The past two weeks have seen significant developments on a range of key issues.
The battle to save the GKN factory on the Chester Road has moved to the next stage as the workers have voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action. The workforce and their Union, Unite, have made every effort possible to save the plant, including presenting a viable alternative business plan, but Melrose have refused to engage – leaving the workforce no choice. The details of the industrial action will be finalised over the coming weeks.
The Government also announced their long-awaited plans for social care. However, their plans do nothing to fix social care and significantly increase National Insurance contributions – breaking a 2019 manifesto promise. National Insurance increases are a regressive way of raising money, with the young and poorest hit hardest.
I also visited the National Covid Memorial Wall with Jane Roche and the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign to once again call on Boris Johnson to bring forwrad the public inquiry into the handling of the Covid crisis. Spring 2022 is too late for the inquiry to begin, it must start as soon as possible in order to give the families closure and to learn lessons and prevent even more families losing loved ones.
There are also updates on the Tory’s Election Bill, the Safer Streets Fund, and Erdington Labour’s Eid Fair.
More on all of these topics below, but first for a couple of quick announcements:
GKN Workers Vote for Strike Action
Last week, workers at the Chester Road plant voted by a margin of 93.1% in favour of industrial action following an announcement in January that GKN owners Melrose intend to close the site and export production and 519 jobs to Europe.
Ever since Melrose announced in January they were planning to close the Chester Road plant, the workforce, their trade union Unite, and myself have been working on saving these highly-skilled jobs.
We quickly managed to secure debates in Parliament, meetings with Government Ministers, and held rallies in opposition, but to no avail. The workforce, along with Unite, also presented an alternative, viable business plan to Melrose, but they rejected it out of hand with little consideration. This was yet another sign that Melrose have absolutely no intention of engaging meaningfully in discussions over the future of GKN.
Melrose’s lack of engagement, and their seemingly unwavering determination to close the plant, has left the workforce with no choice but to take industrial action.
Over the coming days, the workforce and Unite will meet to discuss when this will take place. I will keep you fully informed with any updates.
The battle to save GKN is now moving to its next stage. We will not give up on our attempts to save this plant, and the jobs of the 519 people who work there. I am 101% behind the workers!
The Government’s Social Care proposals and NI increase
This week, the Tories announced their long-awaited plans for social care. And it is safe to say their proposals are disappointing to say the least. Whilst action is needed to tackle the growing problems in the social care sector, the Tory plans simply fall short.
Under the plans, care costs will be capped at £86,000 – not including food and accommodation – over an individual’s lifetime. Once people have reached this cap, ongoing costs for personal care will be paid for by local authorities.
However, the cost of accommodation is significant, and these proposals will not prevent some people having to sell their homes to pay for it. Keir Starmer pressed Boris Johnson on this point this week, but he refused to give a guarantee.
I also have serious concerns about how this increase will be funded.
The announcement, made on Tuesday, included a 1.25 percentage point rise in National Insurance, starting April 2022 to pay for both helping to clear the health backlog caused by the Covid pandemic and to increase funding for social care.
The vast majority of the money raised from the increase in National Insurance, estimated to be £12bn a year, will go to the NHS to support with Covid catch up. Only £5.4bn over the next 3 years will go towards social care, and that is dependant on whether the NHS requires even more money than anticipated to catch up from Covid.
Furthermore, increasing National Insurance contributions will mean that working people bear the brunt of the costs. Young people and low earners, as well as business will be hit hardest by this increase – the biggest tax rise on families in 50 years.
At the General Election in 2019, the Tories were elected on a manifesto that promised not to raise taxes – this increase breaks that promise.
We also have the absurd situation where a landlord renting out dozens of properties won’t pay a penny more, while their tenants in work will face tax rises of hundreds of pounds a year. This isn’t ‘levelling up’.
Care workers earning the minimum wage, the very people these proposals should be supporting, don’t get a pay rise under this plan but they do get a tax rise. And Care Providers, who are already under significant financial pressure, also face increased outgoings due to higher NI contributions. This plan has the potential to harm the care sector, not improve it.
We all recognise social care need reform. But the Tories’ plans fail to solve the crisis and they increase taxes on working families at a time where they simply cannot afford it.
My visit to the National Covid Memorial Wall
On Wednesday, I visited the National Covid Memorial Wall at St Thomas’ Hospital opposite the Houses of Parliament with Jane Roche, from Castle Vale, and the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Campaign. We led a memorial procession of over 300 families down the wall.
Jane tragically lost her father, Vincent Pettitt, to Covid and then her sister, Jocelyn, just five days later. I have been supporting Jane for over a year now and I know how difficult this has been, particularly as she didn’t get the chance to say goodbye properly. Her story is truly heart-breaking, but sadly there are many more like Jane.
There are over 150,000 hearts on the wall, and each one represents a loved one lost too soon. Their families deserve answers as to whether their loved one’s death was preventable. And they want lessons to be learnt so that no other family suffers in the way they have.
Whilst it is welcome the Government has announced there will be a public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic, the start date of Spring 2022 is just too late. We are seeing the death rate start to rise again and it is clear that we need to learn lessons from Covid as soon as possible to ensure more families do not lose loved ones.
I am also calling on Boris Johnson to meet personally with bereaved families. As Prime Minister, it is only right that he hears their stories and truly understands the impact of the decisions and mistakes that have been made throughout the pandemic.
The Elections Bill
The Tories Elections Bill, which is currently going through the Commons, is a dangerous piece of legislation and an assault on democracy in this country.
There are two main areas of concern in the Bill: new rules on political donations and the requirement for photo ID at polling stations.
On the first of these, the proposals made by Government would significantly benefit the Tories. Currently, donors are only allowed to donate to political parties from abroad for 15 years. However, this would be abolished under the Elections Bill, allowing one of the Tories’ biggest donors, John Gore, to continue to bankroll the Conservative Party for life.
At the same time, the Bill would introduce further restrictions on non-party campaign support, such as that given by trade unions, that would mean that when a campaign is run jointly between a non-party group and a political party, the expenditure would have to be declared by both, rather than be split as under the current rules. This would significantly reduce the amount of money available to be spent by that political party and, given our close ties with trade unions, would clearly disproportionately affect Labour.
In a world where the Tories already vastly outspend any other political party, this Bill would only serve to widen the gap and give the Tories a significant electoral advantage.
The Elections Bill would also introduce mandatory photo ID for all electors wishing to vote at polling stations. Whilst the aim of tackling voter fraud may seem legitimate on the face of it, the Tories plans are unfair and disproportionate.
Only 171 allegations of voter fraud at polling stations were made between 2014 to 2019, and only 3 were convicted. However, estimates for the number of voters who do not have acceptable ID range from 2.1 million to 3.5 million, and they would all be disenfranchised under Tory Voter ID laws. Many of those without ID are some of the most disadvantaged in society, who either cannot afford to pay to obtain an ID, or who do not possess the literacy skills required to apply.
To potentially disenfranchise over 2 million voters to “tackle” the virtually non-existent threat of voter fraud is outrageous. Furthermore, turnout at elections has been dwindling for some time, and we should not put unnecessary barriers in the way of legitimate participation in the democratic process.
Let’s call this what it is – an attack on democracy that is straight out of the playbook of Donald Trump.
The Tories are seeking to rig our democracy in their favour to tighten their grip on power. We must do everything we can to stop them.
The launch of the Safer Streets Fund
On Wednesday, I was out in Stockland Green with Simon Foster, West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, Cllr John Cotton, Ifor Jones, and West Midlands Police at the launch of the Safer Streets Fund.
The Safer Streets Fund is designed to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour, and Birmingham City Council and the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner have successfully bid for almost £500k of funding for Stockland Green. The money will be used to introduce crime prevention and detection measures including extra CCTV and street lighting in crime hotspots.
The Pioneer Group has been chosen as the delivery partner for the bid, and it was great to hear how the fund will be allocated and I was particularly pleased to hear about the engagement that will take place with the local community to highlight problem areas.
We know there have been growing problems of crime and anti-social behaviour in Stockland Green. The Police have been doing what they can, but ultimately more resource was always needed to tackle the issues we’re seeing locally. This significant investment will hopefully help to keep our streets safe.
I know the local community will join me in welcoming this funding and I look forward to seeing the impact it will have on Stockland Green.
Erdington Labour’s Eid Fair
The Eid Fair, hosted by the Erdington Labour Party, was a fantastic event that celebrated the rich diversity we have here in Erdington.
The pandemic has meant that families, friends, and neighbours have sadly been unable to see one another, so to see so many people coming together like this was fantastic. Almost 500 people attended across the day, from all faiths and backgrounds, to enjoy the wide variety of stalls and activities on offer.
I’d like to pay tribute to Naz Rasheed, Erdington Labour’s BAME Officer, for her hard work in organising this event and for making it such a success.
I hope this will be the first of many events hosted here in Erdington following the lifting of restrictions. As a community, we are stronger when we’re united and support one another, and events like this, that bring people together, are key to making that happen.
As always, if you or anyone you know needs help, support or advice, then please get in touch with me at email@example.com.
Jack Dromey, MP for Birmingham Erdington