The Big Conversation Report 2018
From Neepsend to Nether Edge and Walkley to Wybourn, with lots of places in between, it was great to see so many people at Big Conversation events, including open meetings, drop-ins and street surgeries. The views and concerns I heard, together with the responses to my survey, which was delivered to more than 40,000 homes across Sheffield Central, will shape my work in the year ahead.
As in previous years, I’ll be following up on the issues that have been raised with me and prioritising my work in Parliament on those themes that came up again and again. This year the dominant themes were crime and policing, health and social care, Brexit and transport. Other significant issues included social security, homelessness and rough sleeping and a range of issues relating to schools. There were of course a huge number of other topics too; all have been recorded and I’ll be following up on them. You can read a summary of all the other issues raised at the end of the report.
Crime and policing
Shocking incidents of knife crime in recent months were raised in many of the discussions, as part of growing concern about crime and anti-social behaviour. We also talked about what needs to be done, and I’ve met with the police to discuss how we build partnerships to tackle the issue. After last year’s concern about the impact of budget cuts on the capacity of the police, council and local charities to tackle growing antisocial behaviour and crime, I told Parliament that we were reaching a tipping point. It feels as if we are much closer to it this year. The consequences of the erosion of services that keep our communities safe was evident at many events, with a greater number of people talking about personal safety, gang violence, knife crime, drug abuse, and antisocial behaviour, along with particular incidents in some areas. Other issues raised included the effectiveness of prison, the legalisation of drugs, the number and role of Police Community Support Officers, the impact of school exclusions, stop and search, and sexual harassment.
Health and Social Care
Health and social care was once again the number one concern of people who filled in the survey and, in meetings, mental health was prominent, as it has been for the last few Big Conversations.
At my open meeting on mental health, organised with Sheffield MIND, people with mental health problems talked about their struggle to access treatments such as longer-term counselling or therapy, and the challenges in getting appropriate care quickly for those experiencing a mental health crisis. Further points included concern about stretched mental health service teams, the transition between Child, Adolescent and Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and adult services, the organisation of mental health services, and the need for police to be better trained to deal with people in a mental health crisis. At other events too I heard worries about young people’s access to mental health services, the availability of support in schools and pressures on young people causing anxiety and depression.
Other health and social care issues raised at meetings included the need to celebrate the great work NHS staff do, opposition to the now scrapped proposals to close the minor injuries unit and walk-in centre, pressures on carers, and hospital parking charges.
Brexit came up a lot and not just at the meeting dedicated to the issue. It’s no surprise that people are concerned, given the state of negotiations, and discussion covered many areas on the transitional period, future trade deals and our wider relationship with the EU. Individuals spoke about their concerns on leaving without a deal, fears over the limiting of opportunities in specific areas like higher education, and what companies should be doing before Brexit.
There was lots of discussion about holding a further referendum, the franchise, the question on the ballot paper and the voting system that might be used.
Discussion also covered Labour’s policy on Brexit, concerns about the rights of British people in the EU and EU citizens in the UK post-Brexit, the quality of the debate during the referendum, why people voted leave, and immigration. Brexit was also the second most selected answer to the question on my survey about the three most important issues, reflecting the concern seen in national polls where Brexit is overwhelmingly chosen as the most important issue facing the country.
Transport was raised much more than last year, with concerns about the rail network and local buses, and I’ve already raised the unacceptable reductions in London to Sheffield rail services with Transport Ministers and the Transport Select Committee. Rail issues included the cancellation of the electrification of the Midland Mainline, the dangers of driver-only trains and debate around HS2. The cost of bus fares and frequency of services was raised a number of times. Air quality was a significant issue too, with growing concerns about pollution from cars, taxis and buses in the city. Other issues included whether flying should be taxed more and the powers of the elected Mayor over transport.
There is considerable concern about Universal Credit across the country, because of its impact on claimants where it has been introduced. In my meeting with welfare advisors they raised a huge number of issues with Universal Credit and concerns about what will happen when it is rolled out in Sheffield from 7 November. In other meetings people feared that it would hit smaller businesses and put people into poverty, and there were questions about how it would affect part time and full time workers as well as the unemployed.
Issues about social security in other meetings included opposition to cuts to child tax credits, support for the WASPI campaign, and various points about pensions – including concerns that the basic state pension is too low, the difficulties facing single pensioners, and the collapse of occupational pension schemes. As last year, concern about poverty and inequality was significant in survey responses, with it coming third in terms of people’s most important issues this year.
Homelessness & rough sleeping
Last year’s strong message that cuts were leaving Sheffield communities on the edge of a crisis was repeated this year, with fears over crime, but also extensive concern about growing homelessness and street begging coming across especially in meetings. This year, homelessness and rough sleeping were again raised in meetings; I heard about the impact of cuts on services, fears for rough sleepers as winter approaches and how services can find it difficult to help rough sleepers with complex problems. I am already set to meet with the Cabinet Office to discuss plans on reducing homelessness.
I was keen to hear the views and concerns of young people within the Big Conversation and met with students in secondary schools across the constituency. Concerns raised reflected many of those raised elsewhere, such as on Brexit, mental health and homelessness, but also specific issues including access to the civil service, GCSEs getting harder, and the need for a curriculum for life that includes sex and relationships education and managing money. Other issues around schools raised elsewhere included teachers under stress, problems with academies, a target driven culture in primary and secondary schools, and problems with agency work for teachers.
Every issue raised during my Big Conversation is important. I’ve already begun to take up the concerns that were raised. I’ll be following up on every one and, where issues have come up repeatedly, I’ll be prioritising them over the year ahead. The issue of the need for extra funding after years of austerity runs through a number of my priorities, but there are other ways I’ll be pressing on these issues too. My priorities will be:
- Crime & policing: I’ve already met with the police and local councillors to discuss the concerns people raised about crime and antisocial behaviour, and in my response to the Budget I’ll press the Chancellor on the challenges facing local communities which have worsened since last year and underline the need for greater funding for the police, councils and voluntary organisations.
- Health & social care: As a first step, I’m arranging for the city’s MPs to meet with the Health and Social Care Trust to discuss issues around mental health services. I’ll also focus on mental health in Parliament, calling on the Government to invest in services so people can get the treatment they need, and giving a priority to services for young people.
- Brexit: In my role as Shadow Brexit Minister I’ll keep pushing for a deal that meets Labour’s six tests, a meaningful say for Parliament on the Government’s proposed deal, and a public vote – a general election or referendum – if nothing is resolved by Parliament.
- Transport: I’ve already challenged Ministers on London-Sheffield services and raised through the Transport Select Committee. I’ll be working with the Sheffield City Region Mayor to make sure we get the transport powers we need to improve bus services; I’ll keep pushing for investment in northern rail services; and press to improve air quality.
- Social security: I’ll continue to press for a system that supports people in and out of employment, I’ll work closely with welfare advisors on Universal Credit, and I’ve joined with other MPs to step up protests against its roll out at a rally on 27 October.
- Homelessness & rough sleeping: I’ll continue to work with the Council and local charities who work directly with homeless people and rough sleepers. I’ll also keep pushing for the Government to invest more in these organisations. I already have a meeting planned with the Cabinet Office to discuss how we can tackle homelessness.
- Schools: I’m working with MPs and Council to press the issue of funding for Sheffield schools, raising access to the Civil Service with the Cabinet Office and the National Curriculum with the Department for Education.
You can follow my progress when I publish a report in April 2019 on what I’ve done. You can sign up to receive an email when I’ve published it here.
Other issues raised at meetings (in no particular order) included: council repairs, community cohesion, tree replacement, joint enterprise, noise pollution, cladding, issues affecting carers (such as access to information, identification of carers, continuity of care, assessment for “continuing healthcare”, relationship with the council, language barriers for non-English speakers, funding of the care system, importance of raising the profile of the caring profession and enforcement of minimum standards and training, carer’s allowance, the value of carers, communication, mental capacity, access to medicines for EU citizens post-Brexit and social care green paper), apprenticeships, business and corporation taxes, artificial intelligence, intellectual property, regulations, investing in technology, motorbikes, drug dealing, reporting crime to police, littering, road restrictions around Emmaus School, Place First development, housing, parking outside schools, prices of Council contractors, PFI, Streets Ahead work and alternative transport arrangements, early years and Sure Start, student housing, taxation, media bias, right wing populism, tech start-ups, politics and media skills, religious freedom, austerity/inequality, voluntary organisations, economy/infrastructure, NHS IAPT service, mental health home treatment service, lack of mental health beds/detained units, helping people with mental health problems get into work, council structure, taxes on property, assisted dying, anti-Semitism, access to services for deaf people, disability discrimination legislation, access to elected office for deaf people, Labour policies, adult learning grant and future jobs fund, libraries, bank closures, British Sign Language classes, electoral reform, employment, tuition fees, South Yorkshire Pension Fund, air travel, climate change, Labour’s green jobs announcement, local businesses trying to be green, local partnerships, food provision, consumerism, fracking, green energy supply, Israel/Palestine, North West China (Xinjiang), the Community Impact Levy, spice, graffiti, funding for public services, car insurance, higher education, Sheffield City Region Mayor/Devolution, smoking/vaping, water system, Woodburn running track, Deprivation of Liberty safeguards and Liberty Protection Safeguards, road repairs, internet, democracy, Armed Police, 101 phone line, ethical procurement and tax havens, human rights/Immigration and refugees, parking in Kelham Island, White Ribbon, post study work visas, threats via social media, lack of female representation in parliament, women and girls sports, Spearmint Rhino, settled status, freedom of expression, railway nationalisation, station safety, closure of care centres for the elderly, privatisation.
Full list of events:
Gardener’s Rest drop-in, Street Surgery in Walkley, Street Surgery in Manor Castle, Broomhall Open Meeting, Madina Masjid Open Day, Broomhill Open Meeting, Small Business Breakfast, Sheffield Carers Centre, Walkley Open Meeting, Zefi’s Coffee Lounge drop-in, Manor Open Meeting, Café Ceres drop-in, City of Sanctuary/Multi Agency Drop In, Open Meeting in City Centre (with deaf community), Somali community coffee morning, Faith Leaders Meeting, Open Meeting on mental health, Nether Edge Open Meeting, Park Library Café drop-in, Big Conversation on Climate Change, King Edward VII School, St Andrew’s United Reform Church drop-in, Street Surgery in Nether Edge, Street Surgery in City, Street Surgery in Manor Park, Kingfield Synagogue, Manor Park Café drop-in, Park Academy School, Big Conversation for Women, Amici & Bici drop-in, City Centre Open Meeting (Theatre Deli), Open Meeting at Chinese Community Centre, Open Meeting on Brexit, Sheffield High School, Welfare Advisers Roundtable, Safer Neighbourhoods Meeting, Sheffield UTC, Primoz café drop-in, Street Surgery in Broomhall, Sheffield Pensioners Action Group