Eight years ago I arrived in Parliament as a newly elected MP and wondered where all the women had gone. In the 900 year old Palace of Westminster you walk down corridors lined with pictures of men, into lobbies decorated by statues of men, through to a chamber that is still overwhelmingly dominated by men. Much progress has been made since some women won the right to vote 100 years ago, but Parliament remains a visible reminder that there is still a long way to go.
When I was first elected, I was stunned to hear a small handful of Tory male MPs shout “knickers” at me when I walked into the chamber wearing a skirt.
I spent 20 years in industry before entering politics, and my first job was with a Canadian company called Northern Telecom. It championed the principle of valuing employees as partners, viewing workers as “the primary source of productivity gains”.
But when it came to rights – well, it was hardly a bastion of socialism. When I asked where I should go to join a union the look on the HR woman’s face has stayed with me to this day.
Over 20 years on and hundreds of miles south of the Canadian border, it is a similar story. Much like Nortel, the tech titans of Silicon Valley like to portray themselves as fostering a positive working environment. Google’s co-founder Larry Page said it should be “like a family”, and it has been rated by CNN and Fortune as the No 1 place to work in the world.
Ahead of the vote in the House of Commons, Shadow Police Minister Louise Haigh has highlighted some of the crime figures for the region in a bid to stop the rubber-stamping of another year without increased funding from central coffers.
She said: “When the most recent crime figures were released, they revealed that recorded crime had risen at the fastest rate for an entire generation.
“In Suffolk overall crime is up 16%, while violent offences have risen 29%, including a shocking 87% rise in harassment and stalking.
The digital revolution is the key to unlocking the potential of Brexit Britain’s future. If we get things right, a digital nation could create new businesses, better paid jobs and be a place where we bring people closer together.
That’s why the government should set a bold goal: that Britain becomes the world’s most advanced digital society. But that won’t happen unless the digital world is a world of trust and safety – and today trust is frankly missing.
It is a brief defined by its search for an elusive answer, so it seems fitting that Barbara Keeley should take up the reins for Labour. Keeley has spent more than two decades, in both national and local politics, looking for a solution to Britain’s social care dilemma. It has not only been her “vocation”, she says, but an issue that’s “close to my heart”.
As vice chair of Social Services at Trafford Council in the 1990s, Keeley led the UK’s then largest ever survey on carer issues, before she arrived at Westminster in 2005. Her early years in Parliament were spent fighting the sector’s corner with Labour ministers “again and again and again”, she says, before Gordon Brown put her in charge of drawing up the party’s policy on social care reform in 2007.
My constituency Bethnal Green and Bow sits between the glittering towers of the City of London and Canary Wharf. The financial services and the digital businesses creating wealth and opportunity are on our doorstep. Yet for more than half of the children in the area, poverty creates a barrier to them ever getting anywhere near the opportunities right on their doorstep.
Many families face an increasing pressures on their finances – but rather than properly funding our public services, the government remains committed to shifting the burden onto struggling households.
Just before Christmas, the government announced a plan that could see council tax rise up to £107 a year across Britain. But even then, the impact of almost eight years of cuts means that the money raised from this move will not even come close to addressing the funding gap facing our public services. Whilst the one per cent increase in council tax will bring income in line with inflation – the real cost pressures facing local government have come from the growing demand in adult social care and children’s services that continue to outpace inflation.
From start to finish the school day is about preparing children and young people for the world ahead of them, and within that time period, ensuring that they are ready and able to learn; yet, having a hungry tummy will be detrimental to all of that.
That is why over the last 10 years, I have banged the drum for universal free school meals which are hot, healthy and nutritious, because of the importance they can have on a child’s education, health and wellbeing and also their behaviour and readiness to learn.
Another appalling, yet predictable, winter crisis is in full swing.
More than 100,000 patients have so far waited more than 30 minutes in the back of ambulances upon arriving at A&E. That’s more than one in eight of the patients rushed to hospital this winter.
Almost every hospital in England has consistently had dangerously few free beds. Average bed occupancy this winter has been at 93.9 per cent and in the week ending January 14, that peaked at a staggering 95.7 per cent. That’s more than 10 per cent above safe levels.
Britain has a long way to go in order to create an education and skills system fit for the modern world. And if that was urgent before the EU referendum, now we are leaving it is critical that we prepare the foundations for a new settlement.
As the Fabians have highlighted, globalisation, changing demographics and shifts in global demand are radically altering the nature of work. Governments must keep up with these changes. But a lack of investment in adult skills and lifelong learning by our government means that we are falling behind other developed countries.