Whilst Brexit debates continue, we can’t forget the other pressing issues we face, especially how to best help those who need extra help, particularly in the run up to Christmas. Although it has been a mild winter so far, the issue of fuel poverty is still with us. We are making good progress tackling the problem under this Government – for example: those in fuel poverty living in the worst rated properties for energy efficiency has halved since 2010, we have made more than £6 billion available over the next decade to tackle the problem via the ECO programme, and the Energy Price Cap coming into effect this winter will save millions of households an average of £75 a year on their energy bills. There is much more to do but we committed to solving this problem in our Manifesto and we are getting on with it.
Also, at this time of plenty, it is just heartrending that some people do not have enough to eat. For many years now we have worked with local groups organising food collections, and I helped the Devizes Food Bank, which opened its doors in 2007, to find its new home in Devizes hospital last year.
I was staggered to read sneering commentary this week suggesting I did this for photo opportunities. How pitiful and sad these days that work to support organisations helping the most in need has become hopelessly politicised, and attempts are made to link it to all sorts of things like welfare reform, rather than the truth that sometimes people get into a crisis and need our help. Universal Credit, which is not fully rolled out yet locally, is based on the fundamental premise that people should always be better off in work than on benefits, and should not get trapped as they were under the last government in a lifetime of benefit dependency. Changes to the scheme, like a 100 per cent advance on the first payment, mean that people are being helped into work and supported through that transition. And with employment at its highest level in 40 years, unemployment falling more than 60 per cent in our Constituency since 2010 and more than three million of the lowest paid people taken out of tax altogether since 2010, the pressures on people’s take home pay are starting to ease. There is a lot more to do to create more well-paid jobs locally and nationally, so perhaps it’s time to stop the silly political attacks, work together to make poverty history and celebrate that basic human instinct to share what we have – especially at Christmas.