Having arrived back home last Thursday for my usual round of constituency visits and activities, I found myself making a daytrip back to London on Friday - I spent a lot of the end of last week on trains.
But in a very important cause: I went to London to be sure to vote for the Refugee Family Reunion bill. This will give refugees better access to advice, it will help us to settle more child refugees here, and reunite them with their families.
Normally, I wouldn’t be in parliament on Fridays, as we don’t vote on government business that day, and the backbench members’ bills that are debated on Fridays have little chance of becoming law. So MPs like me prioritise constituency work on Fridays. But sometimes there is a possibility of forcing the government to give time for these bills, especially when they have cross-party support, and that was the case last week. We needed 100 MPs to vote the bill through, so 100+ of us who thought this bill was very important made the trip to be there. I am glad to say it was worth the journey - we won the vote, and the bill will now proceed to the next stage of the parliamentary process.
And on the subject of making refugees welcome, thanks to everyone who attended my community consultation event at Limelight last Saturday to contribute to Andy Burnham’s commission on integration and tackling hatred and extremism. We’re writing up the notes of the discussion to feed into Andy, and I’ll publish them on my website too.
In parliament this week, I’ve been concentrating on some of the issues raised with me in the constituency. I attended a packed out debate about access to a new drug, Orkambi, for the treatment of cystic fibrosis. This powerful and life changing product has yet to be approved by NICE (the body which gives permission for medicines to be used in the NHS), as the NICE rules are proving too inflexible to assess it appropriately. But many MPs, myself included, know from our constituents just what a difference this drug could make, and the debate was a good opportunity to press the minister to look again at the NICE process.
I spent a morning at a seminar on the future of social care, a huge issue for us in Trafford. New figures have shown nearly half of Trafford care homes require improvement, it’s becoming harder and harder to recruit home care workers, and providers of care say the contracts they receive from the council don’t cover the living wage, travel costs, and the cost of running their business. We desperately need a new model of providing and paying for care, and this is becoming all the more acute as we all live longer.
I attended a briefing given by the DWP minister about new rules that mean people on benefits now have to take a loan to cover their mortgage interest - previously this was paid as part of benefits. I have heard from many disabled constituents who are really worried about the change in rules, and I and other MPs present pressed the minister to reconsider, or at least slow down, the plans. I’m afraid our pleas fell on deaf ears, but we will be keeping up the pressure.
Much excitement back in the constituency on Thursday when Jeremy Corbyn and shadow cabinet colleagues came to launch Labour’s local election campaign. Everyone here knows how badly Tory cuts are affecting local services - I hear complaints about our parks, roads, youth services, and bins whenever I’m on the doorstep. We’re working really hard in Trafford to win seats from the Tories so that we can prioritise these basic services that people really value and need, and ensure all parts of Trafford are treated fairly, so it was great to have Labour’s top team here to kick off the campaign. But I was even more delighted that Jeremy visited Stretford High to participate in a Q&A with students there - thanks for making us so welcome at school, and I must say I was glad I wasn’t the one having to answer the tough questions!
Finally, was good to meet up with the Jewish Leadership Council, to discuss the work of the Jewish community in Manchester. Although I don’t represent many Jewish families in Stretford and Urmston, many constituents have contacted me to express their deep concern and revulsion at growing antisemitism. I discussed this in detail with the JLC, how we challenge and change behaviour, and how we can celebrate and highlight the value of the Jewish contribution to our community, culture and history, and I’m looking forward to working with other MPs to give this issue higher profile in parliament. And closer to home, one clear message coming out of our community consultation event last Saturday was that people want to learn more about other cultures and faiths - so I’d love to hear your ideas about how we could do that as a means to tackle prejudice, hatred and discrimination.