Phil Wilson

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Pioneering Care Partnership (PCP) is a charity based in Newton Aycliffe. It operates across most of the North East and has a particular focus on deprived communities, building capacity, developing volunteering and tackling health inequalities. They work with specific populations, for example Gypsy Roma Traveller communities, (housed, fixed-sites and roadside sites) in County Durham, Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Stockton Borough and also work in areas which have been affected by changes in industry, i.e. ex-mining or ex-steelwork communities.

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Phil visited their centre in Newton Aycliffe to find out more about what they do, see the new refurbishments and hear more about the organisations developments over the last couple of years.

Phil says “It was a delight to visit PCP and see the great work they are doing. They are a professional organisation and a respected provider of high quality volunteering opportunities. Although faced by high local levels of deprivation and health inequalities, at a time of economic uncertainty alongside ongoing and relentless cuts to local government funding, the organisation has achieved excellent success, going from strength to strength against the odds.”

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Newton Aycliffe health charity going from strength to strength

Pioneering Care Partnership (PCP) is a charity based in Newton Aycliffe. It operates across most of the North East and has a particular focus on deprived communities, building capacity, developing...

So here we go again, the Conservative Government attempting to redraw the parliamentary boundaries for the UK, and reducing the number of MPs by 50.

The Conservatives argue by cutting the number of elected members of parliament money will be saved. At the same time, however, they have increased the number of unelected peers in the House of Lords by 260 at a cost of £34 million.

Unsurprisingly, of the 50 MPs to lose their seats, the majority will be Labour. Somehow, I do not believe the Conservatives would be pressing ahead with these changes if the majority of MPs to lose their seats were Conservatives.

This is why the whole process is set up to gerrymander the electoral system to ensure the Conservatives have an inbuilt majority even before an election is called.

The Government insist the reduction in the number of constituencies is necessary to ensure all constituencies are of an equal size. . This, they argue, will make elections more democratic as MPs will need to fight for each and every vote in their new constituency. This is despite the fact that the Government has based their calculations for the size of constituencies on an electoral register which lost a million voters during the transfer to Individual Electoral Registration and does not include the two million people who signed up to vote in the EU referendum. This is hardly an advertisement for democracy.

What does this mean for Newton Aycliffe? Under the Electoral Commission’s proposals, and I must emphasise that they are only initial proposals at present, the town remains intact in a constituency very much similar to the existing Sedgefield constituency. However, I am disappointed that the initial proposals exclude Ferryhill and the villages in the Darlington Borough including Heighington. Instead, Ferryhill has been allocated to Bishop Auckland constituency and the villages in Darlington Borough to a new Darlington constituency. The new Sedgefield constituency has then been renamed East Durham because it will include Coxhoe, as well as wards in Easington, including Blackhalls, Shotton, and South Hetton. The new seat also includes two wards from Hartlepool!

Fundamentally, I do not believe the boundary review, which will lead to the loss of 50 elected MPs, while the Government has increased the number of unelected peers in the House of Lords, is good for democracy, nor will it cut the cost of politics and will instead only engrain future Conservative majorities.

The Boundary Review: good or bad for democracy?

So here we go again, the Conservative Government attempting to redraw the parliamentary boundaries for the UK, and reducing the number of MPs by 50.

It has been clear for some time that the Tories welfare reform policies are not working for the most vulnerable, instead of incentivising people to work they are forcing people into destitution. I wanted to understand from those within the welfare system, exactly what was going on so I visited a local charity to find out more.

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The Ladder centre in Ferryhill has been running for nearly 30 years. It is a resource centre for the local community and is used by about 1400 people a month. They provide cradle to grave community activities from a play park, children and families work all the way to craft groups for the over 50’s, women’s groups and employability courses. 

Over the last few years they have been inundated with people with issues around benefit payments. The centre drew together a small discussion group so that I could hear their personal stories about how the changes were affecting them.

Universal Credit
A common problem was with Universal credit. Most people switching to UC had to wait 6 weeks before any payments were made. This often meant they went in arrears with payments to landlords. One man had diabetes and found himself with only £18 left for a month once he had paid off all his arrears and bills. It meant he was putting his life at risk by not eating properly. Sometimes the only food he got was the meal provided to him at The Ladder centre. Having very little to live off seemed to be the norm.
Sanctions

Another common issue was benefit sanctions. Benefit sanctions are a financial penalty taken from a benefit for various breaches of a “Job Seekers” contract. Most people had, had a sanction but the reasons were worrying. One women who was 62 years old, had failed to sue the computer system properly to log her job searches. She lost 6 weeks of money and was forced to live on handouts from her family.


ESA
I was most shocked by the many stories of people claiming the new incapacity benefit. “Employment support allowance”. It seemed that it was virtually impossible for anyone to be deemed unfit for work. There were cases of people with serious mental health issues like feeling suicidal or having psychosis to having severe learning disabilities being deemed fit for work. One of the workers said assessors without any experience of mental health illness were making the decisions on whether claimants were eligible for benefits and fit for work. This was regardless of whether their mental health affected their ability to work or hold down a job.


What Next?
1) Set up a Voice Forum:
I am keen that the voices of those suffering are heard by people who can respond. I will look to set up a small forum and invite people such as GP commissioners to hear and discuss the issues raised
2) Request a review into process for assessing ESA 

Send a letter to The Minister of State for employment and pensions to ask him to review the current work capability assessment process for those with mental health issues.  I will be asking 

  • What steps are being taken to ensure the Work Capability Assessment is appropriate and supportive for people with mental health problems?
  • What work is the Minister undertaking to ensure Work Coaches are trained in understanding how to best support people with mental health problems to find work?

Conversations about welfare

It has been clear for some time that the Tories welfare reform policies are not working for the most vulnerable, instead of incentivising people to work they are forcing people...


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