Getting the rules governing Personal Independence Payments right is vital. The new benefit, which will begin to replace Disability Living Allowance later this year, will have a huge effect on disabled people up and down the country.
I’m broadly in favour of the change to PIP, which seeks to clarify the eligibility of disabled people to this benefit, the purpose of which is to help enable disabled people to live as independently as possible. But, when the Regulations were published last month, a serious flaw was revealed.
This was the Government’s attempt to clarify the ‘Moving Around’ criteria. All the drafts which had been published before the final version of the Regulations came out, talked about a person being able to walk, aided or unaided, up to 50 metres. Many people criticised this as it left a lot of people who could only walk a very short distance unclear as to whether they would receive the enhanced rate of the benefit -– the gateway to, for example, an entitlement to a Motability car.
The final draft made changes aimed at solving this problem by guaranteeing that those who cannot walk more than 20 metres will get the higher rate. Those who can walk between 20 and 50 metres will qualify for either the enhanced or standard rate of the benefit, depending on if they are able to walk this distance metres safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a timely manner – i.e. not too slowly.
However, the Government intended to hide away this test away in the guidance given to the people who carry out the assessment, wrapping up ‘repeatedly, reliably, safely and in a timely manner’ in the one word ‘reliably’.
I believe that this is too important to be left just in guidance and should appear in the assessment itself.
Immediately I tabled a Motion to try to put all these vital words into the Regulations which would mean that they would become part of the law. The Lib Dem DWP team in both Houses went to work – Stephen Lloyd, Greg Mulholland and Mike German – and we lobbied our DWP Minister Steve Webb to take up the battle with his colleagues. Steve managed to persuade his colleagues that these words must be part of the Regulations themselves, and today we have heard that this has now been agreed.
This is a tremendous victory, which will mean that disabled people need not fear that the bar to receiving the enhanced mobility rate is too high. The Government have made it clear that, for example, if someone can walk 20 metres one day, but not necessarily the next, then they will be deemed not to be able to do so repeatedly.
By putting these words into amending Regulations, we are ensuring that support will be given to those who need it most. This adds to our other victories on PIP, including halving the waiting time from six months to three, and ensuring that the mobility component remains for those living in residential care.
These changes wouldn’t be happening without the Lib Dems in Government and shows just what we can do to protect some of the very most vulnerable.
Regular reader of my blog will know that I am a big supporter of apprenticeships.
Last year, apprenticeships in Manchester went up from 2580 to 4760 last year, an 84% rise. In Withington Constituency, the figures went to from 350 to 630, an 80% rise.
Last year, as part of National Apprentice Week, I wrote to a thousand local businesses asking them to consider taking on an apprentice. I set a target of 100 new apprentices locally. That target was beaten when, by August, 490 new apprentices had been taken on in the constituency.
The latest national figures are out. More apprenticeships started in 2012 than ever before – 520,000. More than 1 million people have started an apprenticeship since the General Election. The latest figures show a rise of 14% on last year and an 86% increase since Labour.
There was particularly strong growth in the engineering sector, with the number of apprenticeships starting up 21%.
We are delivering a great expansion of apprenticeships in Britain to build a stronger economy and fairer society - giving everyone the opportunity and skills they need to find work and ensure the skills of our workforce fit with the needs of employers.
The National Audit Office estimates that for every £1 of Government investment in apprenticeships, there is a return of up to £18 for the wider economy.
By the end of this Parliament, we will have totally altered the status of apprenticeships in this country.
Vince Cable said his ambition was that by 2015 an 18-year-old leaving school and weighing up the choice of degree versus apprenticeship would do so without factoring in social stigma – seeing them as different but of equal value in terms of experience, job prospects, value for money and earnings potential.
I share Vince's view. And I will be working had to support this years National Apprenticeship Week which is from the 11th-15th of March
According to the Guardian, the UK has the second highest childcare costs in the world, second only to Switzerland. As a consequence, we also have a high level of "informal" childminding, and above average levels of government investment into childcare.
It is right that we do everything we can to ensure the provision delivering early education is of the highest quality, staff are better paid and qualified, and childcare is more affordable to parents.
At current estimates UK families with two working parents and a child in full-time care pay a third of their net income on childcare. The EU average is 12%.
I understand that choosing a nursery or child-minder is one of the most difficult decisions parents make. The overwhelming priority for parents is to find somewhere where your child will be safe, well cared for and happy.
The Government will consult on exactly what skills staff should hold in order to be allowed to look after more children. For example, we could require at least one graduate in the setting; or we could ask all staff to have at least a grade C in GCSE English and Maths. We want to hear from nurseries and parents about what would be most appropriate.
This corresponds with nurseries in many other European countries, where staff have much higher qualifications and look after more children. In Italy, the ratio is one staff member to 7 children. In Norway, it is one to 8, and in Portugal it is one to 11.
Nurseries will not be forced to make any changes, and parents will have more choice, and the choice to continue to be able to choose providers who operate with lower adult to child ratios if that is their preference. But having the second most expensive childcare in the world is not fair to families that need both parents to work.
Labour Councillors have gone back on promises they made to the people of Chorlton to build a new swimming pool in Chorlton. Before the last election, Labour Town Hall bosses promised to combine the Baths and Library in a new building in Chorlton Centre.
Now, in their budget plans, Labour Council bosses propose to close Chorlton Baths for good in 2015 and move swimming facilities to Hough End.
Plans are not clear where on Hough End, as the facility will be shared with Withington, but our best guess is that it will probably be near Princess Parkway Metrolink stop.
Many people will find it difficult and expensive to get to Hough End, especially those with families or on fixed incomes. Many people come to Chorlton to go swimming and support our shops afterwards. I’m also worried the Council’s proposals could also hurt Chorlton’s independent traders as there will be significantly less footfall.
Labour’s plans also undermine the long term viability of the proposed joint Library and Leisure Centre. Because most people only use the Leisure Centre to go swimming
Please sign our petition to keep Chorlton Baths
and join our campaign to have this daft decision overturned.
I have long supported HS2. The announcement today of £33bn of investment over 20 years reaffirms that HS2 will be good for Manchester and create 60, 000 new jobs.
- 10,000 jobs during construction
- 1,400 permanent operational jobs
- 49,700 jobs in the regeneration and development areas associated with station developments.
There will be two new stations in Manchester, next to Piccadilly and Manchester Airport.
Liberal Democrats were the first party to commit to high-speed rail. It is a key part of our priority of moving towards a low-carbon economy. Once complete, HS2 will transfer approximately 9 million journeys from road to rail and 4.5 million from air to rail.
By shortening train times, HS2 will also make investment and economic interest in regions outside of London and the South-East more attractive. This is vital if we are to help rebalance the UK economy.
Other European countries, such as France, Germany and Spain, have already invested in high-speed rail, and have several rail connections which are much faster than ours. The UK is in danger of falling behind unless we make plans to meet future demand, ease capacity and cut down on train times for millions of passengers.
Once completed, HS2 will allow trains to travel at more than 200mph and reduce journey times between London and key cities in the north and in Scotland. It also means that the whole country will be better connected with the rest of Europe.
The environmental impact will be minimised by following existing rail or road transport corridors, using deep cuttings and tunnels, and avoiding sensitive sites wherever possible.
Here in Manchester, HS2 will go through south Manchester, some 30m underground. Click to see details
I have sought assurances from ministers that there will be the minimum disruption to those living above the new line.
On Saturday, John Leech and I met with local residents and campaigners to launch the campaign and petition to save Withington Baths following the shock decision by Labour's Town Hall bosses to propose closing the historic Baths on Burton Road sometime after April.
On saturday afternoon, several thousand petition forms were delivers, and already over 400 petition forms have been returned.
There is also an on-line petition, current with over 500 signatures, which you can find at
http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/save-withington-bathsLabour's Finance chiefs in Manchester are making the wrong choices. They have decided to turn down nearly £1.5Million in Government money to freeze the Council Tax, to put up the Council Tax by nearly 4% and to close Withington and Levenshulme Baths. These are the wrong choices when difficult decisions have to be made."
"It is crazy that Labour Councillors, in this area, agreed to spend nearly half a million pounds of local Council taxpayers' money on one night's celebrity concert last September and now can't find the same amount of money from a Council budget of £1.5Billion to save Withington Baths for the next two years."
Please join our campaign to save Withington Baths.
Last week, I signed an E-petition supporting a campaign to shut down mileage correction firms.http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/40393
Across the UK, these companies are turning back the miles on used cars, helping certain sellers push up the price of vehicles. The leading mileage check company HPI estimate 1 in 20 cars checked with them show the wrong mileage, and this figure has risen by 10% in the last 5 years.
Clocking itself isn’t illegal, but selling a ‘clocked’ car without declaring its true mileage is. There is rarely a legitimate reason to alter the mileage on a vehicle, and in the unusual instance this does need to be done, a reputable car dealership can do this for you. However, Trading Standards estimates there are 50 mileage correction firms operating in Britain. Some of these companies will be exploiting a legal loophole that could help unscrupulous sellers con used car buyers out of their hard-earned cash and I think the law should be changed.Lower mileage can add hundreds or even thousands of pounds to the perceived value of a vehicle, so buyers have a lot to lose. Not only could they pay more than the vehicle is worth, but the car may need servicing and repairs sooner than the tampered mileage suggests. Digital odometers make clocking easier than ever to do and almost impossible to spot. Mileage correction firms are the main suspects believed to be fueling this fraudulent activity and it’s time to close them down. www.hpicheck.com
TIPS ON SPOTTING A POTENTIALLY CLOCKED VEHICLE
Check the service history – Check the mileages displayed in the service history and look for invoices and service stamps from a genuine dealer
Speak to the previous keeper – Contact the previous keeper (details are on the V5 logbook0 to confirm the mileage of the vehicle when they sold it.
Trust your judgement –Look for any evidence that indicates clocking – anything out of keeping with the general condition of the vehicle.
Check the mileage – Clockers sometimes wind back the mileage for the first viewing and then return it to its original value once you buy. Check the mileage is the same when you pick up the vehicle.
Look for signs of wear and tear – Does the wear and tear on areas such as seats and the steering wheel match its mileage? Look out for brand new easily replaceable parts, which don’t match the vehicle’s displayed mileage.
Don’t rely on just one sign of clocking - look for more than one sign of tampering as one thing in isolation could be purely innocent
Conduct a check – Don’t take the risk, let HPI, or another mileage check company, check your vehicle.
I was happy to read this morning
there’s new research showing a 12% drop in cases of childhood asthma in the year following the smoking ban in enclosed public spaces. I have long supported measures to reduce the presence of smoke in our daily lives and am happy that a smoking ban, which I voted for it in parliament, is clearly working to improve the health of our children.
Smoking is an issue I feel passionate about; I have long supported campaigns to ban smoking in public spaces. However, I believe we need to go further and that research finding such as these studies should give us that impetus. In February of last year I signed an Early Day Motion (EDM 2724)
that noted “the designs on tobacco packaging attract children to try smoking” and called on the government to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes which many believe will reduce the number of young smokers.
There is strong evidence that packaging tobacco products in standardised packets makes them less attractive, particularly to young people, increases the visibility of the health warnings and stops smokers believing (incorrectly) that some brands are less harmful than others.
In August of last year, on this blog, I called for people to get involved in the Department of Health’s consultation process. Whilst is process is now closed I would like to encourage people to continue to support calls for plain packaging, as we are already seeing beneficial effects from the ban in public spaces.
I will continue my support for the proposed change both in and outside of parliament on behalf of my constituents and would urge those of you reading this to get involved in campaigns to introduce plain packaging, and check out the Plain Package Protects Link
and Greater Manchester Public Heath Network webpage
Next, I went to Chorlton High School to see the development work the Rugby Football Union is doing to find the next generation of rugby stars. Its been a few years since I'd played Rugby, but I was impressed by the work the RFU was doing with the school, and promised to work with them to develop Rugby across the area.