The government has embarked on a major climb-down as ministers desperately seek to avoid a double whammy of defeats in both Houses of Parliament.
As the Lords voted to delay tax credit changes, Treasury ministers in the Commons faced an amendment to the Finance Bill from Labour backbencher Paula Sherriff, which would have mandated the government to include a demand for a zero-rate of VAT on tampons and other female sanitary products in their EU re-negotiation package.
The amendment had been signed by a dozen Conservative backbenchers, and Conservatives for Britain had indicated that they had enough backbench support to put the government majority under serious threat. Every Tory MP who spoke in the debate indicated support for the Sherriff amendment.
Ministers sought to head off the revolt by agreeing to Sherriff’s demands that the government start negotiations at EU level, and pledged to start negotiations with the European Commission, requesting that they allow member states to zero-rate all female sanitary products. They had previously said that this would be too difficult to achieve.
The government did not, however, commit to a clear timeline or that this demand would be on the Prime Minister’s “shopping list” in the EU re-negotiation before a UK referendum.
Sherriff pledged to work with a cross-party group of backbenchers to bring forward a vote on backbench time clarifying these issues, which would not be subject to the same degree of control by government whips.
Moving her amendment in the Commons, Paula Sherriff said:
“It is time to end the tampon tax once and for all and today in this House we have the chance to take a step towards achieving that. It is absurd that tampons and sanitary towels are taxed as luxuries not essentials in Britain, and not treated as a ‘public service activity’ or medical provision by European law. Almost a quarter of a million people from the across the country have signed up to call for that to change, and it’s about time they were heard in Westminster and Brussels.
“Quite simply, a tax system that lets you dine on crocodile steak on your private jet without paying a penny, when we can’t survive a period without the Treasury taxing us for it, cannot be a fair one.
“Periods are a fact of life and it’s not like women have a choice. Many were shocked to see Kiran Ghandi run the London Marathon without a tampon to highlight that too many women around the world do not have access to sanitary products. But that’s the point – this is a basic matter of biology and it is time to end the taboo. Here in this country, we can buy tampons but we are taxed for it.
Frankly VAT on tampons is the Vagina Added Tax. A tax on women, pure and simple.”
Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff is to use her office in the former Dewsbury Reporter Building, Wellington Street as a drop-off point for food bank donations.
The MP visited the ‘The Pantry’ food bank at Fusion Housing in Dewsbury last week to learn more about the work they carry out from not just supplying food parcels but also providing housing advice for people all across north Kirklees.
Paula commented afterwards:
“It greatly saddens me that in 2015, the need for food banks in our country is growing exponentially.
“The staff and volunteers at ‘The Pantry’ are simply fantastic and it was great to meet and thank them for their incredible hard work, both supplying food for those in need and offering housing advice.
“I will personally be making regular donations to the food bank and I am delighted to announce that my constituency office will become a drop-off point for food donations.”
Ridhwan Nadat of ‘The Pantry’ food bank said:
“It was great to have Paula here to see first-hand the vital work we are doing to support the most vulnerable in North Kirklees. We are delighted that Paula has offered to use her office as a drop-off point for the food bank and we look forward to working with her. Hopefully, this will also encourage other individuals as well as organisations to do the same”
The MPs office are now accepting donations of food items such as tins of meat, fish and vegetables as well tea, coffee, coffee cereal and toiletries. For further information please contact email@example.com or by phone 07467 323402.
Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff yesterday made a passionate speech attacking the government on their proposed cuts to tax credits.
The cuts will affect up to 13,000 children in Dewsbury & Mirfield whose families are currently receiving tax credits and are estimated to leave up to three million families nationwide worse off, with the average loss of £1300 per year.
Her opening lines were aimed at the privileged backgrounds of some on the government benches:
“I look at today’s debate as someone – perhaps unlike some of the Members opposite who have spoken – who did an ordinary job on an ordinary wage before I came to this House.”
She then went on to talk about her former work colleagues and constituents who stand to lose out through the government cuts:
"Many of the people I worked alongside in the NHS relied on tax credits to make work pay, and now find themselves caught in a pincer between the government’s pay cuts and the work penalty.
“There are more than thirteen thousand children in my constituency who are in families supported by tax credits. That is over two thirds of all families with children in Dewsbury and Mirfield.
“Literally thousands of the people I represent, now fearful for their future.”
The vote saw a victory for the government despite many of their own MP’s voicing concern over the cuts.
Sherriff commented afterwards:
“Despite many Labour MPs making passionate speeches in this debate, I am devastated that we lost the vote. But the fight will carry on, I will never give up standing up for the people in my constituency. I'm Labour; it's what we do.”
Paula's Press Column this week - Is deprivation in Dewsbury acceptable in the seventh richest country in the world?
Is deprivation in Dewsbury acceptable in the seventh richest country in the world?
Official figures revealed recently that some areas of Dewsbury featured in the top thousand most deprived areas in Britain. I would say this came as a shock to me, but sadly this is what many towns, particularly in northern England have come to accept as the norm.
Dewsbury has been left behind and neglected under this government, as have many northern towns. The Chancellor’s rhetoric of a ‘Northern Powerhouse’ has been one of the biggest cons of the Conservative’s general election manifesto. The deprivation figures are hard evidence that all he is creating is a ‘Northern Poorhouse’.
I have had many constituents visit my office since being elected who are desperate. People with disabilities having all income cut off through not being able to get to assessments as far afield as Manchester. Families being forced to move out of their homes or face financial penalties because they have the audacity to have a spare bedroom. Not to mention the anticipation of the impending tax credit cuts to be inflicted next May, where many working families stand to lose thousands of pounds a year.
In July I voted against the government’s welfare bill and I welcome that the new Labour leadership has taken this stance and that we voted as a party to oppose the bill in September.
Some may simply say that getting people into work is the answer. Unfortunately our town is being starved of investment, with the government playing politics with devolution and decisions on transport infrastructure and as a result Dewsbury suffers and fails to grow and provide the jobs required. The figures are more concerning in other ways too. Many of those below the poverty line are actually in work, the governments so called ‘strivers’. It is mainly those in work who will lose out financially with the impending tax credit cuts. The combination of these cuts and the Chancellor’s so called ‘living wage’ set to come into force in May, is doing no more than giving with one hand and taking away more with the other, leaving many more families struggling to pay their bills and provide a decent standard of living for their children.
But on top of jobs, wages and benefits the government fails to address the other huge contributor to deprivation - the lack of affordable housing. Private sector rents are spiralling out of control with rents on average £1000 more than in 2010. Despite this David Cameron plans to sell off more and more social housing stock at knock down prices. History shows that this is false economy, with former social housing falling into the hands of private landlords who are able to charge exorbitant rents and push up the housing benefits bill.
For many in Dewsbury, home ownership is an impossible dream. With average first time buyer deposits ranging between £16,000 & £20,000 based on research from Yorkshire Building Society. David Cameron announced at Conservative conference last week his new starter home plan, a scheme aimed at helping the younger generation get on the housing ladder as opposed to renting. However research from the housing charity Shelter suggests that in 98% of local authorities, those earning George Osborne’s so called ‘Living Wage’ would not be able to afford one of these starter homes. For many generations rip-off rent will continue.
In the seventh richest country in the world is it right that people in Dewsbury are suffering from deprivation and poverty? Of course it isn’t. The Government need to stop patronising us with terms such as ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and wake up to the harsh realities of severe deprivation in northern towns and cities caused as result of their policies.
Paula Sherriff MP (Labour, Dewsbury & Mirfield) expressed disappointment today that Marks and Spencer had refused to follow the lead of WHSmith in reducing the price premium charged in hospital outlets.
The chain was under pressure from the MP, a former NHS worker who now sits on the House of Commons health select committee, following an investigation showing that they were charging significantly more in hospital outlets than in high street stores. There was widespread criticism that they were taking advantage of a vulnerable captive audience.
WHSmith agreed to a range of measures with Sherriff, including capping food prices in hospital shops and cheaper “get well soon” cards.
Marks and Spencer met the MP in Westminster today but claimed that they were legally unable to take any action on pricing in their hospital franchises, despite setting the wholesale prices. The retail giant denied they were “exploiting a captive market” or any “undue profiteering”, stating that the overall price uplift was a “single digit percentage” but admitted that it was significantly more for products such as flowers. They blamed higher prices on rents charged by NHS Trusts.
Despite criticism from unions and the Patients’ Association, the firm also denied that they had ever received any complaints from staff or unions on the subject.
Despite owning the depot, M&S hires staff through recruitment agency 24-7, with another company registered at the same address the legal employer. 75% of the staff are now treated as agency workers, using a loophole in employment law, despite effectively working exclusively for M&S. They receive significantly lower pay and only 7 hours of guaranteed work a week, with bosses able to turn them away when they arrive for shifts. The GMB trade union is pursuing a legal challenge.
It was revealed earlier in the year that M&S Chief Executive Marc Bolland received more than £2m in pay after bonuses, and the chain’s global revenue exceeds £10bn.
Paula Sherriff said:
“I'm deeply disappointed that Marks and Spencer hasn't followed the lead shown by WHSmith on hospital pricing. Patients feel like they’re getting their pockets picked to prop up the profits of one of Britain's biggest brands. The biggest premium is on flowers, and I think that’s just wrong – there will be people in desperate circumstances who want nothing more than to look after their loved ones and these shops are making a quick buck on the back of them.
“No doubt M&S Chief Executive Marc Bolland could afford the extra on his two million pound pay package, but with this government’s tax credit cuts working people are struggling and the costs of looking after a seriously ill relative can make all the difference.”
“And just they're charging vulnerable customers more, they're paying vulnerable workers in their supply chain less. Put together, you have to question what’s happened to the values behind this brand.”
“I hope that we see some progress on conditions for their workers when we meet next. Their adverts say that there's only one store that does it like M&S, but apparently that’s not true for prices and it’s not true for payscales. Instead the most vulnerable customers and staff get charged more and paid less.”
The MP pledged to seek a Commons debate on the behaviour of Marks and Spencer if she wasn't satisfied with their response.
Paula today has written to Stephen Eames, Chief Exec of Mid Yorks Hospital Trust to reiterate her concerns regarding charging blue badge holders for parking at Mid Yorks Hospitals.
The letter follows a meeting with Mr Eames, last Friday where he agreed to send the decision back to the Trust Board. In the content she makes reference to her constituents who are being "tipped over the edge" by the changes and how some are paying over £100.00 / month on parking charges.
Paula commented: "I welcome that he has referred the decision back to the Trust Board. I will be there to make representations on behalf of my constituents who are suffering as a result of this decision."Read more
There are many injustices in the world caused by vested interests, big business and government policy. Multi-national corporations such as Amazon, Starbucks, Google & Vodafone are getting away with paying minimal tax in this country whilst making huge profits.
This week the Labour Party have brought the issue of tax avoidance back on the agenda. I welcome the Shadow Chancellor’s announcement in his conference speech that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn will claw back £25 billion in unpaid taxes from these huge corporations. It’s simply not right that whilst millions will be seeing cuts in their tax credits and cuts in their public services that these companies are let off the hook.
Of course taking on large corporations to claw back tax is only something a government can do only when in office. However the last few weeks have shown that through campaigning, we can make a difference and change the unethical behaviours of some large companies.
In August this year I publically spoke out against stores, including WH Smith, who were charging significantly more for products in hospitals. For example, it was reported that a bottle of water costing £1.00 at WH Smiths on the high street is marked at £1.79 at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield. Following this there was widespread criticism that they were taking advantage of a vulnerable captive audience.
The company claimed the higher costs were as a result of increased operational costs and complex delivery arrangements, but as I pointed out other chains who operate within hospital premises, such as Costa Coffee, charge the same for their products there as they do on the high street.
Following the revelations I requested a meeting with the CEO of WH Smith, Stephen Clarke, which was followed by an announcement that the store had agreed to drop prices for a range of goods in the chain's hospital stores, matching the deals available in high street stores for the first time.
This is a welcome first step for NHS patients, visitors and staff, who were frankly being exploited to boost the bottom line of some of Britain's biggest businesses while the government looks the other way. I will be meeting Marks and Spencers soon and I hope they will follow this lead. Whether it's higher prices in the shops or charging for car parks, those who use or work in our hospitals are paying an unfair price and it's time to change it.
Small achievements like this demonstrate how we can change things for the better through campaigning and not being afraid to speak out.
Paula calls on the Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith to take action over appalling treatment of PIP claimants by ATOS
Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff has written to the Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions to demand action over the shocking treatment of Personal Independent Payment (PIP) claimants in the Kirklees area who, in some cases, are being forced to attend assessments as far afield as Manchester and Stockport.
The assessments for PIP, which will replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for people with lifelong disabilities, is being carried out by the contractor ATOS. The controversial American company had their contract terminated earlier this year for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) assessments due to poor performance.
The company have two assessment centres in Bradford, two in Wakefield and two in Leeds. But despite Kirklees being an authority of some 440,000 people, ATOS have refused to open an assessment centre in the area. A decision which is being challenged by Paula Sherriff and local patient champion Healthwatch Kirklees.
Paula said “I have had distressed constituents contact my office regarding this issue and I have heard of many other cases where people are unable to attend to their interviews due to the distances they are required to travel. In one recent case the claimant was given 3 hours’ notice that their appointment in Wakefield had been cancelled. They were then advised that they must attend an interview in Stockport.
“I have written to Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, and ATOS regarding this despicable treatment of people with disabilities in my area and I am awaiting a response. This is not a one off incident and I urge anyone to come forward and let me know about their experiences so that we can tackle this issue together and ask for a fairer deal for Kirklees.”
Following a meeting with Dewsbury and Mirfield MP Paula Sherriff, herself a former NHS worker, WHSmith CEO Stephen Clarke has agreed to drop prices for a range of goods in the chain's hospital stores, matching the deals available in high street stores for the first time.
The chain came under pressure from the MP, who sits on the House of Commons select committee, following her revelation that stores including WHSmith were charging significantly more for products in hospitals. For example, it was reported that a bottle of water costing £1.00 at WH Smiths on the high street is marked at £1.79 at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield. Following this there was widespread criticism that they were taking advantage of a vulnerable captive audience.
The company claimed higher costs were as a result of increased operational costs, complex delivery arrangements and longer opening hours but Sherriff pointed out that other chains such as Costa Coffee which operate within hospital premises charge the same for their products as they do on the high street.
At the meeting with Sherriff, WH Smith agreed to match their standard prices for all stationery goods and will now stock a new range of 'value' greeting cards in their hospital outlets, with prices starting at 89p. Any High Street promotions will now be replicated in hospital outlets so that patients and visitors will not lose out.
They also promised a monitoring system to ensure that food and drink prices do not exceed high street prices by more than a 1-2% margin of prices.
Other chains such as Marks and Spencer were also exposed for charging premium prices to hospital patients, visitors and staff, and Sherriff pledged to continue her campaign to secure a better deal.
Paula Sherriff said:
"This is a welcome first step for NHS patients, visitors and staff, who were frankly being exploited to boost the bottom line of some of Britain's biggest businesses while the government looks the other way. It's appalling that ministers have refused to act, but I will be meeting other retailers soon and I hope they will follow this lead. Whether it's higher prices in the shops or charging for car parks, those who use or work in our hospitals are the paying an unfair price and it's about time to change it."
Read my piece here on the alarming cost of hospital agency staff:Read more