Since my last annual community consultation, the Big Conversation, which took place from 9th September to 7th October 2017, I’ve been following up on the issues people raised in meetings and survey responses. This report highlights some of the action I’ve taken on these issues -; although this is just one part of my work as your MP.
NHS, mental health and social care
The NHS and social care was again the most important issue in survey responses, and mental health was a prominent theme in meetings. I’ve fully backed Labour’s relentless focus on the impact of cuts and rising demand on the NHS, helping to organise our local contribution to a National Day of Action on the funding crisis.
I’ve pushed on specific issues too, such as reiterating my call for the Government to reverse the scrapping of bursaries for nursing, midwifery and other allied health degrees (and asking about the impact of this on the number of people studying these courses), raising concerns about staff shortages and recruitment in mental health services, asking the Government about what steps it’s taking to reduce the number of suicides of people under 25 years of age, and asking Education Ministers about additional resources to schools to support the mental health of students.
I’ve backed demands for better funding of social care, and taken up the concerns of young carers. I brought a group from Sheffield Young Carers to meet the Prime Minister to discuss what more the Government can do to help young carers, and I’m pleased the Government’s new plan to support unpaid carers includes some of the issues they raised. I’ve also been working closely with Manor-based SHINE Health Academy on tackling child obesity, bringing them to Parliament to meet with MPs, after they told me about their concerns in Big Conversation 2016.
I hosted an event in Parliament on the crisis in student mental health, pressed concerns in a roundtable with mental health professionals and other MPs, and met with the new Chief Executive of the Office for Students on the issue.
I’ve met regularly with Sheffield NHS Clinical Commissioning Group and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust to discuss issues raised in the Big Conversation.
Cuts, homelessness and policing
One of the key messages from the Big Conversation was serious concern about cuts to services leaving Sheffield communities on the edge of crisis. In my response to the Autumn Budget I pressed these concerns, speaking about our city being at a tipping point, as funding cuts affect the ability of police and the Council to tackle anti-social behaviour. I also met with the police to talk about particular concerns around crime and antisocial behaviour, most recently on the disturbing increase in knife crime.
The increase in street begging and rough sleeping was raised by lots of people. I joined PCSO Steve Hart on his 6am round checking on rough sleepers, to find out more about the issue -; and have met with the police and Councillors to discuss how we can tackle the issues better. In a recent debate in Parliament on street homelessness I talked about the impact of Government cuts in funding to councils on their capacity, directly and through their support for the voluntary sector, to help rough sleepers off the streets.
I also chose homelessness charities Cathedral Archer Project and Roundabout for my Christmas Appeal 2017 and was delighted when we raised £3,000 for their invaluable work.
Brexit was the third most important issue in my survey of people’s concerns, and obviously I’ve been spending lots of time on the issue as a Shadow Brexit Minister.
Since the Big Conversation, Labour’s position on Brexit has significantly developed. In February, Jeremy Corbyn set out how Labour would approach the negotiations differently to the Government and set out our vision of a comprehensive customs union with the EU, replicating our current arrangements and giving us a say in trade deals, and the closest possible relationship with the single market. We would also seek membership of the important EU agencies and programmes that we have built together over the past twenty-five years.
As a Shadow Minister, I’ve been closely involved in shaping our approach, recently focussing on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill and, crucially, securing a meaningful vote for Parliament on the final deal (read more here).
Poverty and inequality
People raised a variety of concerns related to poverty and inequality, and it was a major concern in survey responses. Some of the particular issues I’ve been following up on include calling on the Government to extend the cap on the cost of high cost credit (which the Government has now partially done), and meeting with a Treasury Minister on an issue around debt repayment affecting some Universal Credit claimants. I’ve also fought Government plans which could see more than 7,000 city children miss out on free school meals.
I asked Ministers about their assessment of introducing a compulsory registration scheme for landlords and a system of compulsory licensing, and about the implications of Government policies on the number of people on waiting lists for social housing.
Schools and education
I have been campaigning for the Government to end the funding crisis facing Sheffield schools, and pressed it with the Education Secretary and the Prime Minister, as well as meeting with local parents and head teachers. I’ve also met with the Council to press improvements on Special Educational Needs and Disability support.
Many of my Big Conversation meetings were with young people, and I followed up on concerns about the move away from exams to coursework; pushed for better mental health for school students; asked Ministers about how they’re tackling the bullying of LGBTQ children in schools; asked how the Government is ensuring that all schools teach awareness of LGBTQ issues in an age-appropriate manner; and questioned how the Department is empowering young people to engage in politics. I’ve also continued to speak out against the massive level of graduate debt.
I continue to work closely with local businesses. Some of the issues I’ve followed up on include: working with colleagues to seek to secure the South Yorkshire devolution deal, support for small and medium sized businesses to prepare for changes to data protection rules, barriers to the recruitment of highly skilled staff from abroad, and transport links in the North (for example, challenging the scrapping of the electrification of the Midland Mainline, and pressing for better Sheffield to Manchester links). I also met with members of the Chamber of Commerce to discuss devolution, skills and apprenticeships. The concerns raised around Brexit have also informed my work as a Shadow Minister.
Climate change and the environment
As well as pressing on the environmental benefits of rail electrification, I’ve pressed the Government on funding for councils to support air quality plans, protecting school children from air pollution, and how the World Bank is helping poor communities around the world invest in local, clean and renewable energy. I also continued to give voice to concerns raised with me by constituents on the Council’s tree replacement programme and was pleased when they paused it to consult on a way forward.
Sheffield for Democracy hosted a Big Conversation event and I’ve taken up the issues raised with me there, including backing the campaign for votes at 16, working with colleagues to secure a South Yorkshire devolution deal, and continuing in my role as Chair of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform.
Some other issues that were raised with me and I’ve followed up on include: