We try to pack in as many meetings and visits as possible when I’m in the constituency. There are so many great organisations, groups and businesses to meet. I also have to fit in my regular surgeries, as well as attending a whole host of events from children’s concerts to fantastic sporting events, to which I’m delighted to be invited.
Last Friday was typical. I met representatives from the National Union of Teachers to discuss their concerns about education. The team from Trafford Welfare Rights came in – they’re full of information about how the benefits system is operating, so it is always good to meet them. I held two surgeries (and another on Saturday), and had a meeting with the new police commander for Trafford. I also managed to get out on the doorstep for an hour or so; the long evenings are a real boon for canvassers!
On Sunday, I went along to watch the Manchester Marathon, and arrived in time to see the runners set off. Later, we stood at the finishing line to see them coming back in. I am full of admiration for their stamina and determination. Many will have raised substantial sums for charity.
Monday started with a very early morning meeting in Westminster with the charity Scope. Then I was involved in a very interesting discussion about what could be done to help more people keep their jobs if they become ill for a time. In the afternoon, I went into the chamber for questions to Eric Pickles and his team. There is so much I want to question him on: planning, the fire service, self build, the bedroom tax, business rates…. In the end, I managed to raise my concerns about what will happen to Trafford Assist when funding from the government is scrapped next year. This service offers a real lifeline to people often in desperate need, and I was shocked at the dismissive answer I got from the Minister.
First thing Tuesday, I dropped into a debate about the rollout of superfast broadband in the North. I pointed out how important this is to local businesses, including on Trafford Park. Then I met Prospect union, which represents staff working at ATOS, the company that has been carrying out disability assessments for the DWP, but which has now been kicked out early from its contract. ATOS has performed appallingly poorly, but it’s a worrying time for the staff. I undertook to ask some Written Parliamentary Questions to find out what’s going on.
Later I went to a briefing about Labour’s campaign on women’s safety. I’ve been working on this subject since I was Shadow Minister for Equalities, and I was interested to hear the latest developments. Funding for rape crisis centres is being halved, and the proportion of cases of domestic violence being pursued in the courts is reducing. It all paints a very worrying picture, and I’ve launched an online survey to ask young women in Stretford and Urmston to feed back their experiences and concerns. If you’d like to complete the survey, or know someone who would, please go to https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1uZtU_6-3d3UarOdQ1UItZQ08msiZN1GK3A0uphIUDa0/viewform.
In the evening, after a couple of votes on the measures announced in the Budget last month, a cross-party group of North West MPs met TransPennine Express and Porterbrook, the company that leases the trains. We are all very angry that trains are to be transferred from the North West to run new services in the Chilterns. The franchising system is really chaotic, and the government’s mess-up of the franchising of the West Coast mainline has put everything out of order. We agreed we would ask as a group to meet the Secretary of State for Transport to voice our anger and ask what could be done to secure the trains we need in our region.
Finally, something a bit out of the ordinary: I went along to watch a one-woman play that was being staged in parliament about the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison. The room was packed, the play was powerful and exhausting to watch, so I can’t imagine how tough it was for the actor, especially as she was to give a second performance straight after the one I saw.
On Wednesday I was the frontbench opposition spokesperson in a debate about the introduction of the Personal Independence Payment in Wales. There are problems right across the country with this new benefit, and my Welsh colleagues had got themselves really well organised to grill the Minister. Then I had a quick meeting with a young man who is building an information system for travellers abroad – he’d been following my campaign for an improvement in safety standards on overseas adventure activities. After that it was time for Prime Minister’s Questions, an incredibly angry and depressing event as MPs queued up to express their anger at the behaviour of Maria Miller over her expenses, and the procrastinating of the Prime Minister. I can’t believe what a reluctant apology she made. She must have realised that the public feel – rightly – angry.
In the afternoon, I went into the chamber for a while to join in the debate on the government’s plans to give a tax break to married couples. This is a really unfair policy: most families with children will miss out, and lone parents who are left to bring up children alone won’t get a penny. Most of the benefit of the tax break will go to men, yet it’s women who are usually principally responsible for caring for children. It is such a waste of hundreds of millions of pounds. Labour would instead use the money to reduce the basic tax rate to 10 per cent, benefiting many more families – of all shapes and sizes.
I then went to a roundtable with the End Child Poverty coalition, to discuss what a Labour government would do to tackle child poverty. We made huge progress on this between 1997 and 2010, lifting more than a million children out of poverty. It is deeply depressing that the policies of the present government mean that all that gain will be wiped out, with a million more children back in poverty by 2020.
On Thursday, I set off to visit the Shaw Trust to look at their employment programmes for disabled people. Then I came back to parliament to a very welcome letter telling me the mesothelioma payments scheme has finally been launched, and the online application form has gone live. After all the work I was involved in on this, it is great to see the scheme finally available. It’s a terrible disease, very distressing, and always fatal, and while money can’t compensate for the anguish it causes, it is a comfort to sufferers to know there will be money available to support their family.
In the afternoon, I met disability campaigners, and finally went into a debate on cystic fibrosis, to remind the Minister of the importance of developing a national system for allocating lungs donated for transplant. This is another campaign I’ve been busy on in the past year, and I’m determined to get changes to a system that leaves patients in the North West waiting longer for a transplant and more likely to die while on the waiting list than elsewhere in the country.
That was the last thing I did in parliament before leaving for the Easter break. I’m back in the constituency for the next two weeks, and that means lots of time to meet local groups and communities.