Protecting incomes for the lowest paid

This week some important changes come into effect. The National Living Wage will go up by the highest rate since it was first introduced, increasing by almost 5% to £8.21 per hour. The National Minimum Wage will increase to £7.70 for 21 to 24-year olds, £6.15 for 18 to 20-year olds, £4.35 for 16 to 17-year olds and £3.90 for apprentices. Although most employers pay apprentices more than this minimum wage. 

It has been estimated that 2.1 million workers are set to directly benefit from today’s increases; and altogether an estimated 5 million people will directly or indirectly benefit from these new wage increases. 

Since the National Minimum Wage was introduced it has benefited the lowest paid in society, and today we continue that protection. Our minimum wage rates are among the highest in the world. 

Since we announced the National Living Wage in 2015, it has helped protect the lowest paid – increasing wages faster than inflation and average earnings. Today, a full-time worker receiving National Living Wage will be more than £2,750 better off over the year compared to when it was first announced in 2015. 

At the same time the amount of money people can earn before starting to pay tax has increased significantly. The Personal Allowance for working age people in 2019 to 2020 is £12,500 compared to £6,475 in 2009 to 2020. 

As an employee you will pay 20% on anything you earn between £12,501-£50,000 you’ll pay 40% Income Tax on earnings between £50,001-£150,000. 

It is very important to me that people keep more of the money they earn. Taxes are, of course, vital to pay for our public services but I want to ensure we continue to focus on supporting the lowest earners and average earners. 

Our changes are benefitting working people across Cornwall and I will continue to do all that I can to support the creation and development of well-paid jobs here. 

Last night, I joined an important debate about reform of business rates. Business rates are a tax on businesses and contribute a large amount of tax which pays for local public services. They are based on the value of property and they have not kept up with changes in modern business practices such as internet retail. I am proud of the work this government has done to reduce business rates for local small businesses and extending exemptions, for example, exempting public toilets from business rates, but much more needs to be done. I am pleased that last night the Government confirmed its intention to proceed with a thorough review.  

I also joined a debate to stress how important it is to increase funding for education, particularly for FE (further education), that has been the Cinderella of education funding for too long. For the last few years I have had meetings with the Treasury to make the case directly for more investment. 

For Brexit updates, please visit my dedicated EU Referendum webpage on my website: https://www.sarahnewton.org.uk/campaigns/eu-referendum 

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Celebrating International Women’s Day

It is International Women’s Day tomorrow so here is some information about our work to provide more women with greater financial security, ensuring equal opportunities and keeping them safe. It’s very important to me that girls and women have the opportunity to reach their potential.  

According to the ONS the female employment rate is at a record high of 71.4 per cent in October-December 2018. The gender pay gap is at a record low. In April 2018, the full-time gender pay gap (for median earnings) for full-time employees decreased to 8.9 per cent from 9.1 per cent in 2017, and 17.4 per cent when the survey began in 1997. 100 per cent of UK employers with over 250 staff have published gender pay gap data and the PM has also called on more companies to publish, and improve the pipeline to ensure progress on female representation at senior levels, and make flexible working a reality for all employees. 

We are putting marginalised women at the heart of our work on gender. We are focussing on helping women who are economically inactive, in low paid and low skilled jobs, and have set up a new funding to enable return to work when they are ready. We are also investing £5 million in returnships to help those returning to work after long career breaks. Returnships will be open to women and men, with the aim of giving people who have taken lengthy career breaks, often to provide care to a family member, the opportunity to refresh their skills and build professional networks. There is more help for female entrepreneurs. Men and women are benefitting from shared parental leave and flexible working. More investment is being made in free early years childcare too. 

Our increases to the National Living Wage have benefited women. This year the National Living Wage will rise to £8.21 per hour, meaning full-time workers aged over 25 will earn over £2,750 more a year than when it was introduced in 2016 – analysis shows women are more likely to be low paid, so benefit disproportionately from these rises. 

We are working to end violence against women and girls and published the Domestic Abuse Bill to protect and support survivors of domestic abuse. New legislation will introduce the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse, establish a Domestic Abuse Commissioner, introduce new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders, prohibit the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts, and provide automatic eligibility for special measures to support more victims to give evidence in the criminal courts. We are committing over £100 million of funding between 2016 and 2020 for domestic and sexual violence advisers, national helplines and rape crisis centres. We have introduced Clare’s Law so women can check if their partner has a violent history.  

With more girls and young women achieving well at school, college, in apprenticeships and university we are building a Britain that is fit for their future. 

First published in the West Briton07/02/19

Celebrating the UK’s Environmental Achievements

While preventing catastrophic climate change is clearly a global challenge, I fully support the UK government’s determination to eliminate our own emissions and to work globally for urgent sustained reductions. 

In 2010, the UK’s landmark domestic Climate Change Act passed into law with near-unanimous cross-party support, setting an ambitious legally-binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050. A radical political consensus on climate action was achieved, and has been preserved ever since. 

A recent report from the London School of Economics presents a clear case that this ground-breaking Act has been instrumental in advancing climate action globally over the past decade – and has provided a framework through which the UK has led the world in reducing emissions, while continuing to strengthen our economy. 

But we must never be complacent. The case for climate action is unequivocal and we must continue to not only drive emissions reduction at home, but overseas too. As a key part of our Industrial Strategy, we are investing more than £2.5bn to support low carbon innovation through our Clean Growth Strategy ensuring that the UK continues to lead the way in cutting emissions while creating well paid jobs. 

Our low carbon sector now supports almost 400,000 jobs across the country, and the sector is still growing. These businesses include local business Kensa, the UK’s most popular ground source heat pumps brand, and Carley’s organic, who produce chutneys, mustards and pickles in a dedicated organic eco-factory. 

By 2030, the UK’s clean economy has the potential to support up to two million jobs whilst generating £170bn of annual exports. 

Creating electricity from the hots rocks beneath Cornwall is something I have been supporting for a long time and am excited that drilling the first well has started at United Downs. This innovation could contribute significant amounts of carbon free energy and more well-paid jobs. Cornwall already hosts a wealth of renewable energy resources including wind, solar, geothermal and marine.  Cornwall now contributes more than 768 MW of sustainable energy generation to the UK energy mix, with approximately 25 per cent in local ownership, including 8 MW of Council-owned solar PV and more than 1MW owned by community groups supported by England’s first community energy revolving fund with £2.5 million council funds. 

There are 200 community groups around the country already generating their own energy to the benefit of the local community. A great local example is Transition Ladock and Grampound Road who were awarded £500,000 to install low carbon technologies in the community. 

The power sector too has been truly transformed in the last 10 years thanks to the direction of travel established in the Climate Change Act. Five years ago, dirty coal accounted for 40 per cent of our electricity, now this figure stands at 7 per cent, and through our Powering Past Coal Alliance will be eliminated altogether. 

In the place of coal an unprecedented level of investment in renewables means that we now have the biggest installed offshore wind capacity in the world. Indeed, official statistics show that 2017 was a record-breaking year for renewables – with over 50 per cent of electricity produced from low carbon sources – an impressive 29 per cent coming from renewables. 

Between 1990 and 2017, the UK reduced its emissions by more than 40 per cent while growing the economy by more than two thirds – the best performance in the G7 on a per person basis proving that economies can be grown in a clean, green way. 

Long-term government planning is the key to our ongoing success. Too often, governments are constrained by spending targets or the threat of upcoming general elections, and it was precisely this short term-ism which the Climate Change Act overcomes. 

Business, community and public bodies all have a role to play but so does each and every one of us. Small changes in our daily routine can add up to significant benefits for our environment. Climate Vision, a local organisation, has produced ten pledges – actions we can all make to our lifestyles to reduce our environmental impact. You could join the Climate Vision Pledge Group: http://www.climatevision.co.uk/top-ten-pledges 

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently published a special report that assessed the impacts of 1.5°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels and related emissions pathways, following the higher level of ambition set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement. The Government has asked the UK Committee on Climate Change to provide new advice on how soon we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero. 

I am working hard to leave our environment in better shape than we found it. This is a huge challenge, requiring us all to play our part and take collective action but I am confident we can meet this challenge head on and deliver the changes we need to see. This is not only the right thing to do now but essential for future generations. 

First published in the Falmouth Wave March edition

Supporting Cornwall’s cutting edge industries

“Not a day goes by when we don’t hear about advances of technology, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). There is no doubt that we are in the fourth industrial revolution. Each industrial revolution has seen the invention and utilisation of new technology changing our lives and the nature of many work places, rendering some jobs obsolete. However, it is worth remembering that each revolution also brought increased levels of employment and prosperity. Today we have record levels of people in employment and wages are growing faster than inflation.  

I understand that for some people change can be exciting and for others scary and difficult to manage and I also think we are more prepared now than in the past.  

Locally, more young people are achieving well in a wide range of subjects, including those that will enable them to develop their interest and skills for the new types of employment. People of all ages can earn and learn with an apprenticeship, enabling people to switch or develop their career. As with previous industrial revolutions, Cornwall is part of the vanguard of innovation with one of the fastest growing tech clusters in the U.K. with many local businesses growing well paid and highly skilled employment opportunities here. 

Our local universities have excellent opportunities to explore too. 

Falmouth University’s Launchpad Masters’ degree for entrepreneurs is growing local businesses such as Glas data. Rob and Colin are developing an app for farmers that pulls in countless different data streams, from animal weights through to soil quality, that will enable farmers to see if something’s wrong, visualise it, then see what needs to be done to correct it to improve yields and performance. 

As Colin says: “Ultimately, we want to be able to offer advice back to the farmers based upon the data they’ve inputted. However, the software isn’t just for farmers. The aim is eventually to become the data nexus for the entire food chain, from field to fork, working with food processors, large farming corporations, food vendors and ultimately through to the end consumer.”  

Rob and Colin are working with research institutions and leading players in the agricultural industry to push the boundaries of what’s possible when harnessing the power of advanced data analysis and artificial intelligence. Glas Data is attracting interest from around the globe and already has potential investors lining up.  

And, as Colin says, they’re always working with the bigger picture in sight: “Our ultimate vision is to create a highly efficient, profitable and sustainable food industry, so that everyone, from the people who produce our food to end consumers, can benefit. By reassuring consumers and bolstering their confidence, from plough to plate, we want to complete the loop in responsible and sustainable food production.”  

Data Science and AI for Sustainable Futures led by Professor Gavin Shaddick, at the University of Exeter, has recently received new government investment. 

The government has recently announced investment of about £200 million, including with industrial partners, to enable post graduate research and fellowships in AI. The U.K. has world leading AI talent and we need to grow and retain that talent. AI will help in a wide range of activities, from helping diagnose diseases faster to enabling smarter use of energy. 

I am determined to support our local ecosystem of creativity, collaboration, innovation and enterprise so that more local people can benefit from the changes to our economy and our lives brought about by the fourth industrial revolution.” 

First published in the Falmouth Packet 27/02/19

Smart employers know there’s a pool of talent to be tapped

Delve deeper into this week’s employment statistics showing there are more people in
work in the UK than ever – 32.6m – and an encouraging picture emerges about
our labour market.

More than half of working age disabled people are now in work. In just five years, their employment rate has risen from 44.2pc to 51.5pc. And what’s more, disabled women have seen an even faster increase, from 42.8pc to 51pc.

We have seen the employment rate gap between disabled and non-disabled people close significantly over this period, but we want to do more. As we continue to make progress, we need to shine a light on the ongoing work the Government and employers
do together to open up opportunities for disabled people.

We are ambitious for disabled people and in 2017 we set out our goal to see one million more disabled people in work over a 10-year period by 2027.

And we are committed to achieving that. Last week, we announced that we are upping the maximum grant disabled people can receive through Access to Work to pay for adjustments to help them do their job to almost £60,000 a year. This is an increase by £2,000 a year in the maximum amount of support that pays for things like workplace adaptations, assistive technology and personal assistants.

Lots of employers are doing the right thing and creating accessible workplaces. More than 10,500 businesses have signed up to the Government’s Disability Confident scheme, which provides support to employers to ensure disabled people are recruited, retained and supported in their careers. Last year we launched a voluntary framework to encourage large businesses to report how many disabled people they employ. The
voluntary framework, created in partnership with employers and disabled people, also obliges business to set out how they are currently supporting their disabled employees.

It’s clear that improving the disability employment rate isn’t just about doing the right thing for the UK’s 7.6m disabled people of working age – there will be long-lasting benefits for everyone.

Disabled people can bring a wealth of skills and talents to an organisation, and smart employers are making sure that they are not missing out on this untapped pool of talent.
Businesses, employers, government and employees must shout louder about this as it makes this journey together to ensure everyone can take up the opportunities being created.

First published in The Daily Telegraph 22/02/19

Helping people with mental health problems into employment

An estimated 300,000 people lose their job every year because of a mental health problem. Many wanted to and could have remained in employment had they been given the right support. 

I recently spoke at a CBI event to welcome the launch of Front of Mind, their new good practice guidance which helps employers improve health and wellbeing in the workplace. I also helped launch the free, online CIPD People Managers Guide to Mental Health. 

People with mental health conditions can make a valuable contribution in the workplace. We need real cultural change in every local workplace to prevent valued colleagues leaving a job they love because of mental health problems. 

For employers this can feel daunting. The mental health charity, Mind, found that while employers want to make mental health a priority, a third don’t know where to go for information or guidance. 

That’s exactly why practical resources like Front of Mind are so important. Highlighting examples from UK employers that are already leading the way, the guidance shows that successful businesses are taking key three steps: prioritising health and wellbeing from the top, targeting action towards early interventions and embedding good health and wellbeing in workplace culture. 

Not only does Front of Mind offer practical tips for employers, it also demonstrates the business case for making progress on workplace mental health. 

While the human suffering of losing a job is well understood, the impact of mental health issues for UK employers is less well known, costing between £33 billion and £42 billion every year. Clearly, making mental health a priority in the workplace is not just the right thing to do – it also makes good business sense. 

We don’t expect employers to do this on their own. Government has an important role to play in supporting people with a mental health condition. We’ve made good progress, with a range of support on offer. NHS spending on mental health increased to a record £11.86 billion last year, with a further investment of £1 billion by 2020/21. 

While there is much more to do, we have seen more investment in mental health services here, including specialist perinatal mental services and those for young people. Recruitment has started for staff at the new children and adolescent residential mental health centre, Sowenna in Bodmin.  

On employment support, the DWP is investing £115 million in partnership with the NHS, more than doubling the number of Employment Advisers in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Services. Our new Work and Health Programme is investing £500 million in tailored employment support, delivered by PLUSS in Cornwall it is helping disabled people and those with health conditions into a job. And our Access to Work scheme has a specialised mental health support service which has supported over 12,000 people. More than 90% of people who have used the service were still in their job after six months. 

The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has secured £465,000 of Government funding to help local businesses recruit and retain people with disabilities and long-term health conditions. 

The Cornwall Work and Health Beacon Project is the first of its kind in the UK and aims to widen the pool of talent and experience available to employers, creating opportunities for local people and helping to tackle skills shortages. 

The project will work with businesses to co-create solutions and build their confidence to employ and retain people with disabilities and long-term health conditions, and ensure they have the right support and information available to them. 

In Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly there are almost 50,000 working age people whose day-to-day activities are limited by a long-term illness or disability. This is over 15% of the working age population, and well above the national average. 

The positive links between work and health are well proven and the Government is committed to supporting more disabled people into work. The LEP has already done some excellent work in this area and I want to encourage all local senior managers and business leaders to make a real, tangible commitment to improving workplace culture around mental health. This isn’t an issue for other businesses to deal with, or something we can leave HR to worry about. The leaders of any organisation are pivotal in shaping its culture and exemplary behaviour has to start at the top. 

My vision is of a society where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential and no one loses their job because of poor mental health. It’s now time for every leader in every sector to take responsibility for creating an environment in which people feel able to talk about their mental health condition and get the help they need to thrive at work. 

First published in the Falmouth Wave Fabruary edition

Closing tax loopholes to fund our NHS

On Tuesday night the House of Commons voted down the Prime Minister’s EU Withdrawal Agreement.  The Prime Minister showed great statesmanship in the immediate aftermath of the defeat. She made a statement inviting the Opposition parties to table a vote of “no confidence” in the Government.  Jeremy Corbyn MP had previously threatened this but not delivered but on this occasion did accept the challenge. 

I hope the Prime Minister wins and on Monday she will make a statement setting out a plan that will enable MPs from all parties to work together to find a solution to the current impasse.  

I have a section on my website dedicated to the EU referendum and regularly update it. I am easily contactable and always happy to listen to or read the opinions of my constituents. 

Despite Brexit grabbing the headlines, my daily work for you continues at pace. Many and varied issues are raised with me during my weekly constituency meetings. Sometimes these require changes to a particular “system” and working with local people to do this is a rewarding part of my role, especially when I am able to help to bring about positive change.   

A good example was a local business person who told me how overseas sellers were undercutting his business by selling their products online and not paying their fair share of taxes. Having raised this with Treasury Ministers, HMRC has taken action and in 2016 introduced new powers that has enabled the collection of £200m lost VAT. HMRC recently reported issuing over 4,600 ‘red flag’ notices to online marketplaces such as Amazon, ASOS, Etsy and Ebay since 2016. 

The number of overseas businesses making applications for VAT registration has grown to 58,000, in comparison to just 1,650 applications between 2015 and 2016. 

These new rules protect thousands of local entrepreneurs as well as enabling previously uncollected taxes to fund our vital public services. This is just one tax avoidance and evasion measure amongst more than 100 introduced since 2010 that has generated more than £200 billion revenue. 

As regular readers know, I work closely with our local NHS leaders, doctors and nurses. During meetings with local GPs the impact of the increasing costs of indemnity insurance on their ability to provide local GP services was discussed. I raised these concerns with the Department of Health and after a great deal of work with the medical profession, I am pleased that a solution has been found. 

April this year will see the launch of the long-awaited government backed GP indemnity scheme. This was announced in October 2017 and will cover all practice staff performing clinical roles under a General Medical Services (GMS), Personal Medical Services (PMS) or Alternative Provider Medical Services (APMS) contract. 

The scheme will be free at the point of use and will cover all practice work, as well as extended and out of hours services. This will enable more GPs and healthcare professionals to work flexibly and improve the accessibility of healthcare services that we all depend upon.

First published in the West Briton 17/01/19