits, and from profits to shareholders’ dividends. I have consistently raised the threat inequality poses to our society (here, for example), and in my 2018 budget debate speech I pointed out that “in total, the tax and benefit changes since 2015 have given the richest fifth of households an extra £390 a year, while the poorest fifth have not simply gained less, but have lost £400 a year.” You can also read more about my work challenging income inequality here.
Many of the issues I have taken up in Parliament are on policies that hit women disproportionately or reflect societal discrimination. From challenging the undervalued status of the work women do, to urging the Government to reverse welfare changes that hit women hardest, and participating in an inquiry into Women in the Workplace as a member of the BIS Select Committee, I use every opportunity to press gender equality.
I’ve worked with local women’s groups since my election in 2010 and have regularly held an annual consultation for women as part of my Big Conversation. I’ve pressed the issues raised with me in Parliament – for example on women’s refuges, urging the Government to do more to improve the representation of women in the media and challenging misogyny on social media. Since 2011, I’ve been organising an annual event to mark International Women’s Day, with Unite the Union and our universities’ students’ unions, and together we’ve raised tens of thousands of pounds for women’s charities.
The shocking murders of Sarah Everard, Bibi Henry and Nicole Smallman, among many more, highlight the continuing issue of male violence. It’s at the extreme end of a spectrum of behaviour which must all be challenged at all levels. I’ve campaigned with Know The Line against sexual harassment and am leading a new campaign against sexual harassment in the hospitality sector which you can read more about here.
I receive a lot of emails about abortion, which is obviously an extremely sensitive issue for many. Whilst I respect the opinions held by all sides, women and girls must have the right to make decisions about their own body. Access to safe abortions reduce unsafe abortions which put the lives of women at risk. I have therefore supported moves to decriminalise abortion and extend rights for women in Northern Ireland.
Our city is stronger from welcoming people from around the world to work, to study and as refugees. I have supported the work of One Sheffield Many Cultures and others seeking to promote our multi-cultural city and challenge those who promote division. I’ve spoken out in Parliament against hostility to the Muslim community and challenged legislation that may lead to discrimination – for example for tenants or by extending stop and search powers.
I’ve also challenged decisions that will undermine effective integration, like the withdrawal of funding for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), and challenged politicians like Boris Johnson, who stir up race hatred through insulting and inflammatory language. In my previous role as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, I took up other issues affecting our BAME communities – like the limits on spousal visas. Read more about my work on migration issues here.
We have seen great progress on LGBT+ rights in recent years, though there is still a way to go. I was delighted to attend one of the first same sex weddings in the country, which took place in Sheffield Town Hall, after voting for equal marriage. I have spoken out in Parliament against the appalling harassment and abuse experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in indefinite immigration detention and have asked the Government if it plans to acknowledge and compensate individuals harmed by the former ban on gay people serving in the armed forces.
I pushed Education Ministers to include LGBT issues in sex and relationship education and to tackle bullying of LGBT students in schools, and supported the new Government guidance on Relationships and Sex Education in schools.
The Government should be helping people with disabilities to play the fullest part in society they can. But too often, it is putting barriers in their way. I have challenged the Government many times about unacceptable cuts to disability support, including to Disabled Student’s Allowance and the removal of legal aid for appealing benefits decisions; challenged Ministers on the devastating effects of the Bedroom Tax; and raised issues relating to PIP, Universal Credit and benefits assessment interviews. You can read an article I wrote on how the Government is letting down disabled people here. I’ve also pressed parents concerns over SEND provision with the Education Secretary.
The Government has made it increasingly hard for people to enforce their right to be treated equally and I have challenged them on this in Parliament. Proposals to scrap our human rights laws, the introduction of employment tribunal fees before people can enforce non-discrimination protection, and the decimation of legal aid all mean we risk not practising what we preach on equality. I have pushed the Government to stop playing politics with human rights and commit to being a signatory of the European Convention of Human Rights. I will continue to press the Government to ensure we do not.
This is a selection of my work on these issues. Please get in touch if you want to find out more.