Last week saw news headlines made by a new report into seaside towns which revealed coastal residents earn £1,600 less than people inland. As a proud sand-grown one and as a coastal MP I was keen to read more, but sadly not shocked by it. This report uncovers the scale of the deprivation and inequality imposed on people in our coastal communities by almost a decade of austerity under the Conservatives. In the fifth richest country in the world no one should be forced to rely on a food bank to feed their family, no one should sleep rough on our streets and no one should go to work for poverty wages.
Our coast is one of Britain’s greatest assets but the people who live there have been let down by a lack of investment and poor infrastructure. That is why Labour will invest in better rail and bus links, faster and more reliable broadband, and we will tax holiday homes that sit empty for months on end to pay for public services that locals rely on all year round.
Fleetwood has great schools, and I enjoy meeting dedicated teachers and answering questions from our town’s youngsters when I visit our schools. However, the funding crisis continues, even with a recent government announcement; 83% of schools are still losing out and you can see what your local school cuts are on the website www.schoolcuts.org.uk – it’s shocking reading.
One of the most interesting and unseen parts of my week was my regular advice surgery for Fleetwood constituents. These one-to-one appointments for you to meet with your MP used to be the only way people got chance to speak with their MP but thankfully in this modern age I also offer telephone appointments and assist constituents over email too. There are of course some who prefer a good old-fashioned letter and they are always a joy to receive and reply to as well.
My appointments-based meetings at my advice surgery are always cover a broad range of issues but one issue which sadly comes up time and again is to do with disabled constituents losing access to Personal Independence Payments (which used to be called Disability Living Allowance) and having to appeal decisions made by the Department for Work and Pensions. Most of the time it is blindingly obvious from the moment someone struggles into the room that they are disabled, perhaps living with chronic pain, and in some cases relying on mobility aides to make the appointment. Almost all the people I have supported with appeals have gone on to win them!
The appalling inaccuracies of Personal Independence Payment assessments are destroying disabled people’s lives and wasting huge amounts of public resources. I’m so exasperated that the government continues to defend the hostile environment it has created, where 73% of decisions are overturned when brought to appeal. That’s almost three-quarters of disabled people wrongly losing access to money they need for keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table. The result is people racking up debt whilst they wait for appeals to be heard.
However, what is the saddest of cases I have seen is of terminally ill people having these payments stopped. It’s just so wrong and worryingly more common that perhaps readers realise. Shamefully, between 2013 and 2018, 17,000 terminally ill people died while waiting for a decision on their Personal Independence Payment claims. This means people spent their last days waiting for the outcome of a cruel assessment without the financial support they needed. The government must now adopt a definition of terminal illness based on sound clinical judgements and scrap all unnecessary assessments for terminally ill people.