When Theresa May became Prime Minister, she stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised that she would govern in the interests of the “just about managing” acknowledging that people can work every waking hour and still be struggling to make ends meet. But this agenda is increasingly looking like a sham. Last week, the entire Social Mobility Commission which was set up under the Tory and Liberal Democrat Coalition Government resigned, with the Chair, Alan Milburn saying that “the worst position in politics is to set out a proposition that you’re going to heal social divisions and then do nothing about it.”
The numbers are damning. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation charity has published a report this week setting out figures showing that since 2010/2011, nearly 400,000 more children have fallen into poverty, and they mostly come from families where the parents are in work. This is compunded by the proposed two child limit on child tax credits, that the Government is insisting on ploughing ahead with. Analysis by the trade union UNISON has found that a couple with one earner, who have a third child born after the 6th April 2017, will be £2,780 worse off as a result of the Tories’ two children limit on tax credits. This breaks the Prime Minister’s promise to help the “just about managing”, represents a direct tax on a child, and is an attack on the idea of family. It will leave some families unable to make ends meet.
We also know that the amount of unsecured debt is spiralling in the UK as families struggle financially. But, calculations by the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies show that this Tory tax credit “reform” will make things worse for just about managing families, not better. Nearly 600,000 families with 3 children will on average lose around £2,500 per year and 300,000 families with four or more children will on average lose £7,000 per year once the change has been fully rolled out.
These changes are a deliberate tax imposition on third children born on or after 6th April 2017, but they of course impact on all members of affected families, adults and children alike. The changes make no allowance for families falling on hard times, no matter how hard the parents have worked, or how much they have paid into the system.
The new rules are an attack on the very idea of family. If a single dad caring for two children and a single mum with a child of her own, wanted to join their families together under these rules they would face a financial penalty of £2,780 if any of those children were born after April 6th 2017. Families come in all shapes and sizes, with circumstances that can and do change.
These new rules punish working families. A child born after 6th April 2017 is no less a child, and has no fewer needs, than a child born a day earlier. There can be no policy important enough, or the marginal saving worth enough, to justify deliberately placing children into poverty. Let’s be clear, without this money some families will be unable to meet their basic needs. Hunger and cold do not discriminate between the “deserving” and "underserving". Therefore, every child deserves support regardless of the choices and circumstances of their parents.
Which brings me onto the other element of this dreadful policy; the “rape clause” exemption.
Exemptions to the tax credit limit of two children include children who have been conceived as a result of “non-consensual” conception.
The rules require rape victims to relive their trauma in trying to justify their tax credit claim on an application form they must complete. They must name the child. The Department of Work and Pensions have described the changes to tax credits as a “key part of controlling public spending.”
I can think of a lot better ways to do this. I bet you can too. That’s why I am supporting the campaign to overturn this dreadful policy.
Yesterday's budget from the Tory Chancellor was massively disappointing. We needed creative solutions and rapid action to fix the growing problems in our economy but we didn’t get them.
We needed an end to the Universal Credit chaos with the roll-out paused and the system fixed.
We got a 1 week reduction on the 6 week wait without any money. This means a family claiming tomorrow would still not automatically recieve any money before Christmas. On top of that no pause, no fix and there are still inbuilt cuts affecting people with severe disabilities.
We needed the public sector pay cap lifting and money for Welsh Government to give all public sector workers a well deserved, above inflation pay rise. It’s the least that should happen.
We got the typical Tory divide and rule tactic. Apart from the NHS, any increase in public sector pay above 1% will have to be met from existing budgets. So more failed austerity and no fair funding for Wales.
We needed funding for infrastructure across the country including funding for the redevelopment of Cardiff Central station, the go-ahead for the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon pathfinder project and reinstatement of rail electrification from Cardiff to Swansea.
We got nothing.
We needed proper, sustainable funding for our public services; health, education, and local government after seven years of austerity budgets for Welsh Government.
We got a measly £1.2bn over 5 years for the Welsh Government. That’s £80 a year for each of us. More austerity. No fair funding.
We needed the UK Government to back a UK wide drive to build more homes to meet demand. Creating jobs, creating training and apprenticeships, boosting the economy and providing properly affordable housing for young people who have been shafted by the Lib Dem and Tory governments over the past seven and a half years.
We got more Government bungling. The budget contained an announcement on stamp duty exemption for first time buyers on homes up to £300k. But, the Office for Budget Responsibility confirms today that this will result in rising house prices and the main beneficiaries will be existing property owners. A solution that manages to create more problems and does nothing to help young people get on the property ladder.
Above all we needed a guarantee that Wales will not lose a penny from Brexit. I have asked the Government to confirm that the Shared Prosperity Fund that will replace EU funds after 2020 will match the £680 million a year in EU funding Wales will lose through leaving the EU.
The Shared Prosperity Fund was not mentioned once in the budget. And the preparations for Brexit (never mind the cost of actually exiting the EU) will cost £3 billion.
It is clear that the Tories are out of ideas. We need new ideas and solutions to fix our economy. They can only be delivered by a Labour Government.
Yesterday, I asked the Immigration Minister what plans the Government has to make sure that post Brexit, the brightest and best international students are able to work here after their studies using their skills and talent for the benefit of the UK economy. Research by ComRes shows that 74% of people think that international students should be able to stay on the UK after their degrees to work before returning home. Most of the public don’t consider international students as immigrants and that’s why I pressed for their removal from the net migration figures that the government bases its targets on.
International students contribute significantly to the economy, directly contributing almost £170 million to our city economy through the Universities and local businesses. All I got from the Minister in response though were some warm words about the importance of international students but no answer on the critical issue of what will happen post Brexit.
This morning I questioned the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport on the independent review the department has commissioned into the future of S4C.
Euryn Ogwen Williams' review will look at all aspects of the Welsh-language broadcaster and make recommendations for government on its future.
Voting for the people who represent you is one of the fundamental rights of citizens in a democracy. There is, however, a problem with our current system. Millions of people are missing out on having their say.
Within the current procedure for voter registration, all eligible voters must pro-actively register with their local electoral registration office, and then re-register if they move address, even if it's within the same electoral area.
Along with making it hard for individuals, the system also relies on already over-stretched and underfunded local authorities to track down and chase missing voters in their area.
Evidence has shown that a large percentage of the people not on the register are younger or from minority ethnic backgrounds.
Clearly, this is not acceptable. The already marginalised are getting less of a say at the ballot box.
Fortunately, there's a better way. Today I proposed a Bill in the House of Commons that would require the government to register voters automatically.
This would happen when people are issued with a National Insurance Number or, for people already over 16, using data held by government departments like HMRC and the DVLA.
Using this existing, trusted data is the practical solution we need to fully enfranchise every eligible voter so they can have their say.
We're living in an age of big data and 'digital by default' so it seems counterintuitive for the government not to make use of the solutions available to make sure the electoral register is complete.
Around the world there are many successful examples of automatic voter registration systems, for example in Canada where electoral information is continually updated from records held by government agencies, and in Chile where a recent change added over 4.5million voters to the register, many of them under the age of 30.
Closer to home Denmark, Germany, Italy and Sweden all use a version of automatic registration.
I think it's about time we caught up here in the UK and moved to an automatic voter registration system.
The Tories launched their Brexit Trade Bill last week. This is the legislation that will govern our trading relationship with other countries once we leave the European Union. This Bill would allow the Trade Secretary Liam Fox, to sign new trade deals, copy old ones and favour industries without having to put any of those deals before Parliament for them to be scrutinised and voted on. I agree with the assessment of Frances O’Grady the TUC General Secretary that it will allow the Government to “push through dodgy deals and undermine worker’s rights.”
Our trading relationship with the 27 EU member states, the 50 countries the EU has a trade agreement with and the 72 countries the EU is currently negotiating with, will have to be completely reworked. This covers 85% of our trade with foreign countries. Hundreds of thousands of jobs in Wales depend on us getting this right. So we should be carefully scrutinising each Bill and rejecting those which do not meet our standards, or might damage parts of our economy. It is imperative that we get this right.
Trade deals also need to be handled very carefully for other reasons, because without regulation foreign imports can quickly overrun domestic industries. For instance, a trade deal with New Zealand would seem pretty low risk, but cheap New Zealand lamb could quickly make Welsh sheep farming unsustainable and ruin the Welsh rural economy. Issues like this won’t even be considered if a trade deal with New Zealand doesn’t have to go through the scrutiny of primary legislation. That’s before we get on to the chlorinated chicken that the US is so eager to sell us.
This Bill shows that the Government is not interested in good deals struck to benefit the whole of the UK but fast and dirty deals that will give Liam Fox cheap personal wins. Having failed to do any of the trade deals that he so ridiculously promised would be so easy to do. Workers’ rights should also be an important part of our trade policy. It’s all too easy to see how, after we leave the EU, the government will argue that to be able to compete, we need less regulation in the workplace and fewer protections for workers. We’ll be well on our way to a bargain basement economy. This cannot be allowed to happen.
We need to make sure that the government is properly accountable and does not use Brexit as an opportunity to sell British industry to the lowest bidder.
I’ve had lots of e-mails about my Labour colleague Jim McMahon’s Votes at 16 Private Members Bill. I know many constituents watched the debate on the television and one 17 year old constituent, came to Parliament to watch the debate from the gallery. I also know that a lot of people were concerned that MPs did not vote on the Bill. We may have the opportunity to debate the Bill again on the 1st December, but that isn’t guaranteed.
Most Bills that go through Parliament come from the Government and almost all of the Bills that become law, come from the Government because they have a majority (normally) and can order their MPs to vote down anything they don’t like. At the start of each Parliament, a small number of MPs are drawn at random and invited to bring forward a Bill of their own. These are called Private Members Bills. They are timetabled for debate on a Friday. Most MPs will be working in their constituencies on a Friday, holding advice surgeries, meetings and doing visits. If there is a particular Bill they are interested in then they will be in Parliament on that particular Friday.
However, there are a number of Conservative MPs who stay in Parliament on most Fridays whose sole mission is to stop Private Members Bills succeeding. Their tactic is talking. Talking about the wine list in their favourite clubs, allowing long interruptions from their colleagues who talk in endless circles. Talking on and on. There are very few restrictions for how long an MP can speak for, or on the number of interventions (where you interrupt a speech to ask a question or make a point). The sitting must finish at 2.30pm and so they talk and talk with the deliberate intention of running down the clock. Very often they succeed and a vote does not take place at all. This cabal of Tory MPs have “talked out” a whole variety of good Bills including transposing all EU workers’ rights legislation into UK law in advance of Brexit and allowing the use of off-patent medicines to treat terminal illnesses.
So on the day of the Votes at 16 Bill, those Tory MPs and some more of their colleagues began playing these games from the start of the day during an earlier debate and we ran out of time. Because there were still many MPs who wanted to speak in the debate and hadn’t been able to, no vote took place. It will come back on 1st December – but again with no guarantees about whether it will be debated or a vote will be held.
This all demeans a serious debate about a serious issue. It undermines Parliament and makes it look ridiculous. If the Tories do not want to vote against a Bill then they should let it pass. If they do not, they should be clear and vote against it.
We need to overhaul the system so that good Bills and political reforms are not blocked by a small group of people who appear to have nothing better to do on a Friday than play wrecking tactics and talk for a very, very long time.
A piece of crumbling masonry fell off Parliament the other week and smashed someone’s car. Thank goodness no-one was in it at the time. But I cannot think of a better metaphor for how Parliament’s archaic procedures are unfit for a 21st century legislature. Whilst everyone agrees that the building needs renovation, it’s clear that the procedures do too.
There are many thousands of international students in Cardiff Central and across the UK who benefit from the Erasmus+ programme as well as students from the UK who go to study at Universities abroad. I asked the Immigration Minister in the event of Britain crashing out of the EU with ‘no deal’ could he give any reassurance to international students on Erasmus+ about what will happen to them on day of exit.
It is vital that students coming to the UK and UK students going abroad for the 2018/2019 academic year, which overlaps with our scheduled exit date from the EU, know what is going to happen to them. Yet again, it doesn’t look like the Government has any plan in place.
You can watch my question and the Minister’s response here;
Can you do CPR and use a defibrillator?
I couldn’t, but this week I was trained to do both with Welsh Hearts in a meeting Room in Parliament. Welsh Hearts had come to explain to MPs from across Wales why public access defibrillators are so important in saving lives. Learning how to administer CPR and use the defibrillator was so straightforward, I felt guilty that I had not learned how to do this before.
Heart failure and cardiac arrests are a major killer in Wales. They are often associated with older people but undiagnosed heart conditions can kill apparently healthy young people and children too. And of course, someone can suffer a cardiac arrest anywhere at anytime. It can take just a few minutes for the brain to be fatally starved of oxygen so the speed at which someone is given emergency resuscitation by CPR and a defibrillator is critical.
The Welsh Hearts charity has helped to place 853 defibrillators in Welsh communities, 30,524 people have been trained in CPR and they have helped set up a heart screening programme which has already seen 1400 18 – 35 year olds to detect heart abnormalities. The charity is also endorsed by the Welsh Ambulance Service NHS Trust and every police force in Wales.
The Welsh Government is also working hard in this area, recognising that a person’s chance of survival drops by 10% for every minute they are in an out of hospital cardiac rest. A new ambulance response system has been trialled targeting the most serious cases, which has had a positive effect on response times. Welsh Hearts are keen that all children learn these first aid techniques and the Welsh Government has been promoting first aid training in schools and across services.
Welsh Hearts’ work means that more defibrillators can be placed in more communities and more people can be trained to give life saving emergency resuscitation.
I hope I won’t ever be in a situation where someone’s life is about to be lost, but now I have learnt these new skills I will be ready to use them.
Together with over 120 MPs I've written to David Davis, the Brexit Secretary asking him to publish the findings of an analysis the government has carried out on what the impacts of leaving the European Union will be on 50 sectors of the economy.
Despite numerous questions from MPs and repeated Freedom of Information requests the Government has refused to release them. With the parlous state of the negotiations between the UK and the European Union, the likelihood of us leaving the EU in March 2019 without any deal and little or no information about what it is expected this will mean for our economy, jobs and future seems more probable.
We need to know and understand the risks we imminently face. By withholding the information, the Tory government is unnecessarily adding to peoples' uncertainty and worry about what is ahead of us. This government secrecy also gives the Tory hard Brexiteers free reign to spread their claims about life post Brexit uncontested by proper evidence.
We need to know what risks the Government knows it is running, and the sooner we know the better. The clock is ticking.
The letter is reproduced below;