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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Nine Years On

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The following article was published in Co-operative News.

 

Nine years into a Labour Government we are in unchartered territory. The newspapers are predictably anti-government; every comment by a Minister is poured over for signs of a split; the passed-over, incompetent and sacked suddenly become authorities to be heard in silence. In the summer ‘silly season’ it’s not surprising that the changes that Labour has brought about are forgotten, pushed into the background. But as I look round my constituency it’s not hard to see how things have improved due to Labour’s values being developed in local communities.  

 

For instance, 8 of the primary schools are either new or refurbished, and three out of four secondary schools are being completely rebuilt. With all the headlines about NHS funding it’s easy to miss the fact that nine years ago over 26,000 people in Yorkshire were waiting 26 weeks for inpatient treatment, today there are 3. For outpatient treatment there are 76 people waiting 13 weeks, compared with over 33,000 in 1997.

 

A good news story which did make the local newspaper - men in South Yorkshire are living on average two years longer, from just over 74 to over 76. Money invested to tackle heart disease and cancer adds years to men’s lives in some of the most deprived parts of Britain. If this isn’t making a reality of our values I don’t know what is!

 

MPs get lots of complaints about anti-social behaviour, about the quality of life in neighbourhoods. I don’t think that this has suddenly got a lot worse than it was ten years ago. The number one concern then was unemployment, something that today rarely features in my postbag. Long-term unemployment is down by 82% in my constituency, while long-term youth unemployment is down by 74%.

 

Society will reap the benefits of improving the crucial early years of children’s lives. More children’s centres are being built; they are now in many local areas helping millions of children get a better start to life. The introduction of Child Tax Credits has made a huge difference to families’ budgets, giving for the first time the ability to look beyond a ‘hand-to-mouth’ existence. Most young parents will now take this help for granted, as they should in a society that values children and families properly.  

 

We need look no further than our own families to see some of the improvements. Just yesterday I was playing with three of my great nieces, aged 7, 3 and nine months. Molly, 7, is benefiting from the increased investment in schools - education funding per child has increased by 41.1% since 1997. Liz, who is 3, loves her nursery and with free hours for all 3 and 4 year olds the family budget goes further. Both Liz and Eleanor, the baby, have child trust funds that will give them a financial start when they become adults.

 

Lists of achievements rarely seem to impress. Ironically the longer those lists the less impressed people seem to be. But in our immediate environment it’s hard to miss changes - if you know Sheffield and haven’t been to visit for a while you’ll be amazed at how much has changed.

 

There are further policies on the way that will help to re-shape society. The proposals for reform of the pension system will be much fairer to women, tackling years of injustice that led to many women living out their old age in poverty. We’re bringing in legislation to outlaw discrimination in employment on the grounds of age, and to outlaw discrimination in provision of goods and services on the grounds of sexual orientation and religion and belief. The vexed and longstanding issue of the difference in pay that men and women get is also being tackled.  

 

It’s not just in the UK that things have got better - our international aid has increased from £2.1 billion in 1997 to £5.9bn last year, and will reach £6.5bn next. If you want to know how that is being spent have a look at the Department for International Development’s web site (www.dfid.gov.uk) and work your way through the countries and the range of work we are helping to fund.

 

Of course Government hasn’t got everything right, no-one ever does, but we’ve made significant progress. Some argue that the Labour Government has made no difference to people’s lives. The truth is that society has changed for the better - implementing policies recognising the importance of a child’s early years, and growth in international development aid, are examples. We have to continue to take the long term approach, translating our Labour values into action to ensure that society becomes fairer, that everyone gets the chance to succeed.  

 


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