‘Summer holidays should be a chance for family fun. But for too many families round here, it means hunger and hardship instead,’ writes MP Yvette Cooper MP.
It is shocking that in the 21st century, children are going hungry when school meals stop over the summer. Yet that is exactly what is happening for many overstretched families - thanks to the nightmare of Universal Credit delays and rising food bills. I’ve talked to local mums who are going without food themselves, just so they can make sure the children stay fed.
Local volunteers, charities and councillors are doing their best to help. And our area has a long tradition of people supporting each other, going back through the miners strike and beyond. Lots of people give to local foodbanks. In Airedale, councillors have set up family lunches at the library, St Giles Foodbank in Pontefract has been working with schools to make sure families get extra support over the summer and I’ve worked with the Trade Unions to raise another £5,000 for summer support.
But let’s be honest - this kind of poverty shouldn’t be happening in the first place, it’s a disgrace. Most of the increase in poverty is among working families - but low pay and the mess of Universal Credit means they are struggling to pay the bills. This is the direct result of Conservative Government policies, yet Ministers don’t even seem to care. It’s why I feel so angry that Boris Johnson has promised tax cuts for the richest 10 per cent of people in the country whilst refusing to help children instead.
Nearly a third of children in the five towns are now growing up in poverty, and that means four million children across the country. Ten years ago as a Labour Government Minister, I brought in a new law to require the Government to support families and keep children out of poverty - including through Sure Start, increasing the minimum wage and tax credits. But a few years later the Coalition government ripped it up and growing numbers of children are now going hungry as a result. It’s not good enough. We need that law back. It’s time the Government provided proper support for hungry holiday clubs, a return to Sure Start, a proper living wage for parents, and a halt to the Universal Credit roll out that is causing so many problems. If we don’t sort this now it will blight our children’s future for years to come.
Normanton was once the heart of the rail network, with over 700,000 passengers passing through a year. Now there is only one train an hour to Leeds, even though it’s only half an hour away.
Our other towns are being let down too. Commuter trains from Knottingley, Pontefract and Castleford into Leeds are overcrowded with too few carriages, too infrequent and too often delayed. Northern Rail is a nightmare. Our bus services have lost out too.
So when the Government says they are going to transform the North of England by re-announcing the same plans for improving the rail links between Leeds and Manchester, forgive me for saying this is a complete load of rubbish.
Transport for the North is a group of Northern Councils which is calling for £70bn for transport across our regions. They are right to do so. But even that’s no good if all the money keeps going just to the cities. It’s time the Government gave Yorkshire its fair share of investment.
But it’s also about time Transport for the North came up with a plan for our towns. I’ve met with national and Yorkshire transport bosses to demand our towns get a fair deal.