Category Archives: Newspaper Column

Newspaper column – Better to improve than leave

UJ EU flagEvery month Jo Cox writes a column for the Batley News and Spenborough Guardian. This month’s column appeared this week.

On June 23 we have the rare opportunity to make a choice about Britain’s future relationship with Europe and the rest of the world.

I know for many people that this is a tough decision, that the debate has been highly charged and the facts difficult to pin down. But I believe that the patriotic choice is to vote for Britain to remain inside the EU where we are stronger, safer and better off than we would be on our own.

What’s more a vote to remain is a vote for certainty. The EU may be imperfect and definitely needs reform but risking all the current advantages of being inside Europe to take a leap in the dark doesn’t feel very patriotic to me.

Remaining gives us far more stability and security. We benefit from a stronger economy. Three million British jobs are linked to our trade with EU countries. We benefit from investment of £24bn a year and families benefit from lower prices. The Confederation of British Industry says being in the EU is worth £3,000 a year for every family, a return of almost ten to one on what we pay in.

We’re also safer in the EU. Many of the threats to Britain’s security are global in nature, such as terrorism, cross-border crime or climate change. There is strength in numbers in an era where international co-operation brings us more power and more influence.

Here in Yorkshire we get a share of the billions of pounds that Britain receives from the EU to support regional development. This investment creates jobs, improves prospects for young people through apprenticeships and higher education, and supports agriculture.

Our region exported goods worth £8.4 billion to the EU in 2014, almost half of all of our exports. We saw 157 investment projects from the EU in Yorkshire and the Humber in the last five years alone, creating or protecting almost 12,000 jobs. And overall a quarter of a million Yorkshire jobs are linked to trade with the EU. A vote to leave puts all this at risk.

The evidence is also now clear and compelling: if we leave there would be an immediate and severe shock to our economy. Treasury experts estimate that we could be pushed into a recession with hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs. House prices would be hit, holidays made more expensive and shoppers forced to pay more for their groceries.

It’s also unclear what deal we would get from Europe if we left. Any deal would need agreement from all 27 EU countries and could take years to negotiate. This uncertainty is not what businesses want nor is it what working people and families need.

And this is not a future I want to pass on to my children or grandchildren. A vote to leave is a risk that is simply not worth taking. So to keep Britain strong, safe and better off I urge people to vote Remain on 23 June.

Newspaper column – Time to enforce Syria’s ceasefire to save lives

1204 FCO questions Syria aid drops 2crObama and Cameron did not intend to cause harm in Syria but containment has been a disaster

By Jo Cox, The Times – 25 May 2016:

I am a huge President Obama fan. I worked on his first campaign in North Carolina in 2008, I admire the leadership he has shown on everything from the financial crisis to climate change and the good advice he gave us recently on Europe. But on Syria both President Obama and the prime minister have been a huge disappointment. Both men made the biggest misjudgment of their time in office when they put Syria on the “too difficult” pile and instead of engaging fully, withdrew and put their faith in a policy of containment.

This judgment – made by both leaders for different reasons – will be judged harshly by history. And the failure of their strategy has had huge repercussions: the biggest refugee crisis in Europe in a generation, the emergence of Isis and all that has followed, the strengthening of a resurgent Russia and most importantly the human suffering that continues unabated for the people of Syria. It’s been nothing short of a foreign policy disaster.

Whereas Iraq has become the great example of what happens when you deploy force with no follow-up strategy. Syria will become the great counter example of what happens when you decide to disengage with no strategy whatsoever.

But there is still time for Cameron to write a postscript to US and UK failures on Syria. Specifically, he should do three things: refocus UK strategy towards the protection of Syrian civilians, get aid to besieged communities and throw the UK’s diplomatic weight behind the fragile peace talks before they fail.

First, the ongoing systematic destruction of civilian communities and infrastructure by the Assad regime and their Russian ally is not just morally unacceptable, but it continues to undermine military efforts to combat terrorism in the region. It creates the conditions of chaos in which extremism thrives and radicalisation is spread. The success of the international coalition against Isis will remain limited so long as civilians are subject to starvation tactics, indiscriminate airstrikes and barrel bombs with impunity.

Having succeeded in securing parliamentary support for a policy of military engagement in the fight against Isis, the British government has yet to come forward with a comprehensive strategy to address the root causes of the Syrian conflict: namely the systematic and large-scale targeting of civilians by the Syrian regime and its allies. It is time to now do so.

Second, last week the UK finally started to show the potential of its leadership in securing agreement from the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) that if the Assad government continues to block ground access for life-saving assistance then air drops to besieged areas in Syria would begin from June 1. Ensuring this deal is now upheld must be an immediate priority for the British government: at stake is the credibility of British diplomacy and the ISSG itself, as well as thousands of lives.

Third, it is now clear that to succeed, diplomacy on Syria needs the backing of serious pressure to change Syrian government policy. This means imposing robust and clear consequences, including sanctions, for continuous violations of the Cessation of Hostilities, and the military enforcement of UN resolutions on aid and civilian protection.

I don’t believe that either President Obama or the prime minister tried to do harm in Syria but, as is oft said, sometimes all it talks for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. It’s now time to enforce Syria’s ceasefire to save lives.

Mrs Cox has written to the Prime Minister in her role as co-chair of the Friends of Syria APPG. You can read that letter here.

Newspaper column: No child should be left behind

Every month Jo Cox writes a column for the Batley News and Spenborough Guardian. This month’s column appears in this week’s editions.

Jo Cox leads the debate on education in Yorkshire

Jo Cox leads the debate on education in Yorkshire

I never cease to be impressed at our local schools. I have had the honour to visit many over the last year as part of my plan to visit – and revisit – every one. As well as some inspiring pupils, I have also met tremendous teachers, truly visionary headteachers and deeply committed governors.

We have many schools doing incredible things.

But research by the Social Market Foundation paints a very stark picture across our region.

They found marked disparities in GCSE performance between regions, with over 70% of pupils in London achieving 5 good GCSEs compared to just 63% in Yorkshire and the Humber.

These regional differences are already apparent by the end of primary school – and they are evident even after account is taken of other factors such as ethnicity and income.

Tragically for our children the region has gone from the fifth lowest achieving in the 1970s to the worst in England today. Nearly a quarter of pupils are attending schools that are rated less than good.

In Yorkshire and the Humber children are being left behind.

Here in Kirklees, we out perform the regional average at secondary level but match it at primary level. There is no doubt that there is a postcode lottery in education – and this is a disgrace.

After 30 years of neglect and a lack of focus from Government – we now live in a society in which a child born here has less chance of reaching their potential than one born in London.

I led a debate in Parliament on this issue. Beforehand I met with a group local headteachers to discuss what works and what doesn’t and what they need from the Government.

As one of them said to me: “It is time to stop beating teachers and start giving us the support we need to do our job.”

They are scathing about forcing schools to become academies, something even Tory MPs are threatening to rebel in Parliament over.

The reality of academies is they are neither inherently good nor bad and they should not be bluntly imposed on all schools. Instead of fixating on school governance the Government needs to ensure that schools have the tools they need to do their job. This means focusing instead on issues like teaching standards and recruitment.

This growing divide in regional academic attainment can no longer be left unchallenged.  Nothing politicians do matters more than ensuring that no child is left behind.

If “education, education, education” is a priority then the answer must, in part, be teachers, teachers, teachers.

And what has worked in London, the investment and improvement brought about by Labour’s London Challenge, can work elsewhere. It can work in Yorkshire but it will need real investment and sustained political commitment. It is time for a new, bold and ambitious target to end the postcode lottery in educational attainment.

We have a duty to make sure every child has access to the best possible education. It should not matter where you are born. No child should be left behind.

Newspaper column: We underestimate the value of post offices at our peril

Every month Jo Cox writes a column for The Press. This month’s column appeared in last week’s edition.

Jo Cox with Batley Post Office's Ismail Loonat (2015)

Jo Cox with Batley Post Office’s Ismail Loonat

The value of our post offices, and the service and expertise they provide, is something that sadly we underestimate. And we do this at our peril.

Those who run post offices are dedicated public servants and the post offices they run are far more than just a local business. It is a remarkable and precious asset and for many it is a lifeline. No one else does quite what the post office does in the way that they do it.

I met with local subpostmasters last week and discussed some of the concerns they have about the future of the post office network. It certainly gave me plenty of issues to raise with the government in the coming weeks.

Many factors affect the fortunes of our post offices.

Like many where retail is central to their businesses, the internet has had a seismic effect on post offices. This is compounded even further due to the continuing rise of the digitalisation of our lives beyond retail and into our day to day chores.

For example, you can tax your car now without even having to leave the house. Once upon a time you had to get into your car and drive to the nearest main post office.

Stamps are cheaper online. The post office card accounts are being phased out. Pensions and benefits are paid directly. Less and less are bill payments done in person. You can pay your TV Licence from your bed or your water bill while eating your breakfast.

As society ‘goes direct’ more and more the post office’s role shrinks. However, its value doesn’t. But when post offices rely on customers walking through their doors, the more we whittle away the different transactions they can undertake the more likely the post offices will simply not survive.

These changes to the culture, technology and behaviour of shopping are no doubt a major factor behind the closure of thousands of post offices in the UK.

But the biggest is still government policy. The network has been reduced in half over the last 20 years. Much of this has been driven by the changing behaviour of customers and attempts to make sure the network can meet the modern day demands.

But it is the future not the past that worries local subpostmasters most.

The Government promised to put hundreds of millions of pounds of business the way of post offices. It has not materialised. The streams of income are constantly being eroded away. There are even incentives for post office staff to get customers to ‘go direct’. Incentives that will affectively lose that post office more customers in the longer term.

While the government says it is committed to our post offices, they are starving them of the business they need to remain afloat.

What is clear is that subpostmasters fear more closures are inevitable unless there is a change in the way government approaches this.

One of the local subpostmasters I met last week told me the story of a vulnerable woman whose home caught fire. She rang him first instead of the fire brigade.

This was because of all the people in her life she trusted him through his role in her local post office. I accept that this is a unique example but it does underline just how much value and trust people put in their post office.

Newspaper column: Scale of Autism backlog can’t be underestimated

Every month Jo Cox writes a column for The Press. This month’s column appeared in last week’s edition.

Many local children are having to wait more than two years for an Autism diagnosis. Nationally the average is more than three and a half years.

The scale of the backlog and delays – and the upset and turmoil it causes people – cannot be underestimated.

Since meeting with local families and working with the National Autistic Society I have been lobbying for action and I am delighted that Kirklees’s two clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have just announced a plan to clear the backlog locally.

But this is a national crisis and a problem that the Government must address. I raised my concerns in a debate this week in Parliament.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates and relates to other people. It affects people in different ways. Some are able to live a substantially – or even a completely – independent life, while others may need a lifetime of specialist support.

The diagnosis is a critical milestone. It helps individuals take control of their lives and can unlock access to essential support and services. And it can be just as important for parents, friends and loved ones, enabling them to better understand their child, friend or partner.

It is a particular concern that children are having to wait so long. Not only does this this place tremendous strain on their whole family but also means that many children are not receiving the early intervention which could have a big impact in their formative years.

In many cases children are being locked out of the services available to them, support which can be life changing.

We now know the value and importance of early and fast diagnosis – and yet our system continues to fail so many children and adults.

One constituent of mine told me the story of her son – who is very much one of the lucky ones. She wrote to me and she told me about what a blessing his diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome had been. It didn’t just provide access to support and services but it helped everyone, including him, understand why he felt and behaved the way he did. He said he wished he had been diagnosed sooner because, in his words, “I always knew I was different, now I know why.”

He is one of the lucky ones because his parents had the ability to pay for a private diagnosis.

The NICE Quality Standard on autism is clear: once referred, people should wait no longer than three months for their first diagnostic appointment. In order for this to happen, both the Government, local authorities and NHS England need to act.

A crisis like this is a decade or more in the making but this Government should be judged on how it now addresses it. First, we need a new requirement on NHS England to collect, publish and monitor data on diagnosis waiting times, including data on how many people are known to their GP to have autism.

Second, NHS England should ensure that standard ‘waiting times’ on mental health reflect the NICE national guidance that no one will wait longer than three months between referral and being seen for diagnosis.

And finally, the Government must share in this commitment, ensuring that NHS England meets the three month target. To help meet this aim – access to an autism diagnosis should be written into the Department of Health’s Mandate to NHS England, which means that they will be held to account on this target and it becomes a priority for them to get right.