It’s been a very busy month representing you as your Member of Parliament for Warrington North. From fighting for fair pay for our keyworkers and supporting our pubs, to ending violence against women and banning conversion therapy and much more, I’ve been fighting hard for our community in Parliament!
At a Westminster Hall debate, I spoke up for Warrington North's NHS heroes and the need for the pay rise they deserve.
Ten years of austerity and real terms pay cuts for staff left our NHS on its knees when the pandemic struck. It is a credit to the incredible efforts of our NHS staff, who put their own lives on the line every single day that we are now at a point where we can talk about what life after Covid looks like. In my speech I paid tribute to Andy Collier and Joselito Habab, two nurses in Warrington who gave their lives caring for others, and to the sacrifices made by NHS staff across our community to see us through this pandemic.
A real terms NHS pay cut is not only a kick in the teeth to our NHS front line, but is economically illiterate- as the country’s largest employer, putting pay in the pockets of the NHS staff means more money circulating around our community as we recover from this pandemic, as it will be spent in our local shops, with our local tradespeople, with our childminders, supporting our local economy. And, of course, public sector pay rises provide a benchmark for pay negotiations in the private sector too.
Last years claps won’t pay this years bills, so the Government needs to come up with a figure that not only recognises the incredible national contribution of our NHS staff during this pandemic but starts to right the wrongs of ten years of pay stagnation.
I am also incredibly disappointed with the decision at the Supreme Court which has ruled that social care workers should not be paid the National Minimum Wage for sleep-ins. This is fundamentally unfair. Care workers are spending time in their workplace and can be called to provide urgent care at a moment’s notice.
Care workers are among the lowest-paid workers in our economy, despite the vital, skilled and often emotionally challenging work they do. This ruling only further drives down employment standards in the sector, at a time when we’ve all been aware more than ever of just how important and undervalued our care workers are.
I stand shoulder to shoulder with UNISON in calling for the Government to act quickly to ensure that care providers do not start cutting pay rates as a result, and to bring forward legislation to ensure that sleep-in shifts will be considered working time as part of wider necessary reforms of the Social Care sector.
In the parliamentary debate on this deeply flawed piece of legislation I spoke out against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. My speech was clear- this Bill does not come close to dealing with the scourge of violence against women. In light of the horrendous murder of Sarah Everard, this is a gaping hole in such an important piece of legislation. When we have a situation where fly-tipping could carry a longer sentence than stalking, it is a damning indictment of this Government’s abject failure to get to grips with the issue.
On an issue as crucial as this, the Government must work cross-party with Labour and unify our country behind tackling violence against women. Labour’s package of measures on this includes increasing the minimum sentence for rapists and stalkers, creating a new street harassment law and announcing a review to toughen up sentences for domestic murderers.
In addition, at Prime Minister’s Questions I asked Boris Johnson about the systematic failures in prosecuting rape and incidents of survivors being silenced through the civil courts. I have Parliamentary Privilege. I can name the men who have hurt me. But millions of women in this country don't even have that. The Prime Minister is right to say that ‘we have to address the fundamental issue..of casual sexism’ but words are not enough. It is easy for him to pay lip service but his words will ring hollow in the ears of the women who are being denied justice. Words matter but the Prime Minister will be judged by his deeds.
Earlier this month I met the team at the Warrington Islamic Association Centre where, with the support of Orford Pharmacy and a dedicated team of volunteers, Covid vaccinations are taking place!
We spoke about issues with supply and combatting some of the misinformation that's out there, which is contributing to vaccine-hesitancy in some parts of our community, as well as what the longer-term plans are for both the centre and the pharmacy.
Any Warrington resident can get their vaccine at the WIA centre. When it's your turn, please make sure you take the opportunity. Having seen the smooth and easy process for myself this weekend, you couldn't be in better hands.
Thank you to the Warrington Islamic Association, the Orford Pharmacy, the volunteers and everyone involved in the delivery of our local vaccine programme- you are a credit to our town!
In addition, this month I asked the Health Secretary about ensuring that people in high-risk categories can still get their first dose, despite projected delays to delivery. This week, the NHS wrote to local GPs to tell them that this week ‘there will be a significant reduction in supply’ The vaccine roll-out in Warrington has gone incredibly well and is a credit to our community, but we must ensure that everyone who needs the vaccine gets access to it.
Supporting Our Pubs
As the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group I have highlighted the existential threat to pubs from the events of the past year- and asked for clearer support for the sector.
The grants given to pubs in the Budget are a start, but this cannot be the end of their support, with the British Institute of Innkeeping saying that the grants “will not even cover the furlough contributions that will be needed to safeguard their teams until May, let alone June.” While the business rates holiday and VAT cut extension are of course welcome, the scope of the support for the sector is still too limited. There is far more that needs to be done to address gaps in the scale of the support for wet-led pubs, pubs without beer gardens and the breweries in the supply chain like Warrington's own Coach House Brewery, Twisted Wheel Brew Company and 4Ts brewery.
Pubs and their suppliers deserve the support they need until they can reopen properly, a day to which we are all looking forward very much. As our freedom to enjoy those days comes back, we need to make sure our pubs and their suppliers survive to enjoy that freedom in!
I spoke in the Parliamentary debate on ‘Online Anonymity and Anonymous Abuse’. The increasing threat of online harms has been underlined by research from the Community Security Trust (CST) and HOPE not hate. Antisemitism Policy Trust is clear that anonymity encourages conversations to become more extreme. There are a number of legitimate needs for anonymity, but this must be addressed alongside the problems of anonymous abuse. That it is difficult is not a reason not to tackle this.
Equally, anonymity is not the only cause of online abuse. For example, I’ve been subject to antisemitic, biphobic and other hateful rhetoric co-ordinated by the Warrington Conversation Association- including by candidates standing in this May's local elections. In addition to tackling the problems of anonymous abuse we also need a wider cultural shift in people treat one another online.
The Government’s 2019 White Paper is a welcome step, but the legislation cannot be delayed and must be brought forward promptly.
Rugby World Cup
At a recent session of Commons Business Questions I talked about the importance of promoting the upcoming Rugby League World Cup and the first ever Physical Disability Rugby League World Cup.
As we look to the end of this incredibly difficult period, the World Cup will give a great boost to the whole nation and especially in Rugby League towns like ours and we need to make sure as a Parliament we are doing all we can to ensure its success and legacy.
I was very grateful that the Speaker of the House Lindsay Hoyle, a Warrington Wolves fan, was offering his support too!
Banning Conversion Therapy
At Women and Equalities Questions I asked the Minister to apologise for the Government’s delay in banning LGBT conversion therapy.
Last year the Prime Minister said “What we are going to do is a study right now on, you know, where is this actually happening, how prevalent is it, and we will then bring forward plans to ban it”. But this is not good enough. We need action on this now. LGBT+ people simply cannot wait for the Government to dither and delay while this abhorrent practice is allowed to continue. We need a full legislative ban on conversion therapy and we need it without delay.
I asked the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, about the fact that for all the Government's talk on Britain being a global leader in human rights, that we continue to sign trade deals with countries committing appalling human rights abuses and he'd been caught on record defending this.
Despite a large number of rebellions from their own benches, the Government voted down the cross-party Genocide Amendment to the trade bill which would prohibit the UK from signing trade deals with countries engaging in genocide.
This Government's stated commitment to human rights in the UK and abroad is being shown for what it is- utterly worthless.
Stopping Government Cronyism
At a time when the Government is borrowing huge sums of money to get us through the pandemic, it is only right that this spending should come with accountability. I spoke in Parliament to support an amendment to the Consolidated Fund debate, that would mean greater transparency on Government spending when it comes to contracts- requiring the Government to publish a monthly list for scrutiny. Shamefully this was voted down!
It has been scandalous how much public money (our money!) has wound up in the pockets of businesses linked to Ministers and advisors, without experience in delivery. In many cases, other companies have not even been able to bid for these contracts, and I am aware of a number of local manufacturers who have been turned down when they offered support in the national effort.
I don't doubt the need to increase our spending to ensure that lives and livelihoods can be protected at this most difficult time, but we must make sure that public money is being spent for the public good and not just making those profiting from the crisis even richer.
This month’s Budget was nothing more than a political stunt to increase the Chancellor’s standings amongst Tory MPs and party members in the shires. He has announced that he is increasing taxes on businesses so that he can get credit for cutting them before the next General Election. That is how you charm colleagues in a Tory leadership contest, not how you govern the country.
Ultimately this Budget does not come anywhere near close to addressing the inequalities in our country. Ten years of cuts to our public services have weakened the foundations of our economy, all the Chancellor could muster was some money that was announced by George Osborne eight years ago, move parts of the Treasury to Darlington and introduce free ports.
This was a Budget of style but no substance. There was nothing on giving our keyworkers the pay rise they deserve, nothing on a plan for social care, nothing on properly tackling the jobs crisis, nothing on tackling child poverty and nothing on an uplift to legacy benefits for people on ESA.
He has also promised that the £20 uplift to Universal Credit will be continued for six months but not announced that this will be permanent, thereby moving the cliff edge six months and giving more uncertainty to families on UC in Warrington. Mentioning this is not nitpicking or politics for politics sake, peoples livelihoods are at risk and the Chancellor simply hasn’t got to grips with it.
In addition, following the Budget the Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has announced the abolition of the Industrial Strategy Council. The Council included a range of high-profile business executives, from former Bank of England economists to Facebook bosses.
This move is being mooted alongside a potential Whitehall as part of a ‘departure from the Industrial Strategy brand.’ At this stage, it could be a branding exercise but it has the potential to have profound implications for our economy.
It suggests a lack of a co-ordinated industrial strategy from the Government, which is all the more prescient given the need to both meet our net zero target and to tackle the regional inequalities we face in Warrington. If ‘levelling up’ is to be more than a slogan, we must have a sustained government focus on supporting the development of green industries, like our nuclear and hydrogen sectors here in Warrington.
With the start of spring and the success of the vaccine roll-out, hope is just round the corner for our community. After a busy March I look forward to continuing to work hard this April as your as MP for Warrington North!