Tuesday, 14 December 2010

A special school assembly for Christmas card competition winner!

This week, I was proud to announce the winner of my inaugural Christmas card competition as 8 year-old Molly Fisher, a pupil of RL Hughes Primary School, Ashton in Makerfield.

I presented Molly with a set of Roald Dahl books and a framed copy of her winning picture during the school’s full assembly while the other pupils watched excitedly.

The competition attracted entries from across the constituency with all of the designs being carefully judged.

It was an absolute pleasure to present Molly with her prize. It’s a great design and she’s clearly hit the right note, so I’m sure people will enjoy receiving the card in the run up to Christmas.

I know everybody at RL Hughes Primary School will be very proud of Molly and I am too.

In this the competition’s first year, we had a fantastic response from local schools. The children clearly put a lot of effort into their art-work so it made my job of picking the winner extremely difficult. But I’d like to thank all of the children and their teachers for taking part.

I also handed out a prize to the runner up, Ellie Unsworth and Shona Greenhalgh who was awarded 3rd place. Both Ellie’s and Shona’s designs feature on the back of the card.

Molly’s winning design will be sent to a number of distinguished people in the political world, including both the Prime-Minister and the Leader of the Opposition -  Ed Miliband. The card will also be sent to individuals across the Wigan Borough including the Mayor of Wigan, Cllr Michael Winstanley.

Christmas Card Competition Winners

1st Prize
Molly Fisher
Aged 8
RL Hughes Primary School
Ashton in Makerfield

Runner Up
Ellie Unsworth
St Wilfrid’s RC Primary
Ashton in Makerfield

3rd Place
Shona Greenhalgh
St William’s Catholic Primary School
Ince in Makerfield

Click here to view the Christmas card.

Monday, 6 December 2010

My parliamentary expense claims

The Independant Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) has published the first tranche of MP claims for the current financial year.

My expense claims can be accessed here.

No 2 AV - The fight for fair votes

Alongside twenty MPs elected for the first time at the 2010 general election, I have added my name to the growing list of people who will be voting no in the referendum next May.

You can view the declaration by clicking here.

Friday, 26 November 2010

'Use it, don't lose it,' as cuts package could hit local Library

A review of council spending on the borough’s libraries has ignited a campaign to save Ashton Library from the threat of closure.

Wigan Council have confirmed that, in line with government spending cuts, the library service will need to cut £1.1million from its budget over the next 3 years.

Council bosses accept that the review will ‘necessitate significant changes in the shape and scale of the service’.

I joined Labour’s Ashton and Bryn Ward councillors Nigel Ash and Ann Rampling to urge local people to use the central Ashton facility.

I know that money is tight and that the council are grappling with a cuts package not of its own making but as a major town in the borough, with the third busiest library, Ashton Library is well placed to meet the needs of users and the wider community.

The consultation commences on Monday, 29th November and runs through to 31st March 2011.

Update. Sign the online petition organised by Ashton Ward Councillor, Nigel Ash here.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The campaign to retain the Monaco Ballroom

The decision to remove council subsidy from the famous concert hall has a result of a council wide plan to reduce spending in light of the coalition governments public spending cuts has united campaigners across the political spectrum.

The Monaco is much more than just a concert hall. It holds special memories for so many people - local Hindley Councillor, Jim Talbot met his wife at the Monaco

I know from my postbag that the Monaco holds a special place in the hearts of local people. I have also received emails from across the North West such is the value that people attach to this iconic venue.

It would be a tragedy to see the Monaco close its doors and I want to work with campaigners to keep the venue open.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Relocation of my constituency office

I wanted to take this opportunity to advise you that with effect from Wednesday, 24th November 2010 the constituency office currently based at Gerrard Winstanley House will be relocating to:

Yvonne Fovargue MP
Elizabeth House
The Pier
Pottery Rd
Wigan WN3 4EX


Visitors to my current office at Gerrard Winstanley House will notice immediately, that it is an ageing building and with that comes a number of difficulties, not least, problems with access for disabled constituents.

I have sought with Lisa Nandy MP to obtain a town centre location and in Elizabeth House, we have been able to secure a modern, fully accessible office with good transport links and just a short walk from the town centre.

I hope to make the relocation as seamless as possible, but we will need to be closed on Monday, 22nd and Tuesday, 23rd to allow for the removal of equipment from Gerrard Winstanley House and set up of the new office.

As you know, I pride myself on offering constituents a fully staffed constituency office which they can call into for help and assistance and Elizabeth House will assist in delivering a first class service to constituents.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Child Benefit cut set to hit mums’ pension entitlements

Last month I raised the issue of state pension entitlement for women who will lose Child benefit under cuts announced by the Chancellor at the Tory Party Conference in Birmingham.

Described by the Conservative Leader of the House, Sir George Young MP as a ‘legitimate point’ (Hansard: Thurs, 14th Oct Col 498), I unearthed a potential disastrous consequence, of the Chancellor’s announcement, for the state pension entitlements of mums who stay at home to raise their children.

New rules implemented in the current tax year 2010/11 will mean that parents are able to build up qualifying years through new weekly credits for the basic State Pension and additional State Pension.

If you are a parent (or carer), you will get a credit for each week in which you:

• are getting Child Benefit for children aged under 12
• are an approved foster carer
• are caring for at least 20 hours a week for people who are getting Attendance Allowance, the middle-rate or highest-rate care component of Disability Living Allowance, or Constant Attendance Allowance, or the need for care has been certified
• There will be no limit to the credits awarded to parents and carers after April 2010, as long as you meet the qualifying rules.

If you reach State Pension age on or after 6 April 2010, complete tax years of Home Responsibilities Protection that have already built up before 2010 have been converted into qualifying years up to a maximum of 22 years. These qualifying years will also count towards bereavement benefits.

The Chancellor, in withdrawing Child benefit cash from higher rate tax earner households will hit mums across Makerfield who stay at home as it would appear, based on the new rules, that they will lose entitlement to credits towards their state pension as a result.

At present mums with children under 12 years of age can build up credits towards their state pension by virtue of the fact that they receive Child benefit. The change announced at the Tory conference would stop credits being awarded to those mums.

As was reported at the time, this is an ill thought out change to the benefit system announced in a rush without due consideration to the ‘knock on’ effects to parents who will now face a double whammy of losing their child benefit and seeing their state pension entitlement eroded.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Families in Makerfield up to £9 a week worse off because of Housing Allowance cuts

Today I have warned of the impact of changes to housing allowance on people living in Makerfield.

The Conservative led coalition government want to change the way Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is calculated. The change they propose means 700,000 people in Britain are set to lose out according to official DWP figures, with losses in every local authority in Britain from October 2011. As a result of this measure 4,780 LHA recipients in the borough will lose out.

Families on modest incomes in Makerfield will be concerned that from next year they could be £9.00 a week worse off because of cuts to the support they get with housing costs.

The government like to paint a picture of the work shy receiving huge state handouts of Housing Benefit but the truth is that these figures contain a large number of in work Housing Benefit recipients, seeking to make a better life for their families.

This is a big drop in income for people struggling to make ends meet with no time for individuals or landlords to adjust.  For those receiving Local Housing Allowance, this will come as a dramatic change imposed at a reckless speed.

The Government just doesn't seem to understand that higher homelessness, like longer dole queues make it harder not easier to deal with the deficit.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Why I'm backing shopworkers call for respect

This week I have backed Usdaw, in their call for respect for retail workers, after they released preliminary survey results that show over one million shopworkers were assaulted, threatened or verbally abused in the last twelve months.

The survey shows that in the past 12 months, 6% of shopworkers were subjected to violent attack, 37% were threatened with harm and a massive 70% had suffered verbal abuse.

While reported incidents of assault are slightly down, incidents of threats and abuse have increased since last year.

Also revealed in the survey is that around 50% of incidents of abuse were as a result of selling age-restricted products, like alcohol, cigarettes, aerosols, etc.

Shopworkers deserve respect and they have my full support. We must do more to help them do their job safely.

I would like to see a high profile publicity campaign in support of ‘no id – no sale’ ensuring that young people are aware that it is an offence to attempt to buy alcohol if you are under 18.

That is why I introduced an early Day Motion to parliament to show my support and help make the voices of shopworkers heard.

I am challenging the Government not to declare shops as automatically safe workplaces, as has been suggested by Lord Young. They need health and safety inspections from time to time to ensure that risks are minimised. The Government must continue to support the HSE and local authorities to inspect all workplaces.

The Early Day Motion I introduced reads as follows:

EDM 791 – Freedom from Fear 2010

‘That this House recognises the excellent work done by employers, trade union health & safety reps and inspectors from the HSE and local authorities to make workplaces safer; notes with regret the latest survey of abuse of shopworkers by the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers that shows that in the last year 6% of shopworkers were subjected to violent attack, 37% were threatened with harm and 70% were verbally abused: expresses sympathy with all of the victims of attack or injury in the workplace; is concerned that the survey also showed that 50% of the abuse suffered by shopworkers was related to age-restricted sales and dealing with proof of age; acknowledges that no workplace can automatically be assumed to be safe and that therefore all workplaces need health and safety inspections from time to time to ensure that risks are minimised; calls on the Government to continue to support the HSE and local authorities to inspect all workplaces; to maintain the current record numbers of police and Community Support Officers to continue to protect front-line workers and the public from violence, threats and abuse, and to run high profile publicity campaigns in support of ‘no id – no sale’ and ensuring that young people are aware that it is an offence to attempt to buy alcohol if you are under 18’.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Show Racism the Red Card!

I recently joined ex-professional footballers, representatives from the Professional Footballers Association and members of the Show Racism the Red Card campaign to give my support to the charity’s bid to become The Football Association’s Charity of the Year for 2011.

Show Racism the Red Card is an anti-racist charity, established in January 1996 with the aim of harnessing the potential of professional footballers as anti-racist role models and combatting racism through anti-racist education. The campaign involves hundreds of top footballers and managers and carries its work out throughout the UK delivering anti-racism workshops, football fun fitness sessions and hosting educational events at football clubs.

I threw my support behind Show Racism the Red Card’s bid to become FA Charity of the Year. I can think of no other charity that has worked so hard and so effectively to condemn racism within football. I wish them all the best of luck with their bid!

This sign-up event follows on from the Early Day Motion raised in parliament and signed by me which received significant support.

For more information about the work of Show Racism the Red Card click here.

I am pictured with ex-Fulham and West Ham striker, Leroy Rosenior, former professional footballer and manager, Dave Bassett and former West Ham striker and Deputy Chief Executive of the Professional Footballers Association, Bobby Barnes.

EDM 607 reads as follows:

‘That this House recognises the excellent work of the anti-racist charity Show Racism the Red Card which was established in 1996 with the aim of harnessing the high-profile status of professional footballers as anti-racist role models to combat racism through education; notes that hundreds of top footballers and managers take part in its activities which have made racism the exception rather than the rule at football matches in contrast with experience abroad; further notes that the campaign employs 12 former professional footballers throughout England, Scotland and Wales to coach young people using football as a way of engaging young people with anti-racist messages; welcomes the possibility that the campaign could be selected as the Football Association Charity of the year for 2011 and has so far won the support for this of Gordon Taylor and the Professional Footballers' Association, as well as former England Manager Graham Taylor; and wishes them the best in their endeavours’.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Health Select Committee

I was today elected to serve on the powerful House of Commons Health Select Committee.

I look forward to working on this Select Committee. Health is a critical issue for the Borough and this is a body which can make a real difference to how policy works in a place like Wigan.

I stood for election to this Committee to make a difference. In 1997 we inherited a NHS on its knees. We now boast new primary care facilities across the borough because of the direct investment by the last Labour Government.

The proposed changes announced by the Coalition Government are a dangerous leap in to the dark and pose a serious threat to the fabric of the NHS. The proposals were not to be found in either the Tory or Lib Dem manifestos.

At a time of deep cuts across the public sector it is astonishing that David Cameron should embark on a needless restructure of the NHS.

Friday, 22 October 2010

'Wear it Pink' Day

I am joining forces with Breast Cancer Campaigners to raise awareness of the fundraising event, 'Wear it Pink Day', supported by Vanish.

On Friday 29 October 2010 supporters in schools, colleges and businesses throughout the country are encouraged to don an item of pink in support of the campaign and each donate £2 to fund innovative world-class breast cancer research.

Last year over one million people took part in 'Wear it Pink' day to help improve survival rates for the one in nine women who experience breast cancer during their lifetime.

Every year in the UK, over 45,500 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women. Although it is rare, men can also suffer from breast cancer, with around 300 men diagnosed each year. I know people who have lost friends and family members to the disease and I would like to encourage everyone across Makerfield to support 'Wear it Pink' on October 29, to raise valuable funds for breast cancer research.

To take part in the UK’s original and best pink day call freephone 0800 107 3104 or visit here and register to receive your free fundraising pack now. Wear it Pink is supported by Vanish, which has committed to raising an incredible £250,000 for the charity this year.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Coalition Government has no plan for jobs or growth in Makerfield

Yesterday,  the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review was announced.

The Government’s cuts are too deep and too fast, taking a dangerous gamble with Makerfield's economic future and people’s jobs. What the Government is saying is that it wants to take more money off children than it does off the banks. That can’t be right. And it can’t be right for the government to reduce the number of police officers on our streets.

Ed Miliband was correct to point out that the government is taking an irresponsible gamble with the recovery and Shadow Chancellor Alan Johnson is right to assert that without growth it’s impossible to get the deficit down. If the Government throws people out of work it costs us all more. So to get the deficit down our starting point must be jobs, jobs, jobs.

A million jobs gone – that’s the price we now know the coalition think is worth paying.
 

Friday, 15 October 2010

Make A Difference this month!

This week I joined forces with pop mogul, Pete Waterman, to encourage people throughout Makerfield to give their time to benefit the local community as part of CSV Make a Difference Day, the biggest single day of volunteering on Saturday 30 October 2010.

I am passionate about the world of volunteering having managed a team of over 30 volunteers in my previous job role before becoming Makerfield’s MP.

As a supporter of CSV Make a Difference Day, I am encouraging the residents of my constituency to do something to benefit our community! No matter how big or small – make a cup of tea for a lonely neighbour, dig out those weeds and plant flowers in the community park, or even renovate the local homeless shelter. I’ve seen the positive changes a little volunteering can help impact the local community.

This is the 15th Make a Difference Day organised by CSV, the UK’s leading volunteering charity. More than half a million people have taken part so far.

This year's CSV Make a Difference Day, the UK's biggest single day of volunteering, is on Saturday 30th October with events taking place from 23rd October to 7th November.  Each year tens of thousands of people turn their minds to benefit others in the community; they bake cakes for nursing homes, create allotments in schools, tidy isolated neighbours' gardens, put on theatrical performances and visit patients in hospitals – to give a few examples.

If you are stuck for inspiration, the campaign has produced free “How to” guides on:

How to plant your family tree
How to design a door number mosaic, courtesy of interior designer Andrea Maflin
How to bake a pumpkin pie, courtesy of TV Chef Rachel Allen
How to print your own t-shirt, courtesy of Hemingway Designs (as in Wayne Hemingway)
How to volunteer as a family 


There is a special focus on encouraging families, as well as individuals and groups to volunteer this year. New independent research commissioned by CSV, shows that families want to spend more time together. Up to half of Britons (48%) say they would like to spend more time together and volunteering to help others is one way to do this.

More information about the day can be found on the Make a Difference Day website by clicking here

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

World Arthritis Day

Today I am supporting the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) on World Arthritis Day in calling for improvements in services for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

The theme of World Arthritis Day 2010 is ‘Let’s Work Together’. NRAS members, health professionals will be working together to raise awareness of RA and of what needs to be done to improve outcomes for patients. 

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic and disabling autoimmune disease, affecting about 690,000 people in the UK.  It has no known cause or cure. It remains a major cause of people not working – almost 30% of people with RA surveyed by NRAS in 2007 gave up work within a year of being diagnosed with the condition. The overall cost of the condition to the UK economy is almost £8 billion each year.

There are, on average 1,061 people with rheumatoid arthritis in each parliamentary constituency. To support NRAS on World Arthritis Day, I am working with them to raise awareness of rheumatoid arthritis and the importance of early diagnosis so that people can get the treatment they need at an early stage and continue to enjoy life and work with the condition.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Super League Champions

Well done Wigan on a superb performance at Old Trafford. Looking forward to attending the homecoming today.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Why I am supporting The Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill

I will join Labour MPs in supporting the 2nd reading of a Bill to remove some of the most restrictive and damaging burdens facing trade unions today.

The Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill will receive its 2nd reading in Parliament on Friday, 22nd October and will be preceded by a national lobby of Parliament on Wednesday, 13th October.

A number of high profile court cases including Network Rail v RMT Union (April 2010) and British Airways v Unite the Union (Dec 2009) have demonstrated that current legislation places onerous and excessively complicated duties on trade unions in relation to balloting and notice procedures.

British Airways Cabin Crew voted to strike by a margin of 92.5% on a ballot turnout of 80% of 12,000 workers. The court granted BA an injunction on the basis that the ballot included an unknown number of members amongst 811 crew who had since taken redundancy despite the fact that, even if the 811 had all been members and had all voted for stike action and should all have been excluded, the vote would still have been 91.5% in favour of action.

Trade unions are being prevented from inplementing democratic decisions of their members by employers applying and winning court injunctions based on minor technical errors.

The Bill seeks to amend the Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation Act) 1992 by extending the protections offered by Section 232B relating to small, accidental errors by introducing 5 main improvements.

1. Small accidental failures in ballots will be disregarded.
2. Small accidental failures in notices will be disregarded.
3. Minor errors in the information about the result of a ballot will be
          Disregarded.
4. Forensic examination of procedures will end and be replaced with
    the concept of ‘substantial compliance’
5. The burden of proof in injunctions will shift so that evidence will be
    required that ‘substantial complaince’ has not taken place.

We have seen in the last year a succession of disputes where employers have been able to exploit loopholes in the law by using minor technical errors in a trade union ballot to thwart the democratic wishes of trade unionists from taking strike action.

This resort to the courts by some employers is bringing current trade union and labour relations law into disrepute and undermining the good industrial relations which are the norm in this country. This cannot be right and that’s why I will support this Bill and the lobby of Parliament next month.

Click here for details of the national lobby of Parliament.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Housing Benefit cuts will hit the poorest hardest in Makerfield

Official Figures released to me confirm the devastating impact of the coalition government’s changes to Housing Benefit.

Housing benefit (HB) is a means tested benefit. It exists to enable people on low incomes to access decent, affordable housing. HB is paid to tenants who are working, looking for work or unable to work. It is paid to 4.7 million tenants in England & Wales and the average payment is £83 per week. In the private rented sector, HB is paid to tenants in the form of a Local Housing Allowance (LHA). The main impact of the proposed changes will be felt in the private rental sector.

Dept Work & Pensions figures confirm that 48% of households renting in the private sector already face shortfalls averaging £23 per week and the proposed changes from 2011 onwards will place additional pressure on people’s budgets.

Many private tenants will face very significant shortfalls between their Housing benefit and their rent as a result of the budget cuts and they will face financial hardship to make this up from their other income.

The Coalition Government has made much of the people who are receiving payments of over £1,000 per week – but across the whole country there are fewer than 100 people in this category, and the Coalition have cynically used this as a smokescreen to attack the living standards of some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

In Wigan, for example, people living in the cheapest shared room accommodation will see their entitlement cut by £7 per week and by over £360 per year, and households with large families will lose over £800 per year.

Over 4,500 Wigan households will lose out and these figures do not take into account cuts in tax credits which will also hit those on low and modest incomes.

The independent housing charity Shelter fear that 134,000 families across the country will be forced to move because of these savage cuts, and some will be left to live on less than £50 per week.

It is simply outrageous that, as a number of independent studies have shown, the poorest families will lose five times as much as the richest. This shows that the Tory-Lib Dem claims about ‘fairness’ are completely false and that far from being ‘all in it together’ their cuts are hitting the poorest hardest.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Tote up for sale!

In a written ministerial statement the Government has announced that it will kickstart the process for selling off the Wigan-based company. The Minister announced that they will be inviting proposals and expect to have completed the process by the New Year in order to secure ‘value for the taxpayer'.

The ministerial statement gives little in the way of answers and raises the prospect of a sale to an overseas buyer which is not in the long term interests of the Tote or the racing industry. I will shortly be joining Lisa Nandy MP in meeting with the minister (John Penrose MP) at which we will stress the importance of the Tote to the Wigan economy and alternative proposals for its future.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Why you should ‘know your pulse’

This week I have supported the campaign to help raise awareness about Atrial Fibrillation (AF), the most common heart rhythm disorder in the UK.

The campaign, spearheaded by the charity, the Atrial Fibrillation Association (AFA), aims to raise awareness of this debilitating condition and reach out to the public, parliamentarians and clinical experts.

At a meeting in Westminster, I was briefed by the AFA about Atrial Fibrillation and had my picture taken with a ‘giant calculator’ which estimates that 948 people here in the Makerfield constituency’s electorate suffer from AF.

Atrial Fibrillation (AF) is the most common heart rhythm disturbance encountered by doctors. Department of Health, 2007 figures, suggested AF affected in excess of 600,000 people in the UK. This is now considered to be an under estimate and that a more accurate figure may now be in excess of one million, with 200,000 patients being newly diagnosed each year. It is also thought to be responsible for 18% - 20% of all strokes suffered in the UK.

The risk of developing AF rises sharply with advancing age, roughly doubling with each decade of age, from 0.5% of people aged between 50-59 years visiting their GP, rising to almost 9% for those aged 80 to 89.

Simple pulse checks with GPs are a quick, and low cost way of detecting AF. That is why the AFA are today calling on people who are worried they might be suffering from AF to book a simple check up with their GP. The AFA are also calling for pulse checks to be made a routine procedure within the NHS Health Check programme and at seasonal flu vaccination clinics.

It is astonishing to think that an estimated 948 people in Makerfield have Atrial Fibrillation, and the possibility that many more have it but as yet have not been diagnosed. It is important that this condition is understood by medical professionals and patients so that they can be identified at an early stage and treated accordingly.

This is a little-known condition, yet estimates suggest that AF exerts a considerable economic toll on the NHS. For example, patients with primary or secondary diagnosis of AF accounted for an estimated 5.7 million bed days in 2008, at a cost to the NHS of £1.8 billion.”

I am pictured with Chief Executive Trudie Lobban.

The Atrial Fibrillation Association (AFA): is a UK registered charity which focuses on raising awareness of Atrial Fibrillation (AF) by providing information and support materials for patients and medical professionals involved in detecting, diagnosing and managing Atrial Fibrillation (AF). AFA works closely with medical professionals, Department of Health, Government, NHS Trusts, PCTS, patients, carers, patient support group members and allied groups. Further information can be found here.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

A 'nifty-fifty' on Wigan to win Super League

I recently visited the Ladbrokes shop in Ashton in Makerfield to learn more about the betting and gaming industry, the issues affecting the sector and its employees, and to take part in a charity bet.

Ladbrokes is the world’s largest retail bookmaker, with over 2,000 shops employing 14,000 people in the UK alone and an important online presence. However, the industry maintains it has suffered from increasing tax levels, under-regulated offshore competition and misperceptions held by many who may never have visited a betting shop.

During my visit I was shown the wide variety of betting and gaming activities available, met the staff and customers and asked questions about responsible gambling procedures and the safety of Ladbrokes staff who could be targeted by criminals, due to the large sums of cash held on the premises. At the end of the visit Ladbrokes offered me a free £50 bet which I placed on Wigan to win this year’s Super League Grand Final with odds of 11/8 with the winnings being donated to Age Concern – Wigan.

It was an extremely interesting visit to see how everything actually works. MPs regularly make decisions that impact upon this industry and its many jobs, so it is important that our judgements are well informed and based on factual information. I also wanted to learn about the procedures for dealing with underage or problem gambling, and the safety of staff.

I am grateful to Ladbrokes for offering me the free charity bet and I just hope that the pressure I have placed upon the Warriors doesn’t affect the team’s performance on the pitch as we enter the play-offs!

Monday, 6 September 2010

Farepak - Four years on and why are people still waiting for compensation?

Almost 4 years since the Farepak Christmas savings club collapsed, the 120,000 families affected are yet to receive a penny in compensation.

Farepak was a Christmas savings club allowing customers to choose Christmas hampers and vouchers, months in advance. They then made regular payments towards the goods over the year. It had around 120,000 customers and agents collected clients' funds.

Financial statements obtained from Companies House show profits of £1.283m for the year ending April 28, 2005 however Farepak ceased trading on 13th October 2006. Any payments made on or after 11th October were returned to customers.

Administrators were called in after Farepak's bank, HBOS, decided not to extend an overdraft facility to its owner, European Home Retail.

An estimated £37 million was lost by Farepak customers. The average Farepak customer was left £400 out of pocket, with some losing more than £2,000.

A 700 page report from The Companies Investigation Branch into the Farepak collapse has never been published. This is because counsel is still considering further legal action.

Initially, those who had lost money were to be reimbursed by liquidators at a rate of 5p in the pound. In April this year liquidators managed to secure a further £4 million from the directors of the company through legal action, meaning that this payment has increased to 15p in the pound. They failed to get the full £37 million back though.

It is not known which members of the Farepak board are contributing to the payout after agreeing the settlement, but none of the directors have admitted liability.

I appeared on ITV’s flagship ‘Daybreak’ morning programme hosted by Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley. Investigative reporter John Stapleton visited Wigan to learn more about the Farepak collapse as part of his research for today’s broadcast.

I saw at first hand the devastating effect of the Farepak collapse in my role as Chief Executive of St Helens CAB and I have vowed to continue the campaign for compensation started by my predecessor Sir Ian McCartney.

Four years on it is a scandal that not a penny of compensation has been received by farepak customers. These were pensioners and families on low incomes who were robbed of their Christmas after saving all year.

Farepak was marketed as a savings club and its customers regarded themselves as savers and not creditors at the bottom of the pile waiting and waiting for compensation. I do not want to prejudice any potential legal action that may be taken but I see no reason why parts of the government report cannot be placed in the public domain.

I welcome the formation of the Christmas Prepayment Association (industry self regulator eg Park is a member) but I am advocating people consider Credit Unions as a safe and secure alternative, backed by regulation protecting savings in the same way as banks and building societies.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Wigan Flashes

On Tuesday I visited Wigan Flashes at the invitation of The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester & North Merseyside.

The Flashes (or lakes) are a legacy of the town's industrial past and were formed as a result of mining subsidence.

The Trust manages Wigan Flashes statutory Local Nature Reserve (LNR) on behalf of Wigan Council. This covers 260 hectares of wetland and woodland. It is part of a larger network of important wetland habitats forming a ‘Living Landscape’ running for approx 9Km along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal.

These include Hey Brook, Abram Flashes, Pennington Flash Country Park and Hope Carr Nature Reserve. The Trust has recently acquired Abram Flashes, as an additional wetland reserve.

Wigan Flashes habitats include large areas of open water, reedbed, fen, rough grassland, wet woodland and scrub. Over 200 species of bird, 15 species of dragonfly and 6 species of orchid have been recorded.

The elusive Bittern is regularly recorded in the winter months and work to improve and manage the reedbeds is aimed at attracting this nationally rare bird to stay and breed.

The Makerfield area also supports healthy populations of Water Vole, having suffered catastrophic declines elsewhere in the UK.

I was delighted to hear of the committment of the Trust to engage with schools, colleges and youth groups and the impressive 600 strong regular volunteer army who help the Trust’s staff in maintaining wetland areas.

Trust Chief Executive Anne Selby arranged the tour of the Flashes with Mark Weston – Asst Chief Executive and Mark Champion who has worked tirelessly over the past decade as Conservation Manager of the Wigan Flashes.

We are blessed to have such a fantastic resource protecting the natural environment. The Flashes offer a network of important wildlife habitats and provide recreational activities for the community. In our busy lives we can sometimes overlook what is on our own doorstep, so I would encourage local people to visit this oasis within the borough.

For more information about the work of the Trust please click here.

Monday, 23 August 2010

‘No ID, No Sale’ policy to stop children buying alcohol and tobacco.

Today I called on local retailers to support the ‘No ID, No Sale!’ campaign which seeks to ensure that only adults can buy alcohol, tobacco and other age-restricted goods.

I visited Dave’s Off Licence on Chantry Walk, Bryn Road, Ashton in Makerfield, where I was joined by proprietor Dave O’Neill, Wigan Council Licensing Enforcement Officer John Brabbin and CitizenCard’s Marketing Manager Nigel Catlow.

The decision by the government to abolish National ID cards make schemes such as CitizenCard an essential weapon in the fight against under-age alcohol and tobacco sales.

I’m urging all young adults in Makerfield to obtain a CitizenCard or similar ID that contains the police-endorsed PASS hologram. Only then can retailers fully implement the ‘No ID, No Sale!’ policy which allows adults to buy whatever they wish whilst ensuring that children cannot buy alcohol, tobacco and other restricted goods.

Dave O’Neill told me that his staff faced dozens of attempts every week to buy alcohol and tobacco. He has no wish to supply alcohol or cigarettes to children and he promotes to younger customers the CitizenCard which means they can prove their age. If the young person cannot present valid ID his staff always refuse the sale.

More than two million CitizenCards have been issued across the UK since the scheme was launched by then Home Office Minister George Howarth in February 1999. I am pleased that the new government has continued the previous government’s policy of supporting the police’s endorsement of CitizenCards and other cards bearing the PASS hologram.

Application forms for a CitizensCard are available at thousands of retailers across the country and can be downloaded here.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Why I welcome mobile giants decision to dump fees on text donations

Both Vodafone and 02 have confirmed that UK-based registered charities will receive the full amount donated by the network’s customers to UK based charities.

I welcome this decision because the popularity of text donations is now recognised as a vital new tool in the fundraising activities of charities with analysts predicting that text message donations could be worth £100million a year by 2015.

The Institute of Fundraising launched a campaign in 2006 to encourage operators to slash their fees (which then amounted to 55p per £1.50 donation), only to abandon the effort in the face of stiff opposition from the operators. The campaign was revived in 2008 in a bid to get movement on the issue.

This will make a big difference to the fundraising potential for charities and in the current economic climate is to be particularly welcomed.

This initiative by two of the UK’s leading mobile operators will assist charities many of whom depend on small donations from the public for their existence. I hope that other mobile providers will now follow this lead as the impact on the charity sector could be significant.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Friends of Leyland Park

I really enjoyed visiting the first ever fun day on Leyland Park yesterday.

Organised by The Friends of Leyland Park and supported by local Labour Councillors Jim Talbot and Jim Eccles-Churton the event was rain free and saw a whole range of activities - bouncy castle, slides, face-painting, live music and the first ever public performance by the Hindley Roses Morris Dancers.

A special mention must go to the Friends of Leyland Park who have worked very hard over the past few months to make the fun day the success it was. I hope that more people will get involved and take ownership of their local park.

Hindley Roses Morris Dancers meet at St Benedicts Hall, Hindley on Thursday evenings. For more information contact Lucy 07851579820 or Nina on 07518457661. All ages are welcome.

Friday, 6 August 2010

All aboard for the Worsley Mesnes Fun Day

The wet weather certainly didn't stop the fun at the annual Worsley Mesnes North Fun Day.

The Fun Day was held at Worsley Mesnes Community Centre and I was delighted to pop along and join Cllr Billy Rotherham and Cllr Lynne Holland and the team of volunteers who had worked so hard to make the day possible.

The Fun Day is the collective effort of local community groups, along with the support of Wigan Council, Greater Manchester Police and Arena Housing. The packed day of activities assist in helping to raise the profile and funds for the groups working out of the community centre, such as the playgroup and bingo club.

Vicar of St James Parish Hilary Young and community centre volunteers Sharon Lowe, Sarah Meadows and Julie O’Dwyer were rightly singled out for praise by local Councillor Billy Rotherham.

Today’s Fun Day really does help to bring people together and goes to show that community life is strong and vibrant in Worsley Mesnes. It was fantastic to see so many people attend the event. It was a great day with people of all ages enjoying themselves, having fun and sharing common interests.

The free fun activities included bouncy castles, raffles, tombolas plus statutory agencies were on hand to provide help and advice for toddlers, teens, pensioners and people with disabilities.

A BBQ helped to keep the hunger pangs at bay and Wigan Warriors mascot, Max made an appearance to the delight of young Rugby League fans.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Summer activities in Stubshaw Cross

On Tuesday I was delighted to officially open the 7th annual Summer activities scheme organised by Stubshaw Cross Residents' Group. From now and through to Tuesday, 12th August a range of activities including arts and crafts, climbing wall, sports and thanks to the mobile media bus our young people can take part and record their very own pod casts!

Events like this help to bring local communities together and Stubshaw Cross Residents' Group deserve our thanks and support in securing funding and organising this year's event.

The children taking part on the first day were having a great time so I am confident that this year's event will be the best yet and the free pop and crisps for the children was especially appreciated!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

We need an end to 'legal' loan sharking

Today a broad coalition of citizens groups, campaigners, celebrities and myself have called on the government to end legal loan sharking. Currently lenders can charge any price for credit which means some loan and credit companies charge £82 for every £100 lent. Annual interest rate charges of over 2500% are also now common (despite the Bank of England base rate being just 0.5%). Borrowing at these rates repeatedly tips customers into inescapable cycles of debt and poverty. According to the OFT £16,000 of excess profit is made every hour in this sector.

These calls come in the same week that banks reveal vast profits. The campaign highlights that a low Bank of England base rate has not meant cheap credit for customers and further steps must be taken to ensure people have access to low cost, short term, affordable credit. Co-ordinated by the Compass pressure group, this new campaign coalition have called on the government to ban excessive prices for credit and provide alternative sources of credit eg. through credit unions like Wigan based Unify and Welcome. The government has pledged to clampdown on interest rates for credit and store cards and the campaign believes it should do the same for the high cost credit market.

The campaign will be targeting millions of people across Britain through using social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

It is a national scandal that door to door lenders are able to charge extortionate rates of interest legally. The time has now come for a cap on all consumer credit. People should turn away from loan sharks and join one of the two credit unions operating in the Borough - Unify and Welcome.

Credit Unions offer a safe and secure alternative with loans available at low interest rates over an agreed repayment period. They are also a great way to save for the future.

See here for more information about this campaign and to sign up to support the campaign.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Why I'm backing fines for credit card firms over child porn

I am backing a bill which will penalise credit card companies who enable the downloading of child pornography, in particular, through the use of pre-paid credit cards.

Pre-paid cards are available from local retailers without the need for the purchaser to provide details of their name and address allowing images of child abuse to be downloaded anonymously. The Credit Regulation (Child Pornography) Bill 2010 has received support from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).

CEOP is dedicated to eradicating the sexual abuse of children. That means they are part of UK policing and very much about tracking and bringing offenders to account either directly or in partnership with local and international forces.

The bill will require government support if it is to have any chance of getting onto the statute book. According to the International Business Times ‘child pornography is one of the fastest growing businesses online’.

The simple fact is that, under current legislation, no proof of identity is required for card values below £100 so all the buyer has to do is make up a name and address and they have instant access to these vile websites.

In addition to fines imposed on the credit card companies the bill would require proof of identity in order to purchase pre-paid credit cards.

I have also signed Early Day Motion 529 in support of legislation.

EDM 529 - CREDIT REGULATION AND CHILD PORNOGRAPHY

That this House calls upon the Government to bring forward legislative proposals to impose penalties upon credit card and debit card providers for the facilitation of the downloading of child pornography from the internet.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Proud of Pubs Week - Here's to pubs!

The leading pub trade magazine, The Publican ran its 4th annual Proud of Pubs Week (16th – 25th July) and pubs across the country have come up with a diary of events to make sure that local communities can celebrate the pub.

Pubs inject an average of £80,000 into their local communities and pay over £100,000 in tax. The industry employs over 540,000 people directly and 380,000 in associated trades and account for 35% of the ‘eating out’ market (Source: The Publican).

I joined Lisa Nandy MP, Wigan Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) Branch Chair, Ken Worthington at the Caledonian Hotel, Bolton Rd, Ashton in Makerfield.

Landlady Paula Rock and her partner Allan Prior welcomed us and spoke with Lisa, Ken and myself about the unique challenges facing the industry, including over regulation, alcohol tax hikes and the effect cheap booze sold by the off licence trade has on the pub. Paula also talked about their involvement in local community activities including the help they provided in creating a community park for the benefit of local residents and the people of Ashton.

During the general election campaign both Lisa and I signed the CAMRA pledge to speak up for real ale, community pubs and consumers.

I believe that well-run pubs are the bedrock of community life – they are part of the solution to the problem of alcohol misuse and not part of the problem. They deserve support and government needs to urgently look at rebalancing alcohol taxation to support pubs and reform the beer tie to deliver a fairer deal for consumers.

Lisa Nandy MP said, “Wigan boasts some top class pubs which provide a vital social and leisure service to the town. As a fan of real ale I was delighted to be able to sample some of the brews on offer at the Cale.”

Chair of Wigan CAMRA, Ken Worthington said, “Well run pubs provide the vibrant heart of many communities offering an invaluable meeting place and centre for countless local activities. The loss of such pubs can be devastating to community spirit and identity. CAMRA is asking all our members to write to their local MPs asking them to support an Early Day Motion which calls on the Government to implement a package of policies which will help secure the future of viable and well-run community pubs. I am glad to see that both Yvonne Fovargue and Lisa Nandy will be offering their full support.”

EDM 210 - That this House recognises the social, economic and cultural importance of well-run community pubs, which provide a safe and sociable environment for the consumption of alcohol among friends and are an essential community meeting place; notes the ideas put forward in the Campaign for Real Ale's Beer Drinkers and Pub Goers Charter which received support from 670 candidates at the last election, 150 of whom were elected; welcomes the genuine cross party consensus on the need to support and protect well-run community pubs; and so urges the Government to implement a package of policies which will help secure the future of viable and well-run community pubs.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

MP’s raise stakes on future of Tote

Yvonne Fovargue MP and Lisa Nandy MP have sponsored a parliamentary motion to protect the future of The Tote in Wigan.

The Tote is one of the principal betting organisations in Britain, with more than 3,500 employees (600 in Wigan), over 500 shops, a major presence on all of the 60 racecourses in Britain, as well as internet and telephone betting facilities.

In 2008 the then Sports Minister, Gerry Sutcliffe MP announced that the Tote would be sold on the open market and paid tribute to the ‘fortitude and professionalism’ of Tote staff based in Wigan. This followed discussions on a possible sale of the Tote to a consortium of racing interests, the staff and management of the Tote which risked being denied approval under European state aid and competition rules, because it would have been below open market value.

In a written parliamentary answer the coalition government are currently considering a range of options for the future of the Tote with the aim of resolving its future within the next 12 months.
MPs from across the political spectrum have now joined forces with Yvonne and Lisa in supporting the retention and continued investment of the Tote HQ in Wigan.

Lisa Nandy MP said, “The Tote is an important employer in Wigan and its staff have lived with uncertainty about its future for too long. I have demanded a meeting with the Minister to ensure we protect jobs and keep the Tote in Wigan.”

Yvonne added, “It is of crucial importance to the future prosperity of the borough that we retain and seek to take advantage of the potential expanding market that the Tote could enter."

“Under the leadership of Peter Smith, Neil Turner and Ian McCartney played pivotal roles in bringing the Tote to Wigan. The Tote is a major player in the local economy and at a time when the borough is suffering job losses and cuts imposed by central government the retention of the business in Wigan is of paramount importance.”

EDM 578 - The Future of the Tote

That this House is concerned that any decision involving the future of The Tote should, at the very least, encompass the principle of its assets being used to guarantee the future of horse racing in the UK and those who work within it or are dependent upon its activities and should not involve the closure or running down of its headquarters at Wigan.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Child Poverty pledge

The charity Child Poverty Action Group has praised Yvonne Fovargue, the Member of Parliament for Makerfield for pledging to become a ‘Child Poverty Champion’ working in her constituency to end child poverty by 2020. Yvonne has also pledged to work in parliament on national action that will held end child poverty for all UK children.

Yvonne said, “I have signed a personal pledge to commit to action against child poverty in Makerfield and across the UK. "

“In Government, Labour enshrined into law the commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2020. Tax Credits, Sure Start and action to help parents back into work saw big improvements in tackling child poverty in local communities. This goal will be harder to meet now that the Tory/Lib Dem Government has cut Child Tax Credits and frozen Child Benefit.”

Yvonne’s comments came after a parliamentary question tabled by the Makerfield MP confirmed that:

• Over 41,000 families across the borough will see Child Benefit frozen for the next three years from April 2011
• Over 37,000 families will be hit by changes announced in the June Budget to Tax Credits

Shan Nicholas, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group said, “All the main parties have committed to ending child poverty by 2020, but Yvonne Fovargue MP stands out as one of the first to have signed a personal pledge committing to action. It is important MPs understand the leadership role they can take in their area to bring partners together like local councils, schools, service providers and the voluntary sector, as well as showing public leadership by raising public understanding of child poverty in their constituency.”

“Britain has one of the highest child poverty rates in Europe and this has an appalling impact on the life chances of many children. There is no reason why British children should suffer more than our neighbours and we are delighted that Yvonne Fovargue MP is so strongly committed to ending child poverty.”

The Child Poverty Champions Pledge says:

“I promise to keep the commitments my party voted for in the Child Poverty Act and to work in parliament and in Makerfield to end child poverty by 2020”

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Fovargue slams Liberal Democrat and Tory betrayal of local pensioners

Local Labour MP, Yvonne Fovargue has slammed the Liberal Democrats and Tories for voting against a plan to protect local pensioners from the VAT hike. The Commons vote came as new research showed Britain's pensioners will be stung by an £8 billion VAT bill over the course of this Parliament.

There are over 59,000 pensioners in the Wigan Borough, all of whom could be affected.

Worse, figures hidden in the Budget show that local pensioners will be hit every year by changes that hit them in the pocket.

From January, pensioners will face a £400 million VAT tax bill which they will have to start paying months before any increase in the Basic State Pension. Pensioners face paying nearly £8 billion in VAT over the parliament.

In 2011, weekly pension increases fall behind VAT-fuelled price rises. In 2012, pension rises fall behind price rises again, after the Treasury quietly changed the way the so-called ‘triple lock’ up-rates pensions in practice. By 2013, pensioners face cuts to Disability Living Allowance benefits, which may total £350 million a year by the end of the Parliament, alongside cuts to Housing Benefit and the lower uprating of public service pensions and benefits.

This week Yvonne sought to protect local pensioners by supporting an amendment to the Finance Bill which would have delayed the VAT increase until a proper plan for shielding pensioners was in place.

But Liberal Democrat and Tory MPs ganged up to block the move.

The Borough's 59,000 pensioners will now start paying £33 million extra in VAT a month starting in January.

Yvonne said, "This is a betrayal of our local pensioners by the Tory-Liberal government. Our retired community has paid in for a life-time and is now being hit hard in the pocket."

"I wanted a plan in place to protect local pensioners from the £8 billion VAT bill but the Liberal Democrats refused to help.The Liberal Democrats should be ashamed of helping the Tories push these changes through."

"I can't believe the Tories and Liberals are trying to disguise the tax bill with a few promises which on closer inspection just don't add up."

Friday, 9 July 2010

New passenger facilities at Bryn Station

Work will soon commence to improve Bryn Station thanks to a capital investment by Greater Manchester Integrated Transport Authority (GMITA).

Yvonne Fovargue MP alongside fellow Greater Manchester MPs met with GMPTE at a meeting in parliament (16th June) to discuss rail infratructure improvements and pressed the case for improvements to stations in Makerfield.

The Makerfield MP contends that the Metro is a net contributor to GMITA and a greater share of resources should be allocated to rail infrastructure improvements in the area.

The investment will deliver CCTV, help points, customer information screens and public address systems as part of a rail improvement strategy. Orrell Station has already benefited from a similar investment.

Yvonne said, “Bryn Station needs this investment and this is good news for passengers, but there is still much more work required to make Bryn Station a more welcoming and pleasant experience for rail users.”

Yvonne is backing Bryn Ward Councillor Ann Rampling and local rail passenger advocate Trevor Allen who have started a petition for greater investment in Ashton and Bryn’s local rail station.

Cllr Ann Rampling said, “During the recent local election many people told me that the station is an eyesore crying out for major investment and were particularly unhappy with access for people with disabilities so I want local people to get behind the petition that Trevor Allen and I have organised.”

Petition forms can be obtained from Cllr Rampling on 01942 730794. Yvonne is pictured with Cllr Ann Rampling, Cllr Nigel Ash and Bryn resident and rail campaigner Trevor Allen.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

New school's programme axed by Con Dem Government

Yvonne Fovargue has blasted the coalition government's announcement that Hindley High School's planned rebuild under the Building Schools for the Future programme has been axed.
The Wigan Borough stood to benefit from a total of £230M worth of investment in new secondary school buildings over a series of phases, as part of the wider national £45BN programme.

The first phase, worth £80M, would have seen secondary schools in the east of the borough, including Lowton and Golborne, Hesketh Fletcher, Bedford, Hindley and Westleigh’s, transformed with either new buildings or major refurbishments.

But Michael Gove's announcement means that the authority’s plans have now been shelved.

Yvonne said, "I am outraged at the Government's decision to cut this much needed investment in our borough's schools without any consultation with parents, pupils, governors, teachers or councillors. We've seen the difference new school facilities such as those at Abraham Guest High School make - and I wanted those resources for every child in our borough. Time, money and energy has gone into putting together plans to rebuild schools like Hindley High School in my constituency. Now with the swing of Michael Gove's axe that's all wasted and a once in a generation opportunity has been lost. Today's announcement raises questions about fairness in education as this Government channels funding into proposals for academies and free schools. This is the same old Tories backed by their new Liberal Democrat friends."

Monday, 5 July 2010

MP joins local Opticians to stress importance of regular eye checks

Yvonne Fovargue MP joined local eye health professionals and patients at Gore & Hepworth Opticians in Ashton today, to raise awareness of the crucial importance that early detection through regular eye tests is in reducing the number of people with avoidable sight loss.

The Makerfield MP attaches great importance to eye health. She is short-sighted and has suffered from Posterior Vitreous Detachment (PVD) causing tears to the retina in both eyes. She required laser treatment to correct the PVD.

The Borough has a low uptake of free NHS eye examinations for children under 16 and uptake amongst the adult population is low compared with the national average. Furthermore the Local Optical Committee is pressing for better provision for services for the visually impaired, more cameras for diabetic retinopathy screening and to utilise the skills of Optometrists to provide enhanced eyecare services in the community, reducing the need for hospital care.

Yvonne said, “I know from my personal experience just how important it is to take care of your eyes. Avoidable sight loss is a tragedy both for patients and the NHS, yet it can so easily be prevented through regular eye tests. A sight test can detect the early signs of conditions like glaucoma and, if diagnosed early, the right type of treatment could safeguard your sight. Eye examinations can also detect other conditions such as diabetes. Everyone should get their eyes tested every two years, and for some people this check-up is free, so ask your optometrist."

“I am grateful to Janet Green and the Local Optical Committee for the dedicated work they do and I will work with them to promote eye care in the Borough.”

“My message today is prevention is better than cure, so book an eye test today with a local optician and ensure you have an eye test at least once every two years.”

Janet Green, Chair of the Local Optical Committee said, “I can not stress enough the importance of a regular eye test for both good vision and health for all age groups. Half of all sight loss is preventable. With support, many of the experienced Optometrists in our Borough could ensure our community has eye care close to their home and an early appointment at the hospital if needed.”

You are entitled to a free sight test, paid for by the NHS, if:

• you are under 16 years of age,
• you are 16, 17, or 18, and in full-time education,
• you are 60 or over,
• you have been diagnosed with diabetes or glaucoma,
• you are 40 or over, and your mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter has been diagnosed with glaucoma,
• an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) has advised you that you’re at risk of glaucoma,
• you are registered as blind or
partially sighted,
• you are prescribed complex lenses – these are lenses with a power of 10 dioptres or more, or prism controlled bifocal lenses,
• your sight tests are usually done through a hospital eye department, as part of your care for an existing eye condition, or
• you are a war pensioner and you need the sight test because of a disability for which you get a war pension.

You are entitled to full help with health costs, including sight tests, if you or your partner receive:
• Income Support,
• Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance,
• Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, or
• Pension Credit Guarantee Credit.

You can also get a free NHS sight test if you’re entitled to, or named on, a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate. If you’re eligible for help with NHS costs under the NHS Low Income Scheme, you can claim some or all of the cost of sight tests for you, your partner and your children.

Friday, 2 July 2010

MP champions Deaf Awareness Week

To mark Deaf Awareness Week (28 June – 4 July 2010), Yvonne Fovargue MP is supporting leading charities and calling on her constituents to help remove communication barriers faced by people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Yvonne attended a deaf awareness reception in the House of Commons organised by the UK Council on Deafness (UKCoD) and supported by RNID and the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS). The event highlighted important ‘dos and don’ts to help improve communication with adults and children who are deaf or hard of hearing including:

• Do learn some basic signs and fingerspelling
• Do repeat yourself or rephrase until you’re understood
• Do face me when you speak
• Do think about communication support
• Don’t have lots of background noise
• Don’t shout
• Don’t avoid conversation.

Yvonne said, “Many shops, services and residents across Wigan may not realise the barriers faced by people who are deaf or hard of hearing and how small changes, such as holding face-to-face conversations in well lit places, can significantly improve communication. I encourage others to join me in learning about the communication needs of people who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

Chair of UKCoD, Susan Daniels said, “Adults and children who are deaf or hard of hearing face communication barriers due to a lack of awareness in the community which can lead to issues such as isolation and exclusion from society.”

UKCoD, RNID and NDCS are encouraging everyone to get involved in the discussion on ‘do’s and don’t’s’ of communication by uploading a photo of their top communication tips and sharing their thoughts at www.flickr.com/groups/daw2010/.

One in seven people in the UK are deaf or hard of hearing, and of those, over 45,000 are deaf children.

Yvonne is pictured with William Morton and Rebecca French, a 19 year old deaf person at the reception in parliament.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Yvonne backs 'Getting It Right' Charter


Yvonne Fovargue MP showed her commitment to ensure that people with a learning disability get the healthcare they have a right to by signing Mencap’s Getting it right charter.


The MP for Makerfield signed the charter at a Parliamentary Reception which was part of the launch of Mencap’s Getting it right campaign, the focus of this year’s Learning Disability Week. The charter calls on health professionals to commit to a nine-point pledge that will help make real changes and save lives.

Speaking at the Getting it right Parliamentary Reception, Yvonne said, “This is a hugely important campaign that sets a benchmark of practice to ensure that people with a learning disability have the same access to good healthcare as everyone else. I pledge my commitment and support to help ‘Get it right’ for people with a learning disability from across Makerfield.”

For more information on the Getting it right campaign and charter, and to show your support, www.mencap.org.uk/gettingitright

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

‘We are definitely not all in this together,’ says Fovargue as ConDem budget breaks promise not to increase VAT

“A budget that will put recovery at risk and hit people on modest incomes,” was the verdict of Yvonne Fovargue MP today.

The Makerfield MP blasted the ConDem coalition government for implementing larger and quicker reductions in the deficit that risk jobs and growth as well as implementing a regressive VAT hike that will ‘off-set’ the rise in personal allowances designed to help poorer income groups.

Yvonne said, “David Cameron was very keen to say during the general election campaign that he had no plans to raise VAT but today we saw the same old Tories penalising the poorest in Makerfield and at the same time signalling cuts in benefits."

“Today’s announcements are a double whammy for the borough coming on top of the axing of the Future Jobs Fund, Child Trust Fund and the already announced £3.5million of cuts to council funding with further cuts on the horizon.”

The new MP attacked the Tories for making the same mistakes which decimated northern towns and communities in the 1980s. She added, “We know what happens when you cut with impunity. These cuts will put jobs at risk in both the public and private sectors. My fear is that they will happen at such a rate that new jobs will not be created in the economy to take their place.”


Monday, 21 June 2010

Yvonne Fovargue MP calls for a fair deal for working carers

Yvonne Fovargue MP is calling for a fair deal for Makerfield’s army of working carers in next week’s emergency budget.

Yvonne has signed an Early Day Motion (EDM) tabled by Rosie Cooper, MP for West Lancashire that celebrates the £87 billion contribution made to the economy by the UK’s 6 million carers and calls on the government to help the 3 million carers who have to juggle their caring commitments with full or part-time work.

The motion also backs calls from the shopworkers union Usdaw for changes in the benefit system to allow working carers to earn more money before losing entitlement to Carers Allowance.

Yvonne said, “Both the Tories and Lib Dems promised to support carers in their election manifestos and I want them to make good on those promises by upholding the commitment of the National Carers Strategy that no carer should face financial hardship as a result of their caring role."

“The Government should also stand by the recommendation of the Work and Pensions Select Committee and ensure the DWP supports those adults who want or need to combine work with their caring commitments."

“Carers who look after someone for more than 35 hours a week are entitled to a Carers Allowance of £53.90 a week, but if the carer works and earns a penny over £97 a week, all that Carers Allowance is withdrawn."

“To withdraw all the allowance is simply not fair and this cliff-edge benefit is a massive disincentive to the many working carers who need or want to work more hours or find a better paid job.

“That’s why I’m also supporting Usdaw’s call for both an increase in Carers Allowance and an increase in the amount carers can earn before their Carers Allowance is withdrawn.”

John Hannett, Usdaw General Secretary is delighted that Yvonne is backing the union campaign. He added, “Usdaw is calling for Carers Allowance to be increased to £65.45 a week, the same rate as Job Seekers Allowance and for the £97 earnings limit to be increased to £150 a week."

“In addition we’d like to see a tapered decrease of the allowance meaning that all full-time carers earning up to £300 would be provided with some assistance."

“Thousands of Usdaw members combine their caring responsibilities with work yet many remain in severe financial hardship."

“Because of the existing rules, many Usdaw members who want to work more hours to make ends meet have to keep their hours deliberately low or risk losing carers allowance."

“Usdaw understands that there needs to be rules about who qualifies for carers allowance but when you do qualify then those who care should not be penalised for going out to work to provide a better life for themselves or their families.”

Early Day Motion 246 says:

That this House celebrates the valuable role performed by over six million carers in the UK, in the majority of cases without any financial recognition from the state, saving the country an estimated £87 billion per year; congratulates Carers UK for the valuable work they do in supporting carers and highlighting their needs during Carers Week; further congratulates the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) for their continued campaigning for a better deal for working carers; recognises that many carers need to work to make ends meet because Carer's Allowance only pays £53.90 a week for a minimum of 35 hours caring, urges the Government to match the commitment of the 2008 National Carers Strategy to ensure that carers are not forced into financial hardship by their caring role, and support the recommendation of the House of Commons Work & Pensions Committee 2008 report that ‘DWP should support adults who become carers during their working lives to combine work and care’; therefore calls on the Government to remove the disincentive to work represented by the cliff-edge earnings threshold of £97 per week that prevents many carers from working at all and stops those in working from fulfilling their full working potential.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Credit Union expertise recognised as Makerfield MP elected secretary of parliamentary group

Yvonne Fovargue MP has been elected secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Credit Unions at its AGM held this week in Westminster. Yvonne’s interest and knowledge of the credit union sector, developed through her working life, has been recognised by fellow parliamentarians.

The group will provide a forum for discussing the future role of credit unions as well as seeking to persuade the government that a flexible legislative framework is the best way for local credit unions like Unify and Welcome to flourish and provide financial services to people.

Yvonne said, “Credit Unions offer a safe and reliable way to save and they play a vital role in helping people through difficult financial circumstances."

“Too many low income borrowers face extortionate rates of interest, but credit unions provide loans at low cost and help to keep the loan sharks away from the doorstep."

“Credit Unions also support the growing appetite amongst the public for mutual alternatives to banks."

“One step that I will take is to lobby the government to allow full credit union services to be available through the post office network.”