When the #MeToo campaign began, some people were surprised by the number of women who had faced sexual assault in the past.
I wasn’t. Women have felt forced to hide their experiences for fear of not being believed or for fear of stigma. That is why I decided to talk about my own experience and encourage people to come forward.
The subsequent revelations have forced all political parties in Westminster to reflect on their culture and strengthen their protections for those working in our democratic institutions. Meanwhile people continue to suffer because of Tory cuts and incompetence. In spite of pledges to treat mental health as seriously as physical health, there are 7,000 fewer mental health nurses than in 2010. That’s why I wrote to the government on World Mental Health Day to call for money given for spending on mental health to be ring-fenced.
It’s the vulnerable who suffer the consequences of those cuts to our NHS. This month, I met with two charities here in Wakefield, the Community Awareness Programme (CAP) and Carers Wakefield and District, to sit down with the staff trying to plug those gaps, and the people they support.
I saw the amazing support Carers Wakefield and District provides to carers of people with mental health issues. We discussed the huge stress that the government’s benefits assessment process places on people with mental health illnesses. We also discussed mental health services in Wakefield, what can be improved, and what’s not fit for purpose. The compassion and tireless work of carers never ceases to inspire me, but hearing the effects of Tory cuts on people’s lives was upsetting.
In Wakefield, children under five have to wait too long for an autism assessment and diagnosis. I have been pushing to speed up autism assessments for the last two years. I met with the chief executive of South West Yorkshire Mental Health Trust last month to discuss this. I am glad that they finally have a plan, agreed with Wakefield Council and the Commissioning group, to clear the backlog by next summer.
You may be aware that Universal Credit was introduced in Wakefield earlier this year. It merges several benefits into one, but, like many things designed by this government, it’s being administered poorly and lacks basic common sense. There is a minimum waiting period of five to six weeks before the first payment, which is no use if you need to feed your family, pay your rent, or travel to work. That’s bad enough, but some people in Wakefield are having to wait up to 12 weeks. That is putting people at risk of eviction and forcing them to food banks.
My colleagues in Westminster and I won a vote calling for a pause in the roll-out of Universal Credit. The Tories did not vote. We will push the government to make sure the system is fit for purpose before it’s rolled out fully in Wakefield in August 2018. The government is failing the people who most need its support. I will continue to protect the interests of people in Wakefield, at the Budget next week, and during the Brexit negotiations.