We will remember them

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:poppy

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them.

When you go home tell them of us and say

For your tomorrow, we gave our today.

 

These words will echo across the country this morning at 11am, accompanied by a two minutes silence. I will lay my wreath as Liverpool Wavertree Member of Parliament on behalf of all my constituents.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the moment the guns fell silent in World War One, a conflict that took the lives of 16 million people, according to the Imperial War Museum.

This moment of remembrance, this year of all years, will help us all reflect on the immense sacrifices of those who have gone before so that we can live today.

Hammond’s house of horrors

Budget Red BoxChancellor Philip Hammond changed the date of the Budget to avoid a clash with Hallowe’en but still managed to produce a fright night package that does nothing to deal with the serious problems facing the country.

His declaration that austerity is coming to an end and our public services are safe in Tory hands will not ring true locally.

As I revealed in a parliamentary debate last week, poverty is striking at the heart of our city and devastating the lives of too many people. You can see the full debate by clicking here and read coverage from the Liverpool Echo by clicking here.

During the debate, I challenged the government to produce a Budget that supported people out of poverty rather than forced more into destitution. It has failed.

Liverpool City Council has seen a two-thirds cut to its budget – £444 million – since 2010. It has suffered more than most because the cuts come on the back of changes to funding formulas that mean the poorest areas are hardest hit.

The Budget could have marked a real end to austerity by offering a fair and transparent funding formula based on people’s needs and bolstering local economies to drive inclusive economic growth. Instead, the Chancellor offered some sticking plasters to patch up some potholes but otherwise left our city to fend for itself.

It is the most vulnerable in our city who are being hit hardest.

For instance, Liverpool City Council has a £7 million overspend this year on vital services to vulnerable children and young adults because of Whitehall cuts. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services calculates that the number of responsibilities placed on councils by government has increased by 50 per cent since 2011, without the extra investment to pay for them.

The Chancellor should have launched an urgent review of the financing of statutory services to ensure councils have the money they need to support the most vulnerable.

As I said during the poverty debate in Parliament, the threat of Universal Credit is now hovering over constituents in Liverpool Wavertree.

Wherever it has been rolled out, food bank use has shot up, people have fallen into debt and homelessness has increased. Rather than a promise of a little more money to ease the worst abuses, we needed the Chancellor to call a halt to the roll out until the fundamental flaws in the system are fixed.

Of course, we were all waiting for details of how the promised £20 billion of extra funding for the National Health Service was going to be paid for. It certainly won’t be coming from the Brexit dividend as was promised during the referendum debate in 2016. In fact, we learnt from the Budget books that the divorce bill plus spending in lieu of EU funding will be far higher than our current payments to the EU.

Two years on, the Chancellor could only offer up some suggestions on how the money will be spent – £2 billion towards mental health crisis services, far short of the £4 billion that experts say is needed to bring about real equality between our mental and physical health services.

It is a sleight of hand Budget that fails to meet people’s needs.

Wear it Pink to support the fight against breast cancer

Wear it PinkI’m wearing pink today to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month and encourage people across Liverpool Wavertree to take the chance of a check-up when it is offered by the NHS.

This year, over 55,000 women in the UK will hear the words: ‘it’s breast cancer’ and around 11,500 women will tragically die from it. Although it is rare, men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer, with around 340 men affected each year.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in the UK, with one in eight women receiving a diagnosis in their lifetime.

The challenges is that less than half of women invited for a breast cancer screening in some parts of Liverpool Wavertree actually attend. The NHS has set a target of over 70 per cent.

Wear it Pink is a great way to raise awareness and support initiatives by the local NHS and Liverpool City Council to boost screening rates.

Transport Secretary must take charge

The unsurprising conclusion of the recently published interim report into the #RailFail chaos that hit many constituents this summer is that ‘nobody took charge’ even when it became clear that passengers were going to be badly let down by the shambolic introduction of a new timetable.Rail report cover

Of course, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling should have been in charge, but he has blamed Network Rail, rail operators and the rail regulator. The truth is that the rail industry has become fragmented, riven by commercial rivalries and is now competing over who should take the blame.

Even this weekend, with the Giants in town and people travelling from across the country to Liverpool, Northern could not run a full service.

We need a railway that serves the people who use it to get to work, visit friends and family and for leisure. Business needs a railway with the capacity to move more goods efficiently around the country.

That will only be achieved when the industry comes together to plan much needed investment in the outdated infrastructure and offer passengers a new deal, including proper compensation for the disruption over the summer.

It’s time that the government to properly solve the immediate chaos and then devolve powers to the region to get our trains back on the rails.

I echo the calls made by City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram and Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson for powers to implement a Northern Powerhouse solution that will see a twin-track rail link built from Liverpool to Manchester, linking into HS2, as well as a new station in Liverpool city centre.

That will increase passenger and freight capacity to support businesses across the region.

More immediately, we need Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to do his job and take charge of our fragmented industry. Ordering yet another review is not taking charge, it’s just dodging responsibility for the continuing chaos on our railways.

Ask twice

World Mental Health Day on October 10 is just a few days away so it is welcome that Time to Change has launched its latest campaign this week – Ask Twice.

The witty video plays on the fact that all too often we answer ‘Fine, thanks’ when anyone asks how we are, even when we are not OK.

Sometimes finding a way to ask again can open up the conversation. The campaign has some tips to help do just that.

First, take your friend’s feelings seriously, because however small the issue might seem at first, opening up is always a big issue for the person doing it.

Second, simply listening can make a big difference. You don’t have to have all the answers. Just reflecting that you are listening by saying something simple like ‘that sounds really difficult’ shows you are paying attention.

Third, it can be OK to ask questions. We worry about prying when it comes to others’ mental health, but it can be better to ask questions and keep the conversation going.

Fourth, be realistic. While it’s human to want to fix things, tackling a mental health problem takes time. Being a mate means listening not having to provide all the answers.

You can find out more by visiting the Time to Change website by clicking here.

Making our pavements safe for all

Pavement parking forces people to walk out into the road, which is particularly dangerous for people with sight loss, wheelchair users and pushchairs.party conf - Guide dogs

Outside of London – where pavement parking has been illegal since 1974 except in designated areas – local councils struggle to tackle the problem with existing Traffic Regulation Orders.

I know from constituents who raise the issue with me that tackling the issue in one street can simply mean that pavement parking frequently increases in neighboring streets. It is frustrating for people who struggle to park properly and dangerous for those with sight loss and others who have to navigate poorly parked cars.

The charity Guide Dogs conducted a survey which showed that 97 per cent of blind or partially sighted people have encountered problems with street obstructions, and 90 per cent have experienced trouble with a car parked on a pavement.

Guide Dogs is campaigning for a new law to make pavement parking an offence and to support local councils who want to do the right thing.

At the recent Labour Party conference I took up the charity’s challenge to clear the streets of pavement parked cars against the clock on a specially-themed whack-a-mole game.

It underlined to me the need for the government to give local authorities real power to be able to properly tackle this problem.

I will be pressing Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to back up previous government promises to consider the issue with a plan to act.

We need to make sure all our pavements across Liverpool Wavertree are accessible to everyone and car owners have a place to park.

Supporting shopworkers

Better pay logoShopworkers union Usdaw’s survey of over 10,000 workers highlights the growing stress of low pay, short and zero hours contracts and insecure work.

I’m backing the union’s Time for Better Pay campaign so that retail staff across Liverpool Wavertree get the pay and respect they deserve.

Usdaw’s Time for Better Pay campaign tackles the causes of in-work poverty by demanding an economy where work pays. The campaign wants to see:

  • £10 per hour minimum wage for all workers over 18;
  • Minimum contracts of 16 hours per week for all employees who want it;
  • The right to a contract based on an individual’s normal hours of work;
  • An end to the misuse of zero hour contracts.

I welcome the fact that Amazon has bowed to campaigners’ demands for decent pay by promising to raise its minimum wage by 28 per cent to £10.50 for workers in London and 18 per cent to £9.50 for those in the rest of the UK.

That is still below the £11.50 an hour US Amazon employees get as a minimum and reflects the company preparing for a severe tightening of the labour market because of Brexit.

As the Usdaw survey points out:

  • 92 per cent of the people taking in its survey have seen no improvement in their financial situation over the past five years – of these, 63 per cent say they are worse off;
  • 76 per cent of low-paid workers have had to rely on unsecured borrowing to pay everyday bills in the last 12 months;
  • 63 per cent say that financial worries were having an impact on their mental health.

As one of the parliamentary advisors to the charity Money and Mental Health, I know that poor pay can lead to rising debt and failing mental health.

As the Archbishop of Canterbury recently pointed out, poverty pay and workplace security is an issue of ‘justice and the common good’.

People who have secure employment, know the hours they are working and know they are being paid a decent rate, can plan their budgets and look to the future rather than face a daily struggle of not knowing if they will work enough hours or be paid enough to cover everyday costs.

Workers should be valued by their employer and that means being in secure jobs that pay a wage they can live on.

The Time for Better Pay campaign seeks to reverse the long-term decline in workers’ pay and conditions, leading to a fairer and more equitable society for all.

I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with our NHS staff

At the recent Labour Party conference here in Liverpool I backed an appeal from Cancer Research UK for more NHS staff to deliver the life-saving cancer tests and treatments people need.party conf - Stand with the NHS against cancer

Its Shoulder to Shoulder Against Cancer campaign calls for everyone to stand with the NHS, and urges the government to tackle the chronic shortage of staff who diagnose and treat the disease.

Every year, around 2,700 people are diagnosed with cancer in the Liverpool area and as the population grows and ages, that number will rise.

More staff are urgently needed to keep up with the demand for life-saving tests and treatments, yet already 1 in 10 NHS diagnostic posts are unfilled.

The earlier cancer is detected, diagnosed and treated, the better people’s chances of surviving. But we need the crucial NHS staff to make sure that happens.

Many of us have been affected by cancer in some way, and 1 in 2 of us will be diagnosed in our lifetimes.

That’s why I’m backing Cancer Research UK’s call to stand shoulder to shoulder with the NHS against cancer.

To speed up and improve cancer diagnosis and treatment, investment is needed in key professions, including radiographers and radiologists who carry out and interpret scans such as MRIs, endoscopists who look inside the body by inserting a tiny camera and pathologists who look for abnormal cells, as well as oncologists (cancer specialists), nurses and surgeons.

The government has promised to publish its long-term plan for the NHS later this year, which will also include a roadmap for the NHS workforce over the next decade. That is the opportunity to show its commitment to defeating cancer by putting the staff that are needed in place.

Celebrating National Poetry Day

National Poetry Day logoToday is National Poetry Day and as patron of the Liverpool Wavertree based The Reader charity’s North West programme, I would like to share a poem from its collection on change that I found particularly moving.

The Reader, based in Calderstones Park, has over the last 10 years pioneered the use of Shared Reading to improve well-being, reduce social isolation and build resilience in diverse communities across the UK and beyond.

You can turn up and join any of the shared reading groups or even volunteer to lead a reading group. Just click here to find out more.

This short poem by the British poet Penelope Shuttle evokes the pride a parent takes in their child growing into an adult but also the sadness at the speed of change. Every moment matters.

 

Outgrown

by Penelope Shuttle

It is both sad and a relief to fold so carefully

her outgrown clothes and line up the little worn shoes

of childhood, so prudent, scuffed and particular.

It is both happy and horrible to send them galloping

back tappity-tap along the misty chill path into the past.

It is both a freedom and a prison, to be outgrown

by her as she towers over me as thin as a sequin

in her doc martens and her pretty skirt,

because just as I work out how to be a mother

she stops being a child.

 

If you enjoyed that, you might like to download the full poetry collection by clicking here.

 

I’m backing the campaign to end period poverty

Period povertyI am supporting the Communication Workers Union campaign to bring forward the day when no one has to rely on charity to tend to their period needs.

Basic period products will cost around £5,000 over a woman’s lifetime. Many people who cannot afford them are reliant on charity or resort to using unhygienic alternatives.

A survey conducted by the children’s charity Plan International UK found that one in 10 girls have been unable to afford sanitary products and almost half had missed an entire day of school because of their period.

It is estimated that 137,000 girls in the UK skipped school last year because they didn’t have the period products they needed.

It’s a scandal that children are missing school days because of period poverty, and that people here are going without these basic necessities.

The government has left it up to schools to decide whether to use some of their shrinking budgets to provide free sanitary products. That is not good enough.

The CWU makes the case that there is only one way to end period poverty and that’s to make these products universally and freely available.

This is a human rights and gender equality issue that schools, employers and community organisations can support.