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I have been campaigning for some time for food hygiene ratings to be displayed on the doors of takeaways and other food outlets across England. At the moment the system is voluntary and often only those with high ratings will display the sticker.

The display of ratings is already compulsory in Wales. In Northern Ireland they have gone even further and from next year businesses which offer online food ordering will need to publish their ratings online so that they can be seen before an order is placed.

You can find more information about my work so far here, but in summary the Government previously suggested they might be supportive but needed to wait for evidence from Wales before setting a timetable for action.

In response to a series of further questions in Parliament the Government has finally revealed a timetable for new regulations to take effect in England.

Steve Brine MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health and Primary Care said: “The FSA is exploring how a statutory scheme could be delivered in England, including display of ratings on online food ordering platforms, as part of their work to deliver a new model of regulation for food businesses – the Regulating Our Future programme, which is expected to have changes to the regulatory system in place by 2020.”

I am pleased that we are finally seeing progress when it comes to food hygiene ratings, this is a victory for common sense. The public have the right to make informed choices about where they buy and eat food.

Government sets timetable for new food hygiene rules

I have been campaigning for some time for food hygiene ratings to be displayed on the doors of takeaways and other food outlets across England. At the moment the system...

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Earlier this week I wrote about the problems of fuel poverty, and how poor standards in housing are a contributing factor.

My questions to Government Ministers revealed that the number of homes with low energy efficiency ratings has increased in the private rented sector since 2010.

I submitted further questions to Ministers about incentives for landlords to make homes more energy efficient and there is an important deadline approaching.

This April regulations will come into force that prohibit the renting of properties with energy performance certificates below band E.

If these homes are upgraded it would be a huge boost for hundreds of thousands of tenants. The Government’s own figures estimate the annual energy bill savings for a household moving from band G to E would be £990. For a band F household moving to E the saving would be £510.

However, I’m concerned about the Government’s approach to this. The regulations could allow landlords a five year exemption if there are not adequate energy efficiency policies to fund improvements. Landlords could use the Government’s own failings as a loophole to get out of fulfilling their responsibilities to tenants.

A report by Parity Projects indicates that 70% of these homes could be brought up to an E grade for less than £1000, but these exemptions could leave us with both the Government and landlords each refusing to invest while blaming the other.

I wrote to the Secretary of State before Christmas to highlight these concerns on behalf of my constituents. If the Government is serious about tackling fuel poverty it should follow through on this initiative and not let landlords off the hook.

Don’t let landlords get out of energy efficiency obligations

Earlier this week I wrote about the problems of fuel poverty, and how poor standards in housing are a contributing factor. My questions to Government Ministers revealed that the number...

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The TUC's Great Jobs Agenda sets out that all workers should:

  • be paid fairly
  • work in a safe and healthy workplace
  • be treated decently
  • have guaranteed hours
  • have their voice heard in the workplace
  • have the chance to progress at work.

The aim of the agenda is to unite workplace and political representatives around a common set of objectives to improve the quality of jobs.

I have signed an Early Day Motion in Parliament to highlight the Great Jobs Agenda and call on the Government to improve workers’ rights in law.

Too many people are stuck in jobs where they are treated poorly. They have no stability, low wages, no opportunities to develop their talents and they’re scared about what might happen if they speak out.

I think the Great Jobs Agenda is a positive starting point to improve workers’ rights and turn those rubbish jobs into great jobs.

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For more information on the TUC Great Jobs Agenda visit: https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/great-jobs-agenda.pdf

Making more jobs into great jobs

The TUC's Great Jobs Agenda sets out that all workers should: be paid fairly work in a safe and healthy workplace be treated decently have guaranteed hours have their voice...

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You may have seen over Christmas that I was in the Bolton News to highlight the problem of fuel poverty.

There are 14,800 households in Bolton facing fuel poverty and many more around the country. However, answers to my Parliamentary questions show that fewer households are receiving support from the Government to insulate their homes than five years ago.

People are being made ill and they are struggling with poverty because of poor housing standards. I will continue to lobby the Government to improve access to energy efficiency schemes so that more people can upgrade their homes.

Government policy on this issue also has little to offer people living in the private rented sector.

Tenants don’t have access to the schemes that help those who live in their own property, they are left reliant on their landlord to pursue this. But if their landlord chooses not to make the property energy efficient, it’s the tenant who will be spending more on energy bills.

I tabled a written question to Government Ministers to ask how many homes in England have an energy efficiency rating of D or worse, and to split that by the type of ownership.

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While I think there is still much more to be done, we have seen some improvements in standards in both owner occupied and social rented homes.

Private rented is a different matter – not only are landlords failing to improve but the number of cold homes has actually increased.

We need to turn this around. Landlords are failing in their responsibilities to tenants if they are renting out homes that come with huge energy cost that put people’s wellbeing at risk.

I will be questioning Ministers further on their plans to encourage landlords to improve energy inefficient homes.

Fuel poverty in private rented housing

You may have seen over Christmas that I was in the Bolton News to highlight the problem of fuel poverty. There are 14,800 households in Bolton facing fuel poverty and...

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Rail fares will increase on 2nd January. Regulated fares set by the Government will rise by an average rise of 3.4%. These fares have risen by 32% since 2010.

However, some unregulated journeys will see much larger increases. An off-peak return ticket from Bromley Cross to Manchester will cost 6.8% more. There are more examples of local fare rises here.

After an autumn of packed 2 carriage services during peak times commuters will start the year facing more engineering works, cancellations and rail replacement bus services. For all that they will have to pay more.

It is not right to ask people to pay ever higher fares without delivering a reliable day-to-day local service.

I am supporting an Early Day Motion in Parliament to highlight the issues of higher fares and put pressure on the Government to help passengers.

That this House notes that train companies have announced that UK rail fares will rise by 3.4 per cent on 2 January 2018, with this figure being above the latest Consumer Prices Index inflation figure of three per cent and being the largest increase in rail fares for five years; further notes that the average commuter will now be paying £2,888 for their season ticket, £694 more than in 2010; is concerned that UK passengers continue to pay the highest fares for rail travel in Europe; is further concerned that wages are not rising in line with fare increases, which will further increase pressure on commuters and others who travel by train; believes that rail fares were already too high before this rise; and calls on the Government to ensure that rail fares are reduced in real terms.

http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2017-19/669

Opposing rail fare rises in Parliament

Rail fares will increase on 2nd January. Regulated fares set by the Government will rise by an average rise of 3.4%. These fares have risen by 32% since 2010. However,...

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I am a long-time supporter of animal welfare and animal rights, and I know that many of my constituents feel very strongly about these issues as well.

I frequently hear from local residents after high profile cases of animal cruelty, upset and angry that the terrible act has happened but often about the lack of justice that followed.

Whilst Labour introduced some fantastic legislation to uphold animal rights, it is right that we re-visit this legislation and continue to update it and improve upon it.

I am pleased that the Government is now bringing forward proposals to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years.

The Bill will also recognise in UK law that animals are sentient beings, capable of feeling pain and pleasure. It will obligate the government to take the welfare needs of animals into consideration when formulating and implementing future government policy.

These proposals are being put to a public consultation. If you would like to take part you have until 31st January 2018. All the information can be found here - https://consult.defra.gov.uk/animal-health-and-welfare/consultation-on-the-animal-welfare-bill/

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Tougher sentences for animal cruelty

  I am a long-time supporter of animal welfare and animal rights, and I know that many of my constituents feel very strongly about these issues as well. I frequently...

The Bedroom Tax - a deduction of Housing Benefit for social rented tenants who have a ‘spare’ bedroom – was introduced in April 2013.

The policy has been widely criticised by housing associations and charities. It takes money away from those with the least to spare. Vulnerable people; people with disabilities; and people on limited fixed incomes, have had their quality of life diminished. Many people have been pushed into debt or forced into unsuitable living arrangements by the Bedroom Tax.

I’ve consistently opposed the policy. It’s coming up to five years now since the tax was introduced and I still regularly hear from constituents who are facing serious issues as a result of this policy.

I have been questioning the Government on this issue and it is clear that even on their own terms the Bedroom Tax has failed.

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At the time of its introduction the Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition Government claimed that the Bedroom Tax would address two issues. It would reduce the amount the Government spends on Housing Benefit, and it would end under-occupancy.

The Governments own figures show that the Housing Benefit bill has remained fairly consistent, but there was an increase in the years after the Bedroom Tax was first introduced.

2012-13 the total Housing Benefit Bill was £23,899.6m

2013-14 the total Housing Benefit Bill was £24,169.8m

2014-15 the total Housing Benefit Bill was £24,316.6m

2015-16 the total Housing Benefit Bill was £24,243.7m

2016-17 the total Housing Benefit Bill was £23,440.6m

If the Government wants to cut the amount we spend of Housing Benefit they need to address the problems of poverty, low wages, high rents and the cost of living. The Bedroom Tax does not do this.

On under-occupancy I’ve looked at the figures of how many people were subject to the Bedroom Tax when it was introduced, compared to today.

If the Government was right then vast numbers of people should have been forced to move to smaller accommodation by the Bedroom Tax. After more than four years you’d have expected a dramatic reduction in the numbers of those paying the Bedroom Tax as a result.

As you can see here, in August 2013 there were 522,905 households subject to the Bedroom Tax. Four years on there are 406,922.

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That’s almost 78% of households stuck with an unjust deduction of their household income for 4 years.

We see a similar pattern when we look at Bolton. In 2013 we had 3,398 households subject to the Bedroom Tax, today it is still 2,277. 67% have not been able to escape this punitive policy.

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Just for added information, I also looked into how that reduction looks across different age groups. It is striking that numbers remain high for those over 50.

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I have always argued that this policy would not achieve what the Government claimed. These figures show that the Government has failed to achieve its own aims.

There simply isn’t enough available housing for everyone to move around easily and we certainly don’t have enough one bedroom properties for single people and couples without children. People are stuck in the homes they moved into in good faith and they are being made poorer because of it.

We need to stop punishing low income families. This is not a solution to the problems with the housing market, the Bedroom Tax needs to go.

The nasty Bedroom Tax has failed and must go

The Bedroom Tax - a deduction of Housing Benefit for social rented tenants who have a ‘spare’ bedroom – was introduced in April 2013. The policy has been widely criticised...

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Last week I visited the local Jobcentre Plus on Blackhorse Street.

I and the other Bolton MPs met with the work coaches at the Jobcentre to discuss the work that they do.

It was encouraging to hear that now when you sign on you have a single work coach, with whom you interact every time you visit - rather than needing to explain your circumstances to a different person each time.

There is a fresh focus on helping people to find work and overcome any barriers that may prevent that. You can even contact them for advice after you move into work if you are still looking for a job.

The Jobcentre itself has been redesigned since my last visit. The clunky job point machines have gone, replaced by PCs that anyone is free to use. Plus there is recognition that not everything needs to be modern, with paper copies of vacancies printed off, organised by sector, and displayed on the walls.

Unfortunately it remains the case that the administration of benefits and the work of the Jobcentre are separated within the institution. Complaints about claims still need to be done via phone or online, and there doesn’t seem to be any effort by the Department for Work and Pensions to make the process easier.

Universal Credit

The introduction of Universal Credit has been a major source of concern for local residents and I took the opportunity to speak to some of the staff who are managing that transition.

I am pleased to report that Bolton Jobcentre is reallocating staff back to supporting claims for existing benefits, such as Jobseekers Allowance. There will be less of a drive to push people into the new Universal Credit system while changes announced during the budget are still being implemented.

Bolton was scheduled to switch to full Universal Credit for all claimants by next June, this has now been pushed back to next November.

I still have serious concerns about the system and I hope that Labour will be able to secure more concessions from the Government to make life easier for claimants before the full rollout happens.

Bolton Jobcentre and Universal Credit

Last week I visited the local Jobcentre Plus on Blackhorse Street. I and the other Bolton MPs met with the work coaches at the Jobcentre to discuss the work that...

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The Energy Switch Guarantee recently visited Parliament to promote how simple it is to switch energy supplier.

They provided me with the information that over 7600 households in Bolton North East switched electricity supplier and potentially saved hundreds of pounds during the last year. But that’s just 17% of homes in the constituency, so others are still missing out on energy savings.

The Energy Switch Guarantee is a commitment by energy suppliers - from the largest to some of the newest in the market - to make switching simple, speedy and safe and will soon cover 90 percent of the energy market.

This winter I encourage everyone in Bolton North East to take a few minutes to find out if they are on the best deal for them.

If you haven’t switched before you might think it is a bit daunting but as it’s a lot simpler and quicker than you imagine. I’ve previously blogged about The Big Clean Energy Switch, which would be a good place to start if you’re unsure of how to find a better deal.

Energy Switching

The Energy Switch Guarantee recently visited Parliament to promote how simple it is to switch energy supplier. They provided me with the information that over 7600 households in Bolton North...

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Today is Postal Workers Day. I’d like to thank our local posties for their hard work and dedication in collecting, sorting and delivering post during the busiest period of the year.

There is an ongoing dispute going on between the Royal Mail and CWU Postal Workers who are fighting for better pay and conditions. Since the privatisation of Royal Mail in 2013, 12,000 jobs have been lost, a fifth of mail centres have closed and over 50 delivery offices have shut. Meanwhile, private shareholders have been paid £700m in dividends.

On top of this, over the past four years the Post Office has been implementing a series of significant cost-cutting measures with closures, franchising, job losses and cuts to staff terms and conditions.

Labour will always back our postal workers. We will halt the managed decline overseen by the Tories and stop the disappearance of post offices in our towns and cities. We will also renationalise the Royal Mail, which was sold at below market price by the Tories, so that profits are put back into the business again to the benefit of workers and consumers; not private shareholders.

 

 

Postal Workers Day

Today is Postal Workers Day. I’d like to thank our local posties for their hard work and dedication in collecting, sorting and delivering post during the busiest period of the...

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