Unusually for a Friday, I’m still in Westminster, as we are voting today on the Tories’ shameful plans to gerrymander parliamentary constituency boundaries. Labour MPs are out in force to try to put a stop to this disgraceful fixing by a failing minority Tory government.
It’s an extra day in London at the end of a week in which I’ve had the pleasure of having three different people ‘shadowing’ me in parliament. I’m delighted to be hosting a participant on a programme organised by Operation Black Vote, which supports BAME candidates who are considering standing for elected office. Jo, who’s from Manchester, will be spending the next 18 months shadowing me at a number of different visits and meetings in London and the constituency. Meanwhile, Amna – also from Manchester - came for the day on Tuesday to see how I spend my time in Westminster, so she can think about how parliamentary activity relates to her work as a community activist. And we’re delighted to have had Lucy here again for work experience, which she is doing as part of a programme organised by Mencap.
Disability has in fact been a big theme in parliament this week - the government announced its new strategy on work, health, and supporting more disabled people and those with mental health conditions into employment. I say its ‘new’ strategy, but there wasn’t much different or new about it – more a rehash of existing plans and vague promises. With the employment rate among disabled people (many of whom would love to be working) a shocking 30% lower than for non-disabled adults, it’s clear the government needs to do much more. And so does business, which is why I was delighted to attend an event in parliament organised by Barclays to talk about how employers can become more ‘disability confident’.
I was also really honoured to chair a roundtable organised by music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins, about the impact music therapy can have on mental health and wellbeing. I wrote about my visit to this wonderful charity’s work with people with learning disabilities in Stretford a couple of weeks ago. This well attended seminar gave an opportunity for representatives from the music industry, MPs, therapists, teachers and health professionals to think more about how this kind of amazing support can be extended to more people.
And it’s always a pleasure to welcome the Cystic Fibrosis Trust to parliament, and I’m pleased to support their campaign for improved access to a new drug call Okrambi.
My focus in parliament tends to be on domestic policy, but this week I’ve been spending more time than usual on our international relationships. Along with MPs of all parties, I was absolutely disgusted by President Trump’s disgraceful retweeting of Britain First’s vile hate videos. MPs queued up in parliament to condemn his actions, and to demand that the state visit he’s been promised is cancelled. I’m quite sure that if he does come here, there will be demonstrations the length of the UK against his visit – and I’ll be right at the heart of them.
I was also able to participate this week in an important debate on migration policy. This is such a complex area, and will be even more challenging after Brexit. In the debate, I presented the findings of research carried out by the all-party group on migration, which I chair, where we’d asked small businesses about their reliance on EU workers to fill vacancies, and what would happen after Brexit. It’s a fascinating subject, and the issues aren’t at all straightforward.
And on the subject of small business, I was pleased to meet the Federation of Small Businesses in parliament this week, to reiterate my support for small businesses in Stretford and Urmston. The FSB were keen to remind me that tomorrow is Small Business Saturday – when we’re all encouraged to ‘shop local’, supporting our own fabulous small businesses. I look forward to seeing constituents out and about on the high streets in Stretford and Urmston tomorrow!
Finally, thanks to all the young people I met last week at the Trafford youth conference, and at the politics society at Loreto College. It was great to be part of your discussions. Our young people are clearly interested in politics and how to get involved - I’m standing by for many more requests for shadowing and work experience opportunities after my visits last Friday.