My Reflection on Referendum Result: Speech to Full Council

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The events of the last two weeks have clearly caused anxiety and distress for a number of people living in Sheffield. We all now have a role to play in helping our city come together after a difficult and divisive period, especially as it is clear that if we leave the EU we will be financially worse off–both individually and as a city overall. We have to reflect carefully on this result and respect the result.

We find ourselves in the ludicrous position where the vote for Brexit was caused by inequality and could now end up worsening inequality.

Sheffield City Region was scheduled to receive over £180 million through to 2020, in addition to the £1 billion we have received over the last 15 years.

Of course, as a city, we will and we must do everything we can to secure as much of that money as possible. But nobody should think it is likely we will secure all of it – or even most of it.

This is the harsh reality of Brexit. The manner in which the Leaders of the Leave campaign have behaved is atrocious and a total abdication of their responsibilities. They should be ashamed of themselves.

The UK government hasn’t acted much better. It is simply not good enough to say that they hope EU nationals will be allowed to stay in Britain.

These are people who have put down roots here, with children, families, caring responsibilities, who pay taxes and contribute to our economy and society. They deserve much better than being used by the Government as bargaining chips.

So for the moment, I want people from Europe who are living, learning and working in our city – some of whom are here today – to know that they are just as welcome here as they were before the referendum. European citizens make a huge contribution to both the economy and the vibrancy of our city, especially at our universities, and we are glad to have them contributing in this way.

In the global age, our city’s diversity is a strength not a weakness. We are them and they are us.

It is also quite obvious that many people feel that the economy doesn’t work for them; and we have to redouble our efforts to address the anxieties and insecurities that people understandably feel as a result of rapid global change.

I’d like to conclude by saying that Sheffield will always be a vibrant, welcoming and European city. The referendum result won’t change that.

I am sure that this city will not tolerate any actions that sow division in our communities or play people against each other. Certainly the Council won’t.

Sheffield has always prided itself on being a welcoming, inclusive and friendly city and we must all do everything we can to nuture and protect this treasured reputation.

Speech to Full Council: The Great British Rip Off

Anyone who has spoken to people in Sheffield will be amazed at the LibDem motion. I don’t think I have ever seen a motion that is so out-of-touch, so aloof and so smug. Crisis – what crisis?

Of course, any improvement in the British economy is very welcome, however weak and however overdue.

But nobody should be in any doubt about this change  – it is for the South East, it is for the rich and it is for the short-term.

Let’s remember that 93% of people on zero-hour contracts don’t get any benefit from the rise in tax allowance whatsoever. The increase in tax allowance is almost entirely used by people earning over £30k – it doesn’t benefit the lowest paid whatsoever.

  • So if the economy is doing so well, why is the government planning to borrow an extra £190 billion MORE than they planned?
  • If the economy is doing so well, why does the IFS say an extra 400,000 children will be in poverty by 2015?
  • If the economy is doing so well, why are Councils being told to brace themselves for another 4 years of even more savage cuts?
  • If the economy is doing so well, why are over 850,000 young people still out of work?
  • If the economy is doing so well, why are living standards still falling?

The answer is because the economy isn’t nearly strong enough. Most working people are not feeling a recovery at all. And even worse, it is built on another housing bubble AND confined to one part of the country AND helping the richest the most.

The Lib-Dems and Tories may be happy with an economy that is low-wage, low-pay and low security, but Sheffield deserves better.

  • That’s why Labour would guarantee a job for every young person out of work for more than a year.
  • That’s why Labour would clamp down on exploitative zero hour contracts.
  • That’s why Labour will freeze energy bills for homes and businesses for two years.

Our communities need real action now, not the LibDems telling people they should feel richer and should be grateful for all the kind things the LibDems have done for them.

So let me finish by saying that if the Liberal Democrats want to make this general election a fight over who can stand up best for families, who can create good jobs and who can help with the cost of living crisis – I have only three words to say to them: Bring it on.

 

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Sheffield Council’s Chief Medical Expert Blasts ConDems on Food Poverty

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Today the Director of Public Health in Sheffield, Dr Jeremy Wight, has signed a letter alongside other Members of the Faculty of Public Health concerning food poverty and food banks. The letter is published below.

The real question now is whether the government will listen to this latest group of experts, or continue with their reckless, heartless and useless policies?

To: Rt Hon David Cameron, MP, Prime Minister, 10 Downing Street, London SW1A 2AA

Thursday 24 April

Dear Prime Minister,

There is a worrying gap in health circumstances and outcomes between rich and poor people in the UK.[1] [2] [3]. Complex though the reasons for this inequality are, the reality is that hard-working families in the UK are living in poverty and do not have enough income for a decent diet. This not a reality that any of us should accept here in the UK, the world’s sixth largest economy and the third largest in Europe. We urge you to act on the findings of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty’s Parliamentary Inquiry when it is published.

We wish to draw attention to three specific issues. Firstly, food poverty is increasing. It is not just that more people are using food banks[4]. They are a symptom of a more extensive pressure for emergency food aid. This was summarised for your Government in a report to Defra released this year.[5]

Food bank numbers are an inadequate indicator of need, since many households only ask for emergency food help as a last resort. More and more households find themselves unable to afford a decent diet and now include those in work. Reliance on hand-outs should not be part of any modern, society-wide and evidence-based approach to public health policy.

Secondly, there is the underlying issue of food costs and prices. The Office for National Statistics and Defra have shown that the rising costs of food over the last six years are proving increasingly hard for lower income households to manage. The food industry is well aware of these problems; nevertheless, food is likely to continue to cost more in the future.

Over the last five years, food has been one of the three top factors in price inflation,[6] sufficient to worry even higher income consumers.[7] In a time of high fuel prices, this has translated into families cutting back on fresh fruit and vegetables and buying cheap, sweet, fatty, salty or processed foods that require little cooking. A huge amount of on the ground experience and Trussell Trust data suggests that the welfare system is increasingly failing to provide a robust last line of defence against hunger. A vicious circle is set in train, with poorer people having worse diets and contributing to the worrying rise in obesity, diabetes and other dietary-related diseases. [8]

The third issue is the problem of stagnant incomes and wages among the low paid. In real terms, according to Office for National Statistics, incomes have fallen in the first significant manner since the 1960s.[9] ONS calculates that UK workers have suffered a 7.6% fall in real wages over the past six years.[10] Increasing numbers of people on low wages are not earning enough money to meet their most basic nutritional needs.

Our concern is that this puts an overwhelming strain on household food budgets. An affordable nutritious diet is a prerequisite of health. We view the rise of food poverty as indicating the reversal of what was a long process of improvement in food availability and affordability since World War Two. The full situation is complex. Nonetheless, public debate about food poverty is sometimes too quick to ‘blame the poor’ without understanding the pressures poorer families are under.

As public health organisations, our role is to improve, not go backwards. The CMO has recently raised concerns about obesity becoming normal. [11] Our organisations and fellow health professions are committed to assisting the public and the food industry to take the healthier route. Failure to do so will come with immense costs to individuals, families, communities, employers, the NHS and government. Food poverty has never been acceptable in a modern UK. We urge you to act on the findings of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger and Food Poverty’s Inquiry [12, 13] to make clear that this injustice is not acceptable now.

The UK Faculty of Public Health urges you to instigate an independent working group to monitor UK nutrition and hunger status. We are willing and ready to offer our professional expertise to support this group, and national efforts to alleviate food poverty and improve the nation’s health.

Yours sincerely,

References:

1 DEFRA. In: Food Statistics Pocketbook. London: DEFRA, 2013: 18.
2 Wales P, Taylor C. Economic review, April 2014. London: Office for National Statistics, 2014.
3 Taylor-Robinson D, Rougeaux E, Harrison D, Whitehead M, Barr B, PearceA. The rise of food poverty in the UK. BMJ 2013; 347: f7157. PubMed
4 Lambie-Mumford H, Crossley D, Jensen E, Verbeke M, Dowler E.Household food security in the UK: a review of food aid. London: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 2014.
5 Office for National Statistics. An examination of falling real wages, 2010—2013. London: Office for National Statistics, 2014.

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Labour Council launches new scheme to help residents save money

Sheffield’s Labour Council is taking action on rising fuel bills and draughty homes

A new Council-backed scheme has been launched to help Sheffield residents facing increased heating costs, to keep warm and save money on energy bills.

Sheffield Heat and Save is an energy efficiency scheme being delivered by Keepmoat and SIG Energy Management, in partnership with Sheffield City Council.

Together, we are offering replacement boilers, cavity wall and loft insulation at little or no cost to home owners and private tenants across the city who are struggling to pay their energy bills.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) estimates that around 27,000 Sheffield households are currently in fuel poverty.

It is hoped that the Sheffield Heat and Save scheme could see more than £4 million invested across the city, helping around 6500 residents to reduce the cost of keeping their homes warm.

This is just the start, and we know the potential is much, much higher. A study into the energy refurbishment market for the region identified the cost of improving all the homes in Sheffield at over £1.3 billion, with around £70 million of this eligible for ECO grants.

Councillor Jack Scott, Cabinet Member for Environment, Recycling and Streetscene, said: “It is no secret that times are tight for us all, largely due to the cuts we are all facing from this Government. These are without doubt having an impact on some of our residents.

“So a scheme like this which helps save money by providing improvements to keep homes warmer for little or no cost to the householder, ultimately helping residents reduce their bills really is something to be welcomed. In this day and age people should not have to choose between heating and eating, but sadly that is something we are seeing more and more of – so if we can lessen this burden with this new scheme I am all for it.

“This is a triple win – cheaper bills, creating jobs and reducing carbon emissions – we know that climate change is the greatest threat we face as a society. This scheme will be a big help.”

He added this comes just weeks after the Council has once again launched its Big Switch energy saving campaign which aims to help lower household bills by getting people to collectively switch to cheaper tariffs.

Steve Batty, Head of Sustainability at Keepmoat, said: “This is an exciting scheme for the city, enabling qualifying residents to save money on energy bills and make their homes warmer.

“The health, lifestyle and economic benefits of warmer homes, particularly for those most in need, are tremendous, so we would encourage anyone who thinks they may be eligible to take advantage of the works that are on offer.

“We are delighted to be working in partnership with Sheffield City Council and SIG on this scheme.”

Neil Donald, Managing Director of SIG Energy Management, said: “As energy prices continue to rise, improving the energy performance of our inefficient housing stock and tackling the fuel poverty crisis needs to be our number one priority.

“We are therefore incredibly pleased to be part of this scheme, which will provide households across Sheffield with the advice and financial support they need to make these much needed improvements,” added Neil. “The fact that the scheme is helping people on our own doorstep makes it even more important to us that this fantastic scheme is a success.”

Eligibility for the scheme is subject to survey and other qualifying criteria.

For more information or to register interest in the scheme, please call 0800 0190919 or 0114 3 990660, or visit www.sheffield.gov.uk/eco.

Labour’s attempt to abolish the bedroom tax stopped by LibDems

Of all the attacks on working people by the coalition, the bedroom tax is among the very worst.

I am proud that Labour is leading the fight against it and will fund the repeal of the Bedroom tax by closing boardroom tax loopholes.

The impact of the bedroom tax is massive, affecting some of the most vulnerable people in our societies.

Citizens Advice has welcomed the pledge to end the Bedroom Tax. 

Some people say parties are all the same, and it doesn’t matter who wins elections. The bedroom tax shows that there is a clear choice facing the British people at the next election – one Prime Minister who introduced the bedroom tax and another who will repeal it.