Big Conversation 2021 – taking up your concerns 

Every year I host a community consultation, called the Big Conversation, which informs the work I do and the issues I take to Parliament. The latest Big Conversation was held in the autumn last year, involving meetings, doorstep conversations and a constituency-wide survey. You can read the report on the consultation and the issues it highlighted here. 

I have tried to follow up on all the issues throughout the last year – in speeches, parliamentary questions, meetings with Ministers and more. The climate emergency, inequality and poverty, health and social care and the impact of Brexit were the top issues raised, but I’ve also taken up other issues and specific points raised by constituents, 

This report provides an overview of the work I have done in Parliament following up on the 2021 Big Conversation – it doesn’t include other issues I’ve been working on during the year. You can find out more about my overall work here – for a more detailed monthly update you can sign up to my newsletter here, and you can also read my preview of week ahead each Monday here.  

 

Climate emergency 

I held a valuable online meeting, co-hosted with the South Yorkshire Climate Coalition, following the COP26 summit and subsequently pressed COP President Alok Sharma on “keeping 1.5c alive” during the remaining months of the UK Presidency – you can watch our exchange here.  

Since last autumn I have regularly pressed ministers on the need to switch from fossil fuels, linking the need to reduce carbon emissions with the objectives of cutting home fuel bills and reducing our disproportionate dependence on gas in the context of the energy crisis – pressing the need to switch to renewables as well as commit to Labour’s programme of retro-insulating homes.  

I also challenged the way in which the fracking lobby are using Putin’s war in Ukraine to wrongly seek to reopen the case for shale gas, and stressing the need to increase investment in renewables, as well as taking up wider environmental concerns and backing the Big Plastic Count. 

 

Inequality and poverty 

Representing a constituency with some of the wealthiest and poorest parts of Sheffield, I’ve always focused on wealth inequality – a concern shared by constituents. Over the last year Covid-19 and the growing cost-of-living crisis have exacerbated the impact of inequality, and I have consistently called for support for those on lower incomes who are being hit the hardest by rising costs.  

I have called for the restoration of the £20 uplift to Universal Credit and its extension to those on legacy benefits, making the case directly to the Chancellor. I also raised a constituent’s personal experience with Rishi Sunak, to highlight the real impact of rising prices, after she wrote to me about her struggle to make ends meet. More recently I joined a meeting of the Manor and Castle Action Group on the crisis and took their concerns to Ministers – read more here.  

I’ve taken up specific issues for people with disabilities, pressing Ministers to tackle the backlog in  Work Capability Assessments and supporting the campaign launched by Scope arguing that those applying for Personal Independence Payments to be assessed by people familiar with the conditions they are evaluating. 

Although I believe there should be no need for food banks in our country, I’ve supported those in our constituency throughout the year and recently joined new Walkley Councillor Tom Hunt at Food Works to discuss action on food poverty and sustainability.  

 

Health and Social Care 

Health and social care continue to be one of the issues raised the most both during the Big Conversation and, with other Sheffield Labour MPs, I’ve met regularly throughout the year with the Sheffield NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, the Teaching Hospitals Trust and the Children’s Hospitals Trust to discuss specific issues raised by constituents, recovery from Covid-19.  

I’ve challenged Ministers over the last 12 years as they’ve cut NHS funding, reducing its resilience and tipping it into crisis when hit by the pandemic. In the last year I’ve pressed on the use of agency staff and inequality in the impact of Covid-19 on NHS staff.  

I spoke out on the Prime Minister’s broken promise to fix social care, challenging Care Minister Gillian Keegan in the House of Commons. I pointed out the failure to provide adequate funding leaving staff without the pay they deserve as well as a huge reliance on unpaid carers and young carers.  

Working with Sheffield Young Carers for some time led me to set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Young Carers and Young Adult Carers, in partnership with the Carers Trust, and I was pleased to be elected its Chair. 

Mental health provision has been a particular issue raised by constituents, which I’ve reflected in my work in Parliament – pressing for better funding overall and particularly for children’s and young people’s services.  I spoke in a debate on counselling in schools urging ministers to better fund mental health support for children and young people (read my full speech here) and met with students at Park Academy to discuss the issue. 

A huge number of constituents have raised access to NHS dentistry both during the Big Conversation and since. I raised it with the Treasury in October and signed a cross-party letter on increasing NHS dental budgets. I have since met with both the British Dental Association and Local Dental Committee, and made the case for a new dental contract  twice here and here.I have since met with both the British Dental Association and Local Dental Committee, and made the case in Parliament for a new dental contract twice – here and here. 

I backed calls for health and safety to be a right at work alongside the International Labour Organisation and continued to meet with Sheffield’s Director of Public Health regarding the threat of Covid-19 which you can read more about here, as well as Sheffield Teaching Hospitals. 

 

Brexit 

Many constituents raised barriers that Brexit had put in place, and particularly businesses who joined the Big Conversation meeting with MakeUK and the Federation of Small Businesses. As a Shadow Brexit Minister for four years, I worked to avert the potential damage of successive Tory Brexit proposals and still working on the issue. 

Over the last year I have served as a member of the cross-party cross-business UK Trade and Business Commission, which is taking evidence and making proposals on how Boris Johnson’s flawed Brexit deal should be changed. You can read reports of our fortnightly inquiry sessions here and our recommendations here. 

I have spoken regularly on Brexit problems in Parliament, for example calling on Ministers to put common sense before ideology when it came to fixing the lorry driver crisis by issuing temporary visas. I challenged Jacob Rees-Mogg when he launched his so-called ‘Brexit dashboard’ for the abolition of EU ‘retained law’ and I have warned Ministers on their irresponsible approach to the Northern Ireland Protocol – which you can read about in more detail here. 

Other issues 

Bus services was raised by many people and I’ve challenged the failure of the Government to back the investment plan that could have begun to improve South Yorkshire buses, and have been working with our new Mayor following the announcement of more cuts to services. 

I pressed the then Housing Secretary Michael Gove on protections sought by private renters during the Big Conversation and have worked consistently on cladding and fire safety issues which have affected many people. 

I undertook a lot of work on the Nationality and Borders Bill, which was raised by several people. There were many individual issues raised which I have pressed as opportunities arose, from drink-spiking to use of fireworks 

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