This new webpage will be used to publish new blog posts and provide links to other articles Michael has written.
Barnsley is a better place because of Allen McKay - a tribute by Michael Dugher MP and Cllr Robin Franklin
Allen McKay 5th February 1927 – 2nd May 2013
Born in Barnsley, Allen McKay successfully secured the then South Yorkshire constituency of Penistone in the 1978 by-election following the passing of Labour MP, John Mandelson. Allen held this seat for five years before it was abolished in the 1983 general election. Allen was returned to Parliament as MP for the new Barnsley West and Penistone seat, which he held for just short of ten years, retiring in the 1992 general election.
Even after retiring from politics, to the great relief of his wife, he continued to have a deep interest in local and national issues. He was still a governor at local schools and continued to follow events at Westminster, being a regular viewer of Prime Minister’s Questions as well as tuning into Treasury Questions every now and then to see Ed Balls and George Osborne sparring across the Dispatch Box.
Allen lived in Hoyland all of his life. His public service and dedication to the Barnsley community will never be forgotten. Before becoming MP, Allen was a hard working local councillor and was incredibly proud to be Chair of Hoyland and District Council, prior to it being merged into Barnsley MBC. He was filled with pride when required to collect the deeds to Sir Tommy Tomlinson’s house at the request of Earl Fitzwilliam, who placed the house in the public ownership of the Hoyland Urban District Council.
Allen achieved so much in and around Barnsley. He was a key instigator of the Hoyland Sports Centre, in developing the Cloughs Estates and he was successful in turning the old allotments into parkland, which still remains so today. It is nice to know that Allen was alive to see West Meadows Junior School and the new ALC School on the same site, a project he was a keen supporter of. He campaigned incredibly hard to see Labour elected to government and it was good for him see the complete refurbishment of his old school at Hoyland Common, as well the building of a brand new school at Kirk Balk, the school he also attended many moons ago.
He would often talk fondly of his time in Parliament and how he would drive back to the constituency at the end of a busy week in Westminster, dropping Dennis Skinner on the way. He recalled the time that he brought a young rising star, Gordon Brown, to Barnsley in the 1980s. Gordon hadn’t prepared a speech and he asked Allen to take him for a guided tour of the Borough. Once at the event, Gordon pulled a marker pen from his pocket and, to the shock of those around him, proceeded to write his speech on the table cloth.
During his time as an MP, Allen rose to be one of the most senior whips. He had many friends from both sides of the House. He often talked about the stresses the job can have on family life, but when it came to summing up his time in Parliament, Allen said that he “loved every moment”.
We are all sad to hear of Allen’s passing, his lasting achievements are a standing testament to his work and dedication to Barnsley. All of us in Barnsley are following in his path and hope to build on his legacy.
He was loved deeply by his family and by those he represented in the area he lived all his life. He was one of life’s truly nice people and Barnsley is a better place because of him.
LabourList: ‘What school Cameron went to doesn’t matter to me – but what school you went to clearly does matter to David Cameron’
13 May 2013
Michael has written a blog post for LabourList about the reports that David Cameron’s only black working-class adviser has been pushed out of 10 Downing Street following the promotion of Old Etonians.
To read the blog, click here: ‘What school Cameron went to doesn’t matter to me – but what school you went to clearly does matter to David Cameron’
Blog Post: ‘As the number of food banks continue to rise, it’s time the Government faced up to the impact its policies are having in places like Barnsley’
11 May 2013
With the economy flatlining, living standards being squeezed and a 76 per cent increase in long term unemployment in Barnsley East since March 2010, more and more people in Barnsley are turning to food banks just to get by.
Last week I visited Gateway Church Food Bank in Barnsley to see firsthand the excellent work they are doing to help the increasing number of people in Barnsley who are finding themselves unable to meet their basic needs.
Whilst there, Pastor Mark Reasbeck and two of the volunteer co-ordinators, Steph and Janet, took me through how the food bank works and what they see day-in day out. The food bank has only been open for a number of weeks but Mark, Janet and Steph explained that the number of people visiting continues to grow. So much so that they are hoping to open more food banks in areas outside of the town centre, including in my constituency Barnsley East, to serve those people for whom travelling into town is prohibitively expensive. They were also keen to point out that many who use the service are in very low paid or part-time work, yet still find themselves needing to rely on the support of the food bank.
In the eleven weeks that Gateway Church Food Bank has been open, 145 vouchers have been redeemed, feeding 365 people in crisis for three days. Each voucher entitles that person to receive three days worth of crisis food supplies. This is only meant to help tide people over for a few days and is not intended to be a long term solution, yet at least 39 of the vouchers redeemed by Gateway Church Food Bank were second and third visits. This is a worrying sign if more and more people in Barnsley are having to rely on the food bank for long-term help.
Whilst visiting the food bank, I could not help but be reminded that the UK is the seventh richest country in the world. And yet here we were, in 2013, watching people, including those with young children, having to queue up to collect tins of beans and powdered milk. I was deeply inspired by the volunteers that were providing this vital service, but at the same time a strong sense of shame that this was now a necessary part of life in our community in 2013.
So many people are now finding themselves in food poverty. Since the Coalition Government came to power in 2010, there has been an exponential increase in the number of people visiting food banks. Last year, almost 350,000 across Britain turned up to food banks for help, almost triple the number who received food aid in the previous year and 100,000 more than anticipated. This is a shocking 747 per cent increase since the last full year of the previous Labour Government in 2009-2010.
There are 91,000 more unemployed people nationally than at the election and the latest figures show that long-term unemployment has increased to 900,000. At the same time families will be left, on average, £891 worse off because of tax and benefit changes. Real wages were £464 per week in February 2013, compared with £497 per week in May 2010. That is a fall of £33 per week since the election, the equivalent of a £1,716 fall in yearly pay. The effect of which is compounded by rising energy and food prices increasing the cost of living.
There is no doubt that many are seeing the rising cost of living, benefit changes, unemployment and underemployment squeeze their household budgets to the point that they are unable to afford to meet their basic needs. And at the same time, we know that millionaires have been given a tax cut by this Government. How on earth can that be right?
The truth is this Government’s policies are failing. They are pushing the most vulnerable in society into food poverty as a result of their tax and benefit changes. They are failing to tackle the big energy companies, who make big profits but who continue to raise their prices well above inflation year on year. Growth is flatlining and their work programme was such a failure that it has been officially deemed as being worse than doing nothing. The people of Barnsley and the country are paying a heavy price for this Government’s failure.
Labour’s plan for jobs and growth would help relieve the burden on the people in Barnsley and across the country. We would cut VAT temporarily to ease the effect of the rising cost of living, implement a £2 billion tax on bank bonuses to fund a real jobs guarantee for all young people out of work for more than a year, bring forward long term investment projects to get people back to work and strengthen our economy. We would introduce a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee for anyone out of work for more than two years. Those who can work would be required to take up jobs, given training and time to job search - or they would lose their benefits. This would help hundreds of people in Barnsley and nearly 14,000 across Yorkshire.
A One Nation Labour government would tackle the dominance of the energy giants, protect the public from being ripped off and create a tough new energy watchdog with the power to force energy companies to pass on savings to consumers. And Labour’s plan would provide the jobs and growth the economy needs for Britain to recover and help reduce the number of people in food poverty relying on food banks like Gateway Church’s.
I left my visit to Gateway Church Food Bank with conflicted feelings. On the one hand I was proud to see the Barnsley community and volunteers like Janet and Steph, come together to provide such great support and help to those who have fallen into food poverty. Yet, on the other, I couldn’t help feel sadness that as a civilised, developed country a rapidly increasing number of people are finding themselves relying on food banks to get by.
Without the excellent work of the volunteers at Gateway Church Food Bank, and the kindness of the Barnsley community who donate to the food bank, these people would have had nowhere else to turn. It's time the Government faced up to what their policies are doing across the country, including in Barnsley.
To find out more about the Gateway Church Food Bank, how to donate and the great work they do, you can visit their website here -http://gatewaybarnsley.org/foodbank/.
Michael contributes to Grimethorpe Revival book
07 May 2013
Michael attended the book launch recently of Grimethorpe Revival, by Mel Dyke.
Michael contributed to the book, writing an article about the trauma that the miners’ strike and the subsequent pit closure programme had on areas like Edlington in the mid-eighties, where Michael grew up, and Grimethorpe later in the early 1990s.
You can read Michael’s contribution below:
I grew up about ten miles from the edge of what is today my Barnsley East constituency. I was raised in a village called Edlington, which was for many years the home of the Yorkshire Main Colliery. Edlington is about 15 miles from Grimethorpe and the two communities, even to this day, look similar. As was the case for many families in Grimethorpe, my grandmother’s family had originally come to Edlington because they were looking for work in the South Yorkshire coalfield. Her family settled in Edlington and indeed helped to sink the Yorkshire Main pit more than a century ago.
My father wasn’t a miner. Like most of the men on his side of the family, my Dad worked on the railways. But the house that I grew up was on Markham Road, the backdoor to which looked out onto the pit. I remember as a kid looking out at the pit wheel and the main building of the colliery. My brother and I played football alongside the nearby colliery fence. Every year we watched the Miners’ Gala in the village. I remember my Dad, who played for the Yorkshire Main colliery cricket team, teaching me to ride my bike on the track that ran round the cricket pitch at the Miners’ Welfare. In so many ways the pit formed the backdrop to childhood.
But it was the strike, and then ultimately the closure of the pit, that probably had the most dramatic impact of my early political development too. I remember the police, many on horse-back, being deployed on the streets during the strike. School trips and our weekly swimming lessons were cancelled. Most of my classmates were on free school meals. As a nine year old boy in 1984, I also discovered that a “scab” was something other than what you got if you fell over and cut your knee. And rather than government being a concept ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’; government instead was seen in our community as being completely hostile to its own people.
In the spring of 1985, I vividly remember being late for school as my friend, Gavin Ward (whose father worked down the pit), and I marched with the local National Union of Mineworkers as the men returned to work. The Yorkshire Main, like so many other pits, was closed shortly afterwards.
It is impossible to underestimate the trauma that the strike and the subsequent pit closure programme had on areas like Edlington in the mid-eighties or Grimethorpe later in the early 1990s. Virtually the entire economic system that supported those villages was gone, pretty much overnight. Poverty increased and unemployment rocketed. Many men would never work again. Some became self-employed, others eventually got jobs (often more badly paid and less satisfying) in nearby factories, some people simply moved away. But the pits also supported the social infrastructure of those communities too – from village sport to the brass band.
I remember when I first heard the news in 1992 about the Government’s pit closure programme that went on to hit places like Grimethorpe. I was at sixth form at the time, studying for my ‘A’levels and hoping to go to university. I was studying politics, but in many ways you only had to switch on the TV to see what politics meant to your own neighbourhood. The euphoria that we experienced with the resignation of Margaret Thatcher in 1990 had long since been overtaken by depression, as we saw Labour lose the 1992 general election to the Conservatives.
Just six months after that electoral defeat in 1992, I watched the BBC News bulletin as it was announced that the then-Conservative government planned to close a third of Britain’s deep coal mines, with an estimated loss of 31,000 jobs. I remember people saying at the time that what the NUM had warned about all those years before – that the Tories had a secret plan to close down the British coal industry – was finally coming true. By March 1993, only 19 pits were left.
I am a big believer that you have to remember where you came from. Our industrial heritage in South Yorkshire is incredibly important. Not just because we should pay tribute to the people who built our communities – those brave men and women who worked long, dangerous hours and in an industry that powered Britain’s industrial revolution. That is why things like ‘Experience Barnsley’, the new museum, are so important.
But the truth is it’s important to think about the past because many of the virtues and the values of those mining communities are still as relevant today: like a belief in hard work; in the importance of community and the need to take pride in it; about togetherness, solidarity and honouring the duties that we owe one another.
Places like Edlington or Grimethorpe are rightly proud of their past. It’s the job of historians to keep those memories alive, to be cherished for future generations. But it’s the job of us politicians to ensure that young people growing up in those communities today have the decent opportunities to work and to live in the future. The pits may have gone, but those communities are still very much alive.
Michael Dugher MP has been Member of Parliament for Barnsley East since 2010. He is also Vice-Chair of the Labour Party.
Politics Home blog: “Rather than follow Farage, fix the economy”
07 May 2013
LabourList: ‘Thatcher’s legacy in the coalfields was devastation – and the bitterness is still felt today’
14 April 2013
Michael and Dan Jarvis have written a joint blog post for LabourList about Thatcher’s legacy in places like Barnsley.
Click here to read the blog: ‘Thatcher’s legacy in the coalfields was devastation – and the bitterness is still felt today’
Blog post: The Government should never be forgiven for this week: Ordinary working families and the disabled left worse off as millionaires receive a tax cut
03 April 2013
With millionaires gearing up for a massive tax cut at the same time as thousands of families in Barnsley and throughout Britain are set to be left worse off, the tax and benefit changes being introduced this week tell you everything you need to know about David Cameron and Nick Clegg's Government.
On Monday, we saw the start of the implementation of the Bedroom Tax. This means that tenants in social housing will have their Housing Benefit reduced by 14 per cent if they have one spare bedroom, and 25 per cent if they have two or more spare bedrooms. Nationally, this will affect some 660,000 households, two thirds of which are home to someone with a disability.
It is well known that people with a disability are much more likely to need extra space. Many will have also made years of adaptations to their home, such as accessible showers or ramps, to make it fit for their purpose. In thousands of cases, what is described as a ‘spare bedroom’ by the Government, will be vital for tenants. For example, what about the situation where a ‘spare bedroom’ is used by a husband or wife when their disabled partner’s illness means they have to sleep separately, or when they require more space for a special bed in the old shared bedroom? What about the situation where a small ‘spare bedroom’ is used to keep wheelchairs and physio equipment for a young disabled child? And what about the situation of a recently divorced mother or father, who uses a ‘spare bedroom’ to accommodate their children at weekends and during the school holidays?
In my constituency of Barnsley East alone, the National Housing Federation has calculated that 1,836 households will lose on average £728 per year due to the change. Astonishingly, the Treasury Secretary and Lib Dem MP Danny Alexander labelled those affected as “better-off bedroom blockers”. But the truth is that the vast majority of the households impacted by the Bedroom Tax - some of the poorest people in the country - will be penalised for under-occupying homes even though they will not be offered any suitable smaller properties.
New figures released this week, for example, show that there are only 125 unoccupied one and two-bedroom council properties available in Barnsley. This means that Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council (BMBC) will only be able to help just over three per cent of the 3,664 households affected by the Bedroom Tax across the whole of the borough.
The Bedroom Tax will just see people pushed further into debt and, in some cases, people will made to move to smaller, but more expensive private rented housing. This will lead to an increase in their housing benefit payments and perversely a further strain on the housing benefit budget. The reality is the Bedroom Tax is not only, as I told BBC Radio Sheffield last week, uniquely cruel and unfair, it is also the wrong policy to solve the problem.
But depressingly, the Bedroom Tax is only the start of a host of Government policies coming into effect this week that will only heap more pressure on families already struggling to make ends meet. According to analysis of figures published by the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), families will be £891 worse off on average in the new financial year because of tax rises and cuts to tax credits and benefits introduced since 2010.
The Government often trumpets the small rise in the income tax personal allowance, but as the Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, has said this week: "This is hugely outweighed by things like cuts to tax credits and child benefit, higher VAT, the bedroom tax and the granny tax”.
The truth is that the Government is simply giving with one hand while taking away much more with the other. A classic example of this is that the personal allowance for those aged under 65 is set to rise to £9,440, but at the same time, the higher rate threshold will fall to £41,450. Other changes in the new tax year include things like child benefit being frozen for a third year, while tax credits and other working-age benefits are increasing by just 1 per cent - a real terms cut. According to the IFS, these real terms cuts will affect 9.7m households, of which 7.3m (or 75 per cent) are working households.
On top of this, 2.4 million families on low incomes are set to pay on average £138 more in council tax as a result of cuts to council tax benefit, while changes to the age-related allowance – the so called ‘granny tax’ – will also see 3.6m pensioners lose £68 a year and 360,000 people turning 65 this year lose £268.
Overall, the analysis of the IFS figures shows that the poorest 10 per cent will lose £127 while the richest ten per cent will gain ten times that - £1265. This is partly due to the fact that at the same time as all the changes mentioned above are being introduced, the Government has decided to cut the top rate of income tax for the richest people in the country, with 13,000 millionaires set to receive an average tax cut worth £100,000.
These changes are clearly unfair. How can it be right to force millions to pay more while millionaires pay less? Before Easter, I voted with Labour colleagues in the House of Commons against the tax cut for millionaires and other unfair changes. But yet again, David Cameron decided just to push through his out-of-touch policies with the support of Lib Dem MPs.
Harold Wilson is famously reported to have said that "a week is a long time in politics". This week will undoubtedly be remembered as a defining moment for this Government. In Barnsley, and right across the country, it is a week when the Government’s real priorities were brutally exposed. And it is a week for which they should never be forgiven.
Huffington Post: Book Review of 'Commons People: MPs Are Human Too'
19 March 2013
Click here to read the review.
Huffington Post: “It's Not Just the Economy, It's the Inequality, Stupid”
18 March 2013
Michael has written an article for the Huffington Post about his recent visit to India with Save the Children.
To read the article, click here:
Labour Uncut: Clegg says the Lib Dems are a party of government, so let’s judge them on their record
10 March 2013
Michael has written a piece for Labour Uncut today about judging the Lib Dems on what they do, not what they say.
Click here to read the article: Clegg says the Lib Dems are a party of government, so let’s judge them on their record
1 March 2013
It's day four of my visit to India with Save the Children and today we went to Dhapadhipi, the awful slums in the heart of Kolkata.
Our first stop was at a childhood nutrition centre where we met Pooja and Reba, two of the dedicated community health volunteers who work there. Save the Children set up this centre as there wasn’t an ICDS (Integrated Childhood Development Scheme) centre in Ward 58, where some 3,000 children live.
The community health volunteers do home visits to check if there are pregnant or lactating mothers. Where they find them, the health volunteers offer advice on breastfeeding and nutrition. They also measure the arms of the babies using a measuring tape, developed and provided by Save the Children, which has a simple colour-code for healthy, moderately malnourished and severely malnourished (green-amber-red). Save the Children are campaigning for the Indian government to provide these measuring tapes in ICDS centres.
The health volunteers provide advice on what to eat, offering ingredients and recipes that can be affordably sourced in the local area. Nutritious food is grouped into three categories, colour-coded according to the three colours in the Indian national flag. Children who are ill or severely malnourished can be referred to health centres. The ICDS centres are not designed to make public services redundant, but to encourage demand for them.
We met two year-old Pritam who suffers from Down's syndrome. He was measured in front of us and his mother was delighted to see the measuring tape record green for healthy, when previously he had been a red for severely malnourished. There was a red plastic bowl there so I turned it upside down and made a makeshift drum, which young Pritam banged enthusiastically.
We then went to a nutrition counselling and child care mothers’ meeting. Rina, a community volunteer - aptly known locally as a "Change Maker" - was cooking a healthy and delicious smelling meal and teaching local mothers how to make it themselves. The meal was just for the children.
This was the first day in a 12-day ‘camp’ where the mothers come in for an hour each day (except Sunday) to learn how to prepare the meal, feed it to their children and get other advice on child care. At the meeting, the mothers were taught about hygiene, as well as about immunisation, newborn care and other essential practices to keep their children healthy.
We spoke to Maumita, who has 4 daughters – Anjali, Arti, Anusha and Anamika. They are aged ten, seven, two and 12 months respectively. Maumita, aged 25, asked me about my own children. I told her I have three children, two girls aged seven and five, and a boy aged nearly eight months. Maumita is still trying to have a son. Like most people living in the slums, Maumita is a migrant. She is from Bihar and moved to Kolkata five months ago, where her husband works at the local tannery.
As we drove through the slums you could see the people "rag-picking" - which to you and I means physically sorting through bags of rubbish, separating plastic bottles, old sandals, or anything that might be sold. In the intense midday heat, children, many in bare feet, helped sort through the refuse and the filth, living side by side with animals in the most unspeakable conditions.
As we left the slums, just 50 yards away were some smart apartment blocks - with a high metal fence separating them from the slums - and where comfortable residents can park their four-wheel drive cars in garages bigger than the homes of their slum-dwelling neighbours.
All of this happens in one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Some argue that all we need to do is to keep growing the economy and eventually the prosperity and opportunities will "trickle down" to the poor. I'm not convinced. Some people say that inequality isn't the issue. I say it is.
Michael Dugher is MP for Barnsley East, Vice-Chair of the Labour party and a Parliamentary Champion for Save the Children
In Kolkata, Save the Children are not just keeping people alive - they are literally transforming people's lives
28 February 2013
Day three of our visit to India with Save the Children took us to Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). The city, located on the eastern edge of India in West Bengal, is very different from Delhi. On arrival my first impressions were that you can't quite work out if Kolkata is being rebuilt or if it’s in the process of falling down. The legacy of the British Empire and 30 years of Communist state government (until 2011) can be seen in the crumbling but diverse buildings.
Also, if there was an Olympic sport for appalling driving, Kolkata would sweep the medal table. The yellow taxi cabs - like New York, but with Austin Ambassador cars that look like vehicles from the 1950s - jam the city streets along with the smart Japanese imported cars, the motorbikes, the bicycles and the occasional hand-wielded cart.
Our day began with a trip to the Save the Children offices in Kolkata where we met students from St James' School for Boys, a smart, fee-paying Catholic school, whose pupils work with Save the Children as "peer educators". We spoke to Yamin Haider, Adhiraj Sen, Yash Karmakar, Ketan Tripathi and three alumni, Anita, Sophie and Arunabha. On professionally conducted courses, they help to teach younger kids from disadvantaged backgrounds in their neighbourhood basic literacy and numeracy. In the same way that Save the Children bring the doctors to the patients with their mobile health units, schooling here is brought to many poorer children via their mobile learning centre - a yellow bus that serves as a classroom. Despite the 2010 Right to Free and Compulsory Education, some eight million children in India are still not in school.
We went to Kimber Street to see Save the Children’s mobile learning centre in action in a deprived Muslim neighbourhood. We met some more local “peer educators”, Divya Badlani and Latifa Nadim Alam, as well as a teacher from their school, Michael Panja. Here the focus is on providing education for girls, like a young girl we met, Neha Arif. One mother said that she’d had no opportunities for education herself and was grateful to Save the Children for providing the chance for her daughter.
Later we went to Mahadevi Birla Girls High School and talked with girls from Year 8 - aged 13 – who are also “peer educators". Endearingly, they referred to the younger kids they helped from disadvantaged backgrounds as "little angels". During our visit, they sang us a song about equality - the lyrics were: “We are all equal. In this land of kings, we are all kings.”
We then visited a skills training centre for teenage boys who were being trained in food preparation, hospitality and housekeeping. The boys had dropped out of school at around the age of 13. All cited family problems as their reason for leaving education, such as the death of parents or financial hardship. Save the Children helps these young people find work in cafes and restaurants.
This was followed by a visit to a training centre for young girls who want to become beauticians. Most had previously been employed as child domestic workers where they had earned little or no money. At the training centre, they do a three-month training course and are then placed with local salons. We visited a nearby beauty salon where two girls who had been through the programme were now working. Paromita Mondal and Suman Thakur – aged 18 and 17 respectively – talked about how much they loved working in the beauty salon, particularly hairdressing. Over 500 young women have already gone through the course enabling them to earn a reasonable income and take control of their own lives.
Back in the UK, so much of the discussion about aid is simply about the amount of money and where it goes. Or the attention can be on what the development agencies do to provide immediate and much-needed relief in areas of poverty or where there has been a famine, a flood or a war. All of this is perfectly understandable. But our visit to Kolkata was also about seeing the outcomes that organisations like Save the Children can deliver working with local partners. In Kolkata, Save the Children are not just keeping people alive. They are literally transforming people's lives.
Michael Dugher is MP for Barnsley East, Vice-Chair of the Labour party and a Parliamentary Champion for Save the Children
What would happen without Save the Children? - on his second day in India, Michael visits the Okhla slums in South Delhi
27 February 2013
On our second day in India, we visited the Okhla slums in the industrial area of South Delhi. Here, we were informed, as many as 200,000 people live in slums in the most wretched squalor imaginable. Our guide was the brilliant Neha Sabharwal from Save the Children.
Most of the people living in the slums are economic migrants who have moved from outlaying villages of South Delhi to work in nearby factories. Others have set up small businesses, shops and the like, to serve the community in one of the shantytowns we visited.
One person we met was Mohd Hafeez, who runs a milk dairy in a small rented room. His wife, Nazrana Praveen, stays at home and looks after their two children, including their 20 month-old daughter, Tasarrun, and their two year-old son, Mohd Ali. Nazrana's daughter had recently been suffering from pneumonia so she had taken her to a mobile health van run by Save the Children. She is better now.
For many families, paying to travel some 16km to the nearest hospital is just not possible. So Save the Children bring the doctors to the patients. The mobile health van combines a doctor in a treatment room, a pharmacist able to dispense vital medicines directly to the patients, and even a makeshift laboratory with staff able to conduct the most straightforward tests and give pretty much instant results.
Most of the patients are pregnant women or young mothers carrying their infant children. I met one mother carrying her baby, a girl. I asked her how old her baby was as I have three young children and guessed she was probably a petite nine-month old. In fact she was some 20 months, her growth having been stunted by the abject poverty in which she lived.
We also met a family who lived in a small room that was about the third of the size of my garage back home in England. Prashuram runs a small shop outside their home and lives in the small room with his wife, their son, Rajkumar, their daughter in-law, Shalini, and their two grandchildren. The children in particular rely on the mobile health van.
When the mobile health van pulls up, amongst the queues of people waiting are the Save the Children community health volunteers, who work closely with a couple of government health workers. Their job is to be amongst the community providing basic care and advice, as well as to monitor the huge array of health problems that inflict people living in the slums. They know many of the patients, and their extended families, personally, providing vital insight and liaison.
As we walked round the slums there were, surprisingly, some lighter moments. There was one guy being given a wet shave with a cut-throat razor in the street. Next to him was an elderly gentleman, also in the street, working his way through a pile of ironing. I looked at the old chap and he gave me a look that said: "What are you looking at? Have you never seen someone ironing his clothes in the middle of the road before?"
During the visit, I walked round with Jonathan Ashworth MP and we were greeted with a combination of curiosity and, in some cases, like a couple of visiting dignitaries with people crowding around us wanting to have their photograph taken. It’s fair to say that this rarely happens in my constituency.
Before we left, we also visited an early childhood care and development centre - a sort of Sure Start children's centre, but a place that also provides a much-needed daily meal for the malnourished children. The room was beautifully decorated with drawings and colourings by the local children, who normally attend until the age of six. Children like Akshara, a little six year-old girl who we met. Having joined in with the songs and poetry, led by the fantastic women who staff the centre, Akshara tucked into her porridge and chickpeas.
As we left the slums, leaving behind us the open sewers and the filth that runs alongside where those poor young children play, I couldn't help but think of my own children and the contrast. But amidst all that awfulness, I also thought: what on earth would things be like for the people we’d just met without the unbelievable work that Save the Children do. Makes you think.
Michael Dugher is MP for Barnsley East, Vice-Chair of the Labour party and a Parliamentary Champion for Save the Children
A chance to see both Indias - Michael Dugher writes the first in a series of blogs reporting back from his visit to India with the charity Save the Children
26 February 2013
Shortly after I was elected as MP for Barnsley East in 2010, I was privileged to be asked by Save the Children UK to be one of their parliamentary champions. I accepted straightaway.
Since then, I have mainly been supporting the brilliant work Save the Children do in Britain, especially on their campaign 'Child Poverty: It Shouldn't Happen Here'. Save the Children do an awful lot of good work in the UK and most recently I was learning all about their initiative Families and Schools Together (FAST), an award-winning project that supports parents to improve children's learning and development at home so that they can reach their full potential at school. You can check out all the things Save the Children do in the UK here.
But I wanted to find out what Save the Children do internationally too. So this week, along with my fellow MP Jonathan Ashworth, I am visiting India with the charity.
The trip is also very personal for me. My Grandfather, who only died very recently, was Anglo-Indian. He was born in Chittagong, now in Bangladesh, and he went to school in Kurseong in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal. As a very young man, before moving to Britain and to South Yorkshire in his twenties after Indian independence, he lived in Calcutta. It was my Grandad who gave me my affection for India and in particular for its food, which I have eaten since I was a child.
When we arrived on Monday afternoon at New Delhi airport, met by Save the Children's fantastic Flora Alexander, I was immediately struck by the pace of the city. India's economy is growing at a phenomenal rate and in many ways the city is a reflection of that. It is big, fast, vibrant, slightly pushy and very much 'in-your-face' - a city in a hurry.
But as my old friend and Save the Children's chief executive officer, Justin Forsyth, said to me recently:
"Everyone is excited by the growth and success, but still half the children go to bed hungry and are severely malnourished. I hope you get chance to see both Indias."
One of facts that Flora told us as we toured Delhi on Monday was that more than 1.5 million children in India die before they reach their fifth birthday. This is the largest number of any country in the world. As we returned to our hotel on Monday night in the commercial hub of Nehru Place in South Delhi, a handful of women beggars were tapping on the window of the mini-cab we were in. One woman had a baby swaddled in her arms - the child was perhaps the same age as my seven-month old son back in England - and she was pointing to the baby's empty bottle. Not fifty yards from our hotel, these people live outside on a major road, under a fly-over, where women have been known to give birth.
On Tuesday, we will visit the Okhla slums, the industrial area in the South District of Delhi and home to some 200,000 people living in the slums, to see for ourselves the work Save the Children do, particularly on health and education. I will report back in my next blog.
Michael Dugher is MP for Barnsley East, Vice-Chair of the Labour Party and a Parliamentary Champion for Save the Children
The Jewish Chronicle: “We still need to speak up on ‘mainstream’ anti-Semitism”
8 February 2013
Michael has written an article for the Jewish Chronicle about how anti-Zionism is being used as cover for anti-Semitism.
To read the article, click here: “We still need to speak up on ‘mainstream’ anti-Semitism”
Blog Post: I will be voting for equal marriage because of my Catholic upbringing, not in spite of it
5 February 2013
On learning that I am in favour of same-sex marriage, one of my local Catholic priests wrote to me recently saying that he would pray for me. Another local priest expressed his disappointment in me by adding that he had hoped that my Catholic background “would have prompted a more thoughtful response and decision”.
As someone who still regards themselves as a Catholic, whose children are being educated at Catholic school, I have no objection to being prayed for. Indeed I welcome it. We all need praying for. But I thought the suggestion that my support for equal marriage was somehow contradictory to my Catholic upbringing was rather odd.
I don’t go to Mass every week and it’s been a while since I did R.E at school. But I have yet to see anything in the Gospels where Christ voiced his opposition to same-sex marriage. I don’t, for example, recall that after Jesus had turned water into wine at the Wedding at Cana, Our Lord then went on to tell the guests at the celebration that he would not have been so hospitable had the marriage involved two people of the same gender.
I was always told that Jesus taught us compassion, understanding and to treat others as we wished to be treated ourselves. I am married – so why shouldn’t two gay people similarly be allowed to get married? At weddings, we often quote from St Paul’s famous first letter to the Corinthians where he told us to abide by three things: faith, hope and love, “but the greatest of these is love”. When the Commons votes today, I will be voting in favour of equal marriage because why shouldn’t two people, who love each other and who want to make a long-term commitment to one another, be able to get married, regardless of their sexuality?
I fully appreciate that this is a sensitive issue and that it can be a very difficult issue for many devout people. And I am pleased that Members of Parliament have been granted a free vote in the House of Commons. This recognises that the legislation contains a significant number of religious clauses.
But there have been lots of myths put about by people who oppose the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. One concern that has been raised is that successful legal challenges will inevitably mean that religious organisations will, at some point in the future, be forced to conduct same-sex marriages. But Government’s plans will prevent any religious organisation or leader being forced into conducting a same-sex wedding against their will.
The new legislation states that neither religious organisations as a whole, nor individual ministers, will be forced to hold same-sex weddings on their premises. The Equalities Act will also be amended so that no discrimination claims can be brought against religious organisations who refuse to conduct gay marriages. And religious organisations who do support gay marriage will have to opt-in before they can conduct the ceremonies.
With regard to the European courts, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights makes it clear that same-sex marriage is a matter for individual member states to decide. Any case before the Court would be brought against the UK Government, not a religious organisation. The Court would be bound to give priority to the rights of a religious organisation under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of religion. It is worth noting that equal marriage has already been introduced in many other European countries, including in Catholic Spain.
There has also been debate around how teachers who are against same-sex marriage will be treated. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, recently issued formal guidance that teachers and other staff will not be required to promote or endorse views which go against their beliefs. The guidance governing these issues is the same guidance that will govern how same-sex marriage in the classroom will be approached. As Michael Gove made clear last weekend:
"There is a significant difference between expecting a teacher to explain something and requiring them to promote it. Teachers are expected to explain the world as it is in a way which is appropriate to the age, stage and level of understanding of pupils. This includes explaining some things of which they do not necessarily approve, such as divorce and abortion. The same will apply to new forms of marriage. Teachers will not be able to pretend that legal marriages between same-sex couples do not exist, but there will be no requirement to promote them. That position will not be changed by the new definition of marriage.”
Marriage is a hugely important institution in this country. The principles of long-term commitment and responsibility which underpin it bind society together and make it stronger. But it is important to remember that marriage is not static – it has always been an evolving institution. In the 19th century, for example, inequalities prevented Catholics and many others from marrying except in the Anglican Church. And in the 20th century, the law was changed to recognise married men and married women as equal before law.
Opening up marriage now to same-sex couples will, I believe, strengthen the institution even further and help ensure that it remains an essential building block of society. It is simply illogical to suggest, as some have, that enabling more people to enter the long-term commitment that is marriage, by opening it up to gay people as well, will mean more family breakdown in our society.
I am very proud of my Catholic upbringing. At my Catholic state school, growing up in South Yorkshire in the 1980s, I was given a strong set of values, such as a firm belief in tolerance, about having a compassion for all humanity, about rejecting all forms of bigotry and prejudice. So I will be voting for equal marriage at least in part because of my Catholic upbringing, not in spite of it.
LabourList: ‘Cameron and Osborne are a couple of reckless gamblers’
28 January 2013
Michael has written a blog post for LabourList, arguing that we need a Prime Minister that is focused on the economy rather than placating his Party with an EU referendum.
To read the blog post, click here: ‘Cameron and Osborne are a couple of reckless gamblers’
The Huffington Post: 'We know the economics of Cameron's Europe speech is a disaster, but the politics is all wrong too'
25 January 2013
Michael has written an article for the Huffington Post about David Cameron’s decision to call for an in/out referendum on Europe.
17 January 2013
It has been widely reported over the last few weeks that the world famous Grimethorpe Colliery Band, based in my Barnsley East constituency, could be forced to pack up due to a lack of funding.
The plight of the Grimethorpe Band - in many ways the ambassadors for brass bands everywhere - has brought to the fore the very real financial pressures facing brass bands across the UK. Many other bands, with equally proud histories, are also on the brink. It is clear that urgent action is now required to ensure that the very future of brass bands is secured.
The heritage of brass bands is of great importance to Barnsley and other ex-mining areas. But with increasing numbers of young brass players coming through the ranks, it is more than just remembering our past – it is also about recognising that brass bands make an important contribution to our national life today and that they have an invaluable role to play in the future.
The truth is brass bands are a fundamental part of Britain’s creative industries and have a significant artistic and cultural worth. They form part of our community life, playing a pivotal role at many civic occasions, and they support our charities and sporting events, as well as the fact that many are engaged closely with local schools. The Grimethorpe Band are also part of the international music scene. The band has toured extensively throughout the globe, including a film festival in Norway, the World Cup in Paris, the Eurovision Song Contest, and of course most recently performing to millions at the Olympics. In recent years, the band have played at the Sydney Opera House, the Royal Albert Hall and even at the White House in Washington DC.
Yet this contribution is simply not recognised by decision makers in Whitehall and that is reflected in the unfairness of the Arts Council funding. This is not a new problem - inequalities in arts funding has been around for decades. But it has now reached a critical point for brass bands and the current arrangement is just no longer sustainable. It is true that the Arts Council is planning on increasing the funding to Brass Bands England by around £40,000 a year over the next few years, but this is still far from enough and is dwarfed by the amount that goes to other branches of the arts.
In 2011/12, the Arts Council allocated funding totalling £26million to the Royal Opera House in London and the English National Ballet received £6.4million. In comparison, the organisation responsible for supporting 458 brass band groups nationwide, the British Federation of Brass Bands (now Brass Bands England), only received £23,000.
This week – along with other Barnsley MPs – I have written to Ed Vaizey MP, the Minister for Culture, requesting an urgent meeting. When we do meet, we will be arguing for a fundamental shift, not only in arts funding but in attitude. This is what is needed to secure the future of brass bands such as Grimethorpe. Accepting status quo is no longer good enough.
The Yorkshire Post: The Government is hitting strivers - we need real welfare reform that is tough, fair and works, writes Michael Dugher
08 January 2013
Michael has written an article for the Yorkshire Post today about how two thirds of households affected by the Government’s plans to introduce a real terms cut in tax credits are in fact people in work – hardworking strivers on lower incomes. You can click here or read the article below:
The Government is hitting strivers - we need real welfare reform that is tough, fair and works, writes Michael Dugher
Before Christmas, George Osborne said that he was going to introduce a real terms cut in welfare to deal with the people “still asleep, living a life on benefits” whilst others were leaving home to go out to work. Yet, like with so much that can be said for David Cameron's Government, the reality is quite different. According to the independent Resolution Foundation, two thirds of households affected by the cuts are in fact people in work - hardworking strivers on lower incomes.
We do need to get to grips with welfare reform. But the best way to do this is not through the Government's raid on tax credits received by hard-working lower wage families - what has become known as the Government's 'Strivers' Tax' - but through tough and fair polices that will get Britain back to work.
Long-term unemployment has increased by 145 per cent in the past two years, but the Government’s policies are just not working. In Yorkshire, for example, only 3.4 per cent of applicants on the flagship Work Programme have gone on to gain jobs.
The independent Office for Budget Responsibility has also been forced to revise up its forecasts for the claimant count by a third of a million, pushing up welfare spending by over £13 billion more than planned. So not only is long-term unemployment a disaster for those directly affected, it is also hugely costly and makes it much harder to tackle the growing deficit under this Government.
Two and a half years ago, our economy was growing and Alistair Darling had a plan to halve the deficit by 2014. But over the last two years, our economy has grown by just 0.6 per cent, rather than the 4.6 per cent initially forecast. And government borrowing is also set to be £212 billion higher than originally planned. This has led to tax revenues falling and the benefit bill climbing.
In order to pay for their economic failure, the Government has decided to raid £3.7 billion from working age benefits and tax credits by up-rating them by just 1 per cent over the next three years - a real terms cut. In Yorkshire alone, HMRC figures have shown that 407,000 working families will be hit by this ‘Strivers’ tax’. And a new report this week from the Children's Society showed that half a million of those hit over the next three years nationwide include 40,000 serving soldiers, 300,000 nurses and 150,000 primary and nursery school teachers.
How can this be fair, particularly at a time when Cameron and Osborne have said they will go ahead with plans in April to give 8,000 millionaires an average tax cut of over £107,000?
Last week the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, tried to smear the tax credit system. He called it “wasted taxpayers’ money” claiming that a significant proportion was lost to fraud and error. But his dodgy figures quickly unravelled when the HMRC pointed out that only 0.7 per cent had actually been lost to fraud. Duncan Smith also said that working-age benefits have risen by more than private sector pay. But again, this has been shown to be incorrect: over the last 10 years, Jobs Seekers’ Allowance has in fact increased by less than earnings.
So instead of these smears and political games, the Government should be working to solve the big challenges we face.
Firstly, we must get Britain moving again with a proper plan for jobs and growth. That's why Labour has set out a range of measures to help small businesses and hard-pressed families, such as: house building to boost the construction industry and get people back to work; a one-year national insurance tax break for small firms that take on extra workers; and reversing the Government’s damaging VAT rise to help struggling families, businesses and pensioners.
Secondly, we must continue to crack down on fraud. We must come down like a ton of bricks on the minority of people who deliberately fiddle the welfare system and who see benefits as an alternative career choice.
And thirdly, we must tackle long-term unemployment. Labour has already proposed introducing a tax on bankers' bonuses to fund a guaranteed job for all 18-24 year olds who have been unemployed for more than twelve months. Last week we went further, calling for a compulsory Jobs Guarantee for every adult who has been unemployed for more than 24 months. This would help 13,965 people in Yorkshire. Those who can work would be required to take up jobs, given training and time to job search - or they would lose their benefits. This would be funded by reversing the Government’s decision to stop tax relief on pension contributions for people earning over £150,000 being limited to 20 per cent.
What we need right now is action that boosts jobs and offers real welfare reform that is tough, fair and works - on every measure the Government is failing to do that. So I will vote against the Government Bill this week. Will your MP?
PoliticsHome article: No amount of reviewing and re-launching can hide Cameron and Clegg's record
07 January 2013
Michael has written an article for the PoliticsHome website about Cameron and Clegg's Government re-launch.
To read the article, click here.
Blog post: Bedroom tax set to cause pain in the New Year for the poorest and most vulnerable in Barnsley
14 December 2012
Last week, George Osborne gave his Autumn Statement to the House of Commons. It always takes time for the full details of these announcements to come out and the same has happened over the last few days. It is now clear that millions of working people on modest and middle incomes, who are already struggling to get by, will be hit hard. In his statement, the Chancellor announced a real term cut in tax credits and benefits over the next three years and suggested this would only affect the work-shy and benefit scroungers. But it has since come to light that 60 per cent of the households that will be affected are actually in work. The IFS has also said that an average working family (one earner couple) will be £534 a year worse off by 2015 as a result of the measure in the Autumn Statement.
And all this comes on top of the cuts already outlined in the Welfare Reform Bill - due to come into effect next year. Many of these measures, such as the so-called Bedroom Tax - which many people are still not aware of - are particularly concerning for places like Barnsley.
The Bedroom Tax effectively penalises those in social housing who have one or more spare rooms by reducing their housing benefit. The reduction in housing benefit will be an average of £14 per month and is set to cost an estimated 660,000 housing benefit claimants living in social housing an average of £728 per year - the equivalent of 19.4 per cent of those in social housing claiming housing benefit. This means that in Barnsley, approximately 2,950 households could be affected by the tax.
One of the main problems with the policy, highlighted by the National Audit Office, is that it will exacerbate the lack of smaller social housing. This will simply result in some of the poorest people in the country being penalised for under-occupying homes even when they are not offered any suitable smaller properties.
Many people will be pushed further into debt and could be forced on to the street. In some cases, people will be made to move to smaller, but more expensive private rented housing rather than social housing, leading to an increase in their housing benefit payments and the strain on the housing benefit budget.
Social housing under-occupancy is real a problem - a fact recognised by all parties, including Labour. But the reality is the Bedroom Tax is not only unfair, it is also the wrong policy to solve the problem. This is why Labour fought so hard to amend the Government’s Welfare Reform Bill while it was going through Parliament. Labour forced votes to introduce safeguards that would have stopped anyone losing their housing benefit unless they refused, for no good reason, an offer of appropriate accommodation nearby. This would have helped to solve under-occupancy, without making people homeless or pushing them into expensive private rented accommodation, which would end up costing the taxpayer more.
In the House of Lords, Labour also managed to amend the Bill so that disabled people, war widows and foster carers were safeguarded from the cut unless alternative accommodation had been offered and refused. However, once the Bill returned to the House of Commons, David Cameron instructed his MPs to overturn all these safeguards for the most vulnerable in our society.
But the most bizarre thing in all of this is that there is evidence the Government expects the policy to fail in its objective of decreasing under-occupancy. Its own impact assessment is based on the assumption that the policy won’t work. The impact assessment predicts savings to the housing benefit bill which are based on assumptions that nobody will move home. So in reality, the Government is introducing a measure that will lead to a cut in the incomes of some of the poorest people in the country without solving under-occupancy at all.
The botched way this Government is setting about housing benefit reform risks costing more than it saves and won’t solve the problem it sets out to address. What is worse is that alongside this, it is set to have a devastating effect on some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Labour supports sensible welfare reform, but these measures fail to fix the problem they set out to address. Following the omnishambles Budget and the Autumn Statement last week, it seems that unfair and ill thought out policy is the norm for this Government. The Bedroom Tax is no exception.
Huffington Post article: "It's Time Cameron Stopped Running Scared and Accepted Ed Miliband's Challenge for TV Debates"
12 December 2012
Michael has written an article for the Huffington Post about David Cameron “running scared” of the general election TV debates.
You can read the article here: “It's Time Cameron Stopped Running Scared and Accepted Ed Miliband's Challenge for TV Debates”
Blog post on the Autumn Statement: People on low and middle incomes are paying the price for this Government's failure
05 December 2012
In the Autumn Statement this week, we found out the true scale of David Cameron and George Osborne’s economic failure.
The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have had to admit that they are failing on the one test they set themselves – to balance the books and get the debt down by 2015. This pledge will now not be met until 2018.
The Government is also set to borrow £212 billion more than it originally planned (once you take out the transfer of funding from the Bank of England). This means that George Osborne is set to borrow more than the plans he inherited from the former Chancellor, Alistair Darling .
The only reason borrowing is forecast to fall this year is because the Government has added the auction of the 4G mobile spectrum to this year’s figures – even though the auction hasn’t even taken place yet. Without the £3.5bn receipts pencilled in from the 4G sale, borrowing would be forecast to be £2bn higher this year than last year.
These terrible borrowing and debt figures are down to the slow economic growth and high unemployment we have seen since the election. This has led to tax revenues falling and the benefits bill going up.
Over the last two years, our economy has grown by just 0.6 per cent, rather than the 4.6 per cent initially promised by the Government. In comparison, growth over the same period has been 3.5 per cent in Germany and 4.1 per cent in the US.
Figures in the Autumn Statement show that the UK economy is shrinking this year - with growth of -0.1 per cent. And growth forecasts have also been downgraded yet again for next year and every year up to 2016. Add to this, long term unemployment is soaring and the claimant count is forecast to be 275,000 a year higher in 2015.
The Government is clearly failing on jobs and growth and it is the people on low and middle incomes who are having to pay the price. George Osborne is pressing ahead with a £3 billion tax cut for the highest earners in the country – worth an average of £107,000 for 8,000 people earning over £1 million. Yet at the same time, people on low and middle incomes are being hit hard with higher VAT, the granny tax, real terms cuts to tax credits, jobseekers allowance and child benefit.
Independent figures also show that around 60 per cent of households hit by the real terms cuts to benefits and tax credits are working households. According to the House of Commons Library, these decisions, together with all other changes to tax and benefits taking effect in April, mean a one-earner family on £20,000 with two children will lose £279 a year.
And the £1 billion changes to pension tax relief that George Osborne announced are less than the £1.6 billion he gave back to people earning over £150,000 when he scrapped Labour’s cuts to pension tax help for the highest earners.
What we needed in the Autumn Statement was:
- a real plan for jobs and growth, including genuinely bringing forward infrastructure investment, a temporary VAT cut and a bank bonus tax to fund a jobs guarantee for young people;
- long-term reforms to make our economy stronger, including proper reforms to our banks;
- and a u-turn on the tax cut for millionaires.
But instead of a change of course, all we got was more of the same failing policies.
Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East, shadow minister without portfolio a vice-chair of the Labour party
28 November 2012
Yorkshire Post Op-Ed: Votes at 16 is an idea worth considering, writes Michael Dugher
When David Cameron met with Alex Salmond last month to hammer out the terms of a Scottish independence referendum, part of the agreement was to give 16 and 17 year olds a say in the crucial vote. Downing Street later insisted that they were not setting a precedent for general or other elections, but I believe it is a welcome opportunity to reopen the debate as to whether young people should be allowed to vote at 16 in UK elections.
Back in 2009, James Evans, a member of the UK Youth Parliament, made a speech that resonated with many. He said: "At 16, we can marry our MP, we can sleep with our MP and we can have children with our MP. We can sign up in preparation for fighting... potentially dying for our MP. And suddenly we are not mature enough to vote for them. What an absolute disgrace!"
I agree with James’ sentiments. Expanding the franchise would fix an anomaly and give younger adults a say in their future - a prospect which no doubt unnerves Conservative and Lib Dem ministers who, over the last two and a half years, have taken away young peoples' Educational Maintenance Allowance, trebled their tuition fees and left nearly a million 18-24 years olds out of work.
With confidence and trust in politicians at an all time low after the Parliamentary expenses scandal, allowing votes at 16 may be just what the country needs to engage young people in politics. A worrying Electoral Commission study revealed in 2010 that only 44 per cent of 17-24 year olds were registered to vote. Instead of resigning ourselves to the fact that young people do not vote in high numbers, we should look at new ways to increase their participation. And extending the franchise could play a key part in this.
Professor Vernon Bogdanor, from the Institute for Contemporary History at King's College, is also convinced that lowering the voting age is the right move. He has said that giving young people the vote at sixteen would bring substance to citizenship lessons in the classroom, empowering young people with a chance to practice the very social responsibility that they are rightly taught in our schools.
Social responsibility, and ensuring everyone has a stake in the country, is central to the One Nation vision that Ed Miliband set out in his speech at Labour party conference. Extending the vote to 16 and 17 year olds could help achieve this, forcing politicians to listen.
One Nation is also about tackling alienation and disillusionment. Many young people are the ones bearing the brunt of the harsh economic climate. In my constituency of Barnsley East, for example, a third of all job seekers fall into the 18 to 24 age bracket. Extending the vote to 16 and 17 year olds would give them a tangible way of expressing their views.
Young people need a say as their future is synonymous with the future of the country as a whole. When a young person can't get a job and is left languishing in long-term unemployment, this is not just a disaster for that person and their family, but for the whole country. The crisis of youth unemployment risks creating a generation that is disengaged from the economy, from society and from politics, a generation that believes that they have no stake in the country.
One Nation is also about preserving and indeed enhancing national institutions - like the National Health Service - that bind our country together. Votes at 16 would undoubtedly and importantly strengthen our parliamentary democracy.
Ed Miliband has been supportive of the principle of votes at 16 for many years and spoke out in favour during his leadership election campaign. He believes that politics needs to change and open up, and that the appetite for political renewal is greater now than ever.
This need to consider fresh ways to get more people engaged in voting was brought home with the Government's dismal police and crime commissioner elections. Less than one in six cast a vote - the lowest ever participation in a national election. And in one polling station in Newport, not one person turned up to vote.
Labour is determined to open up politics and that is why we plan to seriously look at the possibility of Votes at 16 in our policy review, which is set to inform Labour's election manifesto in 2015.
Whilst the prospect of a Scottish referendum has now brought this issue to the fore, looking at widening the franchise has implications for the rest of the UK and it should be debated widely. Votes at 16 is too important an issue for the whole of the country to be left to deals behind closed doors between David Cameron and Alex Salmond.
Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East, shadow minister without portfolio and vice-chair of the Labour party
Labour Uncut: Results this week show middle England is moving away from David Cameron
17 November 2012
Michael has written a piece for Labour Uncut today about the PCC and by-election results.
Click here to read the article: Results this week show middle England is moving away from David Cameron
9 November 2012
In a speech on Monday, at the start of the first ever Living Wage Week, Ed Miliband unveiled his pledge to back a living wage of at least £7.45 per hour for millions of people. Under the proposals, Whitehall contracts would only go to firms paying the living wage, while those who paid less could be "named and shamed". He said that introducing the living wage would be an important part of rebuilding the country as One Nation, where the Government works with the best of British business to ensure that prosperity is shared more fairly.
These ideas build on the speech that Ed Miliband gave to the Labour party conference last month. His speech in Manchester will be remembered partly for its delivery. It was delivered without notes for over an hour and even many of Labour’s critics acknowledge in private that it was his best yet. In the short term, it forced David Cameron to rip up drafts of his own speech and deliver an entirely reactive response to Ed Miliband at the Conservative party conference. But in the long term, it is Miliband's vision of ‘One Nation’ that will have the most significant and enduring impact.
One Nation is about coming together as a country to form a society and an economy where everyone has a stake and everyone has a responsibility. A country where prosperity is fairly shared and where the institutions that bind us together are preserved and enhanced.
The One Nation vision comes from a changed Labour party that can represent the interests of the whole country: private and public sector; north and south; the squeezed middle and those in poverty; the small businessman as well as the public service worker. This approach will set us on a path to creating an economy that works for all working people, creates opportunity and rewards aspiration, and delivers the real change that people want to see.
One Nation is also about making sure that no one is forgotten and or left on the sidelines. On further education, for example, it is about focusing not only on the 50 per cent that go to university, but on the 50 per cent that don’t. This is why Ed Miliband has called for the introduction of a gold standard vocational qualifications and apprenticeships.
Labour understands that when a young person can’t get a job and is left languishing in long-term unemployment, this is not just a disaster for that person and their family, but for the whole country as well. Long-term unemployment can have an impact on that individual’s health, their self-esteem, as well as their prospects of getting a job in the future. But it is also a great waste of talent that could be being used to contribute something to our community and it affects the wider economy through the sheer cost of keeping people on benefits and not paying tax.
David Cameron's response at his conference was to talk of aspiration. But the truth is his record and his policies just don't stand up to scrutiny. How can young people reach their potential when the reality is the education budget has seen the biggest cut since the 1950s, tuition fees have trebled and support for young people to stay on at college has gone with the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance?
Since the election, it has become clear that David Cameron is not a One Nation leader that can unite us as a country. His decision to defend a tax cut for the wealthiest, for example, at a time when millions of families with children are losing an average of £511 this year due to tax and benefit changes, will only serve to divide the country further. How can it be right for millionaires to receive a tax cut at the same time as the most vulnerable people in our country have their safety nets ripped out from underneath them?
After trying desperately to ‘re-brand’ the party in the years in opposition, David Cameron and the Conservatives have been exposed for what they really are in government. As well as hard-wiring unfairness in our society and our economy, they continue to undermine our cherished institutions, making us weaker as a nation. During the last general election, Cameron notoriously launched a poster campaign promising that he would “cut the deficit, not the NHS”. The truth is he has done just the opposite. The deficit is rising because of his economic failure and the NHS budget has been cut two years running at the same time as implementing an unnecessary £3 billion top-down reorganisation.
We now have 5,500 fewer nurses, waiting times going up and public satisfaction with the NHS – that was at an all time high under Labour – is now falling. Institutions like the NHS are part of our national identity and bind us together. Millions of people felt a collective feeling of pride as the opening ceremony at the Olympics paid tribute to the NHS - I know I did. Protecting the NHS is central to Ed Miliband's vision of One Nation.
Cameron has also failed to stand up to vested interests. On the scandal that surrounded News International and the Murdoch Empire, he only acted to set up the judge-led inquiry after he was forced to do so by Ed Miliband. On the banks, he has done nothing on bonuses, the LIBOR rigging rate scandal nor on the failure of the banks to lend to struggling SMEs. And on the energy companies too, Cameron has failed to break the dominance of the big six. Soaring energy bills are hurting families and pensioners yet the Government is not acting when it should be overhauling the energy market in order to deliver fair prices for all.
Ed Miliband’s speech on the living wage last Monday, like his previous important intervention on mental health the week before, is part of an ongoing effort to expand on his ideas of One Nation in the coming months. His One Nation speech to the Labour party conference in September was only the start of a big debate about how we make the really big changes we need as a country.
Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East, shadow minister without portfolio a vice-chair of the Labour party
27 October 2012
This week saw the launch of the 2012 Poppy Appeal, which will continue until Remembrance Sunday on 11 November. Last year, I was very privileged to launch the appeal of my own branch of the Royal British Legion - the Hoyland and District Branch - in Hoyland town centre. This week I helped plant a 'virtual poppy' from Barnsley Central Library to promote the appeal throughout the Borough. This is the time of year when we all come together as a nation to express our unequivocal support for the amazing work of the Royal British Legion.
Following the First World War, civilians wanted to remember the people who had given their lives in the cause of peace and freedom. An American War Secretary, inspired by John McCrae's poem 'In Flanders' Fields', began selling poppies to friends to raise money for the ex-Service community. The Royal British Legion (RBL) adopted the poppy for its fundraising in 1921 - and so the tradition began.
Last year, the Poppy Appeal raised a staggering £40 million, breaking all previous records. This growing success is testament to the excellent work that the RBL does all year round in providing vital practical, emotional and financial support to all members of the British Armed Forces and their families.
In my constituency in Barnsley, there is a rich history of people serving valiantly in the Armed Forces - from the 'Barnsley Pals' in the First World War to the those brave people serving our country in Afghanistan today. As a Member of Parliament, but more importantly as a member of my local RBL, I have witnessed the incredible welfare and comradeship that the charity provides to the local Armed Forces community.
The type of support includes: recovery facilities for serving personnel; help with claiming a War Disablement Pension; support for families going through an inquest or compensation claim; advice on getting a new job after serving in the Armed Forces; and help with re-training and gaining new qualifications. The list goes on and on. In total, nearly nine million people are eligible for support from the RBL and over £1.6m is spent every week to help those in greatest need.
It is also important not to forget that as well as providing vital support to members, the RBL is a formidable campaigning organisation when it needs to be. When I was a Shadow Defence Minister, we worked very closely with the RBL to get the Military Covenant enshrined into law. Since then, we have been campaigning hard to get every local authority to sign up. Once councils sign the Armed Forces Community Covenant, charities in the local area can apply for funds to support projects that will help support service or ex-service personnel in civilian life. The funds can be used for things like projects to improve the health, welfare or financial literacy of Service personnel or one-off activities, such as an activity camp involving the Armed Forces and local young people.
Labour also worked with the RBL on the successful campaign to stop the Government scrapping the Office of the Chief Coroner - something which was so important to RBL members and bereaved Armed Forces families up and down the country.
On Friday, the Union Flag flew at half mast above Barnsley Town Hall as the Council and Borough paid its respects to Sergeant Gareth Thursby of the 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (The Duke of Wellington’s). Sergeant Thursby was killed last month while serving in Afghanistan.
And this week there was more sad news from Afghanistan as the Ministry of Defence announced the names of a Royal Marine and an Army medic who died after being injured in Helmand. They were Cpl David O'Connor, of 40 Commando, and Cpl Channing Day, of 3 Medical Regiment. They were fatally wounded in a firefight while on patrol with C Company in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province on Wednesday. David O'Connor, 27, was from Havant in Hampshire and Channing Day, 25, was from Comber in County Down. We mourn their loss and honour their bravery.
This week also saw the death of William Walker, aged 99. The former Battle of Britain Flight Lieutenant's death meant the passing of one of the last of 'the few’. This was a timely reminder of those who served our country in the past and in so doing preserved the freedom that we all enjoy today. But many of William Walker's comrades made the ultimate sacrifice and never got to see their old age.
For all of those people - past and present - we support the Royal British Legion and we wear our poppies with pride.
Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East and shadow minister without portfolio
Labour Uncut: The government’s top 30 “real achievements”
18 October 2012
Michael has written a piece for Labour Uncut today assessing what the government has really achieved and outlining what its real “mid-term” report should look like.
Click here to read the article: The government’s top 30 “real achievements”'
Huffington Post: For All Cameron's Talk of 'Aspiration', His Record and His Policies Just Don't Stand Up to Scrutiny
15 October 2012
Michael has written an article for the Huffington Post today responding to David Cameron’s conference speech last week.
To the read the article, click here: "For All Cameron's Talk of 'Aspiration', His Record and His Policies Just Don't Stand Up to Scrutiny”
LabourList: Public urge Cameron to come clean about his taxes and drop his tax cut for millionaires
06 October 2012
Michael also says that it is time for Cameron to tell us if he is personally benefiting from the tax cut.
Click here to read the post: Public urge Cameron to come clean about his taxes and drop his tax cut for millionaires
The Guardian online: “Cameron doesn't get the north, argues Shadow Minister”
28 September 2012
Ahead of the Labour party conference in Manchester, Michael has written an article for the Guardian's “The Northerner” blog arguing that there is a genuine ignorance about the north of England inside the Conservative party.
Click here to read the article: “Cameron doesn't get the north, argues Shadow Minister”
23 July 2012
Blog post by Michael Dugher:
Two years ago, Cameron and Clegg promised change. They promised an economy that would grow and that we were all in these difficult economic times together. But the reality is very different. They also promised real change, but the reality is somewhat different. Their refusal to properly deal with the banks is a case in point.
Hard-pressed families and businesses are still paying the price of the global financial crash. But the very same banks that caused the crash were allowed to get away with mis-selling products to small businesses, they are still failing to lend sufficiently to support the real economy, and yet they continue to shell out big bonuses.
We have reached a point where banks seem more focused on their global investments than their local customers. Banks used to seem far more rooted in our local communities (signs like the 'Yorkshire Bank' or the 'Midland Bank' could be seen on the High Street).
A culture was also allowed to build up that was too often driven by short-term gain and a quick return being the first priority. Ed Miliband has called this a “shift from stewardship banking to casino banking”.
So how can we start to re-build a better banking system? How can we shape the banking system so that bankers are not given an incentive to focus on the short-term? And how can we move to a system which people can have confidence in once again?
First, there isn’t proper competition in our banking system. There are only five major banks in this country and consumers do not have enough choice. We need more banks and this means ending the dominance of the big five. Retail and investment banking should be separated so that no bank is too big to fail and banks should be forced to sell off hundreds of more branches. The Government must also take further action to make it easier for customers to switch bank accounts. As Ed Balls has said, you’re more likely to be divorced than to change your bank account, and that’s partly because it’s difficult. To change this, the Government could consider proposals to have fully transferable account numbers, like with mobile phones.
Second, we need greater transparency. The banks are currently not serving many of the most deprived areas in the UK. In the US, banks are made to publish details of the areas of the country where they are not lending - we should do the same.
Third, credit is not flowing to the right places and small businesses are still being locked out of loans from the banks. It is up to the Government to tackle this problem of financing. The establishment of a British Investment Bank would help to guarantee lending to the entrepreneurs and SMEs that really need it.
Fourth, a ‘code of conduct’ for bankers should be introduced. Teachers, doctors and lawyers all have to abide by clear rules in their professions. We need the same for bankers. This would outline what is expected and anyone who breaks the rules would be struck off.
Fifth, we should set up a ‘Financial Crime Unit’ within the Serious Fraud Office to investigate serious financial services fraud like the LIBOR scandal. Britain should not be a soft touch for the prosecution of financial crime. Where serious offences have been committed, bankers should face the prospect of jail time.
But finally we need a deep culture change, particularly when it comes to pay and bonuses. This means giving shareholders binding votes on pay policy and making sure that executive pay is more transparent. The Government should implement a £2 billion tax on bank bonuses to fund a real jobs guarantee and help 100,000 young people find work.
Labour also recently argued for a forensic, judge-led, public inquiry into the banking sector to help address the deep cultural challenges the industry faces. Lord Justice Leveson is cleaning house in Britain's media after the phone-hacking scandal - we need something similar, though time-limited, to sort out the banks.
I am not anti-banking. I recognise that the financial sector is extremely important to the UK. It contributes billions to the economy and over 1 million people work across the country in financial services, nearly 4 per cent of total UK employment. Over 70,000 are employed in Yorkshire alone.
Banking reform is not about damaging the sector, but about making sure that the system works for everyone and that it works in the best interests of the British economy in the long-term.
Consecutive governments, including the last Labour government, made mistakes over regulation. Labour did toughen up financial regulation in government - in the face of fierce opposition from the Tories who were calling for less regulation - but this did not go far enough. An overhaul of the industry is clearly long overdue. As Ed Miliband has said, if we want to have a system that serves "every region, every sector, every business, and every family in this country", it is time to properly reform the banking sector once and for all.
Michael Dugher is the Labour MP for Barnsley East
Huffington Post: “Tackling the 'Silent Salesman' Glitzy Cigarette Packets - Plain Packs are an Idea Worth Trying”
20 July 2012
Michael has written an article for the Huffington Post today about introducting plain packs for tobacco products.
To the read the article, click here: “Tackling the 'Silent Salesman' Glitzy Cigarette Packets - Plain Packs are an Idea Worth Trying”
04 July 2012
Blog post by Michael Dugher:
Bradley Baugh, who is now ten years old, was not expected to survive long after he was born. He was only saved due to the incredible skill and dedication of the surgeons and staff at the Leeds Children’s Heart Unit. Bradley has had multiple operations and underwent his first double-heart bypass in the first three months of his life.
The importance of children's heart services in Yorkshire was brought home to me when I first met Bradley - an ordinary Barnsley lad with an extraordinary story.
Last year, I organised a round-table event in Barnsley as part of the campaign to keep children’s heart services in Yorkshire and it was great to meet Bradley and his family. I heard first-hand the views and concerns of constituents and health experts from the hospital. I remember when Bradley’s grandmother, Irene - who has done so much as part of the campaign - said: “We bless Leeds for giving to us our grandson. On one occasion being less than an hour from a specialist unit most definitely saved his live”.
Bradley’s story is just one incredible example of the amazing work of the Leeds Children’s Heart Unit. Throughout the campaign to save the unit, I have heard, time and time again, how it has made the difference and saved lives. That is why it is such a devastating blow today that the decision has been made to close it down and move its services to Newcastle.
The importance of a locally delivered service was one of the core principles of the review carried out by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) and it is one that I feel has been severely overlooked in the case of Leeds Children’s Heart Unit. It is hard to see how the decision has been made without dismissing important factors such as population size, travel times and the need to ensure patients have proper family support during their care in hospital.
Nearly 14 million people are within two hours’ travel of Leeds General Infirmary, 5.5 million of which are from Yorkshire and the Humber, Lincolnshire and North Derbyshire regions. This large population meant that the Leeds Children’s Unit covers one of the highest populations of all the children’s units in England. Newcastle, by contrast, covers a population of 2.6 million.
It has been made clear to me by many of my constituents who have used the services in Leeds that it is simply too far to transport a very sick child from Barnsley to either Newcastle or Liverpool. As one surgeon put it to me: “Bring the doctors to the patients, not the other way round”.
Transport links is another factor that appears to have been ignored along with population density, despite it being made clear by heart surgeons and intensive care doctors that increased travelling time is not good for children and their families. Leeds is located on many of the UK’s major transport lines and would have been able to serve many from outside of its catchment area via major transport links such as the M1, A1, M62, East Coast, TransPenine and Cross Country rail network. With these impressive transport links already in place, the forthcoming addition of HS2 linking Leeds to London, Birmingham and Manchester at high-speed arguably adds further weight to the cause of the Leeds unit over Newcastle.
Add to this the recent development, which angered many fighting for the Leeds Children’s Unit, that the aims of the review have been undermined and the “goal posts have been moved”. In recent weeks, Sir Neil McKay, the Chair of the JCPCT, failed to confirm that the clinical standards deemed necessary for a safe and sustainable unit, notably the minimum 400 surgical procedures per year, would be upheld.
This decision followed research by PriceWaterhouseCooper (PWC) that revealed that the Review’s original patient flow assumptions were incorrect. PWC showed that the assumption that the majority of people in the West and South Yorkshire would travel to Newcastle was wrong. Newcastle does not meet the 400 surgical procedures deemed necessary for a safe and sustainable unit let alone the optimal number of 500.
In a consultation where the majority of the respondents were from the East Midlands and the South Central regions, which the report willingly admits has had an “influence on the overall results”, it is no wonder that the two most popular options were those that included Southampton University Hospital and the University College of Leicester. Both of these categories included Newcastle, not Leeds.
So despite an overwhelmingly strong case and the great campaign to save the Leeds Children’s Heart Unit, it seems that it never really stood a chance against the bias it faced in the Review.
This is truly a terrible day for Yorkshire and a massive set back, but the fight is still not completely over. There is still scope for local authorities to appeal against the result and take it to Ministers in the Department of Health to look into substantive objections.
At my recent community round-table event, I also remember talking to Matthew Welham from Birdwell. Just before leaving the meeting, held at my constituency office, he turned to his old surgeon from the Leeds Unit, Kevin Watterson, and said: "I've got to head off to work now, but thanks again - life saver".
I will be working with the campaign team in the coming days to see what the next steps should be. As long as there is a chance that the decision can be reversed, we will continue the fight.
Michael Dugher is the Labour MP for Barnsley East
29 June 2012
Blog post by Michael Dugher:
Energy bills just seem to keep on soaring. A typical dual fuel bill is currently £1,310 – up by nearly 50 per cent in the last four years alone. They are now one of the biggest costs that families and pensioners face and are contributing to the cost of living crisis affecting those hit hardest by the current recession.
Thousands of people living in fuel poverty desperately need help and energy market reform is long overdue yet the Government just seems unwilling to step in and take the necessary action. In my Barnsley East constituency, the latest figures show that over a fifth of residents are struggling to pay energy bills and are now officially classed as ‘fuel poor’.
The figures, calculated using the Government’s fuel poverty statistics, reveal that 20.6 per cent (7,779) of households in Cudworth, Darfield, Hoyland, Stairfoot, Wombwell and Worsbrough are finding it tough to meet their bills. This means that the area has the 10th highest percentage of people struggling to pay their energy bills in the whole of the Yorkshire and the Humber region.
Exacerbated by these rising energy costs, debt is also becoming a major worry for low-income households. The number of households that are already in debt to their electricity supplier has increased by more than 25 per cent to 850,000 nationwide. The number of gas customers in the red has also risen by 20 per cent to more than 700,000. And according to research by Save the Children/You Gov, 71 per cent of parents on the lowest incomes are worried that their energy bills will soon push them into debt.
That is why the Government needs to take urgent action to help the most vulnerable, especially pensioners and families that are particularly feeling the squeeze. On top of higher fuel prices, food inflation is at 4.3 per cent and the Government’s VAT hike is costing a typical pensioner couple an additional £275 a year.
Yet as energy firms continue to enjoy their huge profits, the Government’s answer to rising fuel bills is to cut back on the support it is offering to help people heat their homes and simply to tell people to shop around.
This is not good enough. That is why Labour is calling on the Government to implement an urgent plan that would provide real help to people now. And it is why we are demanding big reforms to the way our energy market works - or rather doesn't work - for the long-term.
Firstly, we need to get tough with the energy companies by requiring them to check that all pensioners over 75 are on the cheapest possible tariff. This would save up to 4 million pensioners as much as £200 a year.
Secondly, the Government should provide real help now by making energy companies ensure that all vulnerable pensioners and low-income families with children at risk of fuel poverty automatically receive the Warm Homes Discount.
Thirdly, we need to reform the energy market by breaking the dominance of the Big Six energy firms. This can be done by requiring them to sell power into a pool, allowing new businesses to enter the market, increasing competition, and driving down energy bills for families and businesses. The truth is we need to overhaul the energy market to deliver fair prices for all.
Fourthly, the Government should join the Labour Party in supporting the Big Switch initiative to get energy companies to give customers a fairer deal by bargaining as a group. Collective purchasing would hand power back to consumers and ensure that they negotiate a market-leading deal.
And finally, the Government should start protecting small businesses - the lifeblood of our economy - from some of the big energy companies’ rip-off tactics.
The campaign to implement these changes is growing and it is great news that the Barnsley Chronicle, an important local newspaper, has come out today and backed many of the measures. It is vital that we build on this growing support for change and work together. We must put pressure on the Government and stop the energy companies ripping off ordinary families and pensioners whose living standards are already being squeezed.
As the Barnsley Chronicle has said in its recent editorial: "If the Government really supports families, it should back the changes".
Michael Dugher is the Labour MP for Barnsley East
12 June 2012
Blog post by Michael Dugher:
Today, in the largest single sacking of troops in the last two decades, the Government is handing out redundancy notices to 4,100 soldiers, sailors and airmen. Before the election, David Cameron spoke of delivering a “stronger and larger British Army”, yet he is now overseeing plans that will reduce our armed forces to its weakest size and strength since the Crimean War.
Conservative MP Bob Stewart, a former colonel in the army, has said that the cuts will see the “Army reduced to little more than a home guard”. Shadow defence secretary, Jim Murphy, put it well last week when he said the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, was “presiding over decline, not planning for the future”.
Yesterday, Hammond came under renewed pressure in the House of Commons over the Government’s treatment of service personnel and their families, as well as facing criticisms for its overall defence strategy. The so-called Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) – which was rushed and ill-thought through – just continues to unravel at a rate of knots.
But even before the SDSR was published, Liam Fox, the then Defence Secretary, warned David Cameron in a leaked letter to the Prime Minister that the process was “looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR and more like a ‘super CSR’ (comprehensive spending review)”. He could not have been more right.
Only a few weeks ago a report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) questioned the MoD’s decision to prioritise short-term savings over long-term strategy objectives, especially in relation to personnel cuts. The report raised concerns that the MoD had not considered the skills it will need to deliver its long-term objectives. For example, the loss of key skills could mean the department will end up spending more on consultants.
The Defence Select Committee has also heavily criticised the Government. Its latest report expressed great concern that the UK Armed Forces “may be falling below the minimum utility required to deliver the commitments that they are currently being tasked to carry out, let alone the tasks they are likely to face between 2015 to 2015”. This view is in stark contrast to David Cameron’s assurances that the UK would retain “a full spectrum defence power”.
Many problems have come from the scramble to make botched cuts and savings in the short-term. In particular, the decision in 2010 to scrap our Harrier aircraft - and our carrier strike capability – has had severe consequences. It meant that during the conflict in Libya, the UK - unlike the French, Italians and the Americans – were unable to deploy a carrier-strike capability off the coast. Instead, we had to rely on using forward bases in Italy and even resorting to long-range sorties from the UK.
As well as inevitably slowing down response times, this made the British operation much more expensive. It has been calculated that the long-range sorties from RAF Marham to Libya – a 3,000-mile round trip lasting eight hours –cost around £200,000 a time. In comparison, a sortie by a Harrier from a carrier off the coast of Libya would have cost around £37,000.
But perhaps the most shambolic example must be the Government's mishandling of the new aircraft carriers and the Joint Strike Fighter programme. In 2010, David Cameron said that the Government would build both carriers, but immediately mothball one. The MoD chose to change the previous government's position by deciding to procure the 'carrier variant – F35C', instead of the ‘jump jet variant – F35B’ of the new Joint Strike Fighter jet. This meant that aircraft carriers would have to be fitted with "catapults and traps" at an extra cost.
At the time, the Government said that the decision was "being made in the right way and for the right reasons" and ignored warnings from the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office about the "high risk and high cost" of opting for the F-35C. But as expected, the cost of fitting the necessary systems to incorporate the F-35C variant soon spiralled out of control, resulting in Philip Hammond having to announce an embarrassing u-turn. The cost of the Government wasting two years to come full circle is purportedly over £250 million.
Other short-term decisions that have already wasted taxpayers’ money include training pilots to fly planes they will now no longer fly and selling off our Harrier fleet to the US at a cut price. This money could have been utilised elsewhere. Morale is already at a real low with military personnel set to lose thousands of pounds due to the Government’s changes to the pension indexation from the retail price index to the lower consumer price index. This move will disproportionately affect members of the armed forces and their dependents as service personnel generally rely on their pensions earlier than the rest of the public. For example, it has been calculated that a 28 year-old double amputee corporal will lose £587,000 over the course of his life.
The MoD is also introducing cuts of £250 million to some allowances, such as the continuity of education allowance and the school children’s visits allowance. Similarly, on service accommodation, the Government has announced a £100m investment fund, but at the same time it is freezing funding for improvements for three years from April 2013 – a cut of up to £141m - another example of the Government giving with one hand while taking away more with the other.
This Government’s mishandling of defence sums up everything you need to know about this Government - incompetent and unfair. Like the double-dip recession, the Government’s problems with defence are self-inflicted and the wrong people are paying the price. In this case, it is the brave men and women of our Armed Forces who are today getting their P45.
Huffington Post article: ‘Baroness Warsi Has Serious Questions to Answer’
08 June 2012
Michael has written an article today for the Huffington Post website.
To read the post, click here: ‘Baroness Warsi Has Serious Questions to Answer’
10 May 2012
Today, police officers from South Yorkshire and across the country are gathering in Westminster under their campaign '20 per cent police cuts are criminal' to highlight the huge cuts to police numbers and the risk this poses to crime and public safety.
It was a great privilege to meet with PC Paul Davies, PC Craig Sumpter and PCSS Alan Fowler in Parliament earlier, who have all travelled down from Barnsley for the march. I assured them that they have my support for their campaign.
The Government’s decision to cut police budgets too far and too fast means that 16,000 officers from across the country are going. In South Yorkshire alone, over 14 per cent of our police officers are set to go. Since the election, we have already seen nearly 50 officers cut from 999 response units in the region - contrary to the Prime Minister's claim that the front line would be protected.
Earlier this year, I voted in the House of Commons against the 20 per cent cuts to our police and I have continually campaigned for the Government to change its plan. For example, in November last year I launched a petition in Barnsley and we are still getting people writing in and signing up.
Of course the police do have to make their share of efficiencies. But I support a more proportionate cuts plan of 12 per cent, which has been shown by Her Majesty's Inspectorate to be deliverable without impacting on frontline services. There is no need for the Government to be cutting so far and so fast.
And as well as the cuts, the Government’s approach to the Winsor reviews risks being counter-productive and damaging to police morale. There are over 120 recommendations which the Theresa May has agreed to take forward as a matter of urgency and I agree with the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, that the Home Secretary's approach - to endorse the report without question - is just plain wrong. The key areas of concern that Ministers need to address include:
- too little consideration has been given to the impact on individual officers especially at a time when pension contributions are going up, and families are already feeling squeezed;
- regional pay is likely to increase costs and create unfairness between officers in neighbouring areas doing the same job;
- cutting starting salaries and undermining training at the same time as trying to increase the skills and qualifications of police officers is completely contradictory;
- compulsory severance appears to be being brought in to support another round of unsustainable cuts to police officers in the next spending review.
To make matters worse, the Government is introducing all these changes in a piecemeal and chaotic way with no overall strategy for the future of policing. The Home Secretary and the Prime Minister have refused to set up a Royal Commission and that is why Labour has asked Lord Stevens, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, to chair an Independent Commission on the Future of Policing to set out a long-term plan for policing in England and Wales. It is great that so many police officers and policing experts across the country have already agreed to contribute.
The truth is the Government is ignoring the experts and the risks. When Labour was in government, crime fell by 40 per cent. I remain very concerned that the Government’s front-loaded cuts will affect policing across South Yorkshire and undermine all the progress that has been made tackling crime and anti-social behaviour across the region.
The Government should be acting to cut crime, not the police. Today should be a wakeup call for Ministers to start recognising the value of the office of constable and the work police officers do - day in day out - to keep our communities safe. I have been on patrol with my local police in Barnsley. I have nothing but huge admiration for their professionalism, their public service and indeed their bravery.
Our police do so much for us. They deserve our total support. That's why I will be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them today.
09 May 2012
Michael has written an article for the Yorkshire Post today about how David Cameron and Nick Clegg have a chance in today's Queen's Speech to begin taking responsibility for getting Britain back to growth and for easing the squeeze on middle and lower income people.
Click here or see below to read the article.
Yorkshire Post: "If this coalition fails us again, we will all pay the price"
Many Conservatives blame the Lib Dems for their drubbing in the local elections while many Lib Dems blame the Conservatives for their reverses.
George Osborne, on the other hand, simply blames the “presentation” of the Budget (as if tax cuts for millionaires paid for by tax rises for millions of ordinary families and hard-pressed pensioners could have been “spun” any better).
However David Cameron and Nick Clegg have a chance in today’s Queen’s Speech to stop allocating blame for last week’s electoral defeat.
Instead, they have an opportunity to begin taking responsibility for getting Britain back to growth and for easing the squeeze on middle and lower income people. The Government’s economic failure – incompetence combined with unfairness – was central to the verdict given by the public last week. Writing in the Yorkshire Post in October 2010, I highlighted warnings that by cutting too deep and too fast, the Government risked killing Britain’s economic recovery (“Coalition runs the risk of triggering double-dip recession”).
Many others at the time argued that without jobs and growth, tax revenues to the Exchequer would drop, the Treasury would have to pay more in unemployment benefit, and the vital work of paying down the deficit would be much, much harder.
Sadly, these warnings went unheeded. Economic growth in 2010 was 2.1 per cent. Since then, the Government has choked off recovery and we are now in recession.
As a consequence, the Government are borrowing £150bn more than they planned.
Other countries chose to do things differently. In America, President Obama decided to take a much more balanced approach and implemented a jobs plan to boost growth.
As a result, the US has recovered all the output it lost in the global recession and has grown by up to 2.8 per cent. In the UK, the overall level of GDP is 4.3 per cent below our pre-crisis peak of 2008. Compare this to the US, where the figure is 0.8 per cent above its high point.
One of the terrible consequences of the UK’s failure on growth has been the massive increase in unemployment that we have witnessed in recent months. Latest figures show that the number of people claiming Jobs Seekers’ Allowance in Yorkshire has risen to over 169,000 – a 12 per cent increase in the last year.
The figures for youth unemployment are even more depressing: the number of 18-24 year olds in Yorkshire who have been out of work for more than 12 months has increased by 250 per cent in just one year.
And of course the wrong people are paying the price. Families across Yorkshire are already feeling the squeeze with higher petrol prices, energy bills and the cost of living. But whilst millionaires from across the country were given a tax cut, the latest Government figures also show that over 96,000 families in Yorkshire are set to lose all of their Child Tax Credit or Working Tax Credit. This means that many will be better off on benefits than in work – that cannot be right.
That is why the Government must act quickly. For the Queen’s Speech this week, Labour has set out five Bills that offer practical ways to help people right now – to improve living standards for families, ensure security for pensioners and to get the economy moving to help pay down the deficit:
Firstly, we need a Finance Bill to reverse tax cuts for people earning over £150,000 a year to use that money to restore the cuts to tax credits and help pensioners on fixed incomes hit by the so-called “granny tax”.
We would bring forward long term investment projects and cut VAT on home improvements to help the construction industry, reverse the damaging VAT rise to help families and pensioners, and give small businesses a one-year national insurance break if they take on extra workers.
Secondly, an Energy Bill to break up the dominance of the Big Six power companies and require them by law to offer 4 million elderly people the lowest tariff available.
Thirdly, a Transport Bill to stop train operators raising fares by more than one per cent above inflation and give local authorities more control over bus firms to stop hard-pressed commuters being fleeced.
Fourthly, a Consumer Bill, which would give new powers to the Financial Conduct Authority and Competition and Markets Authority to stop rip-off surcharges by banks, low-cost airlines and pension firms.
And lastly, a Jobs Bill, which would ensure money raised from a tax on bank bonuses is used to provide real jobs for more than 100,000 young people aged 18-24.
After the local election results, David Cameron wrote: "I get the message, loud and clear." Today’s Queen’s Speech is a chance to prove he really does. If it’s just more of the same, then this week will be a major missed opportunity.
Already in recession, Britain risks a lost decade of economic stagnation, high unemployment, and more borrowing for failure. My fear is that it’s young people, families, pensioners and businesses throughout Yorkshire that will once again pay the price.
Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East and Shadow Minister without Portfolio
LabourList: Another day, another Cameron re-launch
23 April 2012
Michael has written an article for LabourList this morning about David Cameron’s attempt to re-launch the Conservatives local elections campaign after weeks of awful headlines.
This week told us everything we need to know about the Government’s priorities - and it’s bad news for Barnsley
20 April 2012
New figures released this week by the Office for National Statistics revealed that unemployment in Barnsley has risen to over 7,500 – a 12 per cent increase in the last year. There are now over 12 people on JSA chasing every job vacancy in Barnsley, compared to just four a year ago. And the figures for youth unemployment are even more depressing. The number of 18-24 year olds in Barnsley who have been out of work for more than 12 months has risen by a massive 142 per cent in just the last 12 months.
Last month’s Budget could have taken urgent action to get Britain back to work, but instead we got tax cuts for millionaires. It did nothing to help create jobs and growth and families and pensioners are now starting to find out just what this Government’s decisions will mean for their own budgets.
According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the changes that are coming into effect this month will leave a family with children worse off by an average of £511 a year. New government figures also show that up to 5,000 families in Barnsley are set to lose all of their Child Tax Credit or Working Tax Credit. This includes: over 4,250 families on modest and middle incomes losing all of their Child Tax Credit – worth around £545 per year; and over 750 working couples earning less than around £17,000 per year potentially losing all of their Working Tax Credit – worth up to £3,870 per year – if they cannot increase their working hours.
Worst of all, it has been calculated that following these changes to working tax credit, thousands of couples with two children on the minimum wage will be better off quitting their jobs and living on benefits if they cannot work at least 19 hours per week. This is not just unfair, it makes no economic sense.
This week, there were a series of debates in Parliament on the Budget. How the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats chose to vote tells you everything you need to know about this Government’s priorities. Firstly, I voted along with other Labour MPs against the £3 billion tax cut for the richest, but the Government chose to keep the giveaway for the country’s millionaires. When people on middle and low incomes are being squeezed by higher bills and rising fuel prices, it is the wrong priority to cut taxes for people earning over £150,000. Over 14,000 people earning £1 million or more will get a tax cut of over £40,000 each year. The Chancellor could have used the money to cut fuel duty, reverse cuts to tax credits, reduce cuts to police officers or help pay the down the deficit, but instead he has chosen to cut taxes for the richest 1 per cent of earners.
Secondly, there was a vote on the £3 billion tax rises for pensioners – the so-called ‘granny tax’ which George Osborne announced last month. But again, the Government chose to vote in favour of the tax, which will leave nearly 4.5 million pensioners £83 worse off on average and it will hit people just about to become pensioners harder still. For example, those turning 65 after 6 April 2013 will lose £285 a year. Millions of pensioners who have worked hard all their lives should not have to pay more tax so that millionaires can pay less.
Thirdly, Labour demanded a vote in the Commons calling on the Government to think again on its plan to put a 20 per cent VAT on pasties, sausage rolls and other things which have traditionally been VAT-free, including caravans and building work on churches. Again, Conservative and Lib Dem MPs chose to keep these unfair VAT tax rises.
And lastly, we called for a tax on bank bonuses to fund a guaranteed job for every young person out of work for more than 12 months — a job they would have to take up. But again, the Government refused to listen and voted against a jobs scheme that would tackle the problem of long-term youth unemployment by providing a six-month paid placement, preferably in the private sector, for all 18-24 year olds who have been unemployed for more than twelve months. This would help over 375 young long-term unemployed people in Barnsley, offering them real jobs, real opportunities and real responsibilities.
The Government’s Budget decisions have been exposed as being unfair, but it is also now clear that they are doing nothing to get the deficit down either. The IMF cautioned on Tuesday this week that “austerity alone cannot treat the economic malaise in the major advanced economies”. On Monday Ernst and Young forecast that growth will be a “dismal" 0.4 per cent this year - only half the 0.8 per cent estimated by the Office for Budget Responsibility.
Decisive action is needed and Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have set out exactly what the Government could do immediately to help bring the desperately needed jobs and growth to places like Barnsley:
First, a £2 billion tax on bank bonuses would fund the building of 25,000 new homes and create some 100,000 jobs for young people. Second, bringing forward long-term investment projects would help get people back to work and strengthen our economy. Third, reversing the damaging VAT rise would help high streets as well as struggling families. Fourth, a one-year cut in VAT to 5 per cent on home improvements would help homeowners and small businesses. And finally, a one-year national insurance tax break, for every small firm which takes on extra workers would help small businesses grow and create jobs.
The Government should have taken this week as an opportunity to swallow its pride, rectify its Budget mistakes and implement a proper plan for jobs and growth. But yet again, the Tories and Lib Dems have stuck their heads in the sand and arrogantly refused to listen. And that’s very bad news for Barnsley.
Huffington Post article: ‘Cameron's Government is Starting to Look Increasingly Like That of Major's’
12 April 2012
Michael has written an article for Huffington Post arguing that Cameron's government is starting to look increasingly like that of Major's.
Click here to read the full article: Cameron's Government is Starting to Look Increasingly Like That of Major's
16 March 2012
Last week I was really proud to officially open Barnsley Academy in Kendray. In January this year, the school was named as the most improved school in Yorkshire. That’s in no small part thanks to the brilliant efforts of staff and students. What was really impressive, though, was their determination to be even better.
To give you an idea of the transformation of the school, just look at the figures: in 2011, 55 per cent of Barnsley Academy students achieved five good GCSE’s including Maths and English. The year before the school became an academy in 2006, this was just six per cent. Food for thought as other schools weigh up whether to go down the academy route.
If you ask many people outside of Barnsley what they think our schools look like, they’ll probably have in their minds the secondary modern from the film Kes. It is one of my favourite films and indeed books. But the image of the PE teacher, played by local legend Brian Glover, jogging onto the dilapidated sports field in his Manchester United strip - “I’m Bobby Charlton today, lad, it’s too cold for strikers – besides Denis Law’s in the wash” - could not be further from the modern reality of today’s Barnsley schools.
State-of-the-art secondary schools are being opened all over Barnsley thanks to the ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme run by the previous government and Barnsley Council. These new buildings offer a world class learning environment for local children and help us attract the best teachers. Plus, it’s only right and fair that kids in Barnsley have access to the very best education facilities in the the UK.
But whilst buildings are important, it’s what is inside them that matters. As Council leader Steve Houghton often says, the fact that every secondary school in Barnsley is a brand new facility is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. And it’s important we make the most of it.
I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s in a pit village in Edlington, just ten miles outside of Barnsley. Indeed, my family helped to sink the Yorkshire Main colliery a century ago. Even when I was growing up, it was expected that many of the lads at my school would follow their fathers down the pit. If you were prepared to get your hands dirty and work long hours, there was still decent money to be made. It was the old adage: where there’s muck, there’s brass.
But if we’re being honest, because there was employment on the doorstep, there wasn’t always as much interest in schooling and education as there might have been. These days, the world is a different place. If you don’t have a good education, or a skill that meets the needs of the economy, the sad fact is you’re going to struggle. There aren’t enough jobs for our young people in Barnsley as it is – and that’s a real tragedy. But if you don’t have a skill, then you’re much more likely to be unemployed or in low-paid, unsatisfactory work.
So we’ve got to use these new schools to continue to drive up standards and provide the basis for real opportunities for children in the Borough. That means working much more closely with employers to make sure our young people have the right skills – and importantly the right attitude – to face the world of work.
It also means that all of us – teachers and parents – have a duty to lift aspirations and raise expectations amongst our young people. Kids in our area do deserve the very best. But we’ve got to teach them that they can be the very best too.
Michael Dugher MP is the Member of Parliament for Barnsley East
Barnsley Chronicle, 16 March 2012
15 March 2012
Michael has written an article for the Yorkshire Post to coincide with the launch of his “Thousand Business Voices” survey in Barnsley.
Click here to read the article.
5 March 2012
Michael has written a column for the Barnsley Chronicle about his experiences volunteering at a local hospice in Barnsley. Read the full article below:
MP rolls his sleeves up to man the till for Hospice
Even in the current economic climate, with the Government’s cuts hitting families and pensioners hard, they continue to give their money and time to good causes – especially to good local causes.
There are loads of brilliant local charities in Barnsley. One of the best parts about my job as an MP is that I was asked to be patron of BIADS, a charity that provides vital support to people in Barnsley with Alzheimer's and Dementia. They do amazing work.
But perhaps the most high profile charity in the borough is Barnsley Hospice. It does fantastic work providing the highest standard of specialist palliative care for its patients completely free of charge.
The hospice does receive some funding from NHS Barnsley, but they rely very heavily on the donations and support from the public. They also rely on the income acquired through their nine charity shops across Barnsley. Indeed, almost £900,000 of the £1.9 million a year it needs to stay open is generated by selling donated goods in its shops.
Raising money is always a challenge for any charity, but it is proving especially tough in the current climate. That’s why Barnsley Hospice recently launched a new appeal for more unwanted goods to sell.
But as well as the constant need for stock to sell – anything from clothes, to books, CDs, or toys – Barnsley Hospice is also reliant on people volunteering to help out at their shops.
That's why I wanted to show my support and asked to volunteer a couple of weekends ago at their store on Wombwell High Street. It was great to help out with the brilliant shop manager, Cynthia Tasker, who has worked at the Wombwell store for over a decade now.
And I also got to work alongside another great volunteer, Susie Dove, who has been giving up her weekends to volunteer on the shop floor for over three years.
Cynthia put me to work on the till. The till reminded me of the one from the old BBC comedy Open All Hours.
In the show, the drawer containing the cash would shoot out somewhat violently, to the constant trepidation of the shop’s owner, Mr Arkwright (played brilliantly by Ronnie Barker).
As I wrestled rather uselessly with the till in the Wombwell shop, an older customer looked me up and down impatiently, and, with a hint of despair in her voice, said: “Is this what three years at university gets you?” “’Fraid so,” I replied. She collected her change and as she made her way out of the shop she added: “Don’t give up your day job”.
I won’t. But it was great nonetheless to help out and support the Hospice. You can too via www.barnsleyhospice.org.
Michael Dugher MP is Member of Parliament for Barnsley East.
Barnsley Chronicle, Friday 2 March 2012
Labour Uncut: What’s the government got against children?
29 February 2012
Michael has written a piece for Labour Uncut today highlighting how the Government’s policies are causing child poverty to increase.
Click here to read the article: ‘What’s the government got against children?'
LabourList: If Cameron really “relishes” PMQs, Labour will put that to the test
14 February 2012
Michael has written an article for LabourList outlining some more “whoppers” from David Cameron during PMQs as well as analysis showing that the Prime Minister is trying to duck out of as many PMQs as possible.
Click here to read the full article: ‘If Cameron really “relishes” PMQs, Labour will put that to the test'
LabourList: More PMQs whoppers from David Cameron
3 February 2012
Michael has written an article for LabourList today outlining some more “whoppers” from David Cameron during PMQs.
Click here to read the full article: ‘More PMQs whoppers from David Cameron'
Tribune Magazine: The future may not be bright, but it’s unlikely to be Orange
16 January 2012
In an article in the latest edition of Tribune Magazine, Michael says that Clegg may have a differentiation strategy, but the Lib Dems are just quasi-Tories and pay-roll survivalists.
Click here to read the full article: “The future may not be bright, but it’s unlikely to be Orange”
3 January 2012
Here's a quiz question for you for the New Year: Where can you find the statement "we will stop top-down reorganisations of the NHS that have got in the way of patient care"? The Labour Party website? Wrong. Try again. An article by Andy Burnham? Nope. Answer? This is the pledge that the Conservatives and Lib Dems signed up to when they drew up the coalition agreement last year. Yet the Government continues to push forward with its plans to impose changes to the NHS from above, ignoring the concerns of doctors, nurses and patient groups, at a cost of over £3 billion. And, as is so often the case with this Tory-led Government, the changes will disproportionately hit the places that are most in need.
Take my own borough. In the last ten years of the Labour government, health care in Barnsley improved substantially. Between 2000 and 2010, investment increased by 95% in real terms and by 2010 there were 5,270 more doctors across Yorkshire alone. The mortality rate in Barnsley fell over the same period, especially among those suffering from cancer, heart disease and strokes. Yet there are still massive health challenges that need tackling. Official NHS figures show that mortality rates in Barnsley are still well above the national average, with life expectancy lower, on average, than in the wealthier parts of the country by 8.8 years for men and 7.7 years for women.
But despite these challenges, the Government has decided to divert funding, which could and should be being used for front-line patient care, to pay for its reorganisation of health services. It has recently been exposed, for example, that new guidelines have forced Barnsley Primary Care Trust (PCT) to put aside nearly £18 million - some £17,942,169 to be precise - from its budget this year and next to pay for the costly NHS restructure. The financial request is in the Government’s new NHS 'Operating Framework' document and takes the nationwide cost of the NHS reorganisation above previous estimates of £2-3 billion, with PCTs now holding back £3.44 billion over two years.
And it is not just the reorganisation of the system that will prevent money going to the areas that need it the most. A recent report for the parliamentary Health Select Committee said that the Government's changes to NHS funding formulas will see more deprived areas given less funding to tackle health inequalities. The report states, for example, that Barnsley will be the ninth worst hit area in England with Barnsley PCT set to lose 3.1 per cent of its funding compared to wealthy parts of England, such as Surrey, which will gain 4.2 per cent (£61m).
Cameron famously promised at the General Election that he would cut the deficit, not the NHS. But it is now clear that it's the exact opposite that has happened. The deficit has got worse – with the Government now set to borrow an extra £158 billion this year than it originally planned - and the NHS is facing real term cuts with poorer areas hit the hardest. But it's not just about the cuts. To make matters worse, the Government's top-down reforms will impose more bureaucracy – taking doctors and nurses away from their patients - as well as allowing private and profit-seeking health companies unprecedented access of to our health service. Hospitals will be encouraged to treat higher value private ‘customers’, rather than NHS patients. Plus GPs, who will be responsible for health budgets, will have to consider the cost of treatment instead of just what patients need.
In another important change, sneaked out by the Government just before Christmas in an amendment in the House of Lords, half of all NHS beds could now end up being occupied by private patients paying to skip NHS waiting lists. This big increase in private care would mean much longer waits for the sick and injured who cannot afford to pay for treatment. Labour introduced a cap so that only one-in-50 patients in NHS hospitals can be private, but the Government wants to lift this limit so that hospitals struggling due to the budget cuts can make up more money outside the NHS.
It is now blindingly obvious that Government’s plans are bad for the NHS - and bad for the people I represent in Barnsley. Funding to help the most in need will be cut, waiting lists will get longer and local health providers will be incentivised to pursue profit rather than patient care when making decisions. Regional disparities in care will no doubt increase, health inequalities will get worse, not better, and the progress we have made over the last decade in places like Barnsley will be at risk.
Thousands of people across the country have already signed up to Andy Burnham's Drop the Bill e-petition, calling for an end to the unnecessary and costly reorganisation. It is time that this out of touch Government finally listened to the health professionals, and the people who depend on the National Health Service, and dropped these changes which threaten the core principles of Britain's most cherished of institutions.
Michael Dugher is the Labour MP for Barnsley East and Shadow Minister without Portfolio.
Labour List: Have confidence – 2011 in review
23 December 2011
Michael has written an article for LabourList today reviewing Labour’s progress over the last year. He writes that: “Labour has some way to go to rebuild after the 2010 general election defeat, and efforts to modernise our party and our policies must continue at a pace, but we have made remarkably good progress”.
Click here to read the full article: ‘Have confidence – 2011 in review’
Labour List: The Government is running out of excuses
25 November 2011
Michael has written an article for LabourList today ahead of the Autumn statement next week. Michael argues that since coming to power, this out of touch Government has become a government of excuses.
Click here to read the article: ‘The Government is running out of excuses’
Labour Uncut column: PR summits can’t mask a return to 1980s scale unemployment
16 November 2011
Michael has written an article for Labour Uncut today about the latest unemployment figures and the growing problem of long-term and youth unemployment.
Click here to read the full article: "PR summits can’t mask a return to 1980s scale unemployment"
Yorkshire Post: Memories of the Barnsley Pals bring home human cost of war
11 November 2011
Michael has written an article for the Yorkshire Post today about Remembrance Day and the Barnsley Pals. He also pays tribute to Private Matthew Thornton, from Barnsley, who was killed this week in Afghanistan. Click here to read the article.
3 November 2011
Blog post by Michael Dugher:
For the last sixty years, the idea that everyone, irrespective of income, should have the right to legal support has been a cornerstone of the British legal system. But the Government is now trying to push through cuts to legal aid which could see up to 750,000 people a year denied access to justice. And this is just the latest example of the Government's cuts hitting the poorest hardest.
Under the new proposals debated in Parliament this week, money for Legal Aid in criminal cases would be protected, but 68 per cent of the funds provided to those needing help for fighting injustice in areas like housing, debt and employment would be scrapped. In the current economic climate, these services are in even more demand. Small wonder that a whole host of eminent lawyers, charities and organisations have criticised these plans.
Young people and less-well off families would no doubt be the ones to feel the brunt of the changes and, like so many of the Government’s policies, would also hit women disproportionately hard. The Domestic Violence Intervention Project has estimated that the tightening of the definition of ‘domestic violence’ in the legislation could mean that 50 per cent of women suffering domestic abuse would be unable to get legal assistance if they can’t afford it themselves. Additionally, the removal of Legal Aid in divorce and custody cases will mean that there is a real risk that children caught in the middle of family disputes could lose contact with one of their parents.
As ever, the Government is claiming that it has to make these cuts in order to cut the deficit over the next few years. But the fact is that in the long-term these changes will actually end up costing more. The Citizen’s Advice Bureau has calculated that every £1 given in Legal Aid saves the state £8 in longer term legal, health and social costs. Added to this, the new proposals would mean increased costs due to a backlog in the courts with more and more people being forced to represent themselves in a desperate bid to secure justice.
It is true that savings need to be made in the Legal Aid budget, but as Linda Lee, the President of the Law Society, has said, the Government has failed to consider alternatives which would make bigger savings without removing access to justice. Indeed, before the general election, Labour set out a plan for reforming the way legal aid is commissioned that would have generated 10 per cent savings alone whilst, crucially, protecting Legal Aid.
As well as going against lawyers and charities, the Government is also in opposition to public opinion on this issue. A recent opinion poll by the Legal Action Group shows that 84% of the public believe that legal advice on social issues should be free to everyone, especially those earning less than the average annual wage.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court Justice, Baroness Hale, said the reforms would have a ‘disproportionate effect on the poorest and most vulnerable in society’. She is clearly right. Only this week, a local solicitors firm in my constituency wrote to me to warn of the impact the changes could have in poorer areas of Barnsley, with thousands of people set to lose out. The Government talks of the voluntary sector and pro bono work filling the gaps, but what it fails to understand is that the areas that will be impacted the most by the changes are the same areas that lack the necessary capacity and infrastructure for voluntary organisations to thrive.
The Government’s proposals would be shocking enough at the best of times, but when combined with the fact that the Government’s cuts to local government funding will disproportionally hit more deprived areas, such as Barnsley, it is yet another hammer blow to Britain’s hard pressed families. This comes on top of other Government policies that are hitting the poorest disproportionally hard. For example, a recent report by the Office of National Statistics showed that the poorest fifth of households in the UK now pay more in VAT as a percentage of their disposable income than the richest fifth, with poor families spending 58% of disposable income on VAT-rated products.
Changes to the benefit and employment systems will mean that more and more people will find themselves in desperate need of legal help. Instead of doing more, this out of touch Government is once again making life harder for less well-off families and vulnerable women.
Labour Uncut column: Forget the Tories: take the time to read Ed Miliband’s speech for yourself
3 October 2011
Michael writes a regular column for Labour Uncut. His latest article is about the response to Ed Miliband’s conference speech.
Click here to read the full article: "Forget the Tories: take the time to read Ed Miliband’s speech for yourself "
The Telegraph: “Let’s get a tighter grip on defence spending”, by Michael Dugher
23 September 2011
Click here to read the article: “Let’s get a tighter grip on defence spending”
Yorkshire Post - Michael Dugher: Britain will pay a price in the future as rushed defence cuts reduce our role in the world
09 September 2011
Michael has written an article for the Yorkshire Post about the Government's flawed and rushed defence review.
You can read the article here: Britain will pay a price in the future as rushed defence cuts reduce our role in the world
Tribune article: Laissez-faire coalition leads us down a
09 September 2011
Michael has written a column for Tribune Magazine's TUC Special. In the article, Michael argues that the Government cannot stand up for Britain's interests as it has no industrial policy.
Click here to read the full article: Laissez-faire coalition leads us down a cul-de-sac
Labour Uncut column: The weasel the government sneaked through during the phone-hacking frenzy
1 August 2011
Michael writes a regular column for Labour Uncut. His latest article is about the Government’s proposed changes to the way local councils are funded and how this will disproportionally impact more disadvantaged areas.
Click here to read the full article: "The weasel the government sneaked through during the phone-hacking frenzy "
Labour Uncut column: Slow, weak and out of touch – Cameron needs answers fast
18 July 2011
Michael writes a regular column for Labour Uncut. Click here to read his latest article: "Slow, weak and out of touch – Cameron needs answers fast"
Labour Uncut column: The govt must swallow its pride and adapt to the Arab spring
04 July 2011
Michael writes a regular column for Labour Uncut. In this week's column, Michael argues a new chapter to the 2010 SDSR is desperately needed today.
Read the full article here: "The govt must swallow its pride and adapt to the Arab spring"
Labour Uncut column: “Not a lot” – Cameron’s grasp of detail
20 June 2011
Michael writes a regular column for Labour Uncut. In this week's column, Michael argues that the Ed Miliband’s performance at PMQs last week exposed the fact that David Cameron doesn’t do detail.
Read the full article here: "“Not a lot” – Cameron’s grasp of detail"
Labour Uncut column: The government’s NHS changes tell you everything you need to know about the Tories
06 June 2011
Michael writes a regular column for Labour Uncut. In this week's column, Michael argues that the government’s approach to the NHS tells you everything you need to know about the Tories.
Read the full article here: "The government’s NHS changes tell you everything you need to know about the Tories"
Labour Uncut column: The government’s policy on the armed forces: giving with one hand and taking with the other
23 May 2011
Michael writes a regular column for Labour Uncut. In this week's column Michael says that at a time when more is being asked of our armed forces, it is vital that we put the government’s obligations to the armed services on a proper legal footing. Yet the Government’s u-turn last week on enshrining the military covenant in law is, sadly, only the latest example of the government’s approach to the armed forces: giving with one hand, while taking away with the other.
Read the full article here: "The government’s policy on the armed forces: giving with one hand and taking with the other"
Labour Uncut column: The Labour and Unionist party
09 May 2011
Michael writes a regular column for Labour Uncut. In this week's column Michael argues that it is imperative that Labour makes the case for the Union in Scotland.
Read the full article here: "The Labour and Unionist party"
Prospect election blog – “A view from the doorstep”
3 May 2011
Prospect Magazine is running a special election blog with James Macintyre, Ian Birrell, Olly Grender, Peter Kellner and Michael Dugher giving their thoughts on the upcoming elections and referendum on 5 May.
Click here to read Michael’s post today – “A view from the doorstep”.
Total Politics debate: should Labour ever seek to form a progressive alliance with the Lib Dems? To do so would be to seek a silver bullet that does not exist, argues Michael Dugher
3 May 2011
A hundred years ago, the Liberal party of Asquith, Lloyd-George and Churchill, governed Britain. The Liberals introduced important social and political reforms, not least on old age pensions, social insurance, and the Parliament Act, in an attempt to be the alternative voice – what we would today call the ‘progressive’ alternative – to the Conservative Party. By the end of the First World War, however, the Liberals were in coalition with the Tories, and they were in complete political meltdown. Once they had served their purpose, their coalition partners kicked them out, and Winston Churchill became a Conservative.
Now, Nick Clegg is no Winston Churchill, but there’s something more than a little familiar about this and there are things to ponder today. One of the great myths put about, particularly by electoral reformers in the Labour Party, is that there was a terrible split in progressive politics a century ago, and the Conservatives were able to dominate most of the 20th century in a way that would not have been possible had Labour and the Liberals formed a progressive alliance. But this is to misunderstand history.
The reason why the Liberals declined so quickly, and why Labour emerged, was precisely because the newly-enfranchised working man (and later woman) knew that the only authentic, radical, progressive force for change in Britain was Labour, with its roots in working class communities, specifically, in those days, through the trade unions and the co-operative movement. And just as the Liberals failed to offer the necessary progressive change a century ago, so their failure is being repeated lamentably in government today.
Yet the question is still posed as to whether or not Labour could enter into a progressive alliance with today’s Liberal Democrats. Under Nick Clegg - the man who not only chose to get into the bed with the Tories, but who seems to be enthusiastically enjoying his time between the sheets - the answer is an unequivocal no. Clegg is not merely leader of the Lib Dems, but for many years has been the poster boy for the so-called ‘Orange Book’ Liberals, the free-market Lib Dems like David Laws, Danny Alexander and Chris Huhne. These politicians have been exposed in recent months for what they really are: a bunch of ‘quasi-Conservatives’ who differ only from true Tories in their lack of hostility towards Europe. As David Laws said last November: “Working with the Conservatives in government has led to the ‘oranging’ process going on at a rapid rate”.
But even if the leadership of the Lib Dems were different, Labour should reject the idea that a deal with the Lib Dems should be our goal. It should not. Labour is, at its best, a ‘One Nation’ party. It’s one that, genuinely, can have a mass appeal. We can poll well in Scotland and Wales, we can be a strong voice for the industrial North and the Midlands, and we can represent the big cities like London and Birmingham. But Labour can win – and win again – in seaside towns, in the middle of East Anglia and in the leafy parts of the South of England too. History teaches us that when Labour has a broad appeal, we have a broad political reach. Think the mid-forties, the mid-sixties and repeatedly from the mid-nineties. To believe that Labour cannot win again in this way is the politics of despair.
To talk of a progressive alliance is also to seek a silver bullet that does not exist. You cannot simply tot up Labour’s standing in the opinion polls, add it to what the Lib Dems are polling, and believe that we have the basis for a progressive alliance. Labour has to do the hard work. If we listen harder to the public, if we connect with them more, and if we understand their aspirations and concerns once again, then we can win back their trust.
We desperately want – and need – people who voted Lib Dem last time, but feel betrayed by Nick Clegg, to think about voting Labour next time. In the same way that Labour needs to remain in touch with its core vote. If we are to win again, we need sizable numbers of people who have previously voted for the Conservatives to consider voting Labour in the future.
Under Ed Miliband, Labour has embarked on that journey, but there is no short cut and no quick fix. Political elites may put together grubby coalition governments, but its people – inspired and reassured – that act on mass to deliver breakthrough majorities. That should be the scale of Labour’s ambition, not some sort of shot-gun wedding with the Lib Dems.
Michael Dugher is the Labour MP for Barnsley East and a Shadow Defence Minister
Total Politics, Issue 35, May 2011
Labour Uncut column: A postcard from the Leicester South by-election
11 April 2011
Labour Uncut column: Last week saw the beginning of a journey: from Red Ed to one nation prime minister
28 March 2011
Michael writes a regular column for Labour Uncut. In this week's column - which has been highlighted in LabourList’s Ed’s Inbox article - Michael argues that "in a week of speeches by Ed Miliband, we are seeing the development of Labour’s one nation appeal once again".
Read the full article here: "Last week saw the beginning of a journey: from Red Ed to one nation prime minister"
Labour Uncut column: The right posture can really help a squeezed middle
14 March 2011
Michael writes a regular column for Labour Uncut. In this week's column, Michael argues that "the public are not looking for mini-manifestoes or pledge cards just yet from Labour", but they do want to see signals – "powerful messages" about what Labour's priorities are and "whose side we are on".
Read the full article here: "The right posture can really help a squeezed middle "
Tribune article: Back in business after Barnsley
11 March 2011
Michael has written a column for Tribune magazine following the by-election in Barnsley Central. In the article, Michael argues that Dan Jarvis’ great victory shows that Labour can and will regain the trust of working people in Britain.
Click here to read the full article: Back in business after Barnsley
Labour Uncut column: You can’t take on the Taleban with a rolled-up copy of the New Statesman
28 February 2011
Michael writes a regular column for Labour Uncut. In this week's column, Michael criticises David Cameron for his trade mission last week to the Middle East, saying it was not appropriate and the timing was wrong.
Michael, who is Labour's Shadow Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, explains that the system governing defence exports was significantly strengthened under the last Labour government, but that recent events mean that the rules need to be reviewed and may need to be tightened further. His comments follow similar calls from the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, at the weekend.
At the same time, Michael highlights the importance of our defence industries to our Armed Forces and to the wider economy, and he challenges those who have a blanket opposition to the defence industry and all defence exports.
Read the full article here: "You can’t take on the Taleban with a rolled-up copy of the New Statesman"
As we celebrate new Middle Eastern democracy, let’s not forget the old one
14 February 2011
Michael Dugher writes a regular political column for Labour Uncut. In his latest piece for the website, Michael argues that change taking place in the Middle East is an "opportunity for the UK and Europe to play a bigger role in helping to drive forward the peace process and galvanise regional support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict".
Read the full article here: As we celebrate new Middle Eastern democracy, let’s not forget the old one
Labour Uncut column: AV – who cares? The whole debate’s a waste of time and money
31 January 2011
Michael Dugher writes a regular political column for Labour Uncut. In his latest piece for the website, Michael argues that the debate about the alternative vote is a distraction and "there is a danger that some in Labour think that in supporting AV we are addressing the big challenges we face in politics, when we are not".
Read the full article here: AV – who cares? The whole debate’s a waste of time and money
Labour Uncut column: A quantum of spin
10 January 2011
Michael Dugher writes a regular political column for Labour Uncut. In his latest piece for the website, Michael argues that David Cameron is reverting to “process” with his summit on growth today to hide the fact his government still has nothing to say of substance on policies for jobs and growth.
Read the full article here: A quantum of spin
Labour Uncut column: Replacing nanny with a nudge is no joke
13 December 2010
Michael Dugher writes a regular political column for Labour Uncut. In his latest piece for the website, Michael argues with its "nudge" policy, the government has effectively given up on active policies to improve public health.
Read the full article here: Replacing nanny with a nudge is no joke
Labour Uncut column: There’s no crisis and no division, just a duty to oppose
29 November 2010
Michael Dugher writes a regular political column for Labour Uncut. In his latest piece for the website, Michael argues that investing energy into anything other than being an "effective opposition that listens to the public and develops an alternative is a luxury Labour cannot afford". He says that "we must not fall into the media and Conservative trap that we are in some sort of “leadership crisis”. We are not. The only crisis was losing the last general election. Getting rid of this government will be no easy task and it will require all our united efforts. The country will never forgive us if we are provoked into a self-indulgent row amongst ourselves".
Read the full article here: There’s no crisis and no division, just a duty to oppose
Labour Uncut column: Poor communities will be cut more than rich
15 November 2010
Michael Dugher writes a regular political column for Labour Uncut. In his latest piece for the website, Michael shows that poor communities will be disproportionally hit by the Government's cuts.
Read the full article here: Poor communities will be cut more than rich
Labour Uncut column: The loony libertarians in the government are not confined to the Lib Dems
1 November 2010
Michael Dugher writes a regular political column for Labour Uncut. In his latest piece for the website, Michael argues that the civil liberties lobby has a vital role to play in how we deal with the threat of terrorism, but that we "must start from the principle that the most important civil liberty that we possess is for our people to live free from the murderous attacks of those who wish to destroy our fundamental way of life in Britain".
Read the full article here: The loony libertarians in the government are not confined to the Lib Dems
Labour Uncut column: The Tories aren’t winners, so don’t let them write our history, says Michael Dugher
18 October 2010
Michael Dugher writes a regular political column for Labour Uncut. In his sixth piece for the website, Michael argues that "when it comes to the economy and to the battle over the public finances, we cannot allow the Tories, or the Lib Dems, to re-write our history or negatively caricature Labour’s economic legacy”.
Read the full article here: "The Tories aren’t winners, so don’t let them write our history"
Yorkshire Post article: Coalition runs the risk of triggering double-dip recession
7 October 2010
Michael Dugher MP has written an article in today’s Yorkshire Post about the risk the coalition government is taking with the economy. Read the full article below:
This weekend saw a stark warning about the fragile nature of UK economy, the tenuous prospects for economic growth and the serious risk that Britain will go back into recession. The startling thing was that the alarm bell was sounded not by an opposition politician, but by none other than Ken Clarke, the hush-puppy wearing former Tory chancellor who is now a cabinet minister in David Cameron’s government.
Clarke told a Sunday newspaper: “I think there’s a 50-50 chance of a double-dip recession. What I’m worried about is the global uncertainties and our being hit by the downturns in key markets. I do not rule out the risk of a double-dip recession”. So there you have it. What Labour has been saying for months, has finally been admitted by a senior and experienced Conservative.
George Osborne’s fiscal retrenchment, taking money out of the economy, is the biggest planned by any major economy anywhere in the world. UK growth figures were revised upwards at the end of August, a sign that the previous Labour government’s support for the economy was having an impact, but the markets are extremely jittery and economists are fearful.
In the United States, the debate is not about fiscal tightening but whether a further stimulus might be needed to avoid a so-called double-dip. To make things worse for us here, Britain’s major market is Europe, where the major centre-right governments are pursuing deflationary policies, meaning they are likely to buy even less goods and services from the UK.
All of this comes at a time when interest rates are rooted at 0.5 per cent – Conservative warnings about the threat of higher interest rates are a complete nonsense – and inflation is still historically very low. As Ed Balls has said: “As the second storm looms on the horizon, everything he (Osborne) is doing is designed to suck money out of the economy and cut public investment... His tax rises and benefit cuts will directly hit household finances at the worst possible time. It is the exact reverse of the policy which allowed Britain and the rest of the world to weather the first storm.”
So if Ken Clarke has let the cat out of the bag, and if there’s a growing consensus that our economy is fragile, what should our response be? Ed Miliband, the Doncaster North MP, used his first speech as Labour’s leader to stress that he was serious about reducing the deficit. He said that economics teaches us that in times of recession, governments run up deficits. But he admitted that our economy was too exposed to financial services, that the impact of the crash was therefore deeper on us than on others, and that we need to build a more balanced and resilient economy.
Whilst he restated Labour’s position that the deficit being halved in four years was the starting point, he made clear that growth was the priority, arguing: “When you cancel thousands of new school buildings at a stroke, it isn’t just bad for our kids, it’s bad for construction companies at a time when their order books are empty.”
In office, Labour was already committed to a greater and faster reduction in the budget deficit than any British government in living memory. We are not, in George Osborne’s words, “deficit deniers” but believe that the deficit must be reduced in a way that does not put in jeopardy our economic recovery, upon which so many people rely in this region for their jobs, their homes and their livelihoods.
But whereas the Tories and Liberals want to use predominantly public spending cuts, together with a VAT rise which clobbers the unemployed and the poorest pensioner to the same extent that it hits the banker and the millionaire, Labour understands that there are three ways to drive down the deficit. Yes, you must cut spending. Labour was already committed to difficult reductions – the Tories want to see £87 billion over and above Labour’s cuts. But you can also use fair taxation, and critically policies for jobs and growth.
Labour has always believed that those with the broadest shoulders should bear more of the weight. After all it was speculators in the banks – not families in Barnsley – that caused the global financial crisis, so why should the most hard-pressed people have deal with the consequences?
Ed Miliband made it clear that Labour will be a responsible opposition and that means we will not oppose everything the coalition government does. But cutting government spending too quickly, and by too much, is not only unfair, it also jeopardises the recovery, jobs and growth.
Ken Clarke’s fears of a double-dip recession may well be proved right. I hope not. But it is increasingly clear that it is the policies of Cameron and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, that risk turning those fears into a reality.
The Yorkshire Post, Opinion & Analysis, Thursday 7 October 2010
Labour Uncut column: Liam Fox is right (and George and Dave are wrong), says Michael Dugher
4 October 2010
Michael Dugher writes a regular political column for Labour Uncut. In his fifth piece for the website, which is also being featured on PoliticsHome’s Daily Scrapbook today, Michael argues that "supporting and protecting the brave men and women who risk their lives in the service of our country should be central to what Labour does in opposition – even if it means, for the moment at least, supporting Liam Fox in his war with the battalion of bean-counters at the treasury”.
Read the full article here: "Liam Fox is right (and George and Dave are wrong)"
Labour Uncut column: Give us leadership, not dictatorship, says Michael Dugher
20 September 2010
Michael Dugher writes a regular political column for Labour Uncut. In his fourth piece for the website, Michael says that Labour doesn’t just need a new leader, but new leadership. He argues that a “different style and approach is required, including to policy-making and to working with colleagues.”
Read the full article here: "Give us leadership, not dictatorship"
Labour Uncut column: Labour lost the election during Blair’s watch, as well as Brown’s
06 September 2010
Michael Dugher writes a regular political column for the Labour Uncut website. In his third piece for the website, Michael says that Labour lost the election because of a cumulative failure of the party and of its leadership. He says that Labour "shed five million votes not during a four week election campaign in May 2010, or during the three years after Tony Blair stood down as PM, but over the course of 13 years in government".
Read the full article here: "We lost the 2010 election during Blair’s watch, as well as Brown’s, says Michael Dugher"
Labour Uncut column: Michael Dugher digs in for the long campaign
23 August 2010
Michael Dugher writes a regular political column for the Labour Uncut website. In his second piece for the website, Michael argues that Labour needs to learn lessons from electoral defeat, but be aware that the next election will be fought on the basis of who is best for Britain in 2015, not 2010.
Read the full article here: "Michael Dugher digs in for a long campaign"
Michael Dugher to write political column for Labour Uncut
27 July 2010
Michael Dugher has been asked to write a regular political column for the Labour Uncut website. In his first piece for the website, Michael argues that the main danger with the Labour leadership election is that the candidates become too inward-looking.
Read the full article here: "Michael Dugher blasts the inward-looking new Bennites"
Osborne is making the mistakes that could lead to a new great depression
24 June 2010
Michael Dugher MP has written an article about the emergency Budget in today’s Yorkshire Post. Read the article on the Yorkshire Post website here: Osborne is making the mistakes that could lead to a new great depression
Michael Dugher on the Strategic Defence Review, published on the Labour Uncut website
21 June 2010
At the General Election, all three main parties were committed to holding a strategic defence review (SDR) as part of their manifestos for government. Today in the House of Commons, the debate begins as to how we configure our armed forces for the challenges we face in the coming years. How Labour engages in this will be important.
In February, Labour in government produced Adaptability and Partnership: Issues for the Strategic Defence Review, the green paper which paved the way for the SDR. The document set out very well the principles that underpin Labour’s approach.
The first is that we cannot simply “defend our own goal line”. This is a response to the “troops out” message that goes out, not just from anti-war protesters, but from sections of the media and parts of the wider public, usually in response to ever-mounting casualties in Afghanistan.