Cat Smith column: I've had a busy year fighting for Fleetwood

Food banks are an indicator of how tough it can be to provide for a family, says Fleetwood MP Cat Smith
Food banks are an indicator of how tough it can be to provide for a family, says Fleetwood MP Cat Smith

Fleetwood MP Cat Smith looks back at 2018

First of all – I wish you all a very happy 2019! I hope you all had an enjoyable Christmas.

This past year has been life changing with the addition of baby Eli, who is coming up to six months old – and is now well used to accompanying me to events across the constituency. As well as becoming a mum, it was a busy political year. My team and I sent out over 6,000 emails and letters either responding to constituents or writing on their behalf to local authorities, agencies and the Government.

In particular, we’ve been successful in helping constituents with disabilities to fight efforts to remove their benefits. More than 70 per cent of appeals against the removal of Personal Independence Payments have led to recipients having benefits reinstated.

We’ve also been involved in supporting constituents struggling with the introduction of Universal Credit. The Labour Party’s lobbying of government over this unfair and poorly managed system has at least led to the Tories having to make changes to limit the harm caused. Most people in receipt of Universal Credit are receiving in-work benefits and I’ve dealt with a high number of cases of constituents on low incomes and zero hour contracts being unable to meet the most basic of their needs – struggling to keep a roof over their heads and being able to feed their families. Many have been referred to food banks.

The Trussell Trust’s latest statistics reveal thirteen million people now live below the poverty line in the UK. The trust’s network of over 420 foodbanks operate out of more than 1,200 centres across the UK and provide a minimum of three days’ emergency food and support to people experiencing crisis. Between April and September the highest number of emergency food packs went to people living in the North West – higher than the whole of Scotland and almost twice as many as provided in Wales. Three million children are growing up in poverty despite living in a working household. The inability of benefits to cover essential living costs and issues with payments remain the most common reasons for referral to a foodbank. I’m aware access to food banks in some parts of my constituency is limited. If this is a problem for you then please get in touch. Email me on cat.smith.mp@parliament.uk or call my office on 01253 490 440.

The beginning of the year saw huge concern over cancelled hospital appointments and operations due to the winter crisis – and the knock-on effect of this was felt way into the summer. I’ve continued to lobby the government to provide more funding in the autumn to allow hospitals to plan more effectively for its busiest time of the year.

We’ve had some big environmental issues to tackle, with fracking and gas storage being of huge concern in the constituency – and I do find it distressing that the Government shows so little regard in introducing the bold strategies we so desperately need to protect our planet.

I am one of five Lancashire MPs who collectively in November wrote to the Energy Secretary to call for a halt in fracking following so many worrying earth tremors. I’ll continue to fight for an end to both these projects. When there are other options for producing energy I find it incomprehensible that this government refuses to embrace and invest in renewables. Instead it ignores the concerns of councils and local people and even the advice of scientists from across the world.

It’s clear the early part of this year will be dominated by Brexit, but as ever the needs and concerns of my constituents will continue to be my greatest priority as I prepare to return to Westminster.