Alan Whitehead

Labour MP for Southampton Test

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Jobcentre-plus-.jpgCould you live without any money whatsoever for 6 weeks or more? That’s exactly what some of my constituents who have applied for Universal Credit are being asked to do and it’s why I am one of the many Labour MPs, Councillors and activists calling for the Tories to have a re-think and halt the roll-out of it.  

And we aren’t the only ones. It’s increasingly clear that the roll-out of Universal Credit is a shambles and causing further hardship to those already struggling to get by. It seems as though at best it has been rushed out without any thought for claimants and the consequences are so worrying that even ex Tory Prime Minister John Major has asked for a rethink calling it ‘unfair and unforgiving.’  

Universal Credit was rolled out in Southampton back in February 2017 and since then I have had regular calls from affected constituents often in distress as they are waiting long periods of time before their first claim and worried about paying rent or buying food for themselves or their family. I have heard from people waiting much longer for payments than the Government’s 6 week target, some have been forced to take out exploitative payday loans with others having to visit food banks to feed their families. Citizen’s Advice Southampton and Christians Against Poverty have also been in touch with me to let me know about many of their clients who are desperate after being left with nothing whilst their claims drag on.

To add insult to injury the helpline that people are being asked to call in case of any problems costs up to 55p to call! The Tories claimed that Universal Credit would simplify the benefits system but it’s clear to me that it is anything but user friendly.

Up until now David Gauke the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is stubbornly pressing ahead with the roll-out in the face of the dire consequences it is having and despite the fact it isn’t working. The impact of this is only going to get worse with councils and housing associations warning of massive rent arrears if something doesn’t change.

Alongside my colleagues I will continue to put pressure on the Tories to re-think the Universal Credit roll out.

Universal Credit Shambles

Could you live without any money whatsoever for 6 weeks or more? That’s exactly what some of my constituents who have applied for Universal Credit are being asked to do...

Memory_Walk.jpgI had a great day at the Southampton Memory Walk run by the Alzheimer’s Society to raise awareness of and money for the fight against Alzheimer’s and Dementia. It was the walk’s first time in Southampton and there was a huge turnout

 

I’ve been proud to work with the Saints Foundation, Alzheimer’s Society and the City Council in the past few years to work towards making Southampton a Dementia Friendly City and we’ve made great strides as a city in this regard. However there is always more to be done both locally and in parliament holding the Tories to account on the current crisis in social care.

Dementia is set to be the 21st century’s greatest killer, more and more of us will be affected or know a friend or relative that is. That’s why events like the Memory Walk are increasingly important and I hope it will be back next year.  

Southampton's First Memory Walk

I had a great day at the Southampton Memory Walk run by the Alzheimer’s Society to raise awareness of and money for the fight against Alzheimer’s and Dementia. It was...

16to19_photo.jpgThis month I took part in a Westminster hall debate on the funding of 16-19 education in general which has recently seen funding cuts across the board. I wanted to highlight the plight of 6th form colleges in particular of which there are around 90 dotted across the UK.

 

6th forms like Richard Taunton’s in Southampton strive to offer a first class education to all students, often from diverse backgrounds who are under-represented in further education.They don’t refuse students who don’t match up to an ideal profile, nor do they put them out on their ear when they find themselves struggling. In fact Richard Taunton’s goes above and beyond achieving outstanding results with over twice the estimated levels of their students from under-represented groups getting University places.

However 6th Form Colleges are at a disadvantage even compared to other 16-19 institutions because they are not classed as technical education nor as continuing education in the more traditional sense. They won’t be helped by the proposals to increase funding for technical courses as most students who attend study academic qualifications such as A-Levels. To add to this because of the diverse student body, many students stay for an extra year so that they can leave with the qualifications that will set them up to do well in life. 6th Form Colleges receive less money for students who stay an extra year.

On top of this 6th form colleges can’t claim any VAT on their operations as school 6th forms can. This costs Richard Taunton’s somewhere in the region of 300,000 per year, I’ve been lobbying for VAT relief for some time but the government don’t seem to be listening. They have said that if 6th Form Colleges convert to academies they can have the VAT relief but this comes at a cost of a bout half a million to the college.

The staff at Richard Tauntons and its redoubtable principal are in my view miracle workers who cheerfully battle on with trying to make a deeply flawed system work for the benefit of students in Southampton. If 6th Form Colleges continue to suffer under the current funding arrangements there will be no place in the further education system for the sorts of students that Richard Taunton’s simply refuse to give up on.

I am calling on the government to immediately uplift per capita spending on 16-19 education and provide VAT relief for 6th Form Colleges we need to secure their future in the education system or our young people will be the ones to suffer.  

 

Fighting cuts to 6th Form Colleges

This month I took part in a Westminster hall debate on the funding of 16-19 education in general which has recently seen funding cuts across the board. I wanted to...


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