If Brexit is the national crisis as described by some, then something is just not stacking up. I checked the definition of the word crisis in the Oxford Dictionary. If we believe the Office of National Statistics then their statistics do not support the dictionary’s definition. For example the UK is experiencing the lowest level of unemployment for more than 40 years. The UK has youth unemployment at a record low (a third of the EU average). Wage growth in the UK is the highest for a decade, GDP growth is higher than the eurozone average and foreign direct investment into the UK is at a record high. This last statistic in particular suggests investors do not share the fear of impending doom that seems to have gripped some. The real challenge of Brexit (and something that would justify grave concern) is that it has been allowed to consume the energy and focus of Government departments. So we still wait for the 10 Year Plan for the NHS, the Government’s proposals for funding and delivering social care and the review on school exclusions. We are not building the healthy homes we need, not getting to grips with mistakes being made with assessments for welfare benefits and not responding quickly enough to reduce carbon emissions or to adopting appropriate measures in response to increasing mental ill-health. It was not inevitable that Brexit would drain Government departments in this way, only regrettable, and it’s imperative that my colleagues and I do what we can to bring Ministers attention back to these essential domestic priorities.
This time last year I committed to focusing attention on the issue of loneliness and isolation. I’m grateful to the scores of people who continue to work professionally and voluntarily to address this issue. Over the year I’ve met so many people who give hours of their time to provide support and company for people who feel alone. As the year closed I met with a number of people who have agreed to work with me to improve the lives of people who have disabilities. I want to identify 10 things we can change to improve the lives of people with disabilities or long-term health conditions. These things need to be ambitious but achievable and can be local changes such as improved access to town centres or suitable homes and national things such as a change in Government policy. I’d welcome the things you feel should be included on this list. In relation to this I was privileged to secure a place on the Parliamentary Select Committee for Work and Pensions chaired by Frank Field MP recently. This is important to me as many of the issues that are raised in my weekly surgeries are relevant to this Select Committee. These include support for people with learning disabilities, mistakes made in benefits assessments and opportunities for young people into employment.
2019 may well present some uncertainty and some change but this is not a reason to avoid tackling the injustices that we see in our society.