In My View - 5th October 2017

In a fortnight of ‘big speeches’ which I am not convinced have much of an audience outside of the conference centres in which they are made, I would like to focus on three pieces of good policy news which have been connected to grass roots campaigning and will make a real difference.

Universal Credit is the welfare system to replace several other benefits with one payment. The theory is sound – the old system is complicated and can lead to people not knowing what they are entitled to. It also is more detached from the world of work than is helpful; having a monthly income from which you manage your outgoings is a healthy responsibility for adults to have. Also it is easier to manage the principle that you will be better off if you are working than not. However, there have been vocal concerns about the implementation of the system with some reporting of unacceptable delays in payment.

I have been following the situation in Somerset closely and would like to thank those in local Government and other groups such as debt counselling charities, the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and churches who have shared their experiences with me. David Gauke, Secretary of State of Work and Pensions has correctly focussed on what the rollover to Universal Credit is like for those affected and is to lead an overhaul in the advice given to them. For example, there has always been to option to take an advance payment if the 6 week transition is too long but it seems this was not well enough publicised. In cases of hardship these payments can be made within 5 days and more quickly in emergencies.

Battersea Dogs’ Home have championed a campaign to increase available jail sentences in cases of animal cruelty and this has been supported in the House of Commons by many MPs including me. I should mention West Country colleague Neil Parish who has done a great deal to further this campaign. We are a nation of animal lovers and our laws need to reflect this. I have been contacted by many constituents on this issue and I hope they are pleased with the news.

Also, Michael Gove has announced a consultation with the intention of launching a bottle deposit scheme to reduce the levels of plastics put in landfill or in the oceans. Sky News were part of an effective campaign in this regard and it’s welcome news. Measures are already being taken to stop microbeads being used in cosmetics which were a related issue.

Finally, I am delighted to have been part of the local MPs’ effort to get funding reinstated for Somerset Skills and Learning this year. I am keen to work with the organisation to get the finances on a sustainable footing for future years.

I wanted to mention these issues as Government can seem a bit ‘top-down’ at times. Part of my job as an MP is to take news in the other direction. If you’d like to get in touch about these or any other issues, or to book a slot at one of my regular advice surgeries, please email or call 01935314321.