This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 17th March 2017.
For days in advance of budget day, the Government like to leak (or "trail") certain announcements to favourite newspapers and to carefully 'manage expectations' - either good or bad.
On the day itself, we have the customary photo of the chancellor outside No 11 holding up his red briefcase and then the House of Commons endures an hour of painful soundbites and political knockabout.
But in the days that follow a budget, independent experts pour over the budget - combined with other measures - to see what it all actually means.
So what does it mean for folk back in Barnsley? Well according to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, working families with children are on average £1,400 a year worse off.
When it came to the self-employed, the Tories tried to break their manifesto promise as the Chancellor launched a £2 billion tax raid on them with his hike in National Insurance Contributions (NICs).
In Barnsley, that would have meant 5,300 self-employed people would have seen their tax bills rise.
However, such was the unpopularity of this pledge, the Government were forced into an embarrassing U-turn this week.
But the Budget still falls short. For example, it did little to ease the NHS crisis. The promised £2 billion for social care was a classic case of giving a little bit with one hand, whilst taking a lot more with the other, and will do little to plug the £4.6 billion already cut since 2010.
Despite promises of extra cash and 'fairer funding', Barnsley schools are already struggling under huge Government cut backs. Their budgets shrink by up to £6.6 million by 2020.
But of course there are always some winners on budget day. Big business continues to get big tax cuts and the Government is still pushing ahead with a £1 billion cut in inheritance tax for the wealthiest estates.
So when it comes to government budgets, the devil is in the detail. We've had one U-turn. I'll be campaigning for a few more.
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 17th March 2017. For days in advance of budget day, the Government like to leak (or "trail") certain...
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 3rd March 2017.
Theresa May and her minsters have talked a lot about improving mental health services. But so far that’s all it is – talk.
Away from the world of fanfare Government speeches and 'announcements' that turn out to be just more vague promises stuck on repeat, the reality is very different.
New figures from Barnsley Child and Adult Mental Health Service (CAMHS) provide a stark illustration of the problem, particularly among young people.
A shocking 465 children waited for anything up to 18 weeks for treatment - that's four months - according to Barnsley CAMHS. Some 13 children in Barnsley had to wait longer than 30 weeks.
Of those treated from the start of April 2016 to the end of June 2016, three out of four young people waited more than 12 weeks for treatment. That is simply not good enough.
Mental health charities do some fantastic work, but what they do is hamstrung by the Government’s failure to follow up their promises on mental health with more cash.
Funding has fallen by eight per cent over the last Parliament. There are now over 6,000 fewer mental health nurses than there were in 2010 and many patients can’t get mental health care close to their home.
When it comes to children’s mental health, one in ten has a diagnosable condition. Children with behavioural disorders are four times more likely to be drug dependent, six times more likely to die before the age of thirty and twenty times more likely to end up prison.
Charities like CLIC Sargent do fantastic work helping young cancer patients who are among those who could suffer mental health problems as they undergo treatment. They want the Government to do more to help schools assist children with mental health issues, including young cancer patients, which is a good idea.
Mental health should not be a party political issue. But we do need action, not words, when it comes to improving mental healthcare for everyone in our society - and that includes our young people.
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 3rd March 2017. Theresa May and her minsters have talked a lot about improving mental health services. But...
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 17th February 2017.
No one should have to endure being attacked, spat at or abused as they go about their job.
But it’s even more unacceptable when the targets of that abuse are the police and emergency services whose work involves serving the public and saving people’s lives.
Did you know that attacks on police in Barnsley have risen sharply? Up from 27 in 2015 to 31 assaults in just the first nine months of 2016.
I have always worked hard to support our local police. Whether that's voting against cuts to police numbers in Parliament or volunteering to join them on shift locally. Recently I was out and about with police in Kendray, talking to residents about efforts to crack down on anti-social behaviour.
So now I'm supporting the Police Federation’s 'Protector the Protectors' campaign after shocking national figures revealed an officer is assaulted every four minutes.
We must do more to deter the tiny minority of thugs who think it’s okay to attack members of the emergency services.
That’s why I was glad to support fellow Labour MP Holly Lynch last week by co-sponsoring a Bill in Parliament. The Bill proposes new laws to bring in much tougher sentences for people convicted of attacking a police officer, firefighter, doctor, paramedic or nurse whilst they go about doing their job.
Anyone who assaults an emergency services worker should be punished by tougher sentences, particularly repeat offenders.
The new law would also tackle the disgusting and growing problem of offenders who spit at police and others from the emergency services. It would become a specific offence and perpetrators would be forced to have a blood test to check for any infection risks.
The dedicated men and women of our emergency services frequently go above and beyond their duties to look after us. It's time we looked after them a bit better. I hope the Government will back the campaign.
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 17th February 2017. No one should have to endure being attacked, spat at or abused as they go...
The following piece appeared in Michael's column for the Yorkshire Post on 14th February:
George Osborne was uncharacteristically candid last week when he admitted his fear in a major speech that the so-called Northern Powerhouse could be a “casualty” of the new regime in Downing Street. Of course, the word “casualty” implies that something is alive and well to begin with. I beg to differ.
But Osborne was right when he made the broader observation in the first report of his Northern Powerhouse Partnership that too often in government and politics “yesterday’s initiative is too easily dropped and the circus moves on to the next news bulletin or latest tweet”.
His comments followed Theresa May’s recent announcement – one that ran all day on the TV news - of £556m for the Northern Powerhouse. Yet, on closer inspection, it quickly transpired that the cash boost for our region was simply part of a £1.8bn Local Growth Fund that had already been announced in last March’s Budget. It shows, I suppose, that a Government that once vowed to be the ‘greenest ever’ has not given up completely on recycling.
There is a worrying pattern emerging when it comes to what the Government say and what they are actually doing when it comes to the Northern Powerhouse. Osborne first mentioned a ‘Northern global powerhouse’ as long as go as 2014 in a Tory pitch to voters in the region ahead of the 2015 election. The Yorkshire Post’s readers may recall he promised big investment and better transport links that would allow Northern cities “to take on the world”.
So, three years later, what has actually happened? The substance is very different from the spin.
When it comes to major rail links, latest reports suggest the HS2 project could run out of money before the Yorkshire stretch of the route linking the North to London is built, while there appears to be little Government impetus behind a proposed HS3 link to connect Liverpool with Hull.
This isn’t the first failure when it comes to rail improvements for the North. Just seven weeks after polling day in 2015, the Government announced it was shelving the electrical upgrades to the Midland Main Line and TransPennine route.
In contrast, it was good to hear that a future Labour government will deliver on HS3 – dubbed a “Crossrail for the North” – that could create 850,000 jobs by 2050. As part of our plan to transform the region’s economy, Labour will also set up a new funding formula – a “Barnett Formula for the North” – to make up for years of Tory neglect.
Before the general election, the Tories also promised the North would grow as fast as the rest of the country from 2015 to 2020, with economic growth of £13bn by 2030 and 100,000 new jobs. Yet since 2010, London has enjoyed economic growth of 24 per cent compared to only 10.7 per cent in Yorkshire. The net change in employment is around 2,000 jobs, which means it would take around 60 years for the Government to hit its target.
And who could forget the Government’s infamous decision to close down the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills office in Sheffield and move it to London with the loss of 247 jobs?
When it comes to education, contrary to recent explicit claims from Ministers that areas like my constituency would get extra money under a new funding formula, it now transpires that schools in Barnsley could be £6.6m worse off by 2020. This bleak outlook was confirmed in the first report from Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse Partnership think tank last week. It warned that “urgent attention” must be given to improving education in the region.
And the Government is also pressing ahead with cuts which are in many parts of Yorkshire disproportionate – despite hitting areas of higher need.
For all its talk of the £556m investment for the North, the cash allocated to the more prosperous South-East was not much smaller at £492m.
Theresa May’s apparent scepticism about the whole Northern Powerhouse project is well-known in Westminster. Some have suggested she wanted to refocus the Government’s attention on Birmingham and the Midlands, home of a number of Tory marginal seats. Even Osborne was forced to admit last year that the woman who sacked him had a “wobble” over his plan – hardly something to inspire confidence among business, investors or indeed the public.
It is simply not good enough for the Government to keep making big promises that don’t amount to anything and re-issuing press releases about plans for the North. People want to see action and shovels in the ground when it comes to new homes, new roads and rail links.
This month, Osborne wrote that the North of England was “at a turning point”. A crossroads might be more accurate. It is now time for Theresa May to show us that the promised Northern Powerhouse is more than just an empty Northern PR-house.
You can read the article here.
The following piece appeared in Michael's column for the Yorkshire Post on 14th February: George Osborne was uncharacteristically candid last week when he admitted his fear in a major speech...
Last week, the fantastic Barnsley LGBT Forum launched the 'Pride over Prejudice' festival, which celebrates 50 years since the
decriminalisation of homosexuality.
It will be the biggest ever LGBT festival in Barnsley and marks the anniversary of one of the most important social reforms in British history.
I am proud to support equal rights for the LGBT community. That's why I voted for equal marriage when I was first elected to Parliament, enabling two people that love each other to make a legally binding commitment to one another and have equality under the law.
As a community here in Barnsley, it is also important that we celebrate our diversity and it is why I am keen to support the family-friendly POP festival. Across the month of February, events will be taking place across Barnsley that give us an opportunity to take part in a programme that has something for everyone - from talks, film screening, exhibitions, live performances, community-art projects and much more.
The festival culminates in the POP Goes the Festival event, which will take place at Elsecar Heritage Centre on 25th February and will bring together all parts of our town in celebration of the rights that have been hard fought for and hard won by members of the LGBT community.
Find out more here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/pop-goes-the-festival-tickets-31150683533
Last week, the fantastic Barnsley LGBT Forum launched the 'Pride over Prejudice' festival, which celebrates 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality. It will be the biggest ever LGBT festival...
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 3rd February 2017.
Back in December, Education Secretary Justine Greening announced a new funding formula for schools. She promised to end "the historic unfairness". I'll admit I was more than a bit sceptical. Despite higher needs here, Barnsley's had bigger cuts to our public services than in many better-off parts of the country.
But Greening said: “This unfairness is seen right across the country. For example… a school in Barnsley could receive 50 per cent more funding, with no changes to its circumstances, if it were situated in Hackney instead.”
Interesting, I thought. Maybe the Government's finally listened? Not a chance. It's now emerged that our schools will have even less cash in future.
According to research from the teaching unions, any gains made by Barnsley schools will be outweighed by major budget cuts.
According to their 'School Cuts' website, school budgets in Barnsley will shrink in real terms by £6.58 million by 2019/2020.
For instance, figures show the All Saints Academy in Darfield could see its budget shrink by £130,836 by 2019/20 – a huge cut of £711 per pupil.
Over the same period, Shafton Primary Academy faces a £121,386 cut – the equivalent of £519 per pupil, or the equivalent of losing four teachers.
The Forest Academy in Kendray faces a £102,485 cut – the equivalent of £436 per pupil. That could be the equivalent of losing two teachers.
Oakhill Primary Academy faces a cut of £101,580 – the equivalent of £367 per pupil, a loss equivalent to losing two teachers. The list goes on.
These budget cuts come on top of existing teacher shortages in Barnsley - revealed in the Barnsley Chronicle - as well as cuts to children’s centres, libraries and school sports. It’s time the Government lived up to their promise to give Barnsley a fair deal.
That's why I’ve written to the Government to demand some answers. Our dedicated teaching staff, parents and most of all our young people deserve better.
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 3rd February 2017. Back in December, Education Secretary Justine Greening announced a new funding formula for schools. She promised...
When I was in Israel at the end of last year visiting Yad Vashem, the deeply moving and powerful memorial to the victims of the Holocaust in Jerusalem, I was reminded of a story I'd heard in a film: A young Israeli child is learning for the first time about what happened in the Holocaust in Europe and the child innocently asks "why didn't we send in our army?"
Back here in the UK, a recent survey in this country found that 91 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds did not even know what the word 'genocide' meant.
Today, on Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember what happened in the Holocaust and we remember the victims. But as well as remembering, we reaffirm our commitment to teach future generations about the Holocaust and about the subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Bosna, Darfur and Rwanda.
Last year I also had the unbelievable privilege of spending time with Freda Wineman, one of the inspiring but now sadly dwindling number of Holocaust survivors, at the annual dinner for the fantastic Holocaust Education Trust.
We talked about many things. I recall she was keen to know what my constituency was like and in particular what life was like for young people in Barnsley - what opportunities they had, what problems they faced. I was also struck by the fact that Freda seemed to have amazing energy for her age. I couldn't quite believe how busy she still was in travelling around the country telling her story and educating people, especially children, about the Holocaust.
Freda, of course, was one of the lucky ones who survived. I've read that if we held a minutes silence for every victim of the Holocaust, we would be silent for the next eleven and a half years.
So today let us pause to remember what happened. But let's also vow to teach our children about what happened. When I signed the Holocaust Education Trust's Book of Condolence in the Houses of Parliament, I wrote: "This happened. So it could happen again."
When I was in Israel at the end of last year visiting Yad Vashem, the deeply moving and powerful memorial to the victims of the Holocaust in Jerusalem, I was...
It seems like the crisis in the NHS is never out of the headlines at the moment – and sadly we're not immune to the problems here in Barnsley.
According to latest official figures, only 87.7 per cent of patients admitted to Barnsley Hospital’s A&E were seen within four hours – well below the 95 per cent target set by government.
But these figures were for November (before the cold weather). Despite the brilliant efforts of our dedicated NHS staff working under intense pressure, we may not know the worst of it yet.
That's why last week Dan Jarvis and I met with Barnsley Hospital’s chief executive, Diane Wake, and chairman, Stephen Wragg, to discuss action being taken to deal with the problems.
The Hospital is doing its best and has implemented contingency plans to cope with the crisis.
The pressure on Barnsley Hospital has increased partly because people are finding it harder to see a GP, so they turn up at A&E. For others, by the time they've managed to get an appointment with the GP, their illness has worsened and they need to go to hospital.
Government cuts of £4.6 billion to social care budgets have also put huge strains on hospitals because they are unable to discharge vulnerable patients due to a lack of home care.
There were always going to be pressures on the NHS - like an ageing population. But Government's cutbacks and bungling management of the NHS - like problems with NHS 111 - have created a perfect storm. And as I've argued, closing community pharmacies will only make things worse.
It's time the Government got a grip. That includes putting more money into easing the crisis. They could start with bringing forward the £700 million earmarked for social care in 2019/2020.
Responding to recent headlines, Ian McMillan tweeted: "I hope my last memory of the world is not the harsh light of a hospital corridor - and the sound of a rich country wringing its hands". Well said, Ian.
It seems like the crisis in the NHS is never out of the headlines at the moment – and sadly we're not immune to the problems here in Barnsley. According...
The following appeared as Michael's op-ed for The Guardian.
Good journalism is a vital part of our democracy. Our inquiry will look at false stories on the web and inaccurate reporting in the mainstream media
When the president-elect accuses US intelligence agencies of leaking lurid and unverified allegations about a Russian dossier on his private life, the global scale of the problem with fake news is clear. Donald Trump furiously denied the allegations to his 19.6 million followers on Twitter and at a press conference, condemning the leaks as something out of “Nazi Germany”. As the next leader of the free world, Trump has a powerful platform to rebut these salacious stories, apparently from a memo compiled by a former British intelligence officer. But even someone with views as unpalatable as Trump deserves to be scrutinised on the basis of truth and reality – not on fake news.
There is a clear duty on news organisations and journalists to make strenuous efforts to verify the information they receive to ensure it is accurate and to avoid the temptation to publish clickbait nonsense in a voracious quest for web traffic. It is not good enough to say we have serious doubts about this story, but we are going to publish it anyway.
Advances in technology and global communication, including how we consume news, have brought huge benefits. But they have also paved the way for fake news to become a worldwide problem. In America, we saw alarming attempts to influence the presidential election with hoax stories, among them the bogus claim that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump.
In Britain too, our politics risks becoming infected by this contagion. Rumours on social media can quickly get picked up by the mainstream media and given wider circulation without proper checks. We must not allow fake news to undermine our democracy or we risk the prospect of people’s political choices being formed on the basis of lies.
But the problem of fake news is not just about the damaging impact it can have on politics and democratic processes both here and abroad. It can also cause deep distress to individuals who find themselves the victims of these online make-up merchants and internet bullshit artists.
In December, England rugby star James Haskell became the latest famous name forced to deny that he was dead after fake news stories emerged on social media that he had died of a steroid overdose. It was left to Haskell to condemn the tales as “absolute rubbish”.
The authors of these fake news stories will probably never be discovered. But the way these stories swirl around the internet raises the question: what constitutes “news”? If a story is shared thousands of times, it can effectively be seen as news – regardless of whether it is based on truth or its provenance is clear – with the details, often unchecked, subsequently picked up by mainstream media. Even when a denial of the fake story is issued, it is often seen by far fewer people than the original tale which has done the damage.
The motivations of those behind these fake news stories are mixed. Some seek notoriety, while others are in it for the money by dragging clickbait traffic to their websites. For others, it is about promoting propaganda or deliberately creating false stories to damage those you wish to undermine.
But our determination to tackle fake news does not mean that we shouldn’t embrace the changes in the way people now consume news. Nor does it mean that we are against the increased plurality and independence from vested interests that the internet offers.
For too long, the way news is reported in Britain has been concentrated in the hands of those who run the mainstream media. The news agenda has been dominated by national newspapers, large sections of which are controlled by unaccountable billionaires. The explosion in the number of outlets means people have more choice than ever about how, when and from where they get their news.
The dominance of tech giants like Google and Facebook means they are often the gateway into accessing news material – something that gives them huge power over what we see. And with that power must come greater responsibility. It leaves the government facing similar policy challenges over plurality, ownership and potential monopolies that previous governments faced when newspapers were the dominant force.
The Labour party inquiry that I have been asked to lead will look at the changing ways that news is consumed and shared online, as well as the practical, political and ethical issues raised by fake news. It will examine what more social media and news websites could be doing to make sure readers see a wider variety of views, and whether they have a responsibility to prevent fake news stories being shared. The inquiry will also look at what online communities could do to help verify news stories and advise consumers of deliberate and malicious hoaxes. We plan to take evidence from a wide range of groups and compile a report later this year.
But in the course of this inquiry, we must reject the false choice offered by some that we can either look at fake news on the internet, or we can tackle inaccurate reporting in the mainstream media. This is not an “either/or”. And we must demand high standards in both.
We in the Labour party, who have so often been on the wrong side of misrepresentation and unfair attacks from the rightwing media, have a responsibility to be vigilant and reject fake news material on social media and elsewhere – even if it purports to come from the left. Everyone who wants to see honest and rigorous news reporting, proper fact-checking, investigative journalism and robust political debate also has an interest in fighting fake news. The only people who have anything to fear from this inquiry are those who are deliberately spreading stories they know to be untrue or those who are turning a blind eye to it.
We have a responsibility to stand up for good journalism everywhere. It is an essential part of our free speech and our democracy. The old adage that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes has never been more true. The growing risks posed to our democracy mean we can no longer ignore the threat from the proliferation of false news stories.
The following appeared as Michael's op-ed for The Guardian. Good journalism is a vital part of our democracy. Our inquiry will look at false stories on the web and inaccurate...
On New Year's Eve we sing: "Should auld acquaintance be forgot?" Rather like the character in in the film 'When Harry Met Sally', I've never understood why we sing it. I certainly don't believe it.
Many of us have lost loved ones in the past year – friends and relatives. New Year's Eve is often when we think of them. I thought about my grandmother, who died before Christmas of dementia.
2016 was also year that saw the passing of so many of the 'great and the good' - pop stars, actors, and TV personalities.
For me, I'll always remember that 2016 was the year that Jo Cox was murdered. She had only been an MP for a year, but she made such a difference.
I first met this fiercely brave Yorkshire woman 20 years ago. And this Christmas I thought in particular about her husband - my old mate Brendan - and their young children.
It's hard to see what good could possibly come out of the horrific circumstances surrounding her death.
But before she died, Jo was working with MPs from all parties on tackling loneliness in our society. Her Commission on Loneliness will launch at the end of this month and will look at finding solutions to a problem that affects so many people in our society.
According to Age UK, 82,500 people aged over 60 in Yorkshire and the Humber were on their own over the festive season. Across the country, around 1.2 million people are said to be “chronically lonely” or had been coping with loneliness for years.
We should all be doing more to visit neighbours, relatives and friends that might benefit from a bit of company.
2016 was the year when we said a sad farewell to Jo Cox, but let's make 2017 a year when she will not be forgotten - and where we honour her memory by continuing the work she began.
On New Year's Eve we sing: "Should auld acquaintance be forgot?" Rather like the character in in the film 'When Harry Met Sally', I've never understood why we sing it. I...