They say a week is a long time in politics, but the past five years since I was elected MP for Hull West and Hessle have contained what seems like a lifetime of change.
When I first entered Parliament, it was in deadlock, but despite the internal warring I was able to get on with the job I was elected to do. My first tangible success was securing the A63 improvements and the Murdoch Connection, work that many had given up on ever happening. It taught me that perseverance and persuasion could pay off.
After meeting Angie, I started my campaign against the use of Vaginal mesh which eventually resulted in a ban on the procedure and the ground-breaking report First Do No Harm, which exposed the appalling way women were (and continue to be) treated in the health system.
Then I met Kate who told me all about her struggles with Endometriosis and this has led to me becoming the vice Chair and then joint Chair of the APPG on Endometriosis and leading the campaign in parliament to improve research, treatment and knowledge of the disease.
My love of teaching led me to joining the Education Select Committee and the work I am most proud of so far: the report we produced on children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. We received hundreds of pieces of evidence which exposed the constant battle parents of SEND children face to get their child the support they need. The system is rationed, piecemeal and in need of real investment and change. This led to my formation of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on SEND and I have remained in regular contact with local groups so I can continue to advocate for them in Parliament.
A regular complaint from parents was the cost of school uniform and so after talking to my amazing friend Susie we created Re:Uniform, which has now redistributed donated uniform to hundreds of children in HU postcodes. It has expanded to provide coats for winter and shoes and as the cost of living gets worse it’s needed more than ever. At the same time, I supported my friend and colleague Mike Amesbury with his Cost of School Uniform Private Members Bill, which is now law and should be helping to reduce the cost of school uniform from September.
We also started Butterfly City, a scheme designed to improve biodiversity here by supporting the Brimstone butterfly population. It has now distributed over 2,500 buckthorn plants free to members of the public and got school pupils involved across the constituency and has led to a further 2,000 buckthorns planted by other conservation groups in the local area. A recent study showed a 60% decline in UK flying insects since 2005, so keeping Butterfly City going is more important than ever.
In 2019 Theresa May was swept away by her own MPs to be replaced by Boris Johnson. A difficult election followed, and as the dust settled on the new government the pandemic struck. We saw restrictions on our liberties that we had never seen outside of wartime, elections were cancelled, and we have seen the tragic deaths of 179,000 people from COVID. Parliament became virtual as movement around the country was limited and I resigned as Shadow Universities Minister to give me the time I needed to focus solely on everyone living here in Hull West and Hessle.
From Feb 20th to 19th July 2021, I received over 8,500 communications concerning the pandemic from businesses and charities desperate to keep afloat, people worried about their jobs or excluded from any financial support, the clinically vulnerable needing help with shopping, as well as heart breaking stories from people desperate to see loved ones. The rules and what was available were constantly changing and keeping up with them was difficult for everyone.
One of the industries I championed was the coach industry who, because of the way they were classified, got very little support from government. I organised lobbying and meetings with ministers. Our beloved Hull FC was also facing difficulty and I worked with my friend and colleague Karl Turner to get them the help they needed to survive.
I also set up a laptop donation scheme and worked with the Northern Powerhouse to obtain machines for pupils learning at home in Hull West and Hessle.
Lockdown meant I couldn’t get out and about as usual or do my Big Conversation face to face so I started doing Facebook Live events with experts to help out on a range of topics. We had employment lawyers on worker’s rights, the Federation of Small Businesses on small business support and Dementia UK on access to care-homes amongst others. I also began online surveys of residents so I could take their concerns direct to government, and I am very grateful to everyone who completed them.
During this time, I was asked to join the Treasury Select Committee. This was not an area I was familiar with, but it is one where I have learnt quickly. Being able to scrutinise how our taxes are spent and accounted for is vitally important, as the scandal and scale of unrecovered Covid fraud shows. The regulation of financial services is not one which attracts a lot of attention, but it is one which affects us all in many ways – some small, and some, as the 2008 crash demonstrated, very large indeed.
While we focused on our survival here, the world was changing. 20 years of British Armed Forces in Afghanistan ended in a chaotic withdrawal as the Taliban rapidly regained control of the country. Many Afghans who had been involved in the efforts to build a more free and democratic country were suddenly in desperate fear for their lives. I received an avalanche of calls and emails from constituents desperately worried about the safety of their loved ones and sadly I am still trying to get the support from government many both need and deserve.
As Parliament reopened, I began a new campaign for increased flood protection for homes and businesses with a Private Member’s Bill, as well as amendments to other bills passing through Parliament. This is a really important issue and one I continue to work on.
The revolutionary change to the way we worked during the pandemic proved that people can work well remotely. I see this as a huge opportunity for Hull and so I have been working with local businesses, Hull University and others to create Work Hull: Work Happy, so that people don’t have to leave the place they love for the job they want. Accepting the role of Chair of the APPG for Apprenticeships is another part of my push to increase job opportunities for the region.
After a decade of austerity, we were already burdened with slow economic growth, stagnating wages and a growing cost-of-living crisis but the invasion of Ukraine by President Putin’s forces has seen the price of gas and oil rocket and added further inflationary pressure.
My focus right now is on the cost of living. I’ve started a new campaign with Fair By Design to tackle the Poverty Premium. The PP is when people with the least money pay the most for goods and services. One very current example is people on a pre-payment meters paying more for the same gas and electricity.
We cannot know what the next five years will bring: I’ve been your MP under two Prime Ministers, and it looks like another may be on the way before the next General Election, but whatever is happening down there in Westminster and whoever the PM is my focus will not change. I promise that for as long as I am your MP you can rely on me to be on the side of the people of Hull West and Hessle and to campaign on the issues you bring to me.
Thank you for all your support.