For the second time in three weeks, my train back home to Manchester’s been delayed. Right now we have been sitting in Euston for over an hour with no idea when we’ll get moving. I’m hoping it won’t be too long.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Parliament in the Chamber this week. On Monday, I went into home office questions to ask the Home Secretary about reports that cuts to police numbers mean that it isn’t always possible for two officers to attend incidents of domestic violence. That’s clearly worrying, if you’re on your own it’s much more challenging to deal with a situation where you have to handle two people, one of who may have been violent to the other, and it puts everyone’s safety at risk.
This is just one of the effects of austerity cuts on protecting victims of domestic violence. Later in the week, I went on BBC Radio Manchester to speak about lack of funding for refuges and other services for survivors.
Monday evening saw me back in the Chamber, opening the first debate in the Commons on the Mesothelioma Bill, which sets up a payment system for sufferers of this terrible and fatal disease. The debate continued until 10 pm and then we had a vote, which took another quarter of an hour, so that was a late night home.
Tuesday was a busy day for me, as it was UN International Day for People with Disabilities. I met several campaign groups who had come to parliament, and also visited a huge new Sainsbury’s store in south London, which is running a special programme to employ more disabled people. It was great to meet some of the staff – they had lots to say about how difficult it is to get a job when you have an impairment, and how delighted they were finally to be working.
On Wednesday, Roxanne, who works in my office in London, and I went to meet living wage campaigners. They had lots of ideas for working with MPs to encourage businesses in low pay sectors to become living wage employers. I’ve already written to Trafford Council to ask why it won’t become a living wage employer, and got a very dismissive answer. That’s simply not good enough, and it’s something Labour councillors will be pursuing.
Then I went into parliament in time for a statement on the National Infrastructure Plan. I asked for updates on the Metrolink extension programme, including through Trafford Park.
In the evening, I spoke in a debate about business rates. Businesses in Trafford face a higher than average rise in business rates, and many are waiting too long for a decisions when they appeal. I was pleased the minister said there would be a review of the appeals system, but I know that business rates are still a worry for many businesses in Stretford and Urmston. The Government decided a couple of years ago not to carry out a revaluation of the rates, and that’s been really unfair to businesses in the North West, since property values have fallen in our region since the last revaluation. I’m pleased Labour has said we would freeze business rates as soon as we get back into government in 2015.
On Thursday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave his Autumn Statement. There wasn’t much new in it, and families struggling to make ends meet will find it difficult to credit his claim that the economy is on the mend. Working people are on average £1,600 worse off under this government, prices have risen faster than earnings in 40 of the last 41 months, and yet the Chancellor still finds £700 million to hand out in tax breaks – provided that you’re married. I asked George Osborne how that was fair, when some of the poorest children are growing up in lone parent households – they certainly didn’t get to choose their family circumstances, but those families won’t see a penny of the tax break.
My final appointment of the day was to attend a programming committee meeting, to discuss the arrangements for next week’s sessions on the Mesothelioma Bill. A committee of 19 MPs will be going through the bill line by line, and I’ve tabled a number of amendments that would make the system more generous for sufferers.
Then off to Euston, and now, an hour and a half after I got on the train, we’ve finally just been told we are about to depart! I hope we won’t be too late back.