Welcome to my latest Parliamentary newsletter. This covers local issues and developments as well as my actions in Parliament. You’ll find updates on Universal Credit, the Autumn Budget and other issues. As ever, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me on these or any other issues.
In Birmingham Northfield
Rollout of Universal Credit in South Birmingham
For many months, I and other Labour MPs have been calling on the Government to pause the rollout of its Universal Credit scheme. We believe this is needed in order to fix the problems which have already been experienced in parts of the country piloting the new system, before more hardship is caused to thousands of people in Birmingham and millions nationwide.
Despite that, the Government have continued with the rollout, including in South Birmingham earlier this month. Under Universal Credit, families will regularly have to wait at least five weeks for their first benefit payment. This new system, alongside existing problems with the way the benefits system works, is already causing hardship to people here in Birmingham.
My constituency office team is already taking up cases of people who are unable to pay their rent and are forced to turn to foodbanks to feed their families while they are waiting for their first Universal Credit payment. The very steep increase in the amount of people now contacting me for help on Universal Credit and other issues means that it may take a bit longer than usual for my hard-working constituency office team to get back to you. Apologies in advance for that but please rest assured we will continue to give the best advice and support to constituents who approach us.
You can find out how to contact my office here.
Proposed Closure of The Fairway Day Centre
The campaign to save The Fairway Day Centre in Kings Norton continues. Earlier this month, I joined service users and carers outside the Council House to call on Birmingham City Council to scrap its plans to close the Fairway Day Centre.
You will recall from last month’s newsletter that Birmingham City Council have announced plans to close the Centre which provides support for around 70 adults with physical and learning disabilities.
I have visited the centre again this month to meet with care staff and people who use the services provided there and I remain deeply concerned about this proposal. I am in no doubt that the Fairway plays an important role in improving the quality of life of people with a range of physical or learning disabilities as well as a number of older people. That is why it so important that the Fairway Day Centre stays open. I am continuing to make representations on behalf of service users and press for a rethink on the part of the Council.
This month I attended a Schools Summit for Birmingham school leaders and parent groups. This gave them the opportunity to discuss and challenge school funding cuts with Birmingham Labour MPs and Shadow Education Minister Angela Rayner. What was clear from discussions across the summit was that school funding cuts are having a serious impact on schools all across Birmingham.
Local head teachers are now warning that these cuts are affecting the quality of local children’s education and future life chances. We are calling on the Government to bring an end to the school funding crisis in Birmingham and provide our schools with the investment they so desperately need.
You can find out more about the Schools Summit including remarks from Labour’s Shadow Education Minister here.
It was a privilege to attend several events across the constituency to pay my respects to those who have died serving our country. On Remembrance Sunday, as I do most years, I laid a wreath on behalf of Parliament at the British Legion memorial in Quarry Lane, Northfield. The day before, on Armistice Day, I attended Longbridge Town Centre’s annual Remembrance Event and joined with local Councillors and residents to write messages of remembrance on wreaths and red ribbons, which were displayed around the town centre. That afternoon it was also a privilege to meet 92 year-old RAF veteran and Bournville Resident, Ron Needle at a special Remembrance Day event hosted by Kings Norton Farmers Market. You can find out more about Ron in an article that I wrote on my Facebook page.
Our area’s connections with the military have strengthened further in the past month with the opening in Longbridge of purpose built accommodation for military medics and other staff serving at the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, based at the Q.E. Hospital. You can find out more about this accommodation here.
As you will know, this month the Government announced its Autumn Budget which set out the Government’s economic plan and spending for the next year.
On the eve of the Budget, I joined Birmingham Labour MPs to hand to the Treasury our demands for a fair funding deal for our city. The Conservative Government have left our city short-changed by £100 million. We urged the Chancellor to use his Budget as an opportunity to right a historic unfairness in Birmingham City’s Council’s budget and restore £100 million to its annual grant.
There has been no sign however, that the Chancellor is listening to Birmingham on this or on so many other issues. The Budget did not mention funding for the Police once. It found no meaningful funding for our schools still facing their first real terms funding cuts since the mid-90s and nothing even approaching the scale needed to address the crisis in our NHS or social care.
Meanwhile for all the fanfare on housing, only one third of funding announced by the Government was genuinely new. The Chancellor announced no measures to directly increase house-building and, without that, lifting stamp duty for some will only drive up prices and benefit sellers, as the Office for Budget Responsibility have acknowledged.
The Budget also failed to halt the botched rollout of Universal Credit which, as I noted earlier in this newsletter, is causing real hardship. Rather than fix the failing system, the Chancellor has put back £1 for every £10 cut from the system, meaning further debt for those already struggling with debt and rent arrears.
All this and the Conservatives are still failing on the economy. Economic growth is the lowest it has been since the Tories came into office and last week’s Budget confirms that failure, with growth and wage forecasts revised down in every year of the forecast.
As Labour’s Shadow Chancellor said in his response to the Budget, if the Government cannot address the scale of the challenges facing our economy they should stand aside for a Labour Government that will. You can read more of Labour’s response to the Budget here.
Meeting with the Police Minister
Ahead of the Budget, I met with the Police Minister and other Midlands MPs to call on the Government to give West Midlands Police the financial support they both need and deserve.
Since 2010, West Midlands Police have lost over 2000 officers and Police numbers in the West Midlands are the smallest that they have been in the history of the force. Recorded crime in the West Midlands is up by 14% and West Midlands Police now has a higher proportion of 999 calls per 1000 population than the Metropolitan Police in London.
This month I also met with the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner to hear how the impact of these cuts have left our Police dangerously under resourced and overstretched.
Yet again the Government had nothing to say on Police funding in its Budget which will mean further real-terms funding cuts for our Police.
Living Wage Week
To mark Living Wage Week, earlier this month the Living Wage Foundation announced that the UK Voluntary Living Wage is to rise to £8.75 per hour for those working outside of London.
Living Wage Week is an important reminder that when work pays we all benefit – living standards rise, inequality reduces and productivity increases. But we are also reminded that too many people in Northfield are still not paid a salary that is enough to get by.
Recent research by the Living Wage Foundation found that in Northfield almost 30% of workers, 9000 in total, still get paid less than last year’s Voluntary Living Wage of £8.45 per hour. These figures reinforce that we still have a long way to go in order to end in-work poverty.
You can find out more about Living Wage Week here.
Keeping Warm in Winter
As the temperatures begin to drop, I want to encourage everyone to keep a step ahead of winter by taking advantage of available help, support and techniques for keeping energy bills low and heat efficiency high.
A few small changes around the house can make a huge difference in keeping warm, helping you to save both energy and money. British Gas have produced a useful guide with ten simple tricks to keep your house warm in winter.
You may also be able to get help from your energy supplier in order to make energy-saving improvements to your home through the Affordable Warmth Obligation. If you are eligible you may be able to get help with the cost of insulation work to your home or upgrades to your heating, for more information please have a look at the Gov UK website.
I would also encourage households to get in touch with their energy supplier to find out what support is available.
Remember too that if you were born on or before 5 August 1953 you could receive a ‘Winter Fuel Payment’ worth between £100 and £300 to help pay for your heating. It’s tax-free, not means-tested and you are still eligible if you’re working or claiming a benefit. You can find out more here.
The Warm Home Discount also offers eligible customers a one-off payment of £140 off your electricity bill for this winter, I would encourage you to take a look here to see if you are eligible.