Promoting better health at work

The health of the nation’s workers has never been more important. Modern society and the world of work is changing rapidly, bringing new challenges for our physical and mental health. 

We spend a third of our lives at work, so employers have an important role to play to help workers stay healthy. Fulfilling and meaningful work can be a huge source of wellbeing and having a supportive employer can make a real difference to someone grappling with a physical or mental health condition. Crucially, four in five UK workers say that support from their employer could help them recover quicker. 

Research conducted by the John Lewis Partnership reveals that by working together, government and industry can unlock £38.1bn for the UK economy by 2025 through fast access to psychological services and physiotherapy for employees with a physical or mental health condition. 

The Working Well Coalition is a new and growing group of employers, MPs, charities and think tanks. Together we are committed to do more to improve the health of the nation’s workers. 

For business – take a leadership role in promoting good physical and mental health at work. Business can be a force for good in society and we want to do more to support employers, large and small. We want to galvanise others behind the business case for action and work in partnership with our public services to promote a healthy society. 

For government – make free occupational health services for workers a non-taxable benefit in kind to promote investment from employers. Currently, these services are subject to employment taxes at an effective rate of 40%.  

Together – explore how we draw together practical advice on both physical and mental health to help employers, building on existing good work. Many employers want to invest in health and wellbeing but don’t know where to start. 

The CIoS LEP Beacon Project, backed by £500,000 investment from the DWP was launched at the Cornwall Growth Fest last September and aims to provide businesses with this support. 

The Evident Agency is developing a scalable digital product that will deliver advice and ongoing support for businesses, working with the Cornwall Growth Hub and other partners to provide a single point of contact for employers developing an inclusive workplace. 

With record levels of employment I know many businesses here are struggling to recruit and through this project we want to make it easier for businesses to find the right person as well as supporting their existing employees who may have a disability or long term health condition. 

Through the Beacon Project, Evident Agency have engaged with a number of local businesses but we need more businesses to get involved with user testing, so please consider joining this important innovation by registering at http://www.cornwallbeacon.co.uk. 

Last week the Prime Minister announced a consultation on a series of reforms that I am working on, including improving statutory sick pay by extending it to the lowest paid people, ensuring it is paid and enabling more flexible return to work. Now is the time for a revolution in healthy workplaces. 

First published in the West Briton 04/07/19.

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The “Deal” and supporting Cornwall’s schools

I had hoped that by the time you read this column the House of Commons would have passed the Withdrawal Agreement (EU) and Future Political Declaration. This is usually summarised as ‘the deal’. Along with all Labour MPs, I was elected at the last General Election to deliver Brexit with ‘a deal’ negotiated with the EU and I will continue to work hard to achieve this.

I believe that ‘the deal’ the PM has negotiated with the EU will give us free, no tariff, unlimited quota trade with the EU, minimal or zero frictions at the borders, complete control over immigration and would avoid a “hard border” between North Ireland and Ireland. There will be no payments to the EU and we will be out of the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies and there will be no customs union, so we will be free to strike trade agreements with nations outside the European Union.

The much debated “backstop” in the EU Withdrawal Agreement, if used at all, would allow us continued, contribution free access to the EU whilst having total control over migration. This is why it is designed to be, and will prove to be, temporary; for the first time ever, and contrary to the EU’s oft-repeated position of not splitting the ‘four freedoms’, they have done exactly that. Any suggestion that such an arrangement would, in effect, become permanent would cause an existential crisis within the EU. Their incentive not to use it, or to leave it quickly, would be at least as great as ours.

In addition to preparing for Brexit, I am working on a range of other important matters. One such key issue is ensuring all our young people have the opportunity for the best education. Thanks to the hard work of local teachers, governors, parents and all those who support our local youngsters, more children are receiving a good or outstanding education here since 2010. This is despite challenging funding settlements. While school funding is at a record high and increasing, I know it is not enough and am pushing the Chancellor for more.

The Schools Minister has visited Cornwall twice to meet with teachers and head teachers organisations to hear first-hand local concerns.

Some local parents are being sent letters citing information provided by the Schools Cuts campaign. The information used by the Schools Cuts campaign was referred the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), the watchdog for the use of statistics. In January, it said that Schools Cuts uses “misleading” statistics and flawed methodology in its calculations to deliberately downplay funding received by schools.

This deliberate scaremongering aimed at parents using misleading and discredited statistics is deeply concerning. Schools Cuts needs to come clean on its links to the hard left of the Labour Party.

On my website I have a webpage dedicated to my long-standing campaign to increase funding for our local schools and FE colleges. There you can see the sums of money allocated to Cornwall and each school.

First published in the West Briton 21/03/19

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

Working to promote the teaching of swimming in schools

I participated in this year’s annual CoastSafe Forum at the Maritime Museum in Falmouth. It was led by local police officer, Truro Crime Manager, Andy Mulhern who is also the RNLI Community Safety Advisor. The forum brought together a wide range of public sector bodies and charities that work together to ensure that we are all doing everything we can to prevent people drowning. A lot of good partnership work is being done locally and the number of people dying in the waters around Cornwall’s shores is falling.   

Andy’s key request to me was to ensure that the government enables all primary school aged children to be taught to swim and stay safe in and around water. 

So, following the forum, I met with Ministers to take up the local concerns raised with me. I was not alone in making the case for vital changes and am delighted with the announcement last week, that Primary schools in England are set to receive extra support and improved guidance to help make sure all children can swim confidently and know how to stay safe in and around water. 

Working in partnership with Swim England, the Department for Education and Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport announced extra help for schools to make sure every child knows how to swim and be safe in and around water by the end of primary school, supported by the £320 million PE and Sport Premium. 

To coincide with the announcement, Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi and Sports Minister Tracey Crouch have also backed a pledge by Swim England – signed by the likes of British Olympic swimmer Steve Parry – calling on teachers and parents to do all they can to ensure children are taught swimming and water safety at primary school. 

The extra support will help deliver the government’s sport strategy ‘Sporting Future’, which committed to ensuring that every child leaves primary school able to swim. It includes: 

  • using the PE and Sport Premium for extra lessons for children who have not yet met the national curriculum expectation after core swimming lessons, and extra training for teachers on water safety and swimming techniques through courses provided by Swim England; 
  • extra guidance, provided by Swim England, will be available to help schools deliver safe, fun and effective swimming lessons; and a drive to boost partnerships with independent schools to offer the use of facilities, coaching and other forms of support to schools in their area. 

The measures announced follow a government-backed review of swimming and water safety in primary schools, which found that swimming standards vary in schools, despite being compulsory on the national curriculum. 

Steve Parry, Olympic bronze medallist and Chair of the Swimming and Water Safety Review Group, said: 

“Since my competitive days I’ve been championing the need for all children to be taught swimming and water safety at primary school. Along with Swim England and the Swim Group, we have been working to raise awareness of the issues and provide support for all those involved in the delivery of curriculum swimming and water safety. 

Ensuring our children are able to enjoy the water safely is everyone’s responsibility. That is why it’s great to hear the government is raising awareness of the issue and pledging its support. We want everyone – schools, parents, lesson providers, decision makers – to do likewise and pledge to support schools to achieve our joint vision.” 

This announcement is part of a drive to tackle childhood obesity and help children to lead healthy, active lives, with more than £1 billion invested in schools through the PE and Sport Premium to improve PE and sport since 2013. 

It comes after the Education Secretary announced a cross-government school sport and activity action plan that will consider ways to ensure all children have access to quality, protected PE and sport sessions during the school week and opportunities to be physically active throughout the school day. The action plan will be launched in spring 2019. 

First published in the Falmouth Packet 31/10/18

Supporting Music in Local Schools

When Parliament is sitting it does so Monday to Thursday and some Fridays. As a result, my time at home is usually restricted to Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Consequently, I inevitably prioritise urgent issues that need my immediate attention.  

When Parliament is not sitting and is in Recess, I have much more time to meet with local people, listening to what they want to tell me and working together to improve the quality of our lives here. 

I also have the opportunity to join a wide range of community events.  

I love music so very much enjoyed the 30th Anniversary concert of the Nankersey Choir at the Methodist Church in Falmouth. Joined by the Mousehouse Choir we raised the roof with the combined voices singing Trelawney. The choir gives its talent and time freely and raises significant sums for local good causes. 

On Saturday evening I joined a service at Truro cathedral, commemorating the life of David Frost, composer, conductor of the Cornwall Youth orchestra, music teacher and much more. He touched the lives of many local musicians of all ages and made a terrific contribution to the musical life of our community, including working with the Duchy Ballet and Duchy Opera. The event was both a great tribute to this special person and highlighted the amazing talent and rich musical culture and heritage we enjoy here. I certainly will never forget the Bolster procession! 

I want to do everything that I can to enable children to have the opportunity of music making at school, so I was pleased to meet with the leaders of the Cornwall Music Service Trust recently. The Trust employs more than 1000 music teachers and enables many local children to learn a musical instrument, sing and participate in all sorts of ensembles, groups and bands. I thoroughly enjoyed their annual concert last year. While they receive a significant sum from the £800,000 public funds that Cornwall Council receive for music education, they also fundraise to enable more young people to enjoy the benefits of music making. As our economy grows, I want to ensure that we invest more funding into music making in schools. I will be raising this with the relevant Minister next week. 

As regular readers will know, since being elected in 2010 I have campaigned for more funding for our local schools. While funding is increasing, I know there is more to do to ensure that our children, young people and teachers have the resources needed for a balanced and well-rounded curriculum. Thanks to the hard work of our local teachers and young people, supported by parents, standards are rising in our schools and the recent good exam results show this.  

Last week I was pleased that the Schools Minister responded to my request to visit Cornwall to meet with school and college leaders to listen to their concerns and good ideas. He has visited several times and we had a constructive, robust discussion on a wide range of issues. 

 First published in the West Briton 04/10/18

Working to reduce inequality

As a fairly frequent passenger on the London Underground I am often reminded to ‘mind the gap’ between the train the platform. While this gap is important it’s not the gap that I am most focussed on.  

I don’t think we are destined to travel a certain route just because of the place we start from. Everyone should have the chance to fulfil their potential. It is fundamental to our ideas of fairness and social justice because progress for our society should be progress for all, but especially for the most disadvantaged, the ones who start with the odds most stacked against them. 

Thanks to the hard work of our teachers and to our reforms, 1.9 million more children are now being taught in Good or Outstanding schools than there were eight years ago. That’s 88% of children, up from 66% in 2010. 

The Pupil Premium delivers support for those children who come from a less affluent backgrounds. And, importantly, we’re making sure that those interventions can be based on good evidence – through the independent Education Endowment Foundation. 

Whereas once we measured a school’s performance by its A-C pupils in five subjects at GCSE – now, through progress 8, everyone’s progress counts towards the key measure. This stops a disproportionate focus on the C/D borderline, to the detriment of others at both ends of the scale. The number of 19 year olds without GCSEs in maths and English is now at a record low. And, critically, since 2010 the gap in early years development has fallen by 14%. 

This is a good start in terms of reducing the gap, but there is more to go. Right now, 28% of children finish their reception year without the early communication and reading skills that they need to thrive.  But why do gaps like these matter? Ultimately, our education stays with us. We know there are opportunities for people, whatever their background – great schools, world-class universities and a thriving job market, so there are options. 

However, new analysis from the Department for Education looked at how children on free school meals and children with special educational needs, go on to fare in the job market. 

And the results are striking. Children eligible for free school meals when they are at school are 23% less likely to be in sustained employment at the age of 27, compared to their peers. 

And, in fact, it’s a similar result for children identified with special educational needs – 25% less likely to be in sustained employment at 27. 

Stark facts like these call for an ambitious policy response. Research shows that what happens between the ages of zero and three has the biggest impact in changing someone’s future path. That is why this government has prioritised extending high quality pre-school education and childcare. For the first time, we introduced 15 hours of free early education a week for the most disadvantaged two year olds, including looked after children, children with special needs and children of low income families. That is on top of the 15 hours free childcare offer for all three and four year olds, which we doubled to 30 hours for working parents. And we are now seeing more children start school ready and able to learn. 

But despite encouraging progress, entrenched challenges remain. 

Most pressingly, it is a persistent problem of children starting school and struggling to communicate, to speak in full sentences. 

And this matters. Because when you’re behind from the start you rarely catch up. 

On average, disadvantaged children are four months behind at the age of five. That grows by an additional six months by the age of 11, and a further nine months by the age of 16. 

So, by the time they take their GCSEs they are, on average, 19 months behind their peers. 

It is command of language, being able to express ourselves effectively, that is the gateway to success in school – and in later life. The government is expanding high quality school-based nursery provision and investing in training and development of early years professionals. 

However many more hours of nursery you provide and however much younger and younger you go, the truth is that the majority of children’s time is spent at home. While official statistics show the amount of time parents spend on development activities, such as playing and reading with their children has risen significantly, it has diverged and the gap in this time investment between parents from more and less advantaged families has actually widened. 

I am a parent myself and I know you are not born knowing how to bring up a child.  Some of it is instinctive, but most of it isn’t. I know parents can welcome advice and help. 

Successful public health initiatives like the 5-a-day campaign have become part of the national consciousness. The government wants to find similar simple solutions for busy parents to help their children’s language and literacy and is holding a summit this autumn, with a wide range of organisations, to explore innovative ways to boost early language development and reading in the home.  

Please let me have your ideas to feed into this very important work. 

First published in the Falmouth Wave 03/09/18

Securing funding for Cornwall’s schools

Last week I welcomed two government announcements confirming funding to create extra school places in Cornwall.

Firstly, councils will receive an extra £50million to create around 740 additional school places and state-of-the-art facilities for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), giving families more choice and helping to meet increasing demand.  Cornwall will be given more than £2.3million in the three years from 2018 to 2021, after an uplift of £444,957 to its initial allocation of just over £1.9million.

Secondly, councils will receive £680million in basic need funding to create 40,000 more good school places in primary and secondary schools by September 2021.  Cornwall will be given more than £27million in the three years from 2018 to 2021, at an average of over £9million a year. That compares with an average of just over £5.5million a year in the seven years from 2011 to 2018.

This funding will have a positive impact so that every child in Cornwall – regardless of their needs, background or circumstances – has access to a good school place to help them get the best possible start in life and achieve their full potential, whatever challenges they may face.

The funding boost comes as new analysis shows 91% of school places created in 2016/17 were in schools rated as good or outstanding by Ofsted. Improving education attainment has contributed to the fact that youth unemployment has fallen, on average, by over 140 young people every day since 2010.

I am working hard in Parliament making the case for more investment into the schools and post 16 education budgets because I appreciate that the budgets for our local schools are not growing at the same pace as the increased costs in delivering the high quality education our local young people experience.  Thanks to the hard work of our school leaders and teachers more children and young people are receiving a good or outstanding education compared to 2010.

Cornwall Council has developed a Local Plan that is about building more homes and flats to buy and rent that local people can genuinely afford and developing essential local infrastructure too. This new extra funding will ensure that there are more good school places for our growing community.

For some time I have been encouraging Cornwall Council to work with local people to shape and build local sustainable communities.

I am pleased that Cornwall Council, Truro City Council, Truro Chamber of Commerce, Truro BID and Kenwyn Parish Council are working together and have appointed Lavigne Lonsdale and PBWC to help generate ideas to support “a thriving Truro” both now and in the longer term. This work builds on the success of the Truro & Kenwyn Neighbourhood Plan and considers all aspects of life in and around Truro from our natural environment to education, health and wellbeing, employment, food and energy, homes and enterprise. Do have your say on the future of this great place and visit: https://lovetruro.net before the consultation closes at the end of June.

First published in the West Briton 14/06/18