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Public Services

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston 5:00 pm, 16th October 2019

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will go on to explain why the Government have a damn cheek, frankly, to argue that what they are presenting is something new and exciting.

In recent times, I have come across situations in various forces around the country that show just how starkly the cuts have affected frontline policing, such as when the police said they would not investigate a fraud complaint because the amount at stake was less than £15 million; when the police said they would not look at CCTV footage in relation to a theft because it was longer than 20 minutes; or when recently in my constituency, the police said they might not have the officers available to close the road for a Remembrance Sunday parade. I think that tells us we have hit rock bottom. Fortunately, we have managed to get agreement from the police that they will support the parade this year, but the fact that they were even having to consider that should surely send the clearest message to Government Members that austerity has gone too far and that 10 years of cuts have led us to the edge of the abyss. I am glad that this message does now appear to be getting through, with the great fanfare on 20,000 new police officers, but of course, as we have said, it does not replace those we have lost in the decade of austerity we have just had. In Cheshire, we will go back to two thirds of those we have lost since 2010, so I do not believe that the fanfare is warranted. Only the Conservative party under its current leadership could have the audacity to present having fewer police officers serving than when it came into office as some sort of triumph. You couldn’t make it up, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Let me briefly talk about schools. Again, when we get past the headlines, the detail is not quite as impressive. Every school in my constituency has faced cuts since 2015. New data shows that, over the five years from 2015 to 2020, £78.9 million will be lost from west Cheshire schools—an average loss of £403 per pupil. I should make it clear that my wife is the cabinet member for children and young people at our local authority, so I hear first hand on regular occasions how damaging this all is, but I also know from talking to parents, pupils and teachers just how far these cuts have impacted on education. We hear time and again from parents coming to our surgeries how they have to battle to get their child’s special educational needs recognised. Education is a fundamental right for every child, and parents should not have to fight the system just to get the education support that their child deserves.

I want to talk about a few things not in the Queen’s Speech that we should be looking at. There is nothing on low pay, insecure work, child poverty or pensioner poverty. There is nothing on scrapping the benefits freeze, the benefits cap, the bedroom tax, the two-child limit, the rape clause or punitive sanctions. There is nothing on universal credit. Week after week in my surgery, I hear from people who are living in poverty and struggling to survive because they face a continual battle with the benefits system, which is actually supposed to be there to support them. I hear about overpayments, underpayments, long initial waiting periods, inaccessible and complex online forms, lack of support for put-in claims, cruel disability tests, and unfair and unreasonable fines. Universal credit is not working and, worse, it is driving people into poverty, debt and rent arrears. It is forcing many more people to turn to food banks just to survive. There are no plans in this Queen’s Speech to scrap this failed, cruel policy, and that just shows us where the priorities of this Government lie.

Finally, I want to express my disappointment that once again the WASPI women have not been mentioned. It is a source of shame that the Government continue to ignore that campaign in the face of overwhelming evidence of the injustice that has been served on them. In fact, I have just come from a drop-in session where there were probably more Members than there are in here. That shows that across the House there is genuine support for doing something for the WASPI campaigners.