I have written before of my concerns over the governments new benefits programme, Universal Credit, which is launched in Eastbourne on October 11. The simplifying principle is a good one - bundling a number of different benefits into one - but the challenges are twofold.
Firstly some of the sign-up requirements are already leading to chronic indebtedness for many of the most vulnerable people in our society, and the other is that the governments has taken out the £2 billion, which was originally in the project to ensure low paid work rewarded individuals more than just receiving welfare benefits when unemployed. Something that sounds obvious but in reality is often not the case.
The latter is profoundly frustrating as it defeats the original purpose of Universal Credit. Then to address the challenges many people will experience when they move onto UC, I have brought a group of local statutory bodies and charitable organisations who will be helping new claimants, for a UC roundtable so we can all be as prepared as best we can to help those affected residents.
I firmly believe the national rollout should be paused, and was joined this week by 12 Tory backbenchers who share my concerns. I’ll keep pressing for this and hope, even at such a late stage, that the government heeds our calls. Meanwhile it is vital we do what we can to avoid what I fear is going to cause a great deal of unnecessary hardship to our fellow Eastbourne and Willingdon neighbours.
I had the pleasure of visiting the DGH Stroke Unit recently and was extremely impressed for two key reasons; the significant improvements in key outcomes for patients and the dedication of the staff. Like many of us locally I’ve a number of friends who have good cause to thank our Stroke Unit. In the latest published data from the Sentinel Stroke National Audit Programme (Dec 2016 - March 2017) our Stroke Unit was well above the national average in a number of important clinical areas. All of which bodes well for Eastbourne and beyond. Well done the DGH and all the Stroke Team.
I also had a very productive meeting with some local GPs in Polegate to discuss a proposed medical centre in Hindsland Field. The owners of the land are Brighton University and I am very supportive of the medical centre so will be writing to the university with my full backing. However, though I’ll be asking they sell the land for the medical centre I will equally be urging they do not insist it has to be part of the package to build 1,100 homes on the entire Hindsland field, which is owned privately. I do not believe the infrastructure in Willingdon can support such a substantial development. Medical Centre yes - over a thousand new homes - no.
It was good to welcome Eastbourne and East Sussex WASPi to my office for their regular monthly meeting this week. I updated them on what I will be doing in Westminster to further their calls for a fairer pension transition for women born in the 1950’s.
As well as co-sponsoring a private members bill and joining the All Party Parliamentary Group, I am also planning on taking their case to the parliamentary ombudsman, asking they investigate the processes around the 1995 Pensions Act. My view is that some of the communication delivery was deficient, and I’m hoping the ombudsman find rules this was the case. To quote the groups co-ordinator Angela Boas, I am determined to do all I can to ‘work together to correct this injustice’.
If you think you are affected please do join the group. Their details can be found online here: http://www.waspi.co.uk/eastbourne-east-sussex
Finally, politics can be a brutal business sometimes but I have nothing but sympathy for the Prime Minister being afflicted with a coughing fit during her speech at the Tory conference, dealing with a security breach part way through and to cap it all, the sign behind her losing a few letters as she ploughed on. The speech was billed as a make or break moment for the PM yet everything unexpected that could have gone wrong pretty much did. It was difficult to watch frankly. From a human angle though, I admired her stoicism in dealing with such bad fortune, not least because as I watched the words which silently went through my mind, and I suspect many others, was there for the grace of God go I.....
That’s it folks. Have a good weekend and I hope to see you around town.