In my first column of 2018, few will be surprised that I’m championing the cause of our incredible NHS staff, whose skills and endurance are being tested to the limits through what is proving to be a very challenging winter.
Neither is it likely to surprise many that I’m still haranguing Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to keep his word and visit Dewsbury and Huddersfield hospitals. He must listen to local voices – residents and health professionals – who have strong concerns about decisions currently with Mr Hunt, that stand to leave the whole of Kirklees without a full A&E service.
My commitment to our health service is further renewed this month, with my appointment to new role on Labour’s frontbench team. I’m honoured and delighted to be joining Jonathan Ashworth's Health & Social Care Team, working with Shadow Cabinet Minister Barbara Keeley to hold this chaotic Government to account over their failing policies on mental health and social care.
Over the past seven years this Government have systematically eroded the benefits and services that people with mental health difficulties rely upon. They might talk of parity of esteem, but their record clearly shows that the rhetoric does not match the reality.
It is worrying for example, that there are rising levels of mental health issues among Yorkshire NHS staff, with reports from the Royal College of Nursing that often emotionally demanding roles are made ever more challenging by high vacancy levels and rising patient demand. The number of days lost to anxiety and stress amongst NHS workers in Yorkshire has risen for each of the last four years and in 2017 it stood at more than 37,000.
It’s been confirmed that the annual cost to the country of poor mental health is £99bn. Showing understanding, providing support in the workplace and further than that, ensuring mental health services are accessible at an early stage, are all key to helping retain people in work. If not for moral, compassionate grounds, then the government should heed the cost to UK productivity.
Mental health can often be an afterthought in the workplace, but stress and anxiety are a big problem that needs to be addressed. Indeed, mental health charity Mind recently authored a report that found the number of people forced to stop work as a result of mental health problems was 50% higher than for those with physical health conditions.
For some, either through mental or physical illness, they will be too unwell to work. In those cases, the government should provide the benefits and support services that are needed. But a fulfilling working life can be important to good mental health. It can improve self-esteem and confidence, and that way everyone benefits.
Sadly, this government’s poor economic investment coupled with their relentless austerity cuts, continue to damage our area. We can’t fix these problems with a single event, but this Friday I’m hosting my first jobs, careers and apprenticeships fair for local people to network and talk with organisations and to hopefully find employment.
The event is at Dewsbury Jobcentre Plus, Friday 26 January between 2pm and 4pm. I hope that this will be an opportunity for anyone struggling to find work, to make a connection with employers in the constituency.
As always, if local people have any issues or concerns they would like me to raise on their behalf, please don’t hesitate to get in touch – email email@example.com or call 01924 565450.
Read the column in full at the Dewsbury Reporter.
Local MP Paula Sherriff, herself a former police employee, has slammed the government after revealing they have cut West Yorkshire Police funding by £10.5m in real terms for the current financial year.
The figures were exposed by House of Commons Library research comparing the grants made to each constabulary by the Home Office to rising costs over the same period.
West Yorkshire Police suffered the largest real-terms cash cut outside the major forces of London, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands.
The analysis also showed that the West Yorkshire Police grant for the previous year amounted to a real terms of cut of £4m, leaving the constabulary nearly £15m worse off since Theresa May became Prime Minister in 2016.
Since the Tories came to office in 2010, West Yorkshire Police has lost 1162 officers, meaning the area has lost more than a quarter of the police patrolling local streets.
Former Chancellor George Osborne had promised in the 2015 spending review that: “there will be no cuts in the police budget at all. There will be real-terms protection for police funding”.
The Chancellor found no new Government funding for the police in last week’s budget, despite warnings from the police that the current budget settlement risks forces losing a further 6,000 officers.
Labour MP for Dewsbury, Mirfield Denby Dale and Kirkburton, Paula Sherriff said:
“This budget risks breaking the police with yet more cuts to the frontline. I know from residents reports of their experiences, just what an impact this has already had on the ability of our local police to do their job.
“People in our area and across West Yorkshire, will be shocked that even with crime rocketing and police numbers already declining, there is even worse to come. It is time that the Tory government started to give West Yorkshire Police the resources and the officers they need to fight crime and anti-social behaviour.”
Louise Haigh MP, Labour’s Shadow Policing Minister and another Yorkshire MP, said:
“This budget proves the government cannot be trusted to keep our communities safe.
“Thanks to years of Conservative cuts, police numbers are at historic lows, at a time when crime is rocketing. You can’t protect the public on the cheap.
“This is the grim legacy of seven years of Tory austerity; dedicated police officers fighting hard to keep the public safe with the fewest officers per head on record. Labour will recruit another 10,000 new police officers to help keep us safe.”
Before being elected, Paula Sherriff was a civilian police staff member running an award-winning service supporting victims of crime.
Last week’s Budget is the work of an out-of-touch Government with no idea of the reality of people’s lives and no plan to improve them.
The Government’s own figures show growth, productivity, wages – all down.
Across Dewsbury, Mirfield, Denby Dale and Kirkburton, people tell me of the hardships they endure.
But after seven years of Tory austerity, the economy remains stagnant while the national debt continues to grow.
People wanted to see meaningful funding for our schools, more support for our overstretched police and action to address the crisis in our health and social services.
All opportunities missed in a Budget that found more money for Brexit than it did for the NHS.
It was a Conservative manifesto pledge to increase real-terms funding for the NHS in every year of this parliament – yet the latest House of Commons Library analysis shows that real terms funding is set to fall in 2018-19 and remain static the two years after that.
Even NHS bosses, who rarely voice concerns publicly, have spoken out after the Budget.
The chairman of NHS England, Sir Malcolm Grant, said: “We can no longer avoid the difficult debate about what it is possible to deliver for patients with the money available.”
I continue to meet with our local hospital trusts, who tell me they are braced to deal with the usual pressures of winter.
But I share the concerns of hospital staff here and across the country, that years of underfunding have left our NHS vulnerable to this yearly burden.
Of course, we should all do our bit to limit those winter pressures, and if you are able, spare a moment for those who struggle more at this time of year.
It can take just a few minutes to make a difference – from helping a vulnerable person to get their free flu jab, to spending some time visiting friends and neighbours who would benefit from a little help keeping their homes warmer, ensuring they’re keeping doors and curtains shut as dusk draws in, or just inviting them round for a cup of tea.
But the truth is that the financial pressures placed on our hospital trusts, alongside the increased demand at this time of year, place incredible pressures on hospital services.
Seven years of cuts and mismanagement have brought the NHS to its knees. We can’t let this continue.
I’m glad to have secured Jeremy Hunt’s commitment to visit local hospitals in Dewsbury and Huddersfield to see for himself the impact of cuts and downgrades on our area.
I know that local people will want the Health Secretary to understand the strength of feeling in our area.
Originally published in the Dewsbury & Mirfield Reporter, Thursday 30 November 2017
Paula Sherriff, the MP for Dewsbury, Mirfield, Denby Dale and Kirkburton, has spoken out this week in Parliament for her constituents facing delays in gaining the support they need for children with special educational needs.
In September 2014 reforms aiming to give children and young people with special educational needs and their parents a greater say in the support they receive came into effect in England.
Yet two reports in the past month provide a damning indictment of how these reforms are going. Ofsted reports “significant areas of concern” in one third of local areas, whilst the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman says families are “suffering long delays in getting the right support and children ultimately failing to reach their potential”.
Speaking in Parliament on Monday, Miss Sherriff called on the government to explain what is being done about this. In response for the government, Education Minister Robert Goodwill said that parents welcome the changes.
Paula Sherriff MP added:
‘Three years ago, the government told us that these reforms would result in a more joined up system that focuses on children achieving their best but the evidence suggests that the reforms are faltering.
‘Several local families have told me of the difficulties they’re facing – getting an assessment in the first place requires monumental efforts from parents and teachers alike, and on top of that there are issues with the quality of these assessments.
‘Sadly, the minister has failed to acknowledge the problems experienced by local people. Instead of brushing off the concerns highlighted by Ofsted and the Local Government Ombudsman, as well as parents in our area, I’d hoped to learn of steps being taken to address these issues.
‘It’s clear that this government needs to take the strategy for special educational needs and disabilities more seriously. I’ll continue to press for more to be done to ensure children and their parents are properly supported.’
As the latest police data to be released shows that crime is rising at accelerating rates, I’ve been calling out government ministers over the inadequacy of police funding and the impact this is having on local people.
I’m sure that local people will agree, as we’ve lost more than 1,000 officers in West Yorkshire, it is alarming that Ministers continue to brief the press that there is room for more cuts.
Questioning the Home Office Minister on police funding in Parliament, I echoed the concerns of the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police who has said “our officers are exhausted” and that policing is “not sustainable” in the long term without an uplift in funding.
Heedless of the concerns of senior police, in response to my question about how more cuts can be justified, Nick Hurd MP stated that ‘…the force is sitting on £91 million of reserves, some 22% of revenue.’
But Mark Burns-Williamson, Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire has rebutted this statement: ‘The reserves form part of the force’s legal obligation to hold contingency monies. Nevertheless, some £11m is being used this year alone to fund frontline policing. By 2022 most of West Yorkshire’s reserves will have been spent or committed to existing obligations.’
The concern is that, given the severe government cuts to the budget in West Yorkshire (around £140m since 2010) and the unprecedented demand on policing, this situation is clearly unsustainable.
Locally of course, we’re seeing the impact of these cuts. One issue that is a big concern currently, is dangerous and erratic driving. In Parliament, I’ve raised the impact of cuts to traffic police.
I’ve pressed the government on how they can expect to enforce new laws on dangerous driving, when nearly 40% of traffic police have been lost from West Yorkshire in the last five years.
These continued cuts are leaving our communities vulnerable, yet with talk of further cuts to policing, clearly the government have not got the message. When will the Tories heed the warnings of senior police across the country and recognise that these destructive cuts cannot be justified?
Originally published in The Press, 3 November 2017
I will not give the Tories a blank cheque over Brexit – I’ll do all I can to ensure this process is given the proper democratic scrutiny – I’ll do all I can to get the best deal for our area.
My letter to constituents who have contacted me about the EU Withdrawal Bill (Repeal Bill).
Congratulations to all the young people across Dewsbury, Mirfield, Denby Dale and Kirkburton who’ve had their A-level and GCSE results this month.
After months of suspense, it can be a stressful time for parents, teachers and of course students themselves. I visit our local schools and colleges whenever I can and it’s always great to hear about local students’ plans for the future. Now, like hundreds of young people across our area, they will be making important decisions about what to do next.
Whether they decide to go on to do further studies, college courses, university or head out into the world of work or into an apprenticeship, thankfully help and advice is close at hand thanks to our great local schools and colleges. But much more still needs to be done to ensure there are opportunities for young people to get them into jobs and training so they can get on and do well.
After all their efforts, I hope everyone can now celebrate their achievements. Young people who have worked so hard for their exams deserve the chances to get on and do well. But like many other local people, I am worried about whether the next generation have the chances to do better than the last.
Young people have been devalued and discriminated against by this government – not least by having their entitlement to housing benefit removed and university tuition fees increased. It is time to end this discrimination, to ease the burden on young people, and show them that they are valued members of our society.
With the number of young people out of work for over a year still way too high, wages still stagnant and high rents preventing young people from leaving the family home or getting on the housing ladder, we need to make sure there are enough of the right opportunities for our young people to get the education, training, jobs and other opportunities to get on and do well.
We need a strong industrial strategy to create good jobs and training programmes and boost investment, growth and employment.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be keeping up the pressure to get young people a better deal. We need strong action now to prevent a whole generation of young people falling behind.
Originally published in the Dewsbury Reporter and The Press
Last week, I spoke to concerned local people, councillors and medical professionals gathered for the meeting of the Joint Health Scrutiny Committee – a meeting that voiced overwhelming criticism of plans to demolish Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. The plan will see hundreds of jobs cut and the hospital replaced by a small centre with no emergency care unit.
It is only right that the committee used their power to throw out the downgrade plan and refer the decision to the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. I truly hope he will take note of the real problems with current plans but, sadly, our experience in Dewsbury on that score has been disappointing.
It is only a fortnight ago that Mr Hunt finally admitted that 30% of patients at Dewsbury Hospital’s A&E could be transferred to Pinderfields as a result of the downgrade to services there. I’ve repeatedly invited him to come and see for himself the challenges facing local hospital services, to press him to take action to halt the downgrade to A&E services, sadly to no avail.
What is devastatingly clear is that the decisions being made right across our region are almost solely financially driven. The government has set unrealistic targets for reducing spending on vital NHS services. Targets that can only be achieved by compromising patient care and safety.
The proposals would effectively see the whole of Kirklees, a population of 420,000 people, without full Accident & Emergency services and with absolutely no provision for acute care, including no intensive care beds. This means that anyone seeking urgent treatment for potentially life threatening conditions would be forced to travel outside the area.
These plans are ambitious to say the least. The whole proposal hinges on increasing provision at GP practices and more care closer to home, in order to reduce hospital admissions by 18% over 5 years. How do the CCG propose to achieve this given the massive cuts to budgets that are being imposed on all NHS services? Even the NHS Transformation Unit has said of these plans that, “few UK health systems have achieved this.”
Hospital admissions are rising year on year and yet these proposals seek to stem the flow with no new money and no clear plan of how this is going to be achieved. At Dewsbury & District Hospital the plan in 2013 was to reduce bed numbers by 250. Four years on and these plans have had to be shelved as it became clear that if they were implemented it would seriously impact on patient safety. Surely the commissioners should be learning from North Kirklees and Wakefield and not trying to push through plans that are so obviously unachievable?
The downgrade of our region’s health services that are being made here and now will not easily be reversed and will be felt for generations to come. It is now time for the Health Secretary to take responsibility for his government’s cuts and mismanagement of our NHS - he must put halt to this race to bottom.
Originally published in The Press 28 July 2017
Paula Sherriff has slammed the government following a downgrade to plans to electrify rail links between Liverpool and Newcastle, leaving West Yorkshire passengers in the lurch.
In 2015, the government pledged to put better rail links for the North at the heart of its so-called Northern Powerhouse agenda, ensuring faster journey times and more capacity. However this week the Transport Secretary only offered partial electrification at best.Read more
Today the Tories have attempted a U-turn on their damaging school funding formula, following pressure from the Labour Party and the teaching profession. I welcome any extra money for our cash strapped schools, but I am concerned at the lack of detail in today’s announcement.
Last week I was approached by a local primary school teacher who set out the following on what the Tory education cuts would mean in her school. We simply can not stand by and let this happen. I will keep the pressure on the government to ensure that all of our children receive the education that they deserve:
“I rarely discuss politics, especially online and to be perfectly honest, my Facebook tends to be a string of memes and embarrassing anecdotes! You won’t ever find me on my soap box when it comes to government policy and I would struggle to talk about party manifestos. I rarely discussed the election and, aside from the fact that Theresa May enjoys a frolic in a wheat field, I couldn't really tell you much about what our current Prime Minister stands for...
However, being a teacher in school such as mine, I've found myself worrying more and more about some of the children and their futures.
Schools with the most disadvantaged pupils will likely be hit the hardest by the intended budget cuts, potentially losing out on hundreds of pounds per child.
This could be a child whose parents literally can't help them with their homework, spellings or reading, who relies on interventions from support staff.
This could be a child who has such low self-esteem that even the tiniest bit of support and success would have a monumental impact, even if that's just getting a certificate from an extra curricular activity.
This could be a child who has a special educational need such as dyslexia, ADHD or an autistic spectrum disorder and needs specific (but not always expensive) resources to reach their potential.
Or worse, this could be a child for whom school is their only sanctuary. The only place they feel safe and relaxed. The only place they get to actually be a child and enjoy themselves. The only place they get the care, love and attention that all children desperately need and deserve.
Children who are neglected. Children who are abused. Children who have had the very worst start to life a person could possibly have. Children who are amazing just for the simple fact they actually made it to school. Children who on an average day have been through more before their breakfast, than most of us will likely ever go through.
Children whose futures, or even lives, may literally depend on the dedicated safeguarding and pastoral care teams schools are struggling to fund. Children whose mental health is hanging in the balance even with the support they are receiving from bought in counsellors and resources.
I'm not saying I have all the answers or even all the facts, but I am positive that if cuts to budgets and funding continue in the manner proposed, the gap between the most disadvantaged children will only widen further. These children will get left behind.
Children who are capable and can learn and can make progress. Currently, poverty at home is the biggest statistical indicator of how likely a child is to succeed. That's disgusting. Where you started in life should not dictate where you're going.”