Friday 20 December 2013

A special school assembly for Christmas Card Competition Winner

Christmas Card Competition Design Winner
Luke Bollard, aged 15.
I have proudly presented prizes to the winners of my 2013 Christmas Card Design Competition today (Friday, 20th December) at St Edmund Arrowsmith RC High School, Ashton in Makerfield.

Joining Yvonne at the presentation was Headteacher, Mr Peter Phillips, as well as teacher representatives from Hawkley Hall High School and Hindley High School.

Now in its fourth year, the competition attracted entries from secondary schools across the constituency with all of the designs being carefully judged by myself.

The winning design has been sent to a number of distinguished people in the political world, including both the Prime-Minister, David Cameron and the Leader of the Opposition -  Ed Miliband. The card has also been sent to individuals across the public and private sector in the Wigan Borough including the Borough’s first citizen and Mayor of Wigan, Cllr Billy Rotherham.

Sophie Hill
The winning design by Luke Bollard, aged 15 incorporates the thumb print of a young cousin as Christmas Tree lights and reminds recipients that Christmas is a time for everyone, but especially children.

It was an absolute pleasure to present Luke Bollard with the winning prize.  It was a great design that has clearly hit the right note, so I’m sure people will enjoy receiving the card in the run up to Christmas.

Winona Gallagher
I know everybody at St Edmund Arrowsmith High School will be very proud of him.

We had a fantastic response from local schools. Pupils 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 prizes to two runners up whose designs feature on the back of the card.

Christmas Card Competition Runners Up

Sophie Hill aged 12
Hawkley High School

Winona Gallagher aged 15
Hindley High School

Monday 16 December 2013

Boer War Memorial

I attended the unveiling of the Boer War Memorial in Mesnes Park on Saturday, 14th December.

The original statue was erected back in 1903; when the then Councillor Fyans said of its importance; `a memorial which should be for all time, a monument to the bravery of Wigan’s soldiers’.

It was paid for by public subscription, organised by Councillor Fyans but was removed in 1968 after becoming badly damaged by nature, industry and vandalism, leaving only the original stone plinth which is still in place.

The Friends of Wigan’s Boer War Memorial was set up many years ago and members including the late Fred Holcroft, who was Chairman for many years, always believed that one day they would raise enough money and gain the permissions to replace the old statue.

I joined Wigan MP, Lisa Nandy and Councillors to witness the unveiling of the new statue in the beautiful setting of Mesnes Park which itself has undergone a refurbishment over the recent past. More information on the Boer War can be found at the following link.

Pics courtesy of Howard Gallimore.

Friday 13 December 2013

Thanks to our Posties!

I joined Lisa Nandy MP in a visit to Royal Mail’s Wigan delivery office to pass on Christmas wishes and encouragement to the postmen and women at their busiest time of year.

We were shown round the office by local Delivery Office Manager, Paul Atherton, and were introduced to the postmen and women who are working hard sorting and delivering all cards and parcels in the Wigan area in the run-up to Christmas.

Postmen and women do such an important job at this time of year. I like to thank them for their efforts and wish them all the best over the busy festive period.

Paul Atherton told me that Christmas is the busiest time of year for Royal Mail. Posties pull out all the stops throughout the year to ensure mail is delivered quickly, but even more so over the busy festive period.

This year the recommended last posting dates for mail are:

Friday 20 December for 1st Class items
Wednesday 18 December for 2nd Class items
Monday 23 December for Special Delivery items

Saturday 14 December for airmail items to Western Europe (excluding France, Greece, Poland).

Thursday 12 December 2013

‘Paws for thought' this Christmas!

This week I attended an event in Westminster organised by Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, to raise awareness of its annual Christmas campaign.

The event celebrated the 35th anniversary of the iconic Dogs Trust slogan; “A Dog is for Life, Not Just for Christmas”. The phrase was coined in 1978 by the charity’s CEO, Clarissa Baldwin OBE, in a bid to highlight the issue of dogs being given as Christmas gifts, and indeed all year round, and later abandoned when the novelty wears off.

I was given the opportunity to take a festive Dogs Trust sleigh ride and meet a large number of furry friends. These pooches, however, were all stuffed toys – the only suitable kind of dog to give as a gift! Attendees also learned more about the charity’s annual campaign, which encourages people to pause and think carefully before taking on a dog, especially during the festive season.

A dog is a lifetime commitment and should never be bought on impulse as if it were a new television or a pair of shoes. This message is particularly poignant during the festive season, when people are buying all sorts of gifts on a whim without necessarily considering the consequences. I would urge anyone thinking of buying a dog or puppy as a Christmas present to ‘paws’ before doing so, and remember that A Dog is for Life, Not Just for Christmas.

Every year since 1978, Dogs Trust has campaigned to highlight the problems surrounding dogs being given as gifts at Christmas and all year round. The charity aims to curb this problem by educating people about responsible dog ownership and about the potential risks of buying pets on an impulse, be it in pet shops, directly through breeders, or online.

Dogs Trust is the UK’s largest dog welfare charity and cares for over 16,000 abandoned and unwanted dogs a year through its nationwide network of 18 rehoming centres.

Friday 29 November 2013

Carers Rights Day 2013

Carers UK have published new figures showing people caring unpaid for ill or disabled loved ones are missing out on the support they are entitled to, so on Carers Rights Day I am urging carers to find out about the support available.

There are 6.5 million people in the UK providing unpaid care and support to family, friends and neighbours saving the country over £119 billion every year.

The charity says that a total of £1billion in Carer’s Allowance is being unclaimed nationally as over 360,000 full-time carers miss out on the main carers’ benefit. In the Wigan Borough 2,127 carers are missing out on over £6.6million of unclaimed benefit per annum according to new figures from carers charity, Carers UK.

Carers make a huge contribution to society, but without the right support caring can be tough. It is vital that we all help to identify and support those caring for ill, frail or disabled loved ones and signpost them to the advice and support available.

Carers can order a free booklet called Looking after someone: a guide to carers’ rights and benefits from Carers UK or calling the Adviceline on 0808 808 7777.

Monday 25 November 2013

Payday Loan rates to be capped

I am pleased that the Government are at last responding to this issue but the devil really is in the detail and we will have to wait to learn exactly what George Osborne is proposing.

It is not just the high rates of interest that punish borrowers but the unacceptable methods and charges of debt collection – particularly using Continuos Payment Authority (CPAs) to empty peoples bank accounts. The constant advertising and text messaging bombardment urging people to take out these loans targeted at the vulnerable should also be regulated.

Citizens Advice are right to raise the issue of choice in the market and that a cap on credit must be a cap on the total cost of credit. We must also encourage mainstream lenders like the high street banks offer short term loans and continue to encourage the growth of Credit Unions.

Friday 15 November 2013

I'm backing calls to show respect for shopworkers

I joined staff at The Co-operative Food store in Winstanley this morning, to back a campaign calling on shoppers to show respect for retail workers.

My visit is in support of national shopworkers’ union Usdaw’s “Freedom from Fear Campaign”, and its Respect for Shopworkers Week, which runs from 11-15 November.

As a community retailer, The Co-operative is backing Usdaw’s campaign and has taken a leading role in tackling retail crime.

Verbal or physical abuse is not part of the job description for staff working in retail. Shopworkers should not have to put up with harassment or abuse from customers, when they are trying their best to serve the public.

They deserve our respect and that is why I applaud Co-operative stores across our area for backing Usdaw’s ‘Freedom from Fear' campaign.

Gwynneth Smedley, The Co-operative Food’s Regional Stores Director for the North West and North Midlands said, “The Co-operative’s food stores provide an essential service to local communities, that many people rely on in the run up to Christmas, and anti-social behaviour by a minority can have a devastating impact. However, it’s also a time of year shops are crowded and people are more stressed, so this is an important reminder that everyone, including retail workers, deserve respect.”

This week retail staff trade union leader John Hannett revealed survey results showing that 1 in 6 shopworkers had not reported a violent attack to their manager or the police.

John Hannett – Usdaw General Secretary said, “It is very worrying that 1 in 6 shopworkers who have
been physically assaulted did not report the incident to their employer or the police. We are shocked that
so many are suffering in silence and I would urge shopworkers to report all incidents, to give us and the
employers the chance to sort the problem."

"We are seeking a change in the law to provide for stiffer sentences for those who assault workers
serving the public. There is a real need to address the scourge of violence against workers. This
proposal would make it clear to potential assailants that attacking shopworkers is totally unacceptable
and reassure retail staff that reporting incidents will result in proper punishment for the offender."

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Bedroom Tax

Pic with Shadow Secretary of State for
Work & Pensions Rachel Reeves MP
So here we are over six months on from the introduction of the bedroom tax, and we can properly appraise its impact.

Back in April, in a debate in Westminster Hall, I described the Government’s policy as cruel and wicked. As likely to bring misery and hardship as anything else and I have been proved right. Arrears have risen, families have cut back on essentials, and communities have been undermined.

But has it been successful on the Government’s own terms? As a policy it was always more about saving money, pure and simple, than anything else.

In the DWP impact assessments this was projected to amount to £930 million over two years (2013/14 and 2014/15). But this figure has been shown to be wildly optimistic, as the recent report by the Centre for Housing Policy at York University, based on real data from a number of housing organisations, including Wigan & Leigh Housing (WALH) has shown.

In Wigan, according to Government figures, £2.9 million could be saved annually. This would be achieved if nobody moved (and made up the rent shortfall themselves) or if everyone downsized within the social rented sector. It is not clear which of the options the Government prefers, but we are certainly seeing more of the former than the latter.

This is because in Wigan we have a shortage of one and two bedroom properties (and a surplus of three beds).  So there is nowhere to move to. This is the case in much of the North. Does the Government know this? I wonder sometimes if this Government understands anything about the North.

If tenants cannot move to council properties with fewer bedrooms then they must make up the rent difference themselves. In my constituency there are 4200 tenants affected, with reductions in housing benefits ranging from £517 to £1273. That money has to be found. And so often it will be found only by cutting down on essentials, such as heating and food. The York report quotes a number of people facing this dilemma, and reveals also the stress and anxiety that it also causes. In October 2,500 people contacted WALH about rent and debt – an increase of over 50%.

The other alternative is not to pay rent of course and one clear consequence of the bedroom tax is the building up of rent arrears. In Wigan the number of tenants in debt with their rent has risen from 33% to 53%. That’s over half.

This is a headache for tenants but it is also headache for councils. The Government talks of saving money, but it forgets the extra costs to councils and housing associations. The bedroom tax means a loss of rental income for Wigan Council and Wigan and Leigh Housing that has been estimated to be in the region of at least £1m a year. That’s money that could be used to build new homes. The staffing costs of dealing with increased arrears, rehousing and abandonments could perhaps be as much as £300,000 per annum. Has the Government thought of this in their calculations?

The only real option for tenants in Wigan facing a housing benefit shortfall, and unable to find a smaller property in the social housing sector, is to go into the private sector. Yes, really. We estimate that 100 tenants have moved into the private sector in Wigan since April. More will likely follow, as arrears and debt continue to build up.

For Wigan private rents are £700 - £1200 more per annum than Council rents, which could result in an additional housing benefit cost of £229,000 in 2014-15.

Two-bedroom properties in Wigan are readily available at the local housing allowance rate of £80.77 per couple. The Government have made much play about the bedroom tax being fairer, since – we are told – people in the private rented sector aren’t able to afford extra bedrooms. But this is certainly not the case in Wigan, where one-bedroom properties are much scarcer, so people in the private rented sector can have a spare bedroom without paying for the privilege. I suspect that this is the case in the constituencies of many of my colleagues, too. I informed the housing minister of this fact many months ago, but it appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

The Government have also made much of the need to address overcrowding, by freeing up larger properties for bigger families. But that doesn’t hold water either. In Wigan there is a real problem in finding tenants for three bedroom houses and two bedroom flats. There are 10,110 three-bedroom properties, of which 553 became vacant, but only 353 applications were made for those vacancies Demand has fallen, with the result that properties are remaining empty for longer in certain areas. The idea that families are packed like sardines in undersized houses waiting for people with spare rooms to move is simply not true.

This is a Government policy which simply doesn’t work. Certainly not in Wigan and most of the north of England. It doesn’t save money. It doesn’t reduce overcrowding. And it’s not a fairer system. All it does is push people into arrears and reduce the living standards of some of our poorest citizens. And it brings increased stress and misery to thousands. That’s why I described it as cruel.

It’s also vindictive. Because at its essence it is an attack on people in social housing. It’s an attack on a way of life, and an attack on communities. The Government is meant to believe in communities and want to support them.

Not here. Not if people need to move every time their circumstances change. Image the situation. A couple move into a one bedroom flat. They have a child, they move away to a two bedroom flat. They have another child and then move to a three bedroom property. The eldest child turns 18, and then move back to a two bed flat and then a one bed flat. What happens to a sense of community when people are constantly moving, back and forth.

We should be building strong communities and not undermining them. Letting people put down roots and build neighbourhoods. Not moving people around like pieces in a chess game. It’s time for a rethink.

Monday 11 November 2013

My new role as a Milk Monitor at St Paul's Primary, Goose Green

I acted as milk monitor for the day at Saint Paul’s C of E Primary School in Goose Green on Friday (8th Nov) to celebrate free milk in schools.

Organised by the country’s leading school milk supplier Cool Milk, which also funds World School Milk Day in the UK, my visit was aimed at encouraging children to drink milk and teaching them about the nutritional benefits it provides.

As a child I enjoyed the benefits of school milk and I believe it is important that the children of today also enjoy the same privilege. It was great to see pupils at St Paul’s enjoying their milk and also the knowledge that they are receiving the nutritional benefits that milk provides.

My love of milk has stayed with me into adulthood and I still enjoy a glass of milk today or a hot cup of cocoa on a cold winter’s night!

In the UK, an estimated 1.5 million children under the age of five receive free milk every day, while pupils aged five to eleven receive subsidised milk.

Delivered fresh to the classroom, the milk is enjoyed as a group, promoting social development and independence. Milk is vital for building healthy bones and teeth and improves a child’s concentration, memory and creativity.

Friday 1 November 2013

Makerfield Christmas Veterans' Luncheon

Pic with the Mayor, Cllr Clive Morgan and veteran
 representatives at the inaugural 2012 event.
The second Makerfield Christmas Veterans' Luncheon will be held on Saturday, 7th December at St Matthew's Parish Hall, Billinge Rd, Highfield WN3 6BL commencing at 12noon.

The inaugural luncheon held in December 2012 was a great success and was attended by over 140 veterans.

Winstanley Ward Councillor, Clive Morgan will act as MC. Clive is himself, a former veteran of the 1982 Falklands War and served in the Welsh Guards.

The Mayor of Wigan for 2013/14, Cllr Billy Rotherham and the Mayoress will also be in attendance.

Tickets will be issued on a first come, first serve basis and can be obtained by calling my constituency office on 01942 824029 or by email. The closing date for applications is Friday, 22nd November. Tickets will be dispatched after this date.

Freeze that Bill!

I'm delighted that Ed Miliband has confirmed that a future Labour Government will freeze energy bills until the start of 2017.

Under David Cameron gas and electricity bills have gone up £300 for the average household.

Britain’s families are facing a cost of living crisis. Prices have risen faster than wages in 39 of the 40 months that David Cameron has been in Downing Street and energy bills have gone up by almost £300. David Cameron’s failure to tackle rip-off bills has meant that many people are struggling to pay their bills.

I know how people in Wigan are struggling with the rising cost of living. Many of my constituents have written to me worried about their energy bills, and having to make a choice between heating their homes or buying food.

When the price of energy increases energy companies pass this on but when it drops consumers don’t see their bills fall.

David Cameron can’t deal with the cost of living crisis because he stands up for a privileged few, not for ordinary families. David Cameron has cut tax for people on over £150,000 a year while raising it for everyone else.

Ed Miliband says Labour will freeze prices until the start of 2017 if Labour wins the next election. And he says we will break up the big energy companies so that we can all get a fair deal.

But people round here need help now. So I’m calling on David Cameron to freeze our bills now. And I’m asking local people to sign our petition so that the voices of Wigan are heard loud and clear in Downing Street.

Thursday 17 October 2013

I've added my name to Charter to stop the Payday Loan Rip-off

I have backed the Charter to Stop the Payday Loan Rip-off. The Charter calls for tougher regulation of payday lenders and is supported by some of Britain’s biggest debt, consumer and anti-poverty organisations – including Which?, Citizens Advice, StepChange Debt Charity, Church Action on Poverty, and the Centre for Responsible Credit.

MPs from all parties and campaigners are urging the Financial Conduct Authority to back the Charter and introduce tougher regulation of payday lenders to stop millions of people being ripped-off. Over 40 MPs and peers backed the Charter at its launch in Parliament on Tuesday 15th October.

I’ve signed the Charter because payday lenders are ripping off millions of people, trapping them in spirals of debt. The Financial Conduct Authority’s proposals for regulation are a step in the right direction, but they don’t go far enough. This is a once in a generation opportunity to get the proper regulation and enforcement of payday lenders that we badly need. If the opportunity is missed then payday lenders will be able to carry on exploiting people.

I’d encourage people to add their voice to the growing calls for tougher regulation of payday lenders by signing the Charter here.   

The full text of the Charter to Stop the Payday Loan Rip-off reads:

We believe irresponsible payday lending and other high cost credit is damaging the health and wealth of our country. Payday lenders are exploiting millions of people across the UK, trapping them in spirals of debt, and the problem is getting worse.

Payday lenders are breaking promises they made in their own customer charter. Self-regulation has failed. We call for effective regulation of payday lenders and high cost credit, which is properly enforced, to:

Stop them giving loans to people who can’t realistically afford to pay them back
Stop them repeatedly rolling over loans and creating spiralling debt
Stop hidden or excessive charges
Stop them raiding borrowers’ bank accounts without their knowledge and leaving them in hardship
Stop irresponsible advertising and instead provide clear and transparent information
Require lenders to promote free and independent debt advice, and ensure they co-operate with other services to help people get out of debt.

We also want action to support the growth of credit unions and other forms of more responsible lending; we want banks to increase the availability of credit to people on low and middle incomes: and we want new research on capping the total cost of credit undertaken now.

The Charter has been developed by my parliamentary colleague, Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central.

Thursday 26 September 2013

Grilled yet again by Winstanley College Students!

A packed audience of students at Winstanley College met with Lisa Nandy MP and myself to discuss a wide  range of current issues.

The questions from students were diverse and we were very impressed with the level of engagement that Winstanley students showed in the discussion.

This now annual visit demonstrates that far from being apathetic, today's young people have a very good grasp of the issues facing the country and the global community.

Friday 20 September 2013

Run4ALife 5K fun run

Pic with Rotary Club President Terry Hogan
Wigan certainly has the running bug following the inaugural Wigan 10K so I hope runners will participate in the Run4ALife 5k on 29th September at the DW Stadium.

I joined race organiser's The Rotary Club of Wigan today to help raise awareness of the event and to encourage everybody to take part over a smaller distance and one that the whole family can undertake.

Whether you run or walk the course it promises to be a great day so don't delay - sign up today!

Debt & Mental Health Seminar

I recently spoke at a debt and mental health seminar in Wigan. A disturbingly high number of professionals dealing with people facing overwhelming debt are failing to recognise that they are often 'at the end of their tether' and may even be suicidal.

Organised by the Campaign for Awareness of Mental Illness Among Debtors (CAMIAD), I outlined that money issues are a growing problem across the country with increasing numbers of people at all levels of society getting sucked into a spiral of debt.

Anyone, regardless of their social background, was at risk of running into debt and frequently the problems were compounded by the fact that victims refused to admit that they had a problem, not even to close members of their own family. The fact that these problems are so often hidden makes them much worse.

Conversely, where people in serious debt spoke to appropriate professionals trained in the recognition of mental health problems and who knew how to signpost them on for counselling or treatment, both money and lives can be saved.

CAMIAD was making a major contribution to reducing the levels of stress experienced by debtors – and the number of debt-related suicides. The one-day event at the Wigan Investment Centre was hosted by  Donna Cartmel, a director with insolvency practitioners, Lawson Fox of Bolton.

She said, “It is often difficult for us as professionals to recognise when one of our clients is suffering from a degree of mental illness or when one of our clients is displaying tell-tale signs of being suicidal, because of debt. It is no surprise in the current economic climate that suicide rates are so high.  The causes of mental illness are varied, as are the factors leading to debt, and we as professionals who face people in debt, need to be sympathetic of both.
Nigel Crompton, a senior mental health nurse and Head of Service Development at Cheshire & Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said, “Suicide is often the elephant in the room and professionals, who don’t have training in such matters, are often wary about raising the issue with debtors. Our experience has shown, however, that most people will experience a great sense of relief if they are feeling suicidal and are asked about it in the right way."

"With some specific mental conditions, notably bi-polar affective disorder, getting into debt was a recognised feature of the condition’s profile. Sufferers are known to go on extravagant spending sprees running up massive credit card bills,” he added.

The nationwide CAMIAD programme is aimed at any professional who might have contact with debtors and this includes insolvency practitioners, accountants, solicitors, debt management advisers, bankers, college and university lecturers, social and welfare workers and even doctors.

Friday 13 September 2013

Wear It Pink Day

I joined the fight against breast cancer by raising awareness of Breast Cancer Campaign’s biggest (and pinkest) fundraiser, wear it pink day.

Over the last 10 years wear it pink has raised a staggering £23 million and on Friday 25 October 2013 people will come together in schools, colleges and businesses throughout the country to raise vital funds for Breast Cancer Campaign’s lifesaving research.

Every year in the UK around 50,000 women and around 400 men are diagnosed with breast cancer. Sadly 12,000 women and 80 men die from this disease. This is why we need to support Breast Cancer Campaign’s fundraising efforts so they can continue to fund research which will one day lead to a cure. So join me, wear something pink and donate £2, it’s really as simple as that.

Breast Cancer Campaign vitally needs the money raised from wear it pink for its researchers to have the best possible chance to find the cure.

To register for wear it pink and receive your fundraising pack visit here or call 0800 107 3104.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Lottery Funding to mark WWI centenary

With a year to go until we mark the centenary of the UK entering the First World War, I am encouraging constituents to consider applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for community projects to learn more about the First World War.

HLF is making at least £1million a year available until 2019 as part of the First World War: then and now programme for small, community grants.  It will provide grants of £3,000 to £10,000 enabling groups right across the UK to explore, conserve and share their First World War heritage and deepen their understanding of the impact of the conflict.

Successful projects will include:

researching, identifying and recording local heritage;
creating a community archive or collection;
developing new interpretation of heritage through exhibitions, trails, smartphone apps etc;
researching, writing and performing creative material based on heritage sources;
conserving and finding out more about war memorials

I’m delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund is making this money available to local communities. Like many areas across the UK, the impact of the First World War on the people of Makerfield was extensive. For those who want to find out more about its legacy or who wish to mark the Centenary, I would urge them to get in touch with HLF.

HLF has already invested over £15million in projects – large and small – that will mark the Centenary of First World War. If a group have a project idea to mark the Centenary of the First World War, an online application pack is available here. If a group needs a grant of more than £10,000 for a First World War project, it can apply to HLF through its open programmes.

Monday 22 July 2013

Congratulations to Wigan Sea Cadets

I visited my local Sainsbury's Store on Saturday to congratulate Wigan Sea Cadets on becoming Wigan Sainsbury’s new Local Charity partner

The Cadets will receive a year’s worth of fundraising and awareness support from the store’s colleagues and customers.

Well done to Wigan Sea Cadets - I know what a difference the initiative has made to local charities in my constituency in raising not just vital funds, but raising awareness of their cause too. I look forward to seeing how the partnership progresses over the coming months.

Wigan Sea Cadets were announced after customers had their say and voted in-store and online between 1st to 15th May. The Local Charity partner scheme began in 2009 and has raised more than £5 million to support local communities in the last four years.

Ian Almond from Wigan Sea Cadets said, “We know the success that the Local Charity partnership has bought to many charities in the local area so when we received the recent phone-call to tell us the news, we were thrilled. The exposure and support is going to be massively beneficial to our charity and I’d like to thank every Sainsbury’s Wigan customer who voted."

Friday 19 July 2013

'Pack Your Policy' on holiday

I have today warned constituents about the dangers of travelling uninsured. In support of a campaign by ABTA – The Travel Association and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), I am urging holidaymakers across the Borough to “pack your policy” ahead of the great summer getaway.

According to new research by ABTA – the Travel Association, many UK holidaymakers are unaware of the costs of medical treatment abroad and may be putting themselves at risk of sky high medical bills if something goes wrong. 1 in 5 (20%) individuals now travel abroad without insurance, despite the need for medical assistance being relatively common. According to ABTA research, 16% of people have visited a doctor or hospital while abroad.

Most at risk are younger travellers as almost half (48%) will have a holiday abroad without taking out travel insurance. Recently released FCO research has found that 4 out of 5 (82%) young people admit to taking part in more adventurous behaviour on holiday – yet fewer than half (45%) check that their insurance covers risky pursuits.

We all look forward to our well-deserved summer holiday. However, it is very important that we make sure that when we do travel overseas, we are covered if something goes wrong. Many countries do not have national schemes to cover the cost of healthcare and treatment abroad can therefore be very costly. It is just not worth taking the risk. That is why I am very happy to support this campaign. I urge all of my constituents to make sure you “pack your policy” this summer.

ABTA has launched a new advice section on travel insurance for consumers.

Monday 15 July 2013

Well done to Hindley J& I Primary School

Some of the children's artwork on display in
my constituency office
Send My Friend to School brings together thousands of children across the UK to speak up for the right to education, and remind world leaders of their promise that all children should get the chance to go to school.

In 2000, over 180 countries signed up to a set of commitments for a better world to tackle issues such as hunger and poverty. These Millennium Development Goals included a goal of education for all by 2015.

But time is running out. With only two years to go over 60 million children are still missing out on school. At the current rate of progress there will still be about 48 million children out of school in 2015.

Pupils at Hindley J&I Primary School have been learning about this important issue and they sent to me some very special artwork to tell me in their own words about the campaign.

They were not alone! Since the launch over 10,000 primary schools across the UK have taken part and by joining Send My Friend to School they are taking part in something even bigger - because right around the world people are also calling for education for all.

More than 18 million people in 100 countries have taken part in campaigning activities to date.

Friday 12 July 2013

Emotional Impact of Stroke raised in Parliament

I joined forces with the Stroke Association and stroke survivors from around the country in Parliament this week to help raise awareness of the emotional impact of stroke.

The event was held to highlight the findings of the Stroke Association’s latest report ‘Feeling overwhelmed’ which reveals that many stroke survivors and carers struggle to find the appropriate support to help them cope with the emotional impact of the condition.

There are 1.2 million stroke survivors living in the UK and someone has a stroke every five minutes.   Although a stroke happens in an instant the effects can last a life time, recovery is different for every stroke survivor and their family.   Emotional issues such as depression, anxiety and a lack of confidence are common but the Stroke Association’s report found that almost 80% of stroke survivors surveyed throughout the UK said that had received no information or practical advice to help them cope with the emotional impact of stroke.

I spoke to stroke survivors and carers about their experiences and found out about the free resources available to stroke survivors including the Stroke Association’s ‘You are not alone’ guide which offers practical advice and tips on coping with the emotional effects of stroke.

According to a recent Stroke Association survey around 60% of stroke survivors in the North West had experienced depression and 67% had experienced anxiety as a result of their stroke. Stroke is life changing and the emotional impact can be far reaching. For many the psychological impact can be just as devastating as the physical. Stroke survivors and their carers can feel overwhelmed by worries, fears and emotions as they struggle to cope with the aftermath of stroke.

I want people in our community who are struggling emotionally after stroke to know that they are not alone and that information and support is available. I would encourage stroke survivors, carers and family members to call the Stroke Association’s helpline or visit their website to find out what support is available.

A downloadable copy of the You’re not alone guide is available. Alternatively you can call the Stroke Helpline on 0303 3033 100 for more information about stroke and the support that is available locally.

I am pictured with Kathleen Playfield  a Family and Carer Support Coordinator for the Stroke Association in Salford (left) and Dr Caroline Kinney a NHS Stroke Clinical Psychologist at Salford Royal NHS Trust (right).

Monday 8 July 2013

When Rugby League was Born

A play recreating the historic 1895 meeting performed by pupils from six local primary schools took place on Saturday at The Museum of Wigan Life.

The meeting involving 21 northern rugby union clubs was called to discuss the issue of 'broken time' payments. At the time, union was strictly amateur and payments to players for taking part in the game was forbidden.

Northern clubs like Wigan and Leigh wanted to compensate players for loss of earnings. The meeting took place in Huddersfield against this backdrop and led to the greatest schism in sporting history.

The code of Rugby League was born!

Thanks to Wigan Leisure & Culture Trust for organising this special event and a special word for the stars of the show - the pupils of Aspull Church, Britannia Bridge, Bryn St Peters, Garrett Hall, Hindley St Peters and St George's Central primary schools.

The play was part of the Borough's celebration of the Rugby League World Cup and the two games that the Borough will host at the DW Stadium and Leigh Sports Village.

The ticket hotline is 0844 847 2013 or for online sales visit here.

Thursday 27 June 2013

Payday Lending Industry referred to Competition Commission

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has asked for a review into competition among payday lenders, after finding evidence a lack of choice means firms are profiting from loans that can't be paid back on time.

The OFT said it was difficult for customers to identify and compare the cost of loans, that not all firms complied with relevant laws and that a significant proportion of borrowers had poor credit histories and limited access to other forms of credit. It said lenders were competing primarily on the availability and speed of loans rather than on the price of paying them back.

In March, the OFT gave Britain's biggest 50 payday lenders 12 weeks to change their business practices or risk losing their licenses after finding evidence of widespread irresponsible lending. It said it had so far received responses from only 20 of the lenders, five of which have stopped offering the loans.

Payday lenders are dangerously quick to hand out loans in minutes without proper affordability checks being made. The industry is full of predatory firms who have no moral compass and think only of the bottom line regardless of the detriment they cause to many people.

Voluntary Regulation and industry wide codes of practice have failed spectacularly and Government must now act to ensure that statutory regulation is introduced as soon as possible.

Friday 21 June 2013

Euro Hustings put candidates under the spotlight

Pic with Ian McCartney, our Euro candidates
 and students from Winstanley College
Labour Party members from across Makerfield and Leigh gathered at Hindley Labour Club on Thursday, 20th June to quiz Labour’s shortlisted candidates to contest the European Elections in 2014.

They were joined by Councillors and Politics students from Winstanley College who were invited by the local Labour Party to experience a live political hustings.

The candidates have attended hustings all over the North West during June and are set to attend further events ahead of the closing date on 31st July. Labour Party members are currently being balloted to choose the order in which the shortlisted candidates will appear on the ballot paper.

Chair of the meeting, Sir Ian McCartney said, “We were fortunate to have some great candidates with us tonight and the hustings provided the ideal opportunity for members to scrutunise the abilities of and question the candidates on a range of the political issues of the day.”

Wednesday 19 June 2013

I'm backing 'Don't fail on Heart failure' Campaign

I have pledged my support for the “Don’t Fail on Heart Failure” campaign, which was launched in Parliament on 18th June.

During the reception, I met patients and clinicians, before signing the Don’t Fail on Heart Failure pledge, committing to support patient access to treatments and technology that save lives. The full text of the pledge is below.

Immediately after the reception, the Heart Failure pledge was delivered to the Department of Health.

Untreated, heart failure has a survival rate similar to cancer - and over a third die within
1 year of diagnosis.

NICE is appraising availability of ICD and CRT-D devices in January.

I am determined to help heart failure patients in Makerfield get the treatment they need to live their lives. The implantable devices I saw today take people from constant fatigue back into work. The NHS needs to make sure these life-enhancing technologies are available for those who need them.

A person has heart failure if their heart is unable to pump sufficient blood to meet their body’s needs. Causes range from hypertension to a heart attack to a virus. Patients suffering heart failure develop increasing breathlessness and fatigue when carrying out daily activities – and ultimately at rest. Consequently, ability to work is greatly impaired along with health and quality of life. Heart failure eventually affects 3 in every hundred women, and 4 in every hundred men. Heart failure imposes huge costs on the NHS. It accounts for 5% of all emergency hospital admissions and 2% of all NHS hospital bed days.

Patients who received CRT-Ds and ICD implants had a death rate 25% to 45% lower than those who instead took the best available drugs. For patients with mild to moderate heart failure, ICDs and CRT reduced monthly admission rates to hospital by 20% to 35%.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Well done Billy!

I was delighted to see the new Mayor of Wigan, Cllr Billy Rotherham and Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust (WWL) launch Heartbeat 2, a fundraising appeal to secure further development of cardiac facilities at Royal Albert Edward Infirmary, with a magnificent £10,000 donation from The Mayor.

Heartbeat 2 is aiming to raise £250,000 to build a new recovery room within the Coronary Care Unit at Royal Albert Edward Infirmary (RAEI) to improve the patient experience.

Joining The Mayor and Mayoress of Wigan to hand over the £10,000 cheque at the RAEI Coronary Care Unit were WWL Consultant Cardiologist Dr. Nayyar Naqvi OBE.

Dr Naqvi is an inspiration and passionate advocate of health services in the Borough

Launched in 2009, the original Heartbeat appeal exceeded expectations raising £250,000 to ensure the Coronary Care unit at Royal Albert Edward Infirmary now benefits from the best equipment money can buy and delivers a first class service for patients.

Everyone interested in organising their own fundraising for Heartbeat 2 are asked to contact Fundraising Officer Elizabeth Titley on 01942 773879 or by email

Friday 31 May 2013

Walk to Work Week

I joined Living Streets Manager of Policy and Public Affairs, Dr Kevin Golding-Williams and Wigan Council employees taking part in Walk to Work Week.

Council staff formed teams to see who could log the most walks during National Walking Month and win prizes donated by local businesses.

I was delighted to support National Walking Month and the fantastic work that Living Streets does championing pedestrians. We’re probably all guilty of not being as physically active as we should and Walk to Work Week is a great way to see how you can build some exercise into your day.

I hope other people in the area will be inspired by the walking teams at Wigan Council.  Sometimes a little bit of competition can be just the motivation you need.

Thursday 30 May 2013

Congratulations to Hindley Green Primary on achieving Eco-School Award

Hindley Green Primary is the latest school to achieve the Green Flag Eco-Schools Award.

To celebrate their achievement, the school opened a memorial garden and pupils buried a time capsule containing memories of the school, and planted a Malus Royalty Tree to mark the occasion.

The school worked closely with Wigan Council’s environmental education officers to come up with eco-friendly ideas to achieve the green flag. Pupils and teachers have since transformed the school – creating vegetable patches, stepping up their recycling routine by using compost bins, a water butt and making sure all their rubbish is separated properly. They’ve also been busy building wildlife habitats such as nest boxes, bug hotels and hedgehog houses to attract wildlife.

Katie Laithwaite, Eco Co-ordinator at Hindley Green Primary, said: “Everyone at our school has been working hard to become a Green Flag Eco-School and we are very proud of our achievements.

“We began our Eco-Schools journey just one year ago and the ethos around school has really improved. The children and staff have a greater awareness of the need to take care of our precious planet now to have a positive impact upon its future.

“The official opening of our memorial garden was held to celebrate all our school has achieved. It’s our opportunity to reflect upon our schools history and remember past pupils and staff who have supported us along our journey to make our school a success to build a better future together.”

Obtaining the Green Flag award is something that the whole school and its surrounding community can be very proud of. The lessons we learn as children influence our behaviour throughout our lives and I was very impressed by the knowledge pupils exhibited about the environment.

Friday 24 May 2013

Walk to School Week

This week, I've been encouraging children and parents to swap cars, buses and trains for a ticket to stride during Walk to School Week.

Walk to School Week (20-24 May) is an opportunity for parents and children across the UK to try walking to school. Along with Walk to Work Week (13-17 May), Walk to School Week forms a part of National Walking Month, a month dedicated to celebrating the benefits of walking.

I visited Hindley Green J&I School to help promote the week. Living Streets runs the national Walk to School campaign, and the national charity says parents find the journey to school less stressful, their petrol bill goes down, their children perform better at school and that they, and their children, feel healthier and fitter.

The walk to school is not only a good way to build some exercise into your child’s day, it’s also helps them to learn valuable road skills, get to know their neighbourhood and build confidence and independence.  We all often feel under pressure and short of time, but Walk to School Week is a great opportunity to give walking a go and the Living Streets website has lots of ideas and ‘feats for your feet’ that will make it fun and challenging.  Getting children into the habit of seeing walking as the natural choice for short trips, will reap health benefits in the future.

Teachers even report that those pupils who walk to school are more attentive once they reach their desks.

Over the past couple of decades, the number of children walking to school has fallen sharply. In 2011, 49 per cent of primary school aged children and 38 per cent of secondary school aged children walked to school, down from 62 per cent of primary and 48 per cent of secondary school aged children in 1991.

However Living Streets’ Walk once a Week (WoW) scheme bucks the trend. It helped nearly 6,800 schools and over 1.9 million children and young people get walking across the UK last year – with a recent project seeing a rise of 32% in children walking.

Friday 17 May 2013

My Money Week

I am calling on local schools to take part in My Money Week (3 to 9 June), giving pupils the chance to learn more about money and personal finance.  Every primary and secondary school in Makerfield is being given the chance to take part for free in My Money Week, which has returned for its fifth year thanks to a new partnership between national charity pfeg (Personal Finance Education Group) and Barclays.

My Money Week will improve young people’s financial skills, knowledge and confidence through special lessons, activities and debates in schools and other settings across the UK.  Teachers in Makerfield can order a free Activity Pack, developed by pfeg, full of creative and engaging financial resources and ideas for how to deliver financial education to young people, from the age of four up to 19.  Young people in Makerfield can also take part in the ‘A-Z of Money’, a national competition challenging them to learn more about money through creative writing.

A decade ago, few schools were actively teaching pupils about money. Now there is growing interest with schools fitting personal finance education into several curriculum areas and pfeg has played a key role in leading this transformation.

In the current economic climate we hear shocking stories of people suffering at the hands of payday lenders and in my view it is such an important area for our young people to be equipped with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to manage their money well.

My Money Week 2013 will also raise awareness of Barclays’ flagship UK community programme, Barclays Money Skills, and provide opportunities for Barclays employees to share their financial expertise and skills with young people in teacher-led My Money Week activities in local schools.  In addition, this year will see extra resources targeted towards disadvantaged young people in both the school environment and the wider community.

Since the first My Money Week in 2009, more than three million young people have been helped to understand more about money and personal finance through focused activities in schools.  In 2012 around 500,000 young people took part in My Money Week activities, with 99 percent of teachers reporting an increase in skills and knowledge and 91 percent of teachers reporting a shift in students’ attitudes towards money.

Teachers in Makerfield can pre-order their free My Money Week Activity Packs here. 

Thursday 9 May 2013

Winstanley Green Belt - One last push in campaign to protect green belt

The campaign to retain green belt status at Winstanley has received a major boost today with news that the independent inspector examining Wigan Council’s planning blueprint to 2026 is minded to refuse the development of land at M6 Junction 25 for commercial/warehousing and retain the site as designated green belt.

I have given a cautious welcome to the schedule modifications document issued by Wigan Council and I am encouraging campaigners to support the modification which would retain green belt status on the land and put a halt to future development of the site during the lifetime of the Core Strategy.

This latest announcement follows the victory to successfully resist development of the site and land at Hawkley Hall from meeting the housing shortfall identified by the Inspector.

This is encouraging news that the Inspector is minded to retain green belt status and is an acknowledgement of the key arguments that campaigners and myself have made.

We now need one last push to support the Inspector’s thinking and ask him to confirm his decision as soon as practicable.

Winstanley Ward Councillor Clive Morgan said, “We can now see the light at the end of the tunnel and I know that residents will be delighted to note that the Inspector is backing our community which has been subject to housing development over the past decade. We have taken our fair share and it is time now for the Inspector to kick this proposal into the long grass!”

Consultation on the schedule of modifications 

Following the previous hearing sessions and submission of statements the Inspector has detailed changes that are required to make the submitted Core Strategy sound. These changes are included in the schedule of modifications document that can be found on the Core Strategy Examination website.

Comments on the modifications can be submitted by email. The deadline for these to be received is 5pm on Friday 14th June 2013.

Comments should only be made on the modifications themselves. It is therefore not necessary to repeat comments or information submitted through previous representations. The Inspector will take account of all comments received before finalising his report to the Council.

Monday 29 April 2013

PT Studio on mission to transform your health and wellbeing

With Cllr Paul Kenny and Ste Barlow of the PT Studio
Seven day working weeks coupled with long hours provide little time in my diary for keeping fit yet for both my and myself a diary appointment we never miss is a weekly personal fitness training session with Ste Barlow at one of Wigan’s leading personal training outfits –  The PT Studio based on Queen Street.

On Friday, I was on hand to help launch The PT Studio’s latest challenge to the town ahead of the summer holiday season – The 90 day Beach Transformation Challenge.

Owner and fully qualified Personal Fitness Trainer Ste Barlow has been putting us both through our paces for the last 6 months with welcome results. Having lost over 2 stone each we are encouraging people to get on board and lead healthier lifestyles.

Ste Barlow said, “At the PT studio we like to go that step further with our clients and set them goals and targets and monitor their progression with our transformation challenges. The latest 90 day beach body transformation is designed to get you in great shape for the summer. With the challenge you get a 7 day eating plan, measurements and full support.”

“This is results based training and both Yvonne and Paul have done really well.”

The great thing about the PT Studio is that it’s fun. It’s hard work and Ste really challenges us both but the end result is we have both lost weight, feel healthier and have more energy.

The Winstanley Councillor says it is unlikely that he will be wearing ‘budgie smugglers’ on the beach this summer but with the holiday season not too far away the latest Beach Transformation Challenge is the perfect opportunity to get in shape. Cllr Paul Kenny said, “I was looking for something different and was pretty fed up with the same old routine at the gym.”

“They say that variety is the spice of life and whether it’s donning a pair of boxing gloves or flipping a tractor tyre, no two sessions are the same at the PT Studio and you leave with a real sense of achievement.”

For more information then check out the PT Studio website  or call Ste Barlow on 07506673955.

Friday 26 April 2013

We must get Wigan working again

These are desperate times for our area. And they are desperate times for the government as well. By any measure they are failing because underneath all the bluster they don’t have any answers for their catastrophic failure to get Britain working again. Their Work Programme is failing and there are now more than 2,500 people out of work in the Makerfield constituency.

This government has simply ran out of ideas and their supposed reforms are not only heartless, but also hopeless. Housing benefit changes cost more than they save, tax credit changes are making families better off on benefits than in work, and universal credit is descending into universal chaos.

We need welfare reform that is tough, fair, and that works. That’s why Labour is calling for a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee for the long-term unemployed that would get 240 people and 120 young people into work.

When I hear people on the doorstep or in my surgeries tell me welfare needs to be reformed I agree with them. That’s why Labour is calling for welfare reform that is tough, fair and that is founded on three principles.

First, people must be better off in work than living on benefits. We would make work pay by reintroducing a 10p tax rate and supporting employers who pay the living wage.

Second, we would match rights with responsibilities. Labour would ensure that no adult will be able to be live on the dole for over two years and no young person for over a year. They will be offered a real job with real training, real prospects and real responsibility. This would be paid for by taxing bankers' bonuses and restricting pension tax relief for the wealthiest. People would have to take this opportunity or lose their benefits.

Third, we must do more to strengthen the old principle of contribution: there are lots of people right now who feel they pay an awful lot more in than they ever get back. That should change.

I believe Britain can only overcome the enormous challenges we face if all of us – from top to bottom – play our part.

Because behind all their rhetoric about making work pay and supporting strivers, it is actually working families and those in real need who are footing the bill for this government's catastrophic economic failure.
The truth is the Tories have failed on jobs, failed on growth and they are failing to make the real changes we need. After three years of incompetence it’s time this government finally started to put things right for Makerfield and they should start with Labour’s Compulsory Jobs Guarantee that is tough, fair and will work.

Bedroom Tax Debate in Parliament

This week I secured a debate on the impact of the Bedroom Tax on Wigan. You can read the transcript of the debate here.

Friday 19 April 2013

Official Opening for New-Look Ashton in Makerfield Post Office

Pic with Branch Manager - Janet Woodcock
To celebrate launch of the new style open-plan branch, I ‘cut the ribbon’ at Ashton-in-Makerfield Post Office this morning.

I was more than happy to  officially open the Post Office.  They are to be congratulated on their work to develop this busy branch. The longer opening on Saturday afternoons will make a real difference for local residents and small business customers and I wish them continued success with the business.

Julia Harrison from the Post Office told me that the refurbisment is part of a three-year investment programme that will see around 6000 branches converting to new-style branches.

I was joined by local ward Councillor, Nigel Ash who is a regular user of the local Post Office and wants to encourage local people to make use of the services offered. 

The Post Office, now independent of Royal Mail, is the largest retail network in the UK, with over 11,500 branches. It is also one of the fastest growing financial services companies and is developing its online and telephony services.

Made by the Many

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Constituency Office Relocation

I am pleased to have obtained a central location in Wigan for my constituency office and The Investment Centre is a modern, fully accessible office with good transport links, free parking and within walking distance of the town centre.

I place a great deal of pride in the the constituency office and I firmly believe that Wigan Investment Centre will enhance the service provided to constituents.

My new office details are as follows:

Yvonne Fovargue MP
Wigan Investment Centre
Waterside Drive
Wigan WN3 5BA

T. 01942 824029

Thursday 21 March 2013

Same Old Tories!

Families are paying the price for George Osborne’s failure. Unemployment is rising as figures out this week demonstrate, prices are rising faster than wages and we have official confirmation from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility that by 2015 people will be worse off than they were in 2010.

In the face of all of that we’ve just had a more of the same Budget – no change on anything important and the Chancellor’s going ahead with a tax cut for millionaires in two weeks time.

What we needed from the budget was a change of direction and bold action to kickstart our flat lining economy and give real help to families on middle and low incomes - not more of the same failing policies and a huge tax cut for millionaires.

David Cameron and George Osborne's economic plan has completely failed. Families, pensioners and businesses are paying the price.

Wigan deserves better than this.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Time to stop squeezing family incomes

pic with Usdaw member Janette Parker 

I have joined forces with Usdaw, the shop workers union, to call on the Coalition Government to stop squeezing family incomes by continuing to cut the help they get through tax credits and other benefits.

Just days before the Budget, at a time when many hard working families are already concerned about how difficult it is to manage their finances, Usdaw arranged to take some of their members, who are being hit the hardest by the Government’s shake up of the welfare state to Parliament, to meet MPs.

John Hannett, General Secretary of Usdaw said, “Since coming to power the Coalition Government’s austerity measures have already taken hundreds of pounds out of the pockets of hard working families."

”Our members tell us, that despite working hard, it is getting more and more difficult to pay the bills, put food on the table and clothe their children”

“We are concerned that things are only going to get worse - as the Government’s flawed bedroom tax comes into force and further changes to tax credits later this year, hit almost 3 million families who will lose on average - £137 each month.”

“Next week's Budget is the Government’s chance to prove that it cares about children and families. It is time for this Government to do a U turn – stop cutting family incomes and start to support hard working families.”

I was pleased to join members of Usdaw at their recent event. Trade unions like Usdaw have an important job to do - speaking up for their members. More than one in every four children are already growing up in poverty and of those children 62%, has at least one person in their home who is employed.

Families in Wigan and around the country are getting squeezed tighter and tighter – it’s time for the Coalition Government to stop cutting and start listening to hard pressed families.

I met with Usdaw member Janette Parker who lives with her husband.  Janette works part time in a local supermarket.  Her husband was the family’s main income earner until two years ago when a long term debilitating illness forced him to give up work.  Janette is his main carer.  They live in a three bedroom house which they rent from their local housing association.  Their home has been especially adapted to assist with her husband’s declining mobility.  The couple’s son recently left home and because there are no smaller properties for rent in their local area they will be hit by the bedroom tax and forced to find an extra £1144 each year, in rent to cover the loss of housing benefit.

Janette said, "For the first time in our lives, due to my husband’s ill health we have asked for help with our rent.  But rather than helping us this Government wants to punish us by forcing us to find over £1000 in rent each year because they have determined our home has too many bedrooms. Rather than help they would rather we move away from the community in which we have always lived and worked, away from our friends and family who help me to care for my husband which saves the Government tens of thousands of pounds each year in care costs.”

Monday 18 March 2013

Out in force for peaceful demo against Bedroom Tax

With Cllr Peter Smith, Sam Murphy and Lisa Nandy MP
 in Wigan Town Centre

Labour Party councillors, MPs and trade unionists in Wigan took to the streets of the town centre on Saturday, 16th March to protest about the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’.

It was one of over 50 demonstrations taking place as part of a national ‘day of action’ with similar events in nearby Ashton in Makerfield, Bolton, Manchester and Warrington.

The bedroom tax will hit over 4,700 households in the Wigan Borough who are set to lose between £14 and £25 per week. The scale of the impact of the bedroom tax across the UK which will be introduced next month is staggering;

Two thirds of the households hit are home to someone who is disabled
220,000 families with children will be hit by the tax - one third of the households hit are families with children
140,000 working households on the lowest incomes will lose out
Divorced parents whose kids come to stay are being affected. Grandparents will pay more.
The DWP admit that there are not enough smaller properties for families to move to, yet the bedroom tax will still hit households that don’t have the option to move

Outside the Gerard Centre, Ashton in Makerfield
David Cameron’s Bedroom Tax tells you all you need to know about him and his government. The government is hitting households with the bedroom tax despite admitting there aren’t enough smaller properties for tenants to move to.

Instead, the government expects families to pay extra rather than move house. This won’t solve under occupancy, but it will hit working people and some of the most vulnerable in our society. And at exactly the same time as the bedroom tax comes into effect he is giving thousands of millionaires a tax cut of £100,000 a year.

This isn’t about tough choices, it’s about the wrong choices.

Leader of Wigan Council, Cllr Peter Smith said, “The Bedroom Tax is a grossly unfair burden placed on over 4,700 Council tenants and many more in the private sector. It is designed for London’s needs so it is totally irrelevant to Wigan’s housing problems. The craziest part is that by forcing people into the more expensive private sector, it won’t save the government any money. It could only have been designed by a cabinet of millionaires living in mansions and totally out of touch with ordinary people.”

The Government have maintained that the policy will save money but cutting housing benefit to under-occupying tenants when there is no alternative accommodation will burden social landlords like Wigan & Leigh Housing with rising rent arrears and risks making people homeless. I maintain that this is wrong and risks costing the council taxpayer more. It also risks pushing people into expensive private rented accommodation, causing the housing benefit bill to rise.

Cllr Nigel Ash in Ashton in Makerfield
A leaked letter from Eric Pickles’ Private Secretary to David Cameron’s office at No 10 revealed that the government’s housing benefit reforms could see 40,000 people homeless.

Lisa Nandy MP said, “The fact that thousands of people joined peaceful demonstrations in Wigan and across the country this weekend shows just how wrong this Government has got it."

"Their announcement on armed forces and foster families unravelled within minutes as it was revealed that they aren’t bringing forward one extra penny for the victims.

“The government announced they would exempt foster carers and some armed forces families, but there will be no extra money for councils to cover the costs.

“David Cameron’s Bedroom Tax has descended into total chaos and we will not rest until Ministers think again, admit they have got this wrong and drop this hated tax for good.”

Monday 4 March 2013

Debtbusters Campaign launched across Borough

A new campaign backed by the Borough’s MPs, Unify Credit Union Ltd, Citizens Advice and Wigan and Leigh Cooperative Party was launched on Saturday, 2nd March in Leigh, Ashton and Wigan town centres.

Over 500 people signed the Debtbusters petition at the event launches attended by Andy Burnham MP, Lisa Nandy MP and myself. The Ashton launch was supported by Busker, John Davies.

Wigan and Leigh Debtbusters is set to raise awareness of the detriment caused by payday lenders and others and that affordable loans, free help and advice is available through the Borough’s Credit Unions and Citizens Advice Bureau.

The campaign launch comes against a background of growing statistics that demonstrate the impact of debt on UK households. The Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) sets out how Household debt is set to rise by 36.3% and by 2015 UK households will have amassed over two trillion pounds worth of debt.

39% of people are concerned about the amount of debt they owe and 43% think their personal financial situation will worsen in the next six months. A staggering 45% of people now say they frequently struggle to make it to payday, up by 8% since Christmas 2010.

In November 2011, 16% of individuals had become ‘zombie debtors’ – only able to service the interest of their debt and not reduce it, whilst 27% had no savings at all.

One in three (32%) of those who took out a ‘payday loan’ couldn’t pay it off, so had to get another one (so called ‘rollovers’).

The high-cost credit sector, made up of payday lenders, home credit providers and hire purchase agreements, is growing rapidly and increasingly causing many of its customers to get into severe
debt problems.

Campaigners have welcomed the news that a cap on the cost of credit is set to be introduced but they warn that this is only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and that regulation of the industry is required.

Labour and Cooperative Councillor for Astley-Mosley Common Jo Platt is set to raise the issue at this week’s full council. Cllr Jo Platt said, “Residents of the Borough are calling for action against legal loan sharks. Over the past couple of years they have proliferated in our area and the tough financial times means more and more people are turning to them and the extortionate loans which they offer."

“This motion sends a message that Wigan Council is serious about supporting our residents who are facing financial hardship. We support the introduction of a limit to cap the amount these companies can charge for loans, and we are committing to doing what we can locally to support responsible lending and discourage the loan sharks.”

Andy Burnham MP said, “A toxic mix of the rising cost of living, unemployment and wage freezes mean many Leigh households are struggling and a lack of regulation of this market by the Government means these legal loan sharks are exploiting this to push many families further into debt."

“With one in three payday loans taken out to pay off other payday loans it is clear these high cost credit products are problematic.”

I have spent my working life fighting the impact of irresponsible lending and was pleased that my campaigning in Parliament led to the announcement by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) that they will introduce a ‘power to suspend’ payday lenders who are causing harm to borrowers.

For many people payday loans can be a sensible option and with proper financial planning can offer a product that meets their needs. However, there are far too many cases of payday lenders acting in a manner which is wholly inappropriate and loads debt onto people with no consideration of the customer’s needs – rollovers being the obvious example of this reckless behaviour.

There is an alternative and our local credit unions, like Unify and Welcome offer low cost affordable loans. Likewise my advice to anybody worried about debt is don’t suffer in silence. Wigan & Leigh Citizens Advice offer free and impartial advice to people in debt.

You can download the Debtbusters petition here.