Tory Budget and its unfair choices lets Rochdale down
This Budget highlights the unfair political choices a Conservative Chancellor will always make. The only tax cut has been round pensions for the very rich. Most families will pay more in tax next year. There was nothing there to solve the crisis round public sector pay and end the industrial disputes for nurses, doctors, teachers and so many others.
Tax is at its highest level for 70-years. Those in work are earning less and it’s their sacrifice that is bringing inflation down. The government is making us pay and taking the credit for it. The average energy bill has doubled in the last 18 months and the average mortgage payment is up £2,000 a year. That’s a massive hit to living standards and whilst the Chancellor talked about a high-wage and high-skills economy, he’s given us nothing on how he will deliver it. The UK is still in the longest pay squeeze for more than 200 years.
And where was the ambition to fund our public services and the pay rises needed to recruit and retain teachers, carers, doctors and nurses? There are now 7-million people on hospital waiting lists. Again, nothing in the Budget about that.
The Chancellor mentioned that £400million will be invested in new levelling-up partnerships, including Rochdale. Given that the same government recently pulled back levelling up funds which would have improved the gateway into the town centre from Rochdale railway station, I wait with bated breath.
They should also be embarrassed at re-announcing the Investment Zone Plan, having scrapped it. And how do we know it won’t just be scrapped again?
Nothing in the Budget addressed the urgency of the climate crisis. There was no ambition on clean energy that will give us cheaper bills. With the absence of a one-off windfall tax on oil and gas giants, money is still on the table that could help people with the cost of living.
Where was the ambition in the Budget? Where is the hope for the future? Where is the plan for investment in education for our young people or jobs skills training for the future? It’s not there.
Of course I welcome the announcement on nursery education for young children something I’ve been asking for years but it’s all in the future. Overall the Budget could have been so much fairer, it could have been so much better. Put simply, this Chancellor and his Budget have failed the nation.
Illegal Migration Bill
It is right to say that we need strong action to stop dangerous boat crossings that put lives at risk and undermine border security. That has to start with going after the criminal gangs. But the Illegal Migration Bill is a con and a gimmick that will only make the problem worse. Labour voted against it this week and instead offered a comprehensive plan to crack down on the gangs with a new Cross Border Police Unit. Labour will also overhaul the asylum system to fast-track decisions and returns and end the use of hotels and get a new agreement with France, Belgium and other European countries. A reform of the resettlement and family reunion schemes is needed so they actually work properly and to tackle humanitarian crises at source.
The Conservatives passed a law only 9 months ago which they claimed would ‘stop the boats’, end hotel use and penalise people for trying to claim asylum. It didn’t work. Boat crossings went up to a record 45,000 (compared to just a few hundred people three years ago), hotel use went up, asylum delays got longer and only 1% of last year’s cases have been decided. Of the 18,000 people that the Government considered as inadmissible for asylum because they had travelled through another country, only 21 were returned. Now they have introduced yet another Bill which makes it easier for criminal trafficking and smuggler gangs, means that tens of thousands more people are likely to end up in hotels and asylum accommodation indefinitely and makes it harder to get the international cooperation we need, both on return agreements and on support for those who have fled persecution and conflict.
Perhaps that’s why Gary Lineker became the diversionary focus the Conservatives needed. It’s daft that a sports presenter’s Tweet led the BBC News headlines on this rather than the Bill itself. Twitter isn’t important, real issues are. The BBC’s handling of this was chronic and they should learn that when they are subject to right-wing political pressure, they should resist it and stand up to it – not pander to it.
Free School Meals
I joined cross-party MPs in writing to Chancellor, calling on him to use the Spring Budget to extend free school meals to all primary school pupils. The cost-of-living crisis saw the number of children living in food poverty almost double last year, now standing at nearly 4 million. In London, Scotland and Wales, action is being taken to address this with free school meals being extended to all primary school pupils, guaranteeing every child has access to a hot, healthy meal each day. This policy means no child slips through the net because of complicated application processes and it ends the stigma of means-testing. But throughout the rest of England, children are being left behind. The Chancellor didn’t take up the issue.
Update on Awaab’s Law
Amendments to the Social Housing (Regulations) Bill mean social landlords will have strict timeframes in which to inspect damp and mould and to carry out urgent repairs. Those timeframes will be set following a consultation within six months of the Bill being given Royal Assent. Amendments made to the Bill means that we will also see clear information on rights and how to make a complaint provided to tenants, Ofsted-style inspections for housing associations and the requirement for managers to take professional qualifications. The government will want to consult on the final form of these regulations, but they must include the provisions set out by the Awaab’s Law campaign in setting clear minimum safety standards, clear minimum timeframes for the remedying of any hazards found and an urgent priority move if the property is found to be unsafe.
Cost-of-living support: 42 warm spaces open in Rochdale
42 ‘warm spaces’ have been created in Rochdale to help people cope with the cost-of-living crisis. People in Rochdale and across the country are under the cosh because of increased living costs, food and energy bills. A range of help and advice is available from Rochdale Council and other organisations and those who are stepping up to support people in the absence of proper government support. This deserves commendation but it shouldn’t be like this. Labour in government will reduce energy costs and insulate homes, saving households up to £1,400 off their annual bills not just for one year, but for years to come. This would be paid for by bringing in a proper one-off windfall tax on energy giants and spending that on a package of support for energy bills.
📝 The full list of warm spaces can be found here.
Social care staffing and a National Care Service
Rochdale, like many parts of Greater Manchester, is finding it difficult to recruit social care staff and social workers. I co-signed a Parliamentary motion highlighting the number of vacancies in the sector and the government’s lack of a coherent plan to deal with the shortage of staff. ✍️ Read the full text of the motion here.
Fix football regulation before it’s too late
I’m calling on the government to fix football regulation before more clubs change hands or go under, as Rochdale misses out on £1million this season. Football clubs like Rochdale are at the heart of the community in a town likes ours and are a great source of pride. I welcome the publication of the football White Paper but it’s long overdue. Delays have already cost lower league clubs millions of pounds this season. Many clubs are on the brink and can’t wait another two years for a fair deal. We can’t have any more dithering – the government should bring in the legislation needed to establish a proper regulator urgently.
📰 Read more here. 📺 I also spoke about this on That’s TV News. Watch.
Restoring neighbourhood policing
People in Rochdale are right to tell me that the Tories are failing to keep local communities safe. The number of PCSOs across the North West has collapsed by 47% since the Conservatives came to power. In that time it has become a rare sight to see a police officer on the beat. It is unsurprising that this massive drop in neighbourhood policing in the North West has been accompanied by a 48% increase in reported robbery since 2015 and a 99% increase in knife crime. The next Labour government will prevent crime, punish criminals and protect communities.
📰 Read more about Labour’s plans here.
Courts’ IT system failures
I’m calling on the government to ‘get a grip’ on IT system failures which are having a detrimental impact on the way the courts operate and manage their caseload. Justice delayed is justice denied but for victims of crime the delays in seeing their cases get to court is a scandal. I note that Greater Manchester’s Chief Constable has recently and publicly asked for police to be able to bring forward prosecutions because of the slowness in the Crown Prosecution Service In truth, the problem goes much deeper. The whole court process has been underfunded for years and the failure of the case management systems has already seen tens of millions of pounds wasted and ultimately, it’s at the detriment to the delivery of justice.
📰 Read more here.
HS2: The slow death of ‘levelling-up’
HS2 plans between Manchester and London, which has already faced years of delays, will be pushed back by at least another two years. I’m really angry about this HS2 decision. It should have begun in the North and then continued to the Midlands. We don’t particularly need a new line between Birmingham and London and if that’s all HS2 becomes, we will have been cheated. And we’ve been cheated already because it will be a long time before the first train pulls into Manchester.
Raw sewage in canals and rivers
Our rivers and seas are dirty and polluted. Raw sewage is spilled into our canals and rivers somewhere every 2 ½ minutes. That is shocking. And it’s getting worse. “Storm overflows” are meant to be an exceptional circumstance when so much rain and drain water are around that the water companies are able to pump sewage into our rivers to prevent it flooding our homes. But it’s no longer exceptional. In 2020 there were an astonishing 400,000 “storm overflows”, a much higher figure than in previous years. The water companies treat this as normal and our rivers are kept toxic. United Utilities, our water company, even had 12 incidents when sewage was discharged when there was no rain.
We were promised by this government some years back that by 2027, 75% of our rivers would be “good”. We’re not going to get anywhere near that target. Most recent figures tell us only 16% are “good” and that’s unchanged over the previous five years. Bear in mind water companies don’t have a right to pollute and it’s an offence. There is no doubt that government underfunding of the Environment Agency means it can’t monitor the action of the companies as it should. Ofwat, the companies regulator, is a toothless body which simply doesn’t regulate. So the water companies have not invested in preventing all this in the years since privatisation. But it’s no wonder when they don’t get caught. The number of prosecutions has dropped well down. What has kept well up, of course, has been the dividends paid out. Some at least of the £296 million paid as dividends by United Utilities could have been invested in overflow prevention but it wasn’t. Campaign groups like the wonderfully named Surfers against Sewage have been fighting this battle for years. I’ve raised it in Parliament as have other MPs. But we’ve got to insist that the right to clean rivers and seas is a priority and surveys show 95% of the population agree. I’d love to know who the other 5% are.
One piece of good news is that a new treaty has been agreed to make 30% of our deepest seas and oceans as protected areas. I have, like many others, campaigned for this and it’s a real step to safeguard the Ocean’s biodiversity. We can do things when the political will is there.
Combatting air pollution
I called on the Chancellor to take urgent action on air pollution in the Spring Budget. Harmful particulates — such as vehicle emissions, dust from roads or construction sites — have caused up to 36,000 deaths per year. That is an astonishing figure. By 2025, this will also cost the NHS and social care system an estimated £1.6 billion. It’s clear that the current approach to tackling poor air quality and healthcare funding isn’t working. We need to take action on this now. The government must look at adopting WHO air quality standards by 2040 if we are to bring dangerous levels of toxic air down.
📰 Read more here.
The Belarus All Party Group met with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya who is accepted as the legitimate voice of Belarusians. She discussed the need to strengthen sanctions and close loopholes, called for the creation of a BBC Belarusian service and welcomed the idea of engaging with UK women’s organisations to help raise the profile of issues in Belarus and highlight the leading role of women in the Belarusian democratic movement. We also heard from representatives of the Belarusian diaspora in the UK, who raised some of the issues they have been facing.
Labour Friends of Ukraine also met with the Ukrainian Ambassador, Vadym Prystaiko, to mark the week of the first anniversary of Russia’s full scale invasion of Ukraine and discussed the current situation and what support continues to be needed.
I also joined over 70 cross-party MPs and Peers in writing to the Housing Minister with concerns around rising homelessness amongst Ukrainian refugees living in Britain and the urgent action needed to support them. Recent Government data revealed over 4,000 Ukrainian households have received homelessness support from their local council since arriving in the UK – a six fold increase in the number of households receiving homelessness support since June 2022. As we marked one year since the full scale invasion of Ukraine, we are urging the Westminster Government to ensure no one fleeing the war and seeking sanctuary in the UK is left facing homelessness.
There was a good turnout at the Ukrainian flag raising and minute’s silence at Number One Riverside this month, with powerful and emotional speeches from members of Rochdale’s Ukrainian community.
The death of Baroness Betty Boothroyd
I was sad to hear that Betty Boothroyd has passed away. She was an inspiring woman and someone I was proud to call my friend. To be the first woman Speaker in the Commons was no mean feat and it was especially pleasing to hear a Northern voice speaking from the Chair. She was firm but fair, witty and formidable. We will all miss her.
Apply for a postal vote
This year, the way people vote in elections will change. People are now required to bring photo ID to vote in person. But people can also vote from home by registering for a postal vote. Signing up is quick and easy. Make sure your voice is heard and register for a postal vote today.
🔎 Find out more here.