It is a great pleasure to speak after so many distinguished colleagues who have done their constituents proud in this debate. I am incredibly proud to be the youngest Labour MP serving in the House of Commons. It is often claimed that young people are apathetic or disengaged, but the young people I campaigned with and for in this election were far from apathetic. They were angry and felt let down because they thought that they did not have a voice. Young people have been under-represented in this Chamber for too long, but it is clear that that is changing on both sides of the House. It is a great honour to be part of the most diverse Parliament ever.
As the fourth Labour Member to represent Sheffield Heeley, it is also a great privilege to succeed Meg Munn, who served in this House for 14 years. She was renowned for her assiduous promotion of women’s issues, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and maths industries, and for building on her extensive experience as a social worker before entering this House to highlight child protection issues and improved rights for young carers. These are her very proud legacy.
Like Meg, I was born and raised in Sheffield, the very heart of God’s own county, a city renowned for its industrial heritage and now the greenest city in the UK, with more trees per person than any other city in Europe.
My constituency boasts a number of beautiful parklands, from Graves Park past Heeley City Farm and Heeley development trust to Richmond and Norfolk parks, all of which not only provide precious and much-loved green space but are important community hubs, providing childcare and family activities as well as adult education and training opportunities.
Colleagues may know that, like Rome, Sheffield is built on seven hills, which means that areas of my constituency command spectacular views of the rest of Sheffield and the surrounding Peak district. However, it also means that the inequality that scars our great city can be viewed in sharp relief. Young people who live at the top of hills in Gleadless Valley and Arbourthorne can look down on the two world-leading universities that we host—universities that they have been priced out of. They can look down on the dwindling industrial bases that their parents and grandparents would have been proud to work in, but which no longer create the jobs they desperately need. And they can look across to the west of Sheffield, where a baby girl can expect to live almost 10 years longer than another born and living her life about four miles away, by virtue of nothing more than her socioeconomic circumstances and the area she was born into. Our duty to our constituents is one that we share in all parts of the House, and the inequality that scars Sheffield, like so much of our nation, is something that I know we will all aspire to eradicate.
Before I entered this place, I worked in the City of London, and that experience motivated me to run for Parliament. I know from my time there that it makes a valuable contribution to our economy, but I also know that the culture and attitudes inherent there have been unaffected by the events of the last eight years. The culture of excessive pay, short-termism and cavalier risk-taking was demonstrated only last week with yet another case of LIBOR fixing. While our constituents remain worse off as a continued result of the financial crisis, again I know that this is something we will all aspire to solve.
It was disappointing, therefore, to hear very little in the Gracious Address on how we can reform the financial system. Given that the consequences of the weak recovery will be familiar to all of us—low wages, poor productivity and insecure work—it is incumbent on us all to address the reasons why our financial system is not providing the long-term investment that we need in cities like Sheffield. Being literally the greenest city in the UK is not enough; this must be at the heart of our industrial strategy and economic policy. If we are to secure a sustainable economy that delivers benefits for all, we must transform the way our economy works, incentivising investment in green, productive industries and penalising those short-term industries and practices that have done our economy and society such harm.
But, Madam Deputy Speaker, we in Sheffield Heeley have waited too long for change. My predecessor’s predecessor, Bill Michie, in his maiden speech in 1983—four years before I was born—spoke about the plight of the long-term unemployed, the young people out of work, the educational inequalities and the lack of investment in my constituency. Those problems pervade to this day. Change for the very vulnerable, the low paid and all working people is long overdue and we face a very clear choice in this Parliament—to continue down the same economic path that has entrenched inequality and embedded vested interests or to stand for a system that will protect the vulnerable, reward working people and create a fairer society so that my successor does not have to repeat the same tired list of issues in another generation’s time.