As I consider all areas of Government policy and how it impacts on Burnley and Padiham, I find myself increasingly involved with the whole issue of care and protection. The focus varies but the elderly, children, the disabled and the terminally ill all feature regularly. I began this week with a meeting with the Shadow Minister for the Disabled. I was very disturbed to learn that when it comes to assisting the disabled, Britain, in spite of being one of the richest nations in Europe, ranks 19th out of 32 European countries. David Cameron has always professed to understand the issues facing disabled people and their families but his actions, the most recent of which this was to cut payments to disabled people by almost 30%, seem to suggest otherwise. Further to this, on Tuesday I had the opportunity to meet the internationally acclaimed, Professor Michael Marmot, who has dedicated the last 35 years investigating health inequalities and is considered a world expert. As a member of the Health Select Committee, I asked him how Government cuts have affected the health service. He said that he was very concerned that the additional cuts to the Local Authority Public Health and Social Care budgets that support the elderly and disabled are placing additional strain on an already stretched NHS. He also commented on the Government’s plans for a 7 day NHS, saying that it would not be possible to extend NHS services without a significant increase in funding.
On Wednesday I took part in a debate about ‘End of Life Care’. My research in preparation for this showed quite clearly that a majority of people would prefer not to die in hospital. It also showed that at its very best ‘End of Life Care’ in Britain is as good as it gets but sadly the provision is patchy and standards vary a great deal. It is really clear that cuts in Social Care budgets will make it more difficult for those people who want to be supported to die in their own home to access the care that they and their loved ones will need. The important point in all this is that cutting important funding by hundreds of millions, as this Government continues to do, has consequences and people are suffering as a result.
On Thursday I was really pleased to welcome a group of Head Teachers and Governors from State Nursery Schools from across Burnley to Westminster. Together we attended a packed meeting with MPs from all sides of the House, all united by our concern for the future of Nursery School education. There is a clear distinction to be made between childcare and nursery education delivered by qualified teachers. There is a place for both but they are not the same. 95% of all British Nursery Schools are rated good or outstanding. This is a phenomenal achievement, not matched anywhere else in the education system and the benefits to children in these early years are well documented and undoubtedly give children the very best start in life. In spite of this, the Government seems keen to reduce the number of places, staff and Nursery Schools. I will be making the point strongly to Government Ministers that, if we want outstanding educational outcomes for our children at 16 and 18, we must invest in those early years. In fact it is said that every pound spent then saves ten later.
Back in Burnley, it was a real honour to join with the Mayor of Burnley to witness some local young people take the Oath of Allegiance as they commence a career in the Army. The young men and women have all taken part in pre army training that involved physical fitness, team work and problem solving in a disciplined environment. The Colonel from the Lancashire Fusiliers paid tribute to their achievements and spoke of the opportunities and challenges that life in the Army would bring.
On Tuesday I look forward to celebrating International Women’s Day and the achievement of women across the world. As I wander through the corridors Of Westminster, I often reflect that as recently as 1917 there were there no female MPs and women were not allowed even to vote. Life is in many ways easier for modern British women than it was for our mothers and grandmothers, but there are still many inequalities: women on average earn less than men, they do not have equal representation in politics or business, there are significant inequalities in health and education and domestic violence remains a reality. I am privileged to be one of the 191 female MPs in the British Parliament and I believe that I have a duty to stand up for full equal rights for all women at home and abroad because after all, its only fair.