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That will only be achieved when the industry comes together to plan much needed investment in the outdated infrastructure and offer passengers a new deal, including proper compensation for the disruption over the summer.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



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.

Universal Credit rollout will increase poverty

Government must rethink the roll out of Universal Credit (UC) to Liverpool, before more people are plunged into debt.UC front cover

I’m backing the call from Liverpool Council Mayor Joe Anderson and community leaders for Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey to act.

Last year Liverpool City Council made more than 13,000 crisis payments to assist people with the cost of food, fuel and clothing.

The continued rollout of Universal Credit in the city in its current form will lead to more people going into crisis, experiencing extreme hardship and the risk of homelessness.

The council reports an increase in council tax arrears from those who have already transitioned to UC and lengthening queues at our foodbanks.

Around 55,000 Liverpool households will eventually move on to Universal Credit. People with disabilities, the long-term sick, single parents and working families on low incomes are amongst those disproportionately affected.

Simply put, if UC continues in its current form, people in Liverpool already facing enduring hardship will be left with even less. Levels of debt will rise, rent arrears will increase, families will be forced into food and fuel poverty and ultimately hardworking people will face the spectre of homelessness and destitution.

The council-backed report Universal Credit: Unintended Consequences highlights warnings from the Bishop of Liverpool, Rt Rev Paul Bayes, the chief executive of The Women’s Organisation, Maggie O’Carroll and the chief executive of the city’s Chamber of Commerce Paul Cherpeau.

The report is being presented to ministers with a demand to cut the wait between applying for UC and receiving payment. Currently applicants have to wait up to 35 days without any money.

It also calls for councils to be given more ring-fenced funds to provide a ‘local welfare scheme’ based on local needs and an end to the 30-40 minute waiting times for connection to the Department for Work and Pensions advice and information phonelines.

Liverpool City Council spends £23 million on a range of crisis issues surrounding poverty and homelessness and offers a range of crisis payments and housing support above and beyond the statutory threshold. In stark contrast, the council will have experienced a £444 million reduction in its funding from central government by 2020 since 2010.

The National Audit Office recently urged ministers to ‘pause’ the roll-out of UC, with figures showing 40 per cent of claimants experienced financial difficulties transitioning to the new benefit, with a fifth of claimants not paid on time.

Esther Mcvey must urgently listen to these voices of concern and act today. I will be seeking to raise this in Parliament when the session resumes in two weeks.

Protecting our shopworkers

Carrying out an attack on a shop worker should be a specific offence to help protect those working in our retail industries.  USDAW logo

That is why I am sponsoring a new clause to the Offensive Weapons Bill that will be debated in Parliament next month.

The new clause has the backing of shopworkers’ union Usdaw and employers in the British Retail Consortium.

Indeed, the Home Secretary has already recognised that the protection of shopworkers requires further action. 

Now the government has the opportunity to back this new clause.

The Bill aims to further restrict the sale of knives and chemicals that could be used as weapons, following an upsurge in knife crime and acid attacks.

However, the outcome of the Bill puts shopworkers in the frontline of policing the new law. That means that they need the law’s protection if they are abused or attacked for refusing to make a sale.

It is absolutely right that we do everything possible to reduce knife crime and acid attacks, and we all need to support shopworkers in helping to achieve that. 

Shopworkers deserve our respect, but they also deserve the protection of the law.

Gambling plans to aid mental health

I’m delighted that Labour Party Deputy Leader Tom Watson has pledged to clampdown on addictive online gambling.

Live sports gambling ads would end

Live sports gambling ads would end

He and Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth have promised to give people the power to block gambling transactions through their bank or card provider. 

Money and Mental Health, the charity committed to breaking the link between financial difficulty and mental health problems,.of which I am an Advisory Board member, has welcomed the results of the year-long review into problem gambling.

Problem gambling can lead to spiraling debts and cause real harm to someone’s mental health. 

The review also promises to ban gambling advertising in live sport, place a compulsory levy on gambling operators, produce new clinical guidelines and increase resources for the treatment of gambling addiction as well as introduce a ban on credit card betting.

There are 430,000 identified gambling addicts in the UK, 25,000 of which are 16 or under. The gambling levy would yield about £140 million a year which would go towards funding more treatment.

Gambling companies have to take more responsibility for harm caused by their products and contribute more to research and treatment.

People can now self-exclude from gambling by registering through the industry, but the process is complex and different types of gambling have different systems. Currently, blocking gambling can require contacting multiple operators.

Labour’s plans mean that people can ask banks to step in to help, allowing customers to block all types of gambling transactions in one go.

It’s a simple change which will make an enormous difference, putting control back in the hands of people, rather than the gambling firms.