Members' Articles

Blackpool South CLP's Disability Officer Sarah Finlayson gives her comments on the Paralympics, cuts in support to disabled people and her view ahead of the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool.Sarah_Finlayson.jpg

By Sarah Finlayson:

Paralympians deserve to get equal recognition

This summer has seen Rio in Brazil host the Olympics, a sporting spectacle watched by hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

From fencing and rowing, to athletics and gymnastics, the Olympics unites the world like few other sporting events.

On British TV the Olympics was shown on the BBC, with almost 24-hour coverage.

We saw a prestigious amount of medals won by Team GB, with athletes like Mo Farah and Sir Bradley Wiggins rightly winning both plaudits and headlines.

Following the Olympics came the Paralympics, which originated in the UK in 1948.

Although the Paralympics are shown on TV, in the UK they were shown not on the BBC but on Channel 4, which does not have the same popularity as the BBC.

Although it is a positive the Paralympics now gets better coverage, is it right there is not comparable coverage, or is this an example of tokenism towards disabled people?

We see many Olympic athletes win sponsorship and advertising deals based on their success, but we don’t see Paralympians gain the same level of acclaim.

Whereas Mo Farah is regularly seen on TV, wheelchair athlete David Weir, who won six gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, is not well known in the same way as able-bodied athletes (and with two weeks to go only 15 per cent of Paralympics tickets had been sold, and organisers dropped many ticket prices to £2.30).

It is at least good to see Ellie Simmonds featured on an advert alongside Jack Whitehall. This following a games where Team GB collected 147 gold medals, including 62 gold.

As a person with a disability using a wheelchair, I find this disparity unfair and discriminatory.

From the personal recognition to the event itself being shown on a smaller channel, are we giving the Paralympics the same attention as the Olympics? And is this in itself discriminatory?

I look forward to the day when both events are given equal coverage and equal recognition.

Disability funding cut backs

While it was great to see the achievements of our Paralympians in Rio, it is disquieting as a person with a disability to see how attitudes have started reverting slowly backwards to a time when people with disabilities were not treated as fairly or equally as they should be as members of society.

Government budget cuts that affect day-to-day services, as well as reducing funding, have contributed, in my opinion, to this decline in tolerance towards people with disabilities.

Whereas in the past there was support and care available to people with disabilities, over the last few years, as a result of these funding cuts, much of this care and support has been, for many people, stripped right back to the bone.

For example, service users have lost funding towards trips out shopping and into the community at large, cutting them off, curbing their independence and promoting stereotypical stigmas around disability.

The negative effect of this erosion of services on people with disabilities cannot be overstated.

Everybody has the right to make a meaningful contribution to society, and to play an active role in their community.

It is sad to still encounter prejudice and negative ideas about disability in the 21st century that would have been more at home in an era many years ago.

I was brought up to be a positive member of society, and am an independent person who has learnt to stand on my own four wheels and look after myself to the best of my ability.

It is time others in the community learnt to appreciate we make just as much a contribution as our able-bodied friends and colleagues.

Labour Party leadership announcement

I was recently elected the disability officer for Blackpool South Labour Party, and I am also proud to have been selected as a delegate to the national Labour Party Conference, which takes place in Liverpool later this month.

This year’s conference promises to be an interesting one, as it commences with the announcement of the winner of the party’s leadership contest.

So much of what comes after is, at least to me, up in the air.

What is for certain, however, is that whatever the outcome is, it promises to be interesting.

If I could ask one question whilst at the conference, it would be, how, after recent events, can we remain a viable opposition party over the next few years?

Is it enough to offer idealistic policies, or do we have to provide concrete ideas on which to build an electable platform?

One thing is for sure, we’ll know more when the leadership results are finally announced on Saturday, September 24.

The Views of Sarah Finlayson (Disability Officer for Blackpool South CLP)

Blackpool South CLP's Disability Officer Sarah Finlayson gives her comments on the Paralympics, cuts in support to disabled people and her view ahead of the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool....

Blackpool Labour Party member and UCU Trade Unionist Pat Roche talks about the past, present and future of the NHS and links it to the recent demolition of the Queenstown flats.Pat_Roache.jpg

By Pat Roche:

Growing up with our lifesaving health service

There were so many things I could have written about in these politically turbulent times.

However, the demolition of Queenstown flats reminded me of my past, and enabled me to focus on the thing that is closest to my heart – the NHS. Queenstown was the place I grew up, and where my mother lived later in life.

As most people know, the NHS was conceived by Clement Attlee’s Labour government in 1948 to provide universal health care, free at the point of use, whether you lived on a council estate or in a mansion.

I had a brother who died as a baby.

He was born before the NHS began, and I suspect that inability to pay for the doctor contributed to his early death.

The figures bear this out.

Infant mortality stood at 34 deaths per thousand before the NHS – and just five per thousand afterwards.

Unlike my mother’s generation, I grew up supported by the NHS, as did my children.

My son had a serious accident some years ago.

He received superb emergency care, which saved his life. Never for one minute did it cross my mind that he would not be cared for because I could not afford to pay.

I was from the first generation to experience this.

However, the downsides of a private health service run for profit were brought home to me when I took up a teaching post in America.

While the college paid for my health care, the majority of my students and their families were either uninsured or under-insured.

I remember watching, with horror, television appeals by young children begging for money to fund their life-saving medical treatment.

I also had a close American friend who became seriously ill. Each day, staff would stick yellow Post-it notes to the door of his hospital room to ensure that any intervention was charged for correctly.

Each night the costs were added up and sent to his insurance company.

One day his insurance reached the limit, and he was discharged.

He died shortly afterwards.

Upset at plight of NHS today

My work in America involved a psychology course which had death and dying as a central theme.

I transferred this experience to Blackpool College, where I became a curriculum manager for counselling and psychotherapy.

I was fortunate to be able to support the NHS by working as a counsellor in a GP surgery.

In addition, I represented disabled members nationally as a member of the University and College Union’s national executive, and was there able to lead developments in the mental health field.

I served on the TUC Congress’ disabled workers committee and also a joint union/National Pensioners Convention working party on health.

More recently, I was elected as a public governor for Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.

In all of these roles, I have championed the work of the NHS locally and nationally.

So you can perhaps imagine my distress at the current plight of the health service.

We’re seeing cuts in budgets, a lack of funding to educate vital health workers, and more recently a huge increase in visits to Blackpool A&E, but without the extra resources needed to cope.

There is much discussion about who deserves, and does not deserve, treatment.

This is all set against the backdrop of a town where life expectancy for men is worse than anywhere else in the country.

Life expectancy can be measured by bus routes.

The further a person lives along the bus route from the centre, the greater will be their life expectancy (Blackpool Clinical Commissioning Group report 2014-2019).

Health service is vital to our future

The Queenstown Flats demolition reminded me of why I joined the Labour Party in the turbulent 1980s.

Margaret Thatcher’s pronouncement that ‘there is no such thing as society’ contrasted starkly with the Labour Party core belief that ‘by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone’.

When the Greeks coined the word politics 2,500 years ago, its definition was ‘of, for, or relating to citizens’.

From this, I take the word’s meaning to be that we all have the power to change the world when we band together with others.

If, like me, you believe the NHS is vital to our future, there are many things you can do. You can sign up to the 38 Degrees health campaigns, volunteer at Victoria Hospital, or even fight through your local Labour Party.

Notions of equality and compassion are central to the way in which society should be organised.

Perhaps Nelson Mandela put it best, when he said that a fundamental concern for others would go a long way to making the world a better place.

 

The Views of Pat Roche (Blackpool Labour and UCU Trade Unionist)

Blackpool Labour Party member and UCU Trade Unionist Pat Roche talks about the past, present and future of the NHS and links it to the recent demolition of the Queenstown...

The Chair of Blackpool Young Labour, David Collett has written the following piece for the Blackpool Gazette explaining why it is bad news for trainee nurses following the Government's decision to scrap NHS bursaries.David_-_Headshot.jpg

By David Collett: 

Axed bursary is vital for training of nurses

On the last day of Parliament, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that the Government would uphold the decision to scrap the NHS Bursary - a fund that subsidises student nursing tuition.

Nursing in particular is not like any other course. As a student nurse you must fulfil a minimum of 4600 practical hours as well as hefty theory biased learning. Student nurses also have to travel to various locations, I remember a 2 hour trip each way to a few of my placements, over time becoming very expensive.

The NHS Bursary was designed to attract people to the profession and ease the financial pressures such as travel or the near impossibility to combined placement hours, study time with a part time job. However as of September 2017 student nurses will be made to take out loans.

It is now estimated the average student nurse will graduate with a £50,000 debt. Starting a job that is around £8,000 below the average graduate wage and that has effectively seen a pay cut of 14% in the last 8 years due to the freeze on pay increases with inflation.

The #BursaryOrBust campaign was set up by myself and two other student nurses. Starting with a petition sponsored by Kat Barber and culminating in mass protests and demonstrations throughout the country headed by Danielle Tiplady, #BursaryOrBust has seen support from trade unions and MPs including Gordon Marsden.

Not only will this cut plunge more people into debt during difficult financial times, but could see thousands of new applicants put off from applying. Most significantly mature students with other degrees and loans, or older adults with family’s and mortgages.

Recent reports also show it is now evident the NHS relies heavily on European workers to supplement staffing in an uncertain post-Brexit era, combined with the amount of nurses taking retirement far outstripping new applicants - all pointing to a detrimental decline in our NHS workforce.

Introduced without consultation and despite the government’s own report labelling this policy as a risk the question that must be asked is why now? If reform is a must why place barriers to nursing amongst one of the biggest ever NHS staffing crisis’s and plunge thousands into debt during economic uncertainty? (Spoonful of Sugar – Julie Andrews)

Politics runs through my veins

For as long as I can remember I’ve been helping councillors deliver leaflets, knock on doors and talk about issues around the town. Yes, I am a young person interest in politics.

My earliest memory was sitting in a council meeting around the biggest table I had ever seen while everybody spoke to the king of Blackpool about something called a casino. I was about six-years-old and promised ice cream by my dad.

I now know the king of Blackpool was George Bancroft leader at the time. Since then I’ve knocked many more doors and started my own national campaign.

This year I resurrected Blackpool Young Labour with some help. I wanted to give younger people the opportunity to get involved in politics in a social relaxed safe setting. Politics has traditionally painted the picture of old men sat around arguing, and in some respects they would be right. Youth remains an unrepresented part of our society, but that does not mean we don’t have interested or politicised young people, they just need the opportunity to get involved.

Young Labour starts at age 14 to 27 and I have been star struck by the range and views of our participants. From small discussions to big debates on the EU or Corbyn.

Groups like ours aim to let any young person with a Labour interest come and have their say and become as active as they want. From discussing something they are passionate about to campaigning or standing as a local candidate one day. I believe we must do more to involve our young people in politics after all they are the future. (All The Young Dudes – David Bowie)

Dad was my mentor in life

Readers may have noticed I have been ending my segments with names of songs. This is the last tribute to my dad who sadly died this week Cllr Eddie Collett.

He always wanted to do things slightly different. He was a great lover of music, with nearly all my memories accompanied by a soundtrack.

My dad was not only family but my mentor. I have spent my life watching how he used his position as councillor to try and do good for his local residents and the town.

He not only taught me the values of community and progress but he is also responsible for my eclectic musical taste. From Blues to Reggae Rock and Dub Step his and now my passion for music was as diverse as our interest in the people we wanted to help.

I end on something he once said and I now truly believe, “No matter where you have come from or what lies ahead all people should be supported and given the opportunity to achieve their dreams” (Turn The Page – Bob Seger)

The Views of David Collett (Chair of Blackpool Young Labour)

The Chair of Blackpool Young Labour, David Collett has written the following piece for the Blackpool Gazette explaining why it is bad news for trainee nurses following the Government's decision...

Secretary of Squires Gate Labour branch and GMB Trade Unionist, Dave Flanagan has written the following piece for the Blackpool Gazette explaining the impact Tory austerity has had on charities.Dave_Flan.JPG

By Dave Flanagan

Charities have a vital role to play in society 

Charities enjoy very close relationships with the people they serve, many of whom are economically vulnerable.

I believe charities should be allowed to campaign on behalf of those they support and do more to bridge the gap between the people they serve and the political classes.

At a time of such democratic deficit (if the EU referendum proved one thing it is that people do not feel their elected representatives are really representing them), I think this would not only be hugely valuable to society, but also to the position and significance of charities themselves.

Rather than being a source of trouble and discontent, charities and community groups are actually important sources of support for MPs and policymakers.

They bring communities together in a way that government rarely achieves.

A fresh approach from elected officials both locally and nationally would create the space and support for charities and community groups to connect, empower and transform people’s lives.

Charities and community groups can help people get involved in the design and delivery of their services.

Government should look at what is being achieved in health with social prescribing and person-centred care, and see how such approaches can be replicated across all our public services to improve outcomes for people.

We need a new vision that places charities and community groups at the forefront of transforming public services. Business has a responsibility to the communities in which it operates.

The Government must honour its manifesto promise to offer all employees in the public sector and organisations with more than 250 staff, three days paid volunteering leave and encourage businesses to build stronger links to communities.

Across the UK, more than 175,000 small local charities reach millions who face disadvantage, prejudice, poor health and isolation.

Reforms ‘living nightmare’ 

Since 2010, the voluntary sector has been on the back foot, reacting to a narrative set by others.

The soundbite of the ‘Big Society’ was quickly replaced by the reality of diminishing funding for the sector in the face of increased demand for its services.

The promises of social reform as set out by George Osborne, Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling - austerity; the work programme; universal credit; transforming rehabilitation – have come to represent living nightmares for the disadvantaged and most vulnerable in our communities.

Despite the rhetoric that we were all in this together, austerity has caused most pain to those least able to shield themselves and their families from its ravages.

The commitment to the big society, if it ever truly existed, collapsed under the weight of austerity.

For those out of work, in hardship or with disabilities it has felt as if the Conservative Party were happier offering criticism than support, while charities standing up for those suffering the consequences of austerity face having their right to campaign suppressed.

All this in the context of a sector which still enjoys higher levels of trust than any other and whose members are uniquely placed to help inform and educate the public about the implications of critical policy choices.

In response to the statement by Philip Hammond, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he will “scale back on austerity”, local charities need to be at the table sharing first hand their grass roots experiences and demonstrating how they can help and unite a fractured society.

Let those organisations unclouded by profit motives lead the way in thinking through how to reach people as they live, in the communities they live in.

Vote highlights lack of unity

On the issue of trust, a lack of honesty on both sides of the EU referendum has left the country divided. The Government needs to build a more cohesive society where everyone is valued.

At a local level the people of Blackpool spoke out strongly to leave.

I was personally disappointed by the result and hoped to remain not least because I recognise the positive impact EU funding has at a local level.

I have seen first-hand the level of work undertaken not only by the voluntary and charity sector but also the adult education sector which was made possible with European funding.

This funding was and still is an integral part to the work of many organisations providing support.

I understand the result in part constitutes a two-fingered response to the political class from people who feel they have been left behind by globalisation. But it has also emphasised growing divisions: between generations, between classes, between urban and rural Britain.

The Views of Dave Flanagan (Secretary of Squires Gate Labour Branch and GMB member)

Secretary of Squires Gate Labour branch and GMB Trade Unionist, Dave Flanagan has written the following piece for the Blackpool Gazette explaining the impact Tory austerity has had on charities....

The Vice Chair of Blackpool South Labour Party, Simon Cartmell has written the following piece for the Blackpool Gazette in wake of the EU Referendum, in which the UK voted to leave the European Union by 52 to 48%.Simon_Cartmell.jpg

By Simon Cartmell:

Resort has benefitted from EU for decades

We are two weeks on from the EU Referendum, which saw a narrow 52 per cent -48 per cent victory for the Leave campaign on June 24th, and the fallout from the vote and its result has been nothing short of seismic for politics from all sides in the UK.

Looking back at an at times ill-tempered campaign it is easy to see how those who were undecided going into the voting booth struggled to separate fact from fiction, with Leave presenting a simple case based around the message of taking back control of the UK, while on the Remain side we put forward a more complex message that concentrated on facts and figures about EU membership.

It is easy then to forget in the aftermath of the referendum itself the arguments on the Remain side we felt were important to local people, and which we think should still be remembered when considering how input from the EU has had a positive impact on local people, jobs and everyday life.

From financial investment in local trams (£670,000) and help to purchase local landmarks like the Tower and the Winter Gardens (roughly £14m) to funding for local career advice and adult learning programs, Blackpool has seen many benefits from membership of the EU.

In fact, if you glanced up at the Tower over the last month or so you’ll have seen a very visible sign of the EU contribution to Blackpool in the shape of the Blue Flag award for clean beaches, a first for the town and which puts Blackpool South beach in the same class as some of the most famous stretches of sand in the world.

If and when Britain triggers Article 50 to leave the EU we should always be mindful of how Blackpool has benefitted from working alongside our European neighbours for over 43 years in both peace and prosperity.

A house divided

The EU Referendum can be quite easily summed up in one word: divisive, and perhaps more so after the result was announced than before.

Families are reported to actually be divided (apparently mainly by age group), communities are torn apart and both major political parties find themselves with at least question marks about their leadership (even UKIP are looking for a new leader after Nigel Farage’s surprising surrender of power, Union flag shoes and all).

What has amazed many, including those of us who campaigned to Remain, is the speed in which the Leave campaign has seen a disintegration of both its arguments and its leadership.

With the hashtag ‘Bregret’ suddenly trending on Twitter we were treated within hours to admissions of “mistakes” and the walking back of key immigration promises as the likes of Boris and Nigel stunned Britain by walking away just as the heavy lifting of Brexit slowly gets underway.

What we need to understand on the Remain side is why so many people were swayed to vote against continued EU membership, just as it would be wise for Leave voters to look at why their friends, family and neighbours wanted to stay in the EU.

It is easy for both sides to belittle their rival, but from our side I can only say we voted for a peaceful, tolerant and inclusive European society that offers those that come after us the chance to be a part of a larger community across the continent, with all the opportunities we feel that provides.

As Abraham Lincoln famously said “if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
Words from the past that ring true now.

The importance of community

If there’s one thing we should keep in mind now more than ever, it is that despite our differences we are one community of various shapes, sizes and colours that sits together on the shores of the Irish Sea.

That’s why community events are so important to people of all walks of life in Blackpool.

In the last few months we have seen such great local events as family fun days in Watson Road park and Highfield Road park in South Shore, the Pride parade and festival that takes over town for a weekend, community theatre in Highfield Road park (reminiscences from local people dramatised in the park itself with the help of the Left Coast project) and the moving #WeAreHere living tableau’s in the town centre that marked the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

We are a different and increasingly diverse population in Blackpool, and that is something to be celebrated. As a town built on visitors our ever-changing community perhaps uniquely has the opportunity to evolve its views while maintaining our values of welcome and friendship. Blackpool was built on community, and it’s something I hope it will always be famous for.

The Views of Simon Cartmell (Vice Chair of Blackpool South CLP)

The Vice Chair of Blackpool South Labour Party, Simon Cartmell has written the following piece for the Blackpool Gazette in wake of the EU Referendum, in which the UK voted...

Newly elected councillor Jim Hobson has written the following piece for the Blackpool Gazette about why this Tory Government is out of touch with Blackpool and about why he is proud to represent Bloomfield ward. Jim_Hobson.jpg

By Jim Hobson:

Tories ‘out of touch’ with ordinary people

Do you think David Cameron has ever had sleepless nights worrying about being made redundant and not being able to make the next mortgage payment?

Do you think George (Gideon) Osborne has ever been terrified his car is going to fail an MOT as he doesn’t have enough money for repairs and then he won’t be able to get to work or get the kids to school?

Do you think Jeremy Hunt will ever have to wait on a long hospital waiting list for an essential operation because he can’t afford to go private?

Can you imagine any of those photographed in the infamous Bullingdon Club photograph of the class of 1987 worrying about paying their student loans back after college?

Obviously, the answer to all of the above questions is no and simply put, the millionaires running the Conservative party cannot and do not understand the lives of normal working people across the country and would view the lives and day to day problems of the people of Blackpool with, at best, incomprehension and bemusement and at worst…well, who knows?

The fact the Tories have inflicted such incredibly harsh cuts to the budget of Blackpool Council says it all.

We have some of the country’s most deprived areas in this town and yet we have been subjected to the most draconian budget cuts imaginable that impact on the services we can supply to those most in need.

Blackpool Council has lost in excess of £400m from its budgets since the Tories came to power. To the Chancellor of the Exchequer that’s just a number on a spreadsheet but to the people of Blackpool, that’s the erosion of our much needed public services and the loss of hundreds of council employees’ jobs. 

Is it too much to ask that our government should act with compassion and understanding when making the decisions that affect those of us who haven’t enough money to keep in offshore accounts? Personally, I don’t think so.

Bloomfield is on the up!

When the Bloomfield seat became available earlier in the year, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to stand as the Labour candidate.

Central Drive is very similar to the area I grew up in near Liverpool and it is the ward where I thought that I could be most effective as a councillor as I understand the problems associated with the area.

But since winning the Bloomfield by-election in March, the thing I have been most struck by isn’t the problems and the negative stuff associated with the ward, but the truly amazing and inspirational people who live there and are trying to make the area a better place for all.

I have had the pleasure of meeting with many of the community groups including the Revoe-lution Project, Revoe-Lution Community Choir, the Young At Heart group and New Revoe Resident’s Association (apologies if I have missed your group out!).
Groups such as these really are telling a very positive narrative about the area and I am genuinely inspired by the commitment of the people involved in them.

For example, New Revoe Residents Association have a community garden that grows vegetables, just 30 yards from the hustle and bustle of Central Drive. This fresh produce is then cooked and served at their Memory Lane cafe that they run for locals each Tuesday lunch time at Ibbison Court Community Centre.

Revoe-lution, a community driven, lottery funded project will inject £1m into the area over the next few years. The project covers everything from the general environment to children’s services to improving the local shopping experience. They have just appointed their project manager and residents should start seeing real quality of life improving schemes commence in the very near future.

Diversity can only help town

I was very pleased to see Sadiq Khan elected as Mayor of London last week.

Not only was it good to see a working class son of a London bus driver win the race, but of course Sadiq Khan will be the first Muslim mayor of any large western capital city.

Britain is now a wonderfully diverse country in terms of the ethnicities, religions and cultures of the people that make it up and it is important our elected representatives reflect that.

It also demonstrated the smear tactics of the Tory campaign just didn’t wash with the people of London.

“So, what’s this got to do with Blackpool?” I hear you ask. Well, Blackpool is, albeit slowly, becoming more diverse in terms of the ethnicity of its population.

People are coming here to work from places as far afield as North Africa and Eastern Europe and people from other cultures are also moving here from other parts of the UK.

This should be embraced – it can only enrich the town by creating a greater cultural vibrancy.

 

The Views of Jim Hobson (Councillor for Bloomfield)

Newly elected councillor Jim Hobson has written the following piece for the Blackpool Gazette about why this Tory Government is out of touch with Blackpool and about why he is...

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