Tag Archives: Newspaper Column

Newspaper column: Changes to the pension age are a big deal for women

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

Altering the age at which men and women can retire is always going to be a difficult issue. There are arguments on both sides but the prevailing wisdom, now backed by a change in the law, is that for a variety of reasons the age should rise.

Raising a man’s retirement age by just one year to 66 is not such a dramatic shift. But for a woman, an extra six years is a huge leap.

This is something that will barely register for women in their 20s, 30s or 40s but for women in their 50s this is a big deal.  And what’s made it worse is the way the Government has hastened this process without any hint of concern for the impact it will have on half a million women.

These changes were initiated by Labour but were suddenly accelerated by the Coalition, and it is this unexpected acceleration that many women are opposed to.

My constituents are clear about what this means for them. As one said: “My job is physically demanding and while I am perfectly able to do this now and I hope for a few more years, I cannot imagine being able to do it for another 10 years.”

Another explained the frustration: “During my working life, I had planned carefully for my financial future which included my state pension at 60. It doesn’t seem fair to me that the goalposts were moved when I had made all my contributions on that premise.”

And another summarised the blatant unfairness: “Throughout my life a number of changes have impacted on me and the many thousands of women of my generation from unequal pay, the ability of employers to dismiss workers because they were pregnant, lack of childcare, ineligibility for some state benefits due to sexual discrimination and now are to be hit yet again by this. Women of my age do have gaps in their employment history as many were forced to leave their jobs to look after children. We are now to be penalised for this again in later life.”

It’s ironic that women who lived and worked through an era where it was harder to make a living, secure employment and maintain that employment will now be penalised by steps to end gender inequality. Society for most of their working life accepted that they couldn’t earn the same as men, or make the same provisions for their later years in the way men could and yet now they are told to work beyond what they planned and expected.

It is within the gift of this government to address this blatant injustice. Sadly ministers are determined to push through these changes by 2018 and have refused to accept the need for transitional arrangements, ignoring demands from Labour and the clear will of the House of Commons.

This is one more affront to women who have endured a lifetime of inequality where work is concerned. They need and deserve a fairer deal.

October column: Mental health

Jo Cox writes a column every month for the Dewsbury Press. This is the column for October, published today.

I discovered a surprising statistic last week while visiting a local charity: more than 40% of patients visiting their GPs have illnesses that are emotionally based.

In spite of all the injuries, sprains, aches and pains, viruses and infections that lead people to the doctor’s surgery, a large proportion of issues relate in some way to mental wellbeing.

The charity was the Birstall based New Mind Counselling Service. Its staff and counsellors, all of whom are fully trained and accredited (and unpaid), offer almost 900 counselling sessions a year between them.

Tomorrow is World Mental Health Day – a day designed to promote awareness about mental health. I’ve made New Mind my Charity of the Month – throwing the spotlight on this impressive local charity, helping to raise their profile and offer my support for their vital work.

We hear again and again that mental health is a priority.  But it is clear that there is a real issue about how much funding the government provides to the NHS to deal properly with mental health, especially for children and adolescents.

As we all know Government cuts impact massively on the range and breadth of services that can be offered. For Kirklees Council this means libraries have been under threat, grass doesn’t get cut, bins get emptied less often and fewer street lights are lit.

But when it comes to mental health it’s a far more complicated process for assessing and juggling and addressing priorities.

There are real concerns that the whole emphasis of mental health services are now geared towards looking efficient and effective rather than being effective and appropriate. We have seen the emergence of a “tick box mentality” in a field where in reality no two boxes can be ticked in the same way.

Waiting times for adults and children are growing an alarming rate. Many believe the services being offered are spread way too thin to be effective and that the attempts to improve access to psychological therapies is at best cosmetic and not sincere.

There are also very strong concerns that some leading therapies are misused or underused as a treatment – providing little more than superficial attention without being robust enough or sustained enough to address many people’s underlying problems.

Here in Batley & Spen, we have a wonderful voluntary organisation providing a great, professional service, which includes many referrals from GPs, which is why I believe such services should be funded by the NHS. It’s great that GPs can make referrals to New Mind but there should be some recognition of the fact that the NHS is in effect getting its services for free.

Many of the UK’s leading mental health charities focus on getting people talking. New Mind does just that.

If mental health is as important as government ministers tell us then the funding should reflect that.

Labour has just appointed the first ever shadow mental health minister, which I hope will increase awareness about this critical issue that affects so many of us.

Each month I will be promoting a local charity, or a regional or national charity with a strong local link. Anyone with any suggestions for my future Charity of the Month can contact my office on 01924 910 499 or email me on jo.cox.mp@parliament.uk

September column: Assisted Dying Bill

Jo Cox writes a column every month for the Batley News and Spenborough Guardian. This is the column for September, published in both newspapers this week.

Parliament was at its best this month when we debated the very complicated and deeply sensitive Assisted Dying Bill.

A majority of MPs voted to stop it from continuing through its parliamentary stages. Had it done so it would have allowed people who are terminally ill to have been helped to end their own lives, with the assistance of medical professionals and within the law.

To date, this is the issue on which I have received the most correspondence – finely balanced between those in favour of change and those against.

The debate that preceded the vote was an example of Parliament at its best. Thoughtful, considered and dignified. The fact that so many MPs attended a Friday sitting of Parliament I think shows just how seriously this issue was taken by everyone, whatever side of the debate they were on.

I must admit, this was an issue that I personally struggled with. A lot of people wrote letters to me, sent campaign postcards, and some made direct approaches and made heartfelt pleas in a bid to help me better understand the issue and how it would impact on them and their loved ones. For many this was a matter of faith and of conscience, views I understand and deeply respect.

In the end I voted for the Bill to proceed, but not without reservation.

I came to the view that the law at present lacks both clarity and equality for the terminally ill and their families. There are also issues surrounding the dignity of sufferers, which have been raised with me very powerfully. It worries me that the only support that can be provided to the terminally ill is from family and friends, rather than a medical professional. This adds unnecessary stress and confusion to loved ones at an already difficult time.

There is also an unequal situation in which only those with the financial means, support and physical ability to travel to centres such as Dignitas in Switzerland can receive medical assistance if that is their choice.

Had the Bill progressed I would have raised a number of concerns regarding additional safeguards. Firstly, I would have called for mandatory mental health assessments for people requesting assistance, due to both the nature of the request and the prevalence of depression among the terminally ill. I also felt the Bill needed to give more clarity that one person, rather than a combination of medical professionals and the courts, had full accountability for any final decision.

I believe the Bill needed to keep the role of GPs at the centre of the regulation in order to fully appreciate that they should not be asked to make judgements outside the field of medicine, such as those relating to personal or domestic issues.

Following what was a very moving debate I now hope that discussions about how we care and support the terminally ill continue. If nothing else I hope it will increase pressure on the Government to improve funding for palliative care. Having recently visited Kirkwood Hospice it is clear to me the excellent end of life support they offer would only be enhanced by increased discussion and investment into palliative care.

We may not be ready yet, as a parliament, to allow people to die with the dignity some would wish for but at least we can discuss the issue with decorum.

September column: Refugee crisis

Jo Cox writes a column every month for the Dewsbury Press. This is the column for September, published today.

The image will haunt me. The limp body of an innocent three year old little boy washed up by the tide on a Turkish beach. I had just tucked up my own precious babies with their favourite teddy and a good night snuggle and those heart wrenching images of a stolen childhood ripped through my conscience.

It shouldn’t take this level of human tragedy, captured in such a heart-breaking image, to force governments to act. But having worked on humanitarian crises for many years as an Oxfam aid worker – I know all too well that sadly sometimes it does.

What’s happening in Syria is at the same time incredibly complex and yet very simple. A human tragedy has been unfolding there for the past few years on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War.

The barbarism of ISIS is second only to the horror inflicted on Syrians by President Assad.  Together it means innocent civilians dying in the most horrific ways. To escape this, desperate parents – like those of three year old Aylan Kurdi and his five year old brother Galip – are forced to make choices that no mum or dad should have to take. To risk the lives of their most beloved on a rickety, over-crowded boat in the hope of sanctuary and a future in Europe or to remain in a war torn, broken country or under a tarpaulin tent watching your kids get thinner day by day and your hope ebb away.

This then pushes the world’s most desperate people into the hands of the vile, predatory human traffickers who deal only in death and misery.

Britain, and indeed the rest of Europe, must remember their consciences and answer the plea of the Syrian people.

It is shameful that Britain, with our long and proud tradition of helping refugees – and who wrote the rules on how to help refugees in the forties, has helped just 216 Syrian refugees since March last year. To put that in context: over the same period the German government chose to help 30,000 and the Turkish government, and many Turkish families, are sheltering almost two million Syrians.

Yet our Prime Minister has shamefully refused to do more until this week, a point I made when I raised it with him at PMQs this week. After a public outcry he was forced to offer sanctuary to 4,000 refugees a year over five years. It is a start but nowhere near enough. We must build upon the bold and generous responses from communities and Councils all across the UK, including here in Kirklees. We must also press the PM to support a bold, ambitious EU response when he meets European leaders next week.

For too long, this Government has ignored the worsening crisis in Syria such that it has now become the biggest humanitarian emergency in our lifetime. If we don’t act urgently the cost in human, social and financial terms will be far greater down the line. There’s no better way to prevent the refugee crisis than tackling that which is forcing Syrians to flee.

Like most politicians, I entered politics to help those most in need and right now I can’t think of anyone more needy than a terrified Syrian toddler and their family floating on a perilous sea desperately hoping that her cry for help will be heard.

July column: Our town centres

Jo Cox writes a column every month for the Batley News and Spenborough Guardian. This is the column for July, published in both newspapers this week.

One of my most prized childhood memories was the weekly Saturday morning shopping trip with Grandad Arthur in Heckmondwike. The outing always included two eccles cakes and an iced finger, a paper and endless chats with what at the time seemed like the entire population of our busy little town.

Speed forward a few decades and shopping habits and technology mean our town centres aren’t quite as busy or as thriving as they used to be.

Traders, small businesses and shoppers all across the constituency regularly talk to me about this – some believing that there’s no point romanticising the past, times have changed and the future is online or ‘super’. Others – quite a few other people – think there’s an alternative that we should fight for. Just look at Hebden Bridge, somewhere that has found quite a niche.

Over the past year I’ve had regular meetings in Batley to discuss the town centre and in the last week I met again with traders in Heckmondwike, met with the Birstall traders and attended a meeting of the Spenborough Chamber of Trade in Cleckheaton.

One issue that has repeatedly come up is that there is a major issue with local business rates. The cancelled revaluation of business rates by the last Government means local traders are still paying rates based on rental values from 2008, before the world financial crash. Most have seen their rents drop considerably but their rates remain unsustainably high.

I’ve already raised this issue in Parliament and will keep asking for the Government to bring forward its 2017 review to give our high streets a fighting chance.

Im also working with a team to produce a vision for the future of Batley town centre, Im exploring ways to help traders in Heckmondwike and have offered to support the Chamber plans and events in Cleckheaton and Birstall.

I am always impressed at how much hard work and commitment there is from traders, many of whom devote a staggering amount of hours to helping and improving their towns as well as running their own businesses. This effort needs to be recognised and acknowledged. They are passionate about helping making sure our town centres offer something that little bit extra – ranging from organising beautiful hanging baskets to the spectacular Christmas lights switch on events and vintage days.

There will be further public engagement once we have the vision and a clear way forward but I’d like people to start thinking about our town centres and what they think would help.

We must not be naive but we should be bold, creative and ready to work together.

ANOTHER key general election issue was sports provision in the Spen Valley.

Following the election I met with the leader of the council David Sheard and the chief executive of Kirklees Active Leisure Alasdair Brown to discuss progress with the exciting redevelopment and eight figure investment they have planned for a new sports village at the Spen Baths site.

There has been well documented issues and controversy, particularly surrounding Whitcliffe Mount Sports Centre, many of it avoidable. That is why I held a series of meetings over Whitcliffe Mount and have another one in the pipeline.

I will continue working to ensure we have the best sports provision possible in our constituency and Labour’s plans for Spen are something that I think are really exciting.